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Are Liquid-Cooled Graphics Cards Worth The Extra Expense?

System Builder Marathon, Dec. 2011: $2400 Performance PC
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Our new PC was more expensive and it performed better. But was it worth the increase in price? Using the same performance formula from our efficiency calculations (10% storage, 30% each Games/Encoding/Productivity), we compared the overall performance of each system to its build cost using the former non-overclocked build as our baseline.

Most of the extra money in this month’s budget was spent to promote improved overclocking, and the new system did overclock better. Its performance increase was far smaller than its price increase, however. Furthermore, if you're not an overclocker, then that money would go to waste on unrealized potential.

At the same time, most of that extra money was spent in an effort to boost graphics performance, so perhaps a chart comparing each system’s highest-resolution gaming performance to its price will be the saving grace for our latest build?

And there’s what we wanted to see. The only problem with our new build is that it doesn't achieve similar benefits at lower game settings or in other applications. If you're spending big money on a pair of GeForce GTX 580s, though, we'd recommend using a display (or displays) befitting such a powerful combination.

The reason we put such a large percentage of our budget into graphics is that it accounts for 30% of our overall performance score, and there are few other places where big gains can be achieved. We are after all using the second-best LGA 1155 CPU at a fairly high overclock, and even fewer of our programs could benefit from the hundreds of dollars it would cost to upgrade to a Core i7-3930K. In this instance, the only buyers who can justify the added expensive of liquid-cooled graphics cards are the ones who value gaming supremacy above every other task they plan to throw at their new PC.

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  • 27 Hide
    Onus , December 19, 2011 4:38 AM
    When I saw how much power this thing sucks down, I was glad to see that it pretty well shows the law of diminishing returns. This does nothing to change my opinion that only where time is money, i.e. for professional use, is this kind of cost justified. Spending this amount of money just to play games is a waste of resources all around, from the money to buy the parts, to the expense of running it. For future high-end builds, please specify the professional and/or his/her software that this machine is being designed to run. Justify the GPU choice by throwing in a GPGPU application that can take advantage whatever was selected. BTW, it does LOOK great; nice case choice.

    Also, as much as I understand the frustration with sacrifices, IMHO that's where the best lessons are.
    Fun to read, yes, but just not practical. Hmmm, I guess that means the downvoting is about to begin...
  • 13 Hide
    hmp_goose , December 19, 2011 4:03 AM
    Retire Crysis? Blasphemy!
Other Comments
  • -2 Hide
    shak2300 , December 19, 2011 3:50 AM
    when i first saw "System Builder Marathon, Dec. 2011: $2400 Performance PC" first thing i thought was a x79 build, $2400 just for performance PC using a 2600k CPU i kinda cringe , i cant imagine how much more expensive it would be if u did it with a 3930k, yes i know it not a big different in performance between the two but was just wonder :) 
  • 13 Hide
    hmp_goose , December 19, 2011 4:03 AM
    Retire Crysis? Blasphemy!
  • 27 Hide
    Onus , December 19, 2011 4:38 AM
    When I saw how much power this thing sucks down, I was glad to see that it pretty well shows the law of diminishing returns. This does nothing to change my opinion that only where time is money, i.e. for professional use, is this kind of cost justified. Spending this amount of money just to play games is a waste of resources all around, from the money to buy the parts, to the expense of running it. For future high-end builds, please specify the professional and/or his/her software that this machine is being designed to run. Justify the GPU choice by throwing in a GPGPU application that can take advantage whatever was selected. BTW, it does LOOK great; nice case choice.

    Also, as much as I understand the frustration with sacrifices, IMHO that's where the best lessons are.
    Fun to read, yes, but just not practical. Hmmm, I guess that means the downvoting is about to begin...
  • 1 Hide
    Novulux , December 19, 2011 4:51 AM
    Quote:
    The contest opens on December 19, 2011 9:00 PM PDT and closes on January 4, 2012 9:00 PM PDT.


    So, I wait until tomorrow to enter?
  • 2 Hide
    cangelini , December 19, 2011 5:40 AM
    NovuluxSo, I wait until tomorrow to enter?


