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How We Tested Our $1600 High-End PC

System Builder Marathon, Q2 2014: A Balanced High-End Build

The following tables include the stock and overclocked settings for this quarter's enthusiast-class gaming build, followed by the configuration we put together earlier this year, which serves as our comparison point.

At the very bottom, you’ll find the programs and games used for benchmarking.

Test Hardware Configurations
 Q2 $1600 Performance PCQ1 $2400 Performance PCQ1 $1600 Enthusiast PC
Intel Core i7-4770K: 3.5 to 3.90 GHz, Four Physical Cores
O/C to 4.20 GHz, 1.29 V
Intel Core i7-4770K: 3.5 to 3.90 GHz, Four Physical Cores
O/C to 4.50 GHz, 1.25 V
Intel Core i7-4770K: 3.5 to 3.90 GHz, Four Physical Cores
O/C to 4.40 GHz, 1.20 V
Radeon R9 290X: 1050 MHz GPU, GDDR5-5400
O/C to 1100 MHz, GDDR5-6200
2x GeForce GTX 780: 902 MHz GPU, GDDR5-6008
O/C to 1059 MHz, GDDR5-6720
GeForce GTX 780: 928 MHz GPU, GDDR5-7000
O/C to 1128 MHz, GDDR5-7300
8 GB G.Skill DDR3-1866 CAS 8-9-9-24, O/C to DDR3-2133 CL 9-10-10-27, 1.60 V16 GB G.Skill DDR3-1866 CAS 9-10-9-28, O/C to DDR3-2133 CL 9-10-11-10, 1.585 V8 GB Corsair DDR3-1866 CAS 9-10-9-27, No O/C
Asus Z97-A: LGA 1150, Intel Z97 Express, Stock 100 MHz BCLKASRock Z87 Extreme4: LGA 1150, Intel Z87 Express, Stock 100 MHz BCLKASRock Z87 Pro3: LGA 1150, Intel Z87 Express, Stock 100 MHz BCLK
CaseCM Storm Scout 2 AdvancedNZXT Phantom 410NZXT Phantom 410
CPU CoolerThermaltake NiC L32Thermaltake CLW0217 Water 2.0 ExtremeCooler Master Hyper 212 EVO
Hard DriveSamsung MZ-7TE250BW 250 GB SATA 6Gb/s SSDSanDisk SDSSDHP-256G-G2 256 GB SATA 6Gb/s SSDSamsung MZ-7TE120BW 120 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD
PowerRosewill HIVE-750: 750 W Semi-Modular, 80 PLUS BronzeCorsair HX750: 750 W Semi-Modular, 80 PLUS GoldCorsair TX650: 650 W, 80 PLUS Bronze
OSMicrosoft Windows 8 Pro x64Microsoft Windows 8 Pro x64Microsoft Windows 8 Pro x64
GraphicsAMD Catalyst 14.4Nvidia GeForce 335.23Nvidia GeForce 334.89
ChipsetIntel INF INF INF

Hope for any level of competitive performance between today’s $1600 build and the $2400 machine it replaces is dashed by a CPU overclock that doesn’t even approach mediocrity. Even the previous $1600 machine outclasses it in that arena, though the new build at least has some memory overclocking to push it through a few benchmarks.

