System Builder Marathon, August 2012: Alternative $2000 Gaming PC

Which $2000 Machine Is Right For You?

The limitations of testing have continuously beset our highest-end builds for the past several System Builder Marathons. Today, we challenged ourselves to uncork the performance of our games using more monitors, higher resolutions, and a graphics subsystem that any enthusiast should envy.

We’re hoping that wins in the game tests are more than adequate to compensate for losses in the threaded benchmarks dominated by the six-core Core i7-3930K processor.

Unfortunately, we fell just short of our goal, though not necessarily because of its premise. Instead, we find the new machine suffering a 3% value loss due to a processor that came up 2.2% short on matching Sandy Bridge-E's overclock. Not impressive, Ivy Bridge. Additionally, we wasted, if you want to call it that, more than $200 on parts to support four-way SLI. Had we dipped in below the budget, today's machine could have picked up an additional 11% on its value score through simple cost savings.

This high-end machine is only slightly limited by its mid-range CPU and cooler. Had we also chosen a mid-range motherboard and power supply, we really would have ended up with a mid-range box with expensive graphics. That whole high-end title has to be worth something at least, right?

Victory is declared when we look exclusively at the purpose for which this system was specified, Surround gaming. If we narrowed down our criteria to only the most aggressive test settings, today's box would have scored an even more decisive finish.

Final Thoughts

Reality sets in when we remember that our $2000 PCs have to compare against the $500 and $1000 builds at the pathetic resolution of 1280x1024. Core count doesn't matter at that resolution, and even modest graphics cards are taxed much at all. Instead, CPU frequency determines how each machine performs, in much the same way it dictates the outcome of our iTunes and Lame benchmarks. The difference is that owners of all three systems might transcode music, while anyone with a $400 graphics card (or an $800 SLI setup) won't touch 1280x1024, or even 1680x1050 for that matter. Because so much of our benchmark set is targeted towards mainstream components, the competition is rigged to favor middle-priced-and-below complete systems.

We’d like to change that, but doubt that Paul will ever get to pick a parts combo that handles Eyefinity or Surround gracefully. Until that becomes possible, we'll continue reading your feedback for suggestions on ways we can test to better satisfy your curiosity!

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    Top Comments
  • idroid
    now THAT'S a real 2000$ PC, not the other 2000$
    25
  • zander1983
    Now this is a $2000 machine. The 3930k is a nice-to-have, but not a need-to-have. If you need more horse power, swap the 3570k for a 3770k.
    24
  • Crashman
    bawchicawawaWould have went with crossfire 7970 for that res.
    You might be onto something. But Don's an ATI guy and he thought 670 SLI was a good choice. I know why I listen to Don on GPUs, I wonder why he doesn't listen to me on motherboards...
    killabanksthey are both great machines!! i personally think the sweet spot is somewhere around 1500 if you can get acceptable 5760x1080 performance
    Yeh, this machine could have been done for $1800 by dropping to a 2-way SLI motherboard and smaller power supply. Subtract another $200 if you're willing to give up the SSD, and it's a sweet $1600 gamer.
    22
  • Other Comments
  • idroid
    now THAT'S a real 2000$ PC, not the other 2000$
    25
  • zander1983
    Now this is a $2000 machine. The 3930k is a nice-to-have, but not a need-to-have. If you need more horse power, swap the 3570k for a 3770k.
    24
  • Crashman
    idroidnow THAT'S a real 2000$ PC, not the other 2000$
    Actually, this one is the fake, as in the experimental PC designed specifically for gaming. The other one was picked by reader recommendations, and that's why it made it into the "main event".

    That is to say, as much as this one costs, it's still pretty much worthless to the majority of high-end users. Basically it's a $1000 PC with a bunch of extras.

