System Builder Marathon Q1 2014: System Value Compared

Picking A Performance-Value Winner

A quick look at price-to-performance using purchase prices might not help you much today (since our parts were bought more than a month ago), but it can at least validate or negate each of our decisions. We do, after all, see a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking after new prices emerge.

The $750 machine yields the most bang for the buck, as expected, and the $1600 machine serves up $0.72 worth of extra performance for every dollar spent. The $2400 machine provides 58 cents of performance for every dollar spent beyond the $750 baseline, but over 80 cents in performance for every dollar spent over the $1600 PC (58%/72%, above). In other words, waste is a smaller percent of my $2400 machine's budget when I use the $1600 PC as a starting point.

Value improves slightly for the $1600 and $2400 machines after a couple months of price changes, but neither configuration will ever catch the $750 platform's high value. It would be better for enthusiasts who want a high-end machine to instead discuss their minimum performance standards.

Speaking of raising the bar on standards, gamers are the most vocal critics of our builds, and the $750 machine just isn’t quite capable of playing through our most taxing detail settings at 5760x1080. We know that because it failed a couple of tests at 4800x900.

Starting at 99.6% of the $1600 machine’s high-end gaming value, the $2400 PC appears nearly on-par with its rival...until I started overclocking it. More than $80 extra was spent to make it a better overclocker, and that expense is returned with a victory comparing my overclocking successes to Don's.

Recent price changes are even more forgiving to my $2400 effort, as it starts life with a 1.8% gaming-value lead that climbs to 7.7% (125.2%/116.3%, above) when both machines are overclocked.

Still, none of us can agree on which of these to buy. Aside from the $750 machine’s general value victory, the rest of our charts are just numbers, at the end of the day. That’s because each of us uses different games, applications, and monitor configurations in our own systems. That’s why I recommend looking at each individual benchmark result before picking a solution that best matches your needs.

Congratulations to Paul for his continuous string of System Builder Marathon victories, and thanks to all readers for the feedback that helped shape this quarter’s competition.

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  • blackmagnum
    Paul always wins. Why not switch it up sometime?
  • neiroatopelcc
    You really should add noise measurements on those builds. I'd much rather have a low noise system with mediocre performance than a fast but loud system. For that reason I returned my 7990 card in december and decided to stick with my trusty old 6950 that wasn't causing tinitus
  • redgarl
    Value is such a contradicting analysis. If your goal is to be 4k ready, the the two cheapest build are not going to make the cut. It's all depending on your needs.Also, for any single graphic card, I would cut on the CPU. There is no need to link a 4770k with a single 780 GTX.
  • vertexx
    Nice work with the targeted High End Gaming value analysis! I'd 2nd switching it up so that Paul doesn't always win....

    A couple of thoughts:

    1. Is it true that gaming only gets 20-30% of the overall performance weighting? If so, I'd suggest moving that up to at least 50%. Even though I'm one for a balanced system, I still think the amount of $$ you're spending on the graphics capability should be reflected more in the overall performance rating.

    2. There is quite a bit of back-and-forth on the impact of power consumption on these forums, and I think this competition would be a great place to factor in and raise awareness on the real costs of power consumption. I understand that electricity costs and system use varies greatly. But I would add in another value analysis incorporating the present value of 3 years' electricity costs using a discount rate (simple excel function 'pv'). Of course you would have to make some broad assumptions around average power, hours of use per day, whether or not you idle the system 24x7, and electricity cost, but I think the present value of 3 year electricity cost would make a decent impact on your value calculations across these systems.
  • neiroatopelcc
    Anonymous said:
    Of course you would have to make some broad assumptions around average power, hours of use per day, whether or not you idle the system 24x7, and electricity cost, but I think the present value of 3 year electricity cost would make a decent impact on your value calculations across these systems.