    No, you're good today. It should start with today's story. I'll see if I can get that changed.
  • -4 Hide
    one-shot , December 19, 2011 6:15 AM
    $2400 and no i7 3930K?
  • 6 Hide
    Crashman , December 19, 2011 6:26 AM
    one-shot$2400 and no i7 3930K?
    What, and ditch one of the graphics cards for a reduced average-performance score? 3930K didn't show up until after the system was ordered, but I stand with the first argument, there's just not enough performance to be gained using these specific apps.
    jtt283For future high-end builds, please specify the professional and/or his/her software that this machine is being designed to run. Justify the GPU choice by throwing in a GPGPU application that can take advantage whatever was selected.
    We try to add professional apps that at least a few thousand of our readers have access to, but I'll ping Chris for more. Basically we try to spend our money boosting our own apps and adding a few more is probably justified. Suggestions?
    jtt283BTW, it does LOOK great; nice case choice.
    I was a little disappointed in my examination of the Arc Midi, that it's nowhere near as solid as the Arc Mini. I think it's because it's larger (so the bracing bends are further appart). As nice as the Arc Midi looks, the Antec Three Hundred is far sturdier at a similar size.
    jtt283Also, as much as I understand the frustration with sacrifices, IMHO that's where the best lessons are.Fun to read, yes, but just not practical. Hmmm, I guess that means the downvoting is about to begin...
    I almost voted you down for saying that... :p 
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , December 19, 2011 6:37 AM
    love the fractal case!!
  • 0 Hide
    mattmock , December 19, 2011 7:10 AM
    I can't find the storage benchmarks. Am I just overlooking them? I am thinking about getting the Crucial M4 for Christmas. It seems like a good overall value.
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , December 19, 2011 7:18 AM
    MattMockI can't find the storage benchmarks. Am I just overlooking them? I am thinking about getting the Crucial M4 for Christmas. It seems like a good overall value.
    They're on the PCMark benchmark page. Tom's Hardware uses those four application-based results to calculate the storage score.
  • 1 Hide
    stuffex , December 19, 2011 7:28 AM
    add battlefield 3 into the benchmarks please! i wanna see how the computer performs!
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , December 19, 2011 7:38 AM
    stuffexadd battlefield 3 into the benchmarks please! i wanna see how the computer performs!
    Great! Now, any suggestion for benchmarks that might be somewhat common among readers that could highlight the value of a six-core CPU?
  • 1 Hide
    giovanni86 , December 19, 2011 8:19 AM
    "I was a little disappointed in my examination of the Arc Midi, that it's nowhere near as solid as the Arc Mini. I think it's because it's larger (so the bracing bends are further appart). As nice as the Arc Midi looks, the Antec Three Hundred is far sturdier at a similar size."

    Its also half the price.

    Toms needs more current benchmarks, some of these games were talking are ages old. And need i say we need a RTS game in this mixture. I am a bit disappointed that the 3930k wasn't in this build along with a nice X79 board. Not that a 2600k processor isn't fast enough but you never know. I would rather pick up my six core but thats just me, and most likely it could be a waste. But like i said you never know, i remember SupCom came out and that required some CPU multi core power. Not sure how many cores were needed but a Quad was definitely better then a Dual core.
  • 5 Hide
    cmartin011 , December 19, 2011 8:23 AM
    replace crysis with battlefield 3!
  • 0 Hide
    a4mula , December 19, 2011 9:25 AM
    The love affair with nVidia continues. 3x 6950 can be had for substantial savings even while factoring a nf200 motherboard while providing increased performance and eliminating microstuttering. The inclusion of watercooled gpu/cpu setup while novel, is little more. The loss of a cpu HSF and no addition of spotcooler means your VRMs and memory are relying on just a single exhaust fan being pushed through a radiator for circulation. I know this was a 'no-sacrifice' build, in the end it just felt like an ill-planned money sink.
  • 4 Hide
    Zeh , December 19, 2011 11:11 AM
    I would also like to see a comparison using three 6950s. Also, microstutter is gone with a triple card configuration.

    Considering the price of the 2 gtx580s, 3 hd6950s might offer better value - as long as the game allows multi-gpus.
  • 1 Hide
    a4mula , December 19, 2011 11:35 AM
    ZehI would also like to see a comparison using three 6950s. Also, microstutter is gone with a triple card configuration.Considering the price of the 2 gtx580s, 3 hd6950s might offer better value - as long as the game allows multi-gpus.


    You can compare the two by using another article by Thomas Soderstrom that also utilizes the i7-2600k but is looking at SLI/Crossfire scaling.

    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/crossfire-sli-3-way-scaling,2865.html

    In the 3 games that the two systems both had shared benchmarks, the 3x 6950 was the clear winner.
  • 0 Hide
    Formata , December 19, 2011 12:03 PM
    I guess it would have been nice to see what this 'gaming system' can do on a few more games we are actually playing not just games we use to bench.
  • 2 Hide
    CaedenV , December 19, 2011 12:40 PM
    nice build, but it looks like somewhere in the $2000-2400 range there is a definite loss in !/$, though it does still help with the ultra high end graphics on games like metro.

    Toms, can we get some reviews on how the computers from each bracket compare year over year as a general summary to end the year out? I would love to see what $2000 gets you in 2010 vs 2011, and even 2009. My bet is that there would be some decent changes over the last 2 years as everything has droped in price with the exception of those peskey hard drives.
  • 7 Hide
    Crashman , December 19, 2011 1:12 PM
    ZehI would also like to see a comparison using three 6950s. Also, microstutter is gone with a triple card configuration.Considering the price of the 2 gtx580s, 3 hd6950s might offer better value - as long as the game allows multi-gpus.
    After the failure of the Gigabyte board from the last SBM, this builder wanted to try the competitor from MSI. Upgrading to 3-way support would have required a far-more-expensive NF200-equipped motherboard to get the PCIe lane multiplication...and the Core i7-3930K wasn't available when the machine was ordered. So, maybe a 3930K next time using less-expensive 3-way CrossFire to recoup some of the extra money? That depends of course on availability and cost of competing solutions.
    a4mulaThe love affair with nVidia continues.
    I'd address the rest of your post but you've already proven yourself incapable of making an accurate statement. Tom's Hardware uses AMD graphics far more often in its SBM machines. Now go on to Tomorrows build and let's see if you claim a love affair with AMD...
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