    To put it another way, money "wasted" on the other one went towards making it more flexible and practical. Money "wasted" on this one went towards supporting future upgrades to its SLI array. It's nothing more than an expensive toy.
    6
  • brucek2
    I enjoyed the article and am glad Tom's ran it. I agree with Crashman though about this being an experimental system: while I may rarely have call to exercise six cores, it is something that would come in handy from time to time. Meanwhile, I will never be gaming at 5760x1080. I'd get more value out of the original system.
    12
  • hmp_goose
    Why aren't they in portrait mode?
    1
  • dudewitbow
    orz, using blue ares ram and an antec eleven hundred together makes me think back to my wishlist changes I wish I could have gotten instead.(albeit im still deficient on other parts)
    0
  • Crashman
    hmp_gooseWhy aren't they in portrait mode?
    Too narrow. The wide bezels are a major distraction when they're that close together. I think manufacturers should make some 5x4 or at least some 4x3 mid-sized displays specifically for this purpose.
    dudewitboworz, using blue ares ram and an antec eleven hundred together makes me think back to my wishlist changes I wish I could have gotten instead.(albeit im still deficient on other parts)
    Ares is cool because it lets you run pretty much any CPU cooler you want, without sacrificing memory frequency or timings.
    4
  • EzioAs
    Anonymous said:
    Actually, this one is the fake, as in the experimental PC designed specifically for gaming. The other one was picked by reader recommendations, and that's why it made it into the "main event".

    That is to say, as much as this one costs, it's still pretty much worthless to the majority of high-end users. Basically it's a $1000 PC with a bunch of extras.

    To put it another way, money "wasted" on the other one went towards making it more flexible and practical. Money "wasted" on this one went towards supporting future upgrades to its SLI array. It's nothing more than an expensive toy.


    Really? If it were me, I'd pick this one over the original $2000 PC. There are a lot more people gaming at 5760x1080 and 2560x1600 than they used to be so having more GPU performance is much more beneficial. Although that's primarily for the gamers, for other 3D purposes, video editing, etc the 6-cores 3930K and single GPU might be the best choice
    14
  • bawchicawawa
    Would have went with crossfire 7970 for that res.
    20
  • killabanks
    they are both great machines!! i personally think the sweet spot is somewhere around 1500 if you can get acceptable 5760x1080 performance
    2
  • Crashman
    bawchicawawaWould have went with crossfire 7970 for that res.
    You might be onto something. But Don's an ATI guy and he thought 670 SLI was a good choice. I know why I listen to Don on GPUs, I wonder why he doesn't listen to me on motherboards...
    killabanksthey are both great machines!! i personally think the sweet spot is somewhere around 1500 if you can get acceptable 5760x1080 performance
    Yeh, this machine could have been done for $1800 by dropping to a 2-way SLI motherboard and smaller power supply. Subtract another $200 if you're willing to give up the SSD, and it's a sweet $1600 gamer.
    22
  • blackball3242
    Definitely think the motherboard picked was too expensive- your really unlikely to make use of all 4 pcie slots unless you're gaming at say 5x1 at 1080p or 3x1 at 1440.

    At 3x1 1080p money is wasted on the mobo. If you're going to sli or even tri sli look at the gigabyte ud5h it supports 3 gfx at 8x 4x 4x which should be more than enough for a triple monitor set up.

    Also, shoulda gone with the 7970's!
    -12
  • koshadows
    You know, this might be an odd question but is there a benchmark that runs multiple games at the same time?
    I feel like having additional cores and going up to i7 would help if you're the type of gamer that likes to alt tab while running/flying to a destination and play some sort of FPS in the foreground. Or since we're talking about 3 monitors here, playing different games on each monitor.

    I ask this because I don't think having an i5 on a $2000 feels right. It's a really nice quad core yes, but most if not all the benchmarks run on a clean windows and whatnot. I know for a fact as a gamer I have a million different things open and most of the times I get lazy in closing one game so I just have different games open.
    -1
  • KenZen2B
    I was originally going to use a Core i7-3930K until I read your review seen how bad the thermo and power requirements where. I was then going to wait until there was an IB replacement for the Core i7-3930K, but my computer (6 years old) started to malfunction. Based on your reviews I choose the i7-3770K and any processor with lesser capabilities was not acceptable.

