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Our System Builder Marathon, By The Numbers

System Builder Marathon Q2 2014: System Value Compared
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I'm so used to seeing the cheapest PC win our value comparison that I nearly asked “by how much” rather than “who” the winner would be. And the best place to be when trying to score a value win with cheap components is at an open-air bench, since a benchable platform doesn’t need a case or optical drive. That's how the crew chose to start our value analysis this quarter: performance-oriented parts-only.

The above chart is really only useful to people who want to upgrade old system with new internal components though, and this is a System Builder Marathon. The cheap machine’s margin of victory is reduced when we create a complete system of these platforms.

And then there’s the argument that some enthusiasts don't have a decent operating system laying around (or at least a key not already in-use on another machine), and you really need one to play games or run any of the tested applications. Most of us certainly wouldn’t want to recycle an old Windows XP license, and that’s not even within the limits of your contract if the old OS was an OEM version. A third chart shows the “worst value scenario” for the cheap PC, where it’s paired with the same $100 Windows 8.1 license as its more expensive rivals.

If you want to game on a single FHD monitor, the $600 PC is a great start. You’ll save a bunch of money and have hundreds of gigabytes of spare storage space on its single hard drive for your videos, photos, and downloads. Programs are going to be slower to load than if you had an SSD. But if you're already using an older PC, that's not going to be surprising. Congratulations once again, Paul!

Don's $1200 PC edges out my $1600 PC in value, though it's also stuck running programs from the same slow hard drive. And its 10% margin occurred only after Don got lucky and drew better than me in the overclocking lottery. Naturally, your mileage may vary. Still, there's a lot of performance to appreciate from the mid-range configuration, and it appears well-balanced.

Enthusiasts with a little more to spend can appreciate that my $1600 PC is even faster, despite a slight value penalty. Tom's Hardware readers already know this, but as you throw additional budget at high-end systems, it gets increasingly difficult to improve value. Poor overclock aside, I can be fairly proud of the hardware combination I put together.

What I just said about overall value also applies to high-resolution gaming. Sure, there are one or two game settings where the $1200 PC barely fails and the $1600 PC barely passes. But I’d rather adjust my game settings down than drop an extra $400 on equipment if I were on a tight budget.

And so I again concede Don's second-place value over my own third-place build, even though I wouldn’t personally build that machine. Then again, I'm the guy with the lab full of computer equipment.

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  • 0 Hide
    TechyInAZ , June 27, 2014 12:28 AM
    It's interesting how the $1200 build actually beats the $1600 build at 1080P. I can see at ultra wide resolutions but it surprises me at 1080P.
  • 3 Hide
    revanchrist , June 27, 2014 1:10 AM
    Are you sure it's 770 rather than a R7 265 inside that $454 budget build?
  • 2 Hide
    Herr_Koos , June 27, 2014 1:10 AM
    On page 2 it says you used a GTX770 for the $600 budget build. Surely this is a typo? The GTX770was from last quarter.
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , June 27, 2014 1:23 AM
    Quote:
    It's interesting how the $1200 build actually beats the $1600 build at 1080P. I can see at ultra wide resolutions but it surprises me at 1080P.
    I think your expectations are reversed. Most readers expect a higher CPU clock to boost performance at lower resolutions where the graphics card isn't stressed, and to have little effect at triple monitor resolutions where the GPU limits the frame rate.
    Quote:
    On page 2 it says you used a GTX770 for the $600 budget build. Surely this is a typo? The GTX770was from last quarter.
    Thanks, fixed!
  • 3 Hide
    de5_Roy , June 27, 2014 2:20 AM
    awesome sbm, awesome articles, all of them. awesome job, guys. this quarter's was a lot of fun. no shortage of interesting stuff, excitement. or drama, lol.
  • -3 Hide
    abbadon_34 , June 27, 2014 2:56 AM
    should give the winner his choice of $100 cash or OS
  • 3 Hide
    envy14tpe , June 27, 2014 4:51 AM
    One thing I notice is that overclocking, even with $30 coolers, seems to give an overall boost in performance of 10%. Not too shabby.
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , June 27, 2014 6:37 AM
    Quote:
    should give the winner his choice of $100 cash or OS
    Do you think any of us wants to buy your prize? If we didn't ourselves pay for these OS's, what makes you think we would pay for these OSs?

    I got my two licenses for like, $20. Though I probably couldn't get any more like that, I don't need any more at the moment, thanks. If you don't want the OS, and you win my PC, just tell me and I'll keep it. Thanks!