    I would suggest making a forum poll regarding this. From my steam library I can tell that I've been playing games on average 2.25 hours a day over the last 5 years, and since the bulk of my games are on steam (1400+) it's not much below my real usage. However despite being a gamer I find myself having the computer either idle or playing youtube etc for an amount equal to the time I'm playing games. Assuming I'm around average, with regards to gaming:idling ratio, that'd mean perhaps 3 hours gaming and 3 hours idle/video playback a day on average.
  • Gin Fushicho
    Your link is broken.
  • geoffrey4283
    I'm not sure if this is what Gin Fushicho is referring to, but SurveyGizmo has been subject to a DDoS attack for the last ~24 hours, making your contest survey inaccessible.
  • winwiz
    Yes to me and most people I know, cost for power and noise is more important than 199 FPS in BF4
  • geofelt
    A typo:Your $750 build used a i3-4130, not the i7-4770K listed in the tested configurations
  • de5_Roy
    the links at the top of the page aren't enabled. the 4th link for value comparison is disabled on all 3 of the sbm pages.

    i didn't agree with any of the motherboard choices in this quarter's build. despite that, all three builds were very interesting in terms of performance, choice of parts and builds.
    my takeaway from this is that ddr3 1333 is not the baseline for cheap system memory anymore. 2x 4GB ddr3 1600 and higher, especially 2x 8GB ddr3 1866 or higher memory is optimum for performance. don not enabling xmp for the $1600 pc's stock performance analysis helped me understand this.
    haswell i7 ramped power and heat really high after 4.4ghz and bit more voltage. both were higher than don's previous o.c. of i5 4670k with asus z87-a board. i still don't like asrock. can you guys compare o.c. clockrates, temperature and voltage of haswell cpus used in sbm in q4 to see which combo was better? imo it'd help with how haswell behaves in real pcs instead of open test benches or test pcs.
  • McgheeL
    Good article, The visual studio test is a little out of date since 2010 is two versions behind the current version VS2013. And the newer versions are starting to use the GPU more, which might shake things up a bit. It might be interesting to add a productivity metric using sql server express, since there are a number of apps out there that use it. It would be nice to see a build off for productively/development machines.
  • PepitoTV
    mmm, I'd swear that those i7's are quad-cores...
  • Sparky4688
    I echo the noise measurements in db. Not all water coolers are quiet and not all case fans are loud but my work environment hears everything.Currently hard drive noise on a healthy drive is sometimes too loud….
  • stubby326
    Survey link is busted?
  • stubby326
    Survey link is busted?
  • Onus
    I don't mind seeing Paul win all the time, not at all. I think it illustrates quite nicely that it is simply not necessary to bust a budget to build a competent gamer. Define your minimum requirements, then build for perhaps a notch above that (plus some upgrade room), and you'll be set.
    I'll repeat again my request for non-linear value assessments for FPS>60 in games. I'm not saying it's invisible, but once play is smooth, the subjective experience is not going to get much better. This will make Paul's machine even better in the value analysis.

    I'm really not sure what I would do with any of these. They're all built with some nice parts, but my existing PCs are meeting my needs quite nicely.

    1. $2400 PC: Massive overkill for my needs, but there are things about it I like. I might build this with just one of the graphics cards, then pull the RAID Array out of my "Omega" system and add that, then donate the remainder of Omega for use as a server to a group that needs one. The second graphics card I'd probably give away to a Tom's reader who is not in the US.
    2. $1600 PC: Not sure; I'd probably do some mixing and matching with parts from "Phoenix," likely ending up donating most of this one too (except for the graphics card).
    3. $750 PC: I'd pull the graphics card for a HD6850, add a SSD, and build it for my Mom. She's not a gamer, but would no doubt appreciate the speedup from her older AM3 machine for editing her photos and other media.
  • shovenose2
    In the beginning of the article in the chart, you say the I7-4770K is Hexa core it's actually a Quad core. Other than that, this was an interesting and well written SBM.
  • filippi
    802W from the socket using a Corsair HX750? This is why I recommend a 850W PSU for GTX780 SLI.
  • Onus
    802W from the socket? You don't need half that to play games on "enjoyable" settings.
  • MrBlonde
    When did intel update their 4770k's to hexacore? and yes, I know it's just a stupid typo.