    For those of you who may wonder as to the CPU in my computer, it was the first version of the Duo Core processors. Due to the thermo characteristics of that Duo Core processor, (which also functions in my basement as a space heater, a pretty good one at that) I did not want to replace one space heater with another space heater (i7-3930K).
    -8
  • sixdegree
    Is there any chance for alternative $500 and $1000 PC articles? I do hope so.
    8
  • Crashman
    blackball3242Definitely think the motherboard picked was too expensive...If you're going to sli or even tri sli look at the gigabyte ud5h it supports 3 gfx at 8x 4x 4x...
    Thumbs down for the bad advice, sorry, UD5H doesn't support 3-way SLI. Like the article said, the board used here IS the least expensive Z77 3-way SLI motherboard that Newegg had in stock. And it also supports 4-way SLI.
    sixdegreeIs there any chance for alternative $500 and $1000 PC articles? I do hope so.
    If you can get the guys building those machines to find a potential flaw that they'd like to examine, then yes. But it wouldn't happen until the next SBM, sorry.
    6
  • Menigmand
    Since you're using 2 instead of 3 graphics cards, how do you find the microstutter?

    (you earlier ran another story about how microstutter was caused by having 2 GPU's in SLI, and how it was solved by adding a third card...)
    2
  • perishedinflames
    Quote:
    anyone with a $400 graphics card (or an $800 SLI setup) won't touch 1280x1024, or even 1680x1050


    meaning no offense here but you don't need a $400 (or an $800) GPU to snub the 1280 and 1680 resolutions. most gamers use the 1920 resolution (21.5" - 24" is a very popular monitor range) while not bothering to buy expensive toys either (like you labeled your $2k alt build and i agree on the definition).

    i haven't read of any statistics or surveys but most people i know play on 1920x1080 and when they build a p.c. or try to upgrade their aim is a good CPU (1st gen i5 was the i750, 2nd gen the 2500k and 3rd the 3570k) and the best GPU the price range of $150-$250 can buy (depending of their budget at the given time). at the same time the only good peripheral most gamers want is a good laser mouse. toys like mechanical keyboards, 2 or 3 screen setups, $150-$200 PSU's, insanely priced cases and headsets are most of the times out of the question. and to be honest that's only sensible since every couple of years any setup is rendered useless so why spend $2k when you can get satisfaction with $800-$1000.

    bottomline, it would make much more sense seeing 3 rigs running on the following specs (or similar);

    a. i3-2120 & hd6850 (or gtx560) @ 1920x1080
    b. i5-3470 (or 3450) & hd7850 (or gtx560ti) @ 1920x1080
    c. i5-3570k (or 3770 is the budget allows) & gtx670 (or similar) @ 1920x1080

    p.s. i'm not an expert nor do i pretend of being one, just talking out of experience and what i see from my friends (myself included) and internet acquaintances
    8
  • Anonymous
    Nice article!

    This series of System builders series has been the best, you have listened to readers and followed the general thoughts and tested them out.

    Seems to me everyone on here though thinks they could do better, so what I suggest it creating a forum category for people to post their builds in the budget range with pics and setup specs alongside the full benchmark runs to see if it is actually better. Money where the mouth is and all that!

    On this build, its the choice I would have over the previous $2000, simply because gaming is the greatest use of my PC and running some games in 3d on my 50" with all settings maxed still brings my FPS down and I am using Sabertooth Z77 with 3570k @ 4.6Ghz but have only Crossfire 2 X 5850 @ 950 Mhz! (Which bench the same as a stock 670)

    Saving time for a couple of 670 cards I guess!
    6
  • itzsnypah
    There is always optimizations that we seem to find.

    For me I would of swapped the Mobo and Case for a ASRock Z77 Extreme4 and a Corsair 300r, then added 2 120mm intake fans on the side, blowing cool air straight on the 670's that now have 1 slot of space between them, instead of stacked right on top of each other.

    Other than that I would have gone with this 2k build over the other.
    1