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System Builder Marathon, Q1 2014: The $2400 People’s Choice PC

System Builder Marathon, Q1 2014: The $2400 People’s Choice PC
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System Builder Marathon, Q1 2014: The Articles

Here are links to each of the four articles in this quarter’s System Builder Marathon (we’ll update them as each story is published). And remember, these systems are all being given away at the end of the marathon.

To enter the giveaway, please fill out this SurveyGizmo form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!

Day 1: The $2400 Reader's Choice PC
Day 2: Our New Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $750 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected

Introduction

Our System Builder Marathon typically caters to the value-oriented gaming, performance-enthusiast, and extreme performance markets. The benchmarks we use are similarly diverse; we try to include tests relevant to power users concerned with productivity, content creation, and gaming. Weighting the suite helps ensure that each type of test affects the end result the way we think is most fair. To that end, games only count towards 20% of our overall evaluation.

I typically get the privilege of building with the largest budget. That's both a blessing and a curse, though. Twenty-four-hundred dollars should be enough money to optimize for all of the benchmarks we run, which explains why my previous two efforts paired high-end CPUs with multiple graphics cards.

Was I wrong in that approach, though? More than once, readers pegged my "jack of all trades" approach as a master of none. Some folks criticized the use of gaming-class graphics cards in a workstation. Others thought it was a waste to use a professional-level processor in a gaming box. More than anything, though, it was stipulated that no machine should be expected to do everything well, and any effort to the contrary would fall short somehow.

Gamers were the most vocal advocates for change, making good points favoring a Haswell-based processor instead of Ivy Bridge-E. After all, only a handful of benchmarks scale well beyond four cores, and the newer architecture's better per-core performance helps improve the benchmark results in less aggressively-threaded metrics. Haswell-based processors also use less power, allowing us to choose a PSU that's either cheaper, more efficient, or a combination of both. Lower CPU prices, a dual-channel memory kit (instead of quad), and a Z87 Express-based motherboard (rather than X79) leaves more room in the budget for graphics, too.

Incidentally, graphics turned out to be the most contentious part of my previous build. Purchased for a mere $400 per card at the start of the cryptocurrency gold-rush, my two Radeon R9 290s quickly rose to $1200 before I could even write about why I picked them. Worse, those newly-expensive cards also compelled me to buy a super-quiet case that a lot of readers didn’t like. In comparison, at $520 per board, the GeForce GTX 780s our readers were recommending would run quiet enough to pick almost any case out there.

Q1 2014 $2400 Performance PC Components
Processor Intel Core i7-4770K (Haswell): 3.5-3.9 GHz, Quad-Core, 8 MB Shared L3 Cache$340
Graphics2 x EVGA 03G-P4-2781-KR GeForce GTX 780 3 GB (SLI)$1040
MotherboardASRock Z87 Extreme4: LGA 1150, Intel Z87 Express$145
MemoryG.Skill Ripjaws X F3-1866C9D-16GXM: DDR3-1866 C9, 16 GB (2 x 8 GB) $163
System DriveSanDisk Ultra Plus SDSSDHP-256G-G25: 256 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD$170
Storage DriveSeagate Barracuda ST2000DM001: 2 TB, SATA 6Gb/s Hard Drive
$90
OpticalLite-On iHAS124-04: 24x DVD±R, 48x CD-R$20
CaseNZXT Phantom 410 Series CA-PH410-G1$90
PowerCorsair HX750: 750 W Semi-Modular, ATX12V v2.3, 80 PLUS Gold$140
CPU CoolerThermaltake CLW0217 Water 2.0 Extreme$95
PWM FanAntec SpotCool Blue LED Fan$17
  Total Cost $2310

Has our audience's guidance turned this month’s do-everything PC into a high-end gaming build? We’ll run a few benchmarks to answer that question. But first, let's examine the components and how they all come together.

Display 37 Comments.
Top Comments
  • 10 Hide
    Crashman , March 24, 2014 1:06 AM
    Quote:
    I dont get the "W" usage?680+237 = 917w. Not 802w as meation above?
    It's not calculated power, it's measured power for the entire system (at the power plug). No addition or subtraction was used.