  • 1 Hide
    firefoxx04 , June 27, 2014 7:41 AM
    The mid range beating the high end in 1080p make sense considering it had a higher cpu clock and only 2-4 threads utilized most likely. I'm sure both gpu were in the 50-70% range
  • 1 Hide
    Onus , June 27, 2014 8:26 AM
    Ok, with the final article, time to enter the contest!
    Disposition should I be a fortunate winner:
    1. Having not messed with a "new" Athlon, I might put a 92mm cooler on it and see what I can get out of it for a week or three. I'd almost certainly contribute a SSD to it, then most likely donate it to a startup I know of that actually is more in need of office-type PCs (but they do play some games).
    2. If the motherboard were micro-ATX, I'd probably use most of these parts to upgrade / replace my Phoenix PC, as they represent a platform upgrade. It would be a substantial upgrade to my Omega PC, but I like the idea of maintaining that AM3+ system due to the overall quality of the parts in it. If the Apevia case surprises me due to its quality, I may use it anyway. One way or another, this would lead to another complete system donation though.
    3. The parts in this one appear to be of sufficient quality / durability that I would probably end up forsaking the Omega PC for this one. I'd put its 990FX onto my test bench though to keep it around, and donate that one (MSI Z77A-GD65 Gaming) as above.
  • 0 Hide
    Patrick Tobin , June 27, 2014 9:50 AM
    Too bad the article wasn't done just a little later so they could put in a 4790K :( 
  • 2 Hide
    dgingeri , June 27, 2014 3:15 PM
    I find it quite funny that clock for clock and core for core, the Intel architecture is between 3 and 4 times as fast as the AMD architecture. AMD really needs to step up their game, badly.
  • 3 Hide
    Crashman , June 27, 2014 3:37 PM
    Quote:
    Too bad the article wasn't done just a little later so they could put in a 4790K :( 
    You do realize that you get a new one in September, right?

  • 2 Hide
    Amdlova , June 27, 2014 9:26 PM
    why we not have a mini itx config with 1600 bucks ? 4770k arock z97 itx noctua d14 bitfenix prodigy and a nice and heavy gtx 780ti. maybe a raid 0 samsung pro with 4 tb storage ? i think will be better than this one.
  • 2 Hide
    allanitomwesh , June 28, 2014 6:02 AM
    Get's real hard to justify $2000 plus worth of hardware unless you'll actually do some powerful stuff with the rig. Go go budget rig,liked it from the start.
  • 1 Hide
    Duckhunt , June 28, 2014 8:51 AM
    I really appreciate the article using AMD. I ought to go the AMD route for a NAS.
  • 0 Hide
    Duckhunt , June 28, 2014 9:03 AM
    I wish they talked more the RAM prolonging the live of the SSD.

    Id also want system build for NAS and UPS and things. If you want to put your swap file in your memory. Get a UPS and link it so if the power fails you computer will shut down correctly. I wish they would of put that in this article.
    Power outage is a b+ch. I have not done this but i wish there would be an article on UPS's that work well and turn off everything orderly.

    It would be good if we had load shedding and other particulars to make the reliability higher. Id like a solar system with load shedding :p . So much fanciful thinking.
  • 0 Hide
    Duckhunt , June 28, 2014 9:04 AM
    I wish they talked more the RAM prolonging the life of the SSD.
  • 0 Hide
    SirTrollsALot , June 28, 2014 2:37 PM
    Forum Hijack Alert!!!
    I really wish they make more articles on upgrades or recycling, that would coexist with these new builds. I believe most Tom viewers, correct me if I am wrong, are not new to computers. For instance, I had an aging OC'd i7930 x58 with triple channel memory, the mobo died after many years, but tracking down a x58 board new is impossible today. So I had about $300 at the time to spend on a new CPU/MOBO (Im saving up for X99 btw) and wanted to use my old DDR3 1600 memory, SSD , HD, video card, and case.... Now what would be a good recommendation for that scenario? I went the following specs on my signature... $270 + about $30 shipping to Hawaii... :|
  • 1 Hide
    chucklepard , June 30, 2014 11:14 AM
    I always love the System Builder Marathons, as they are targeted exactly to me and my price/performance/usage model. Have you ever considered occasionally including other types of builds? Such as the "My parent/sibling/spouse/friend" has asked me to build the cheapest basic web-surfing/music/photo uploading build I can make them. What's the lowest-cost, stable-running CPU/MB/RAM/SD/Optical/PS/Case actually worth using? Or ""I need to run virtual machines with Linux/XP/8.1 simultaneously. What are the best virtualizing MB/CPUs/HDs at specific prices points?" Your focus on gaming is admired and appreciated and is definitely the right approach for the average reader's personal use. However, the components you research are the ones I suspect most of us (and perhaps most of you) enjoy researching, and saving us research time on other component and system types would free up more time to build and use the personal builds you help us identify!
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