Benchmark Configuration
3D Games
Arma 3
V. 1.20 Current PC, V.1.08 Q1 PC
30-sec. Fraps "Infantry Showcase"
Test Set 1: Standard Preset, No AA, Standard AF
Test Set 2: Ultra Preset, 8x FSAA, Ultra AF
Battlefield 4Version, DirectX 11, 100-sec. Fraps "Tashgar"
Test Set 1: Medium Quality Preset, No AA, 4x AF, SSAO
Test Set 2: Ultra Quality Preset, 4x MSAA, 16x AF, HBAO
Far Cry 3V. 1.05, DirectX 11, 50-sec. Fraps "Amanaki Outpost"
Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA, Standard ATC, SSAO
Test Set 2: Ultra Quality, 4x MSAA, Enhanced ATC, HDAO AMD/ HBAO NVidia 
Grid 2Version, Direct X 11, Built-in Benchmark
Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA
Test Set 2: Ultra Quality, 8x MSAA
Audio/Video Encoding
HandBrake CLIVersion: 0.99, Video: Video from Canon EOS 7D (1920x1080, 25 frames) 1 Minutes 22 Seconds, Audio: PCM-S16, 48,000 Hz, Two-channel, to Video: AVC1 Audio: AAC (High Profile)
iTunesVersion x64: Audio CD (Terminator II SE), 53 minutes, default AAC format 
LAME MP3Version 3.98.3: Audio CD "Terminator II SE", 53 min, convert WAV to MP3 audio format, Command: -b 160 --nores (160 Kb/s)
TotalCode Studio 2.5Version:, MPEG2 to H.264, MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG-2), Audio: MPEG-2 (44.1 kHz, Two-channel, 16-bit, 224 Kb/s) Codec: H.264 Pro, Mode: PAL 50i (25 FPS), Profile: H.264 BD HDMV
Adobe Creative Suite
Adobe After Effects CCVersion Create Video, 3 Streams, 210 Frames, Render Multiple Frames Simultaneously
Adobe Photoshop CCVersion 14 x64: Filter 15.7 MB TIF Image: Radial Blur, Shape Blur, Median, Polar Coordinates
Adobe Premiere Pro CS6Version, 6.61 GB MXF Project to H.264 to H.264 Blu-ray, Output 1920x1080, Maximum Quality
Adobe Acrobat XIVersion 11.0.0: Print PDF from 115 Page PowerPoint, 128-bit RC4 Encyption
ABBYY FineReaderVersion Read PDF save to Doc, Source: Political Economy (J. Broadhurst 1842) 111 Pages
Autodesk 3ds Max 2013Version 15.0 x64: Space Flyby Mentalray, 248 Frames, 1440x1080
BlenderVersion 2.68a, Cycles Engine, Syntax blender -b thg.blend -f 1, 1920x1080, 8x Anti-Aliasing, Render THG.blend frame 1
Visual StudioVersion 10.0, Compile Google Chrome, Scripted
7-ZipVersion 9.30 alpha, LZMA2, Syntax "a -t7z -r -m0=LZMA2 -mx=5"
Benchmark: THG-Workload-2012 (1.3 GB)
WinRARVersion 5.0, RAR, Syntax "winrar a -r -m3"
Benchmark: THG-Workload-2012 (1.3 GB)
WinZipVersion 18.0 Pro, Syntax "-a -ez -p -r"
Benchmark: THG-Workload-2012 (1.3 GB)
Synthetic Benchmarks and Settings
3DMark ProfessionalVersion:, Fire Strike Standard and Extreme
PCMark 8Version: 1.0.0 x64 Full Test
SiSoftware Sandra 2014Version: 2014.02.20.10, Processor Arithmetic, Cryptography, Memory Bandwidth Benchmarks
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  • 0 Hide
    de5_Roy , June 26, 2014 2:37 AM
    thermaltake nic L32 doesn't seem well suited for the cpu for stock operations. at stock settings, the cpu's load temp is 57c over ambient according to the temp. chart. the q1 $1600 pc has a hyper 212 evo and it ran the stock i7 4770k under 40c over ambient. from the looks, the tt nic cooler seemed a better performer than the hyper 212 evo.
    was multicore enhancement enabled for both the q1 $1600(asrock z87 pro3) and this quarter's high end pc(asus z97-a)? did it affect the heat output? asus keeps m.c.e. enabled by default. i can't see any other factors atm.

    all 3 builds look very well-performing this quarter. looking forward to the perf-value analysis.
  • 5 Hide
    Taintedskittles , June 26, 2014 3:07 AM
    Reading the reviews on newegg about that PowerColor 290x you chose was hilarious. So whoever win's this thing can look forward to many many rma's in the future. Apparently its plagued with artifacts, bad fans, bios issues, & performance degradation. I would have chosen another brand at the very least.
  • 3 Hide
    pauldh , June 26, 2014 3:32 AM
    To be fair though, look at the dates of those negative Newegg reviews. All but one of the complaints appeared after this system was ordered mid-May. Prior available feedback WAS almost all positive. And a manufacturer rep jumped in to resolve that one.
  • 9 Hide
    Crashman , June 26, 2014 4:07 AM
    Only 8GB RAM for a high end PC? Just plain too much money spent on graphics card. Also, too much money spent on "yuppie" power supply/case
    A yuppie power supply...OK...

    kidding me, hdd and windows 8, pls, read up on hardware toms hardware.....and software.
    The last time I checked the "Samsung 840 EVO MZ-7TE250BW" wasn't an HDD, and nobody wanted us to run OS/2 on a modern gaming system. Please read the charts, wabba

  • 4 Hide
    crisan_tiberiu , June 26, 2014 4:25 AM
    Make this "competition" global please... :(  You have "Tom's Hardware" in every major region in the world... :)  Also FedEx and DHL ships everywehere in the world :)  make all readers happy :)  Our traffic is good for your site, but we never get something special :( (
  • 2 Hide
    rush21hit , June 26, 2014 4:38 AM
    If I had a specs like this, I don't want it to be encased. I'd stick it to my wall even if it means I had to figure out how to do it.
  • 2 Hide
    SessouXFX , June 26, 2014 4:41 AM
    If aesthetics doesn't play a role, this is a pretty damn good build...
  • 4 Hide
    Realist9 , June 26, 2014 5:20 AM
    I think the author hit his mark for the intent of the build/article based on the budget limit and provides a good starting point for us. However, if I was actually building and buying for myself, I would make some changes to add headroom and compatibility.