    1.) Start the system, wait for all processes to load, take a measurement (Active, but idle)
    2.) Load the CPU using eight thread of AVX-optimized Prime95, take a reading (CPU Load).
    3.) Load GPUs with 3DMark 11 Test 1 in loop, take max reading as it heats up (GPU Load).
    4.) Load both applications (CPU+GPU Load).

    The "math problem" is that any program used to fully load the GPU also partly loads the CPU. So when test 4 is Prime95+3DMark, Prime95 can only use whatever CPU resources are left with 3DMark running.

    So the most accurate system power reading is with "CPU+GPU Load" applied. The system measurement for "CPU Load" still includes the power of an idle GPU. And the system power measurement for "GPU Load" still includes the amount of CPU energy it takes to run the GPU's test application.
Other Comments
  • 4 Hide
    Darkerson , March 24, 2014 12:18 AM
    Interesting move, showing the nicest build 1st instead of last. Cant wait to see all the builds compared and see what you all come up with as the budget goes down.
  • 2 Hide
    captain_jonno , March 24, 2014 12:18 AM
    Looks good. Surprised only went with a 750w PSU though. Considering 2x 780 ti's and overlocking
  • 3 Hide
    Crashman , March 24, 2014 12:40 AM
    Quote:
    Looks good. Surprised only went with a 750w PSU though. Considering 2x 780 ti's and overlocking
    Yessir, two 780s and a bit of experience in part picking lead me to expect around 700W of required system power. And, it came out just a little less than 700W.

    Power supplies of greater capacity and similar reliability at this price tend to be lower-efficiency units. And we like efficiency too.

  • -5 Hide
    YellowBee , March 24, 2014 12:54 AM
    I dont get the "W" usage?680+237 = 917w. Not 802w as meation above?
  • 10 Hide
    Crashman , March 24, 2014 1:06 AM
    Quote:
    I dont get the "W" usage?680+237 = 917w. Not 802w as meation above?
    It's not calculated power, it's measured power for the entire system (at the power plug). No addition or subtraction was used.

    1.) Start the system, wait for all processes to load, take a measurement (Active, but idle)
    2.) Load the CPU using eight thread of AVX-optimized Prime95, take a reading (CPU Load).
    3.) Load GPUs with 3DMark 11 Test 1 in loop, take max reading as it heats up (GPU Load).
    4.) Load both applications (CPU+GPU Load).

    The "math problem" is that any program used to fully load the GPU also partly loads the CPU. So when test 4 is Prime95+3DMark, Prime95 can only use whatever CPU resources are left with 3DMark running.

    So the most accurate system power reading is with "CPU+GPU Load" applied. The system measurement for "CPU Load" still includes the power of an idle GPU. And the system power measurement for "GPU Load" still includes the amount of CPU energy it takes to run the GPU's test application.
  • 1 Hide
    YellowBee , March 24, 2014 1:08 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    I dont get the "W" usage?680+237 = 917w. Not 802w as meation above?
    It's not a calculation, it's a reading for the entire system (at the power plug). Load the CPU using eight thread of AVX-optimized Prime95, take reading one. Load GPUs with 3DMark 11 Test 1 in loop, take max reading as it heats up.

    The "math problem" is that any program used to fully load the GPU also partly loads the CPU. So when test 3 is Prime95+3DMark, Prime95 can only use whatever CPU resources are left with 3DMark running.

    So the most accurate system power reading is with "CPU+GPU Load" applied. The system measurement for "CPU Load" still includes the reading of an idle GPU. And the system power measurement for "GPU Load" still includes the amount of CPU power it takes to run the GPU.


