Chasing Down Diminishing Returns
System Builder Marathon, August 2012: The Articles
Here are links to each of the five 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!
Is it fair to compare differently-priced PCs based on their performance alone? Cheap computers typically lack convenient features and durable parts, which are hallmarks of higher-end machines. Meanwhile, mid-range builders try combining the two worlds, sacrificing some of the more extravagant additions that sometimes go unused in a performance-oriented desktop. Even if Paul, Don, and I are all completely successful at our $500, $1000, and $2000 price points, Don's middle-of-the-road configuration is going to have a huge advantage right out of the gate for its potential to cram balanced performance into a well-built enclosure.
Of course, Paul and I are always challenged to pull your attention away from that middle machine. Paul’s $500 gaming box generates its buzz by generating playable frame rates at 1920x1080 at an extremely modest price, while my $2000 build seeks success by identifying areas where Don might have gone a little too light, and fixing them with an extra thousand dollars worth of funding.
What happens, then, when the $1000 PC has no obvious failings? Traditionally, $700 (give or take $100) is the point where measuring performance and value start tapering off into diminishing returns. Can Don’s $1000 build push the point where money starts flying out the door faster than performance increases?
|Q3 2012 System Builder Marathon PC Components|
|$500 Gaming PC||$1000 Enthusiast PC||$2000 Performance PC|
|Processor||Intel Pentium G860: 3.0 GHz, 3 MB Shared L3 Cache||Intel Core i5-3570K: 3.4 Base, 6 MB Shared L3 Cache||Intel Core i7-3930K: 3.2 GHz Base, 12 MB Shared L3 Cache|
|Graphics||MSI N560GTX-M2D1GD5: GeForce GTX 560 1 GB||Gigabyte GV-N670OC-2GD: GeForce GTX 670 2 GB||EVGA 02G-P4-2670-KR: GeForce GTX 670 2 GB|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte GA-B75M-D3V: LGA 1155, Intel B75 Express||ASRock Fatal1ty P67: LGA 1155, Intel P67 Express||ASRock X79 Extreme4: LGA 2011, Intel X79 Express|
|Memory||G.Skill F3-10600CL9D-4GBNS: DDR3-1333 C9, 2 GB x 2 (4 GB)||Mushkin Blackline 997043: DDR3-1600 C8, 4 GB x 2 (8 GB)||G.Skill F3-1600C8Q-16GAB: DDR3-1600 C8, 4 GB x 4 (16 GB)|
|System Drive||Western Digital WD5000AAKX: 500 GB, 7200 RPM Hard Drive||OCZ AGT3-25SAT3-60G: 60 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD||Mushkin MKNSSDCR240GB-DX: 240 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD|
|Storage Drive||Uses System Drive||Seagate Barracuda ST3750525AS: 750 GB, 7200 RPM Hard Drive||Western Digital AV-GP Green WD20EURS: 2 TB, 5400 RPM Hard Drive|
|Optical||Samsung SH-222BB: 22x DVD±R, 48x CD-R||Samsung SH-222BB: 22x DVD±R, 48x CD-R||Asus BW-12B1ST: 12x BD-R, 16x DVD±R, 2x BD-RE|
|Case||Rosewill R218-P-BK||Rosewill Redbone Black||NZXT Phantom 410 Gunmetal|
|Power||Antec VP-450: 450 W, ATX 12V v2.3||Corsair CX600 V2: 600 W, ATX12V v2.3, 80 PLUS||Seasonic SS-850HT: 850 W, ATX12V V2.3, 80 PLUS Silver|
|CPU Cooler||Pentium G860 Boxed Cooler||Xigamtek Loki SD963||Scythe Mugen 3 Rev. B SCMG-3100|
Just because its shortcomings aren't obvious this time around doesn't make the $1000 machine’s flaws any less serious. It still uses a cheap case better suited to $600 machines, its SSD is too small to hold our test suite, and it does go $65 over budget. Understandably, though, all of those compromises were needed to get a GeForce GTX 670 and Core i5-3570K under its hood. Don bent the rules a little bit, just like any real-world builder would, to get very real performance benefits. Because he did this in response to reader requests, Paul and I are letting him get away with it.
With such robust specifications, we're left with two questions about the $1000 configuration: first, how badly will it destroy the $2000 machine's value, and second, how well will the $500 machine keep up in the benchmarks?