    I would go with 16 GB of memory for $85 more, since that’s only $85/$1600=5% more cost. I’d also go ahead and get the Asus 780 for $520. (Side note: I disagree that most would go AMD in a 780 vs 290x, but I know better than to open that can of worms). SLI was mentioned but not used, and I also would not get SLI unless I KNEW it worked with the game I was most interested in. The posts on various forums about SLI causing problems in most games, along with SLI “issues” dating back to 3dFX Voodoo2 cards, keeps me away from SLI.

    I also would stay away from “generally stable, but usually not stable in the games I want to play most” (not quoting the author here) overclocking of the system/video card. It’s nice to see it in the charts, but I read about way too many problems in games caused by overclocking for me to rely on it to get my ‘value’.

    Lastly, I think the pendulum has swung too far towards “value” for the high end build. I suggest tweaking that a little for future high end builds (eg..780Ti, 16 GB memory, 500GB SSD, but continue to stay away from $1000 CPU, $1200 SLI, etc).
  • 2 Hide
    Onus , June 26, 2014 6:04 AM
    I'm a little curious why a Crossfire / SLI build wasn't used; I'd expect a pair of $260 cards to beat a single $520 card in many things, and where the pair of cards didn't work too well, even one such card would still allow "decent" settings for an enjoyable experience. That's not a criticism; it is a genuine curiosity. Note that I am generally not a fan of multi-card setups, but then I don't see paying almost as much for one graphics card as for an entire system.
    The big lesson here though, is that people should NOT rely on the silicon lottery to meet their performance needs. Overclocking is NOT a sure thing. I seem to recall this happening before in the SBM; it's a lesson that needs to stick.
    I might have made some different choices, but I'm not going to fault the ones that were made here (the head-scratching is left over from Don's choices yesterday of an Apevia case and a Corsair "CX"). I might be curious about the single-card choice, but I don't think I have grounds for criticism of the build in general.
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , June 26, 2014 6:52 AM
    Alternate builds that do not follow the well-established rules of the SBM (e.g. parts from alternate sources) will be moderated out of existence. When mentioning pricing, keep in mind the LONG lead times for the series, and prices will almost certainly be different now from what they were then.
  • 1 Hide
    zooted , June 26, 2014 7:24 AM
    Yikes, give that gpu some support! Seriously though, how heavy is that thing?
  • 1 Hide
    MachineMan , June 26, 2014 7:26 AM
    I am so confused. Are the different builds in a SBM compared against each other or are Q2 builds compared against Q1?

    If the Q2 builds are compared against each other on day 4, then the price categories should be comparable. Please compare the way WB 1T is placed in "Enthusiast" build vs "High-End" build. Different categories, if I understand correctly. And the high-end build DOES include the SSD in the Platform cost. Anyway, the price categories are named differently , so I cannot compare the builds directly.

    I dont know if I made myself clear... The prices are divided in these sections Platform-TotalHardware-CompleteSystem, but Enthusiast build is divided differently.
  • 4 Hide
    de5_Roy , June 26, 2014 7:53 AM

    The big lesson here though, is that people should NOT rely on the silicon lottery to meet their performance needs. Overclocking is NOT a sure thing.

  • 2 Hide
    Crashman , June 26, 2014 8:45 AM
    I'm a little curious why a Crossfire / SLI build wasn't used
    For the same reason I used a 750W power supply: I wanted the owner to have a CrossFire upgrade option. The board practically supports only two cards, the third slot is...x1 as I recall.

    Yikes, give that gpu some support! Seriously though, how heavy is that thing?
    Nah, it's nice and light. Unlike a lot of similar-looking cards, the cooler on this one is mostly air. That's mentioned in the card's review too.

  • 7 Hide
    firefoxx04 , June 26, 2014 9:23 AM
    I'd rather have 8gb and a better gpu than 16gb that I won't using

    And these giveaways might not be allowed to be global due to United States laws. They don't just ignore international viewers
  • 4 Hide
    DSzymborski , June 26, 2014 10:02 AM
    Newegg reviews also rave about craptastic Logisys and other horrid power supplies. Random consumer reviews and a sack is worth the sack.
  • -8 Hide
    Xeres Forteen , June 26, 2014 10:03 AM
    Windows 8? Next, please.
  • -6 Hide
    lp231 , June 26, 2014 11:56 AM
    At $90 for a case, I would have gone with a Full Tower one, so that it can support E-ATX boards and not only that, you get more room to work with.
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