    Very much appreciated and satisfying answer.
    Thanks Crashman :) 
  • 0 Hide
    bemused_fred , March 24, 2014 2:19 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    I dont get the "W" usage?680+237 = 917w. Not 802w as meation above?
    It's not calculated power, it's measured power for the entire system (at the power plug). No addition or subtraction was used.1.) Start the system, wait for all processes to load, take a measurement (Active, but idle)2.) Load the CPU using eight thread of AVX-optimized Prime95, take a reading (CPU Load).3.) Load GPUs with 3DMark 11 Test 1 in loop, take max reading as it heats up (GPU Load).4.) Load both applications (CPU+GPU Load).The "math problem" is that any program used to fully load the GPU also partly loads the CPU. So when test 4 is Prime95+3DMark, Prime95 can only use whatever CPU resources are left with 3DMark running.So the most accurate system power reading is with "CPU+GPU Load" applied. The system measurement for "CPU Load" still includes the power of an idle GPU. And the system power measurement for "GPU Load" still includes the amount of CPU energy it takes to run the GPU's test application.
    Any chance of including these calculations in all future articles, so that we know exactly how the power graph is calculated? Ta.
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , March 24, 2014 3:05 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    It's not calculated power, it's measured power for the entire system
    Any chance of including these calculations in all future articles, so that we know exactly how the power graph is calculated? Ta.
    Which calculations?

  • -7 Hide
    jabuscus , March 24, 2014 3:28 AM
    wow. such performance. many ram. they should've put in 16gb of ram for real high-end specs. ;) 
  • 0 Hide
    Versutia , March 24, 2014 4:43 AM
    As I'm into quiet enclosures, I'd go along this route:

    http://pcpartpicker.com/p/3fuGw

    Wondering how much of a difference would non-reference cards make. Obviously, CPU cooler and RAM could be different, BR drive optional, storage drive as well.
  • 2 Hide
    sea monkey , March 24, 2014 5:25 AM
    Quote:
    G.Skill Ripjaws X F3-1866C9D-16GXM: DDR3-1600 C9, 16 GB (2 x 8 GB)


    Shouldn't that be DDR3-1866?
  • 1 Hide
    vertexx , March 24, 2014 5:47 AM
    Nice comparisons to last quarter's build. All things considered, I think this is the best build I've seen in this series for quite a while.
  • -1 Hide
    Sparky4688 , March 24, 2014 6:30 AM
    I like the new focus and high end review first. This build mirrors my own approach except I don't play games so save on multi-GPU costs and no need to water cool as no overclocking either – stability is key to me. My similarly parted machine in November less the water cooling and multi-GPU cost almost $800-900 less after rebates. Can you add sound/noise dB monitoring and include in results? Multimedia machines and home office machines need to account for noise.
  • 1 Hide
    Sparky4688 , March 24, 2014 6:31 AM
    I like the new focus and high end review first. This build mirrors my own approach except I don't play games so save on multi-GPU costs and no need to water cool as no overclocking either – stability is key to me. My similarly parted machine in November less the water cooling and multi-GPU cost almost $800-900 less after rebates. Can you add sound/noise dB monitoring and include in results? Multimedia machines and home office machines need to account for noise.
  • 1 Hide
    ojas , March 24, 2014 6:52 AM
    Note: Arma 3 is largely CPU bound, and seems to favour IPC.
  • 0 Hide
    Treynolds416 , March 24, 2014 7:02 AM
    I enjoyed the article very much, and I appreciate the new direction you're going in for gaming value. However, you don't need to mention that the prices of the 290 spiked last year. Seriously, we get it and you only need to say it once or twice instead of seven or so. Aside from that, still a very informative and well-thought out article
  • 2 Hide
    bigstonebang , March 24, 2014 7:33 AM
    When can we expect to see Tom's switch over to 4K gaming benchmarks? This build should be able to handle it and I want to keep tabs on both hardware and driver updates.Furthermore I think it is safe to say an enthusiast that is going to buy a multi-monitor setup probably already has one, but there are probably other like me that are waiting for reasonably priced hardware to be capable of handling 4K before buying a new monitor. Even though I haven't seen a 4K monitor that preforms like a "next Gen" technology should.Also now that Tom's has been very though covering multi-monitor resolutions I understand (and I hope other readers do as well) how they typically scale.I don't want to be a jerk I'm just trying to ask for an ETA, and if I don't ask, how will you know what I want?
  • -9 Hide
    Plusthinking Iq , March 24, 2014 7:58 AM
    2400$ and hdd... pls
    my fix is get a 700gb ssd, 780ti no sli problems, and a i5 4670, this is a much better gaming pc, and can go quiet build.
  • 3 Hide
    sea monkey , March 24, 2014 10:31 AM
    Quote:
    3.5-3.9 GHz, Quad-Core, 8 B Shared L3 Cache
    8 B?
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