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System Builder Marathon Q1 2015: Alternative $1750 PC

The Great CPU Versus GPU Debate

System Builder Marathon, Q1 2015: 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!

Day 1: The Budget Gaming PC
Day 2: The Mainstream Enthusiast PC
Day 3: Our $1750 Performance PC
Day 4: System Value Compared
Day 5: Alternative $1750 PC

System Builder Marathon machines compete with each other across a total of six benchmark suites—leaving only 15% of the score to games. But it usually seems like the winner spends most of his budget on graphics muscle. We understand the math, with fewer than half of the remaining benchmarks able to use more than four CPU cores. Yet, our gaming suite does have limits. Battlefield 4, for example has a 200 FPS cap, and Grid 2 is primarily limited by DRAM bandwidth and/or latency at its lowest-detail test settings. Our gaming suite is further capped at around six megapixels, though we hardly feel that this is legitimate constraint when we're running games across three 1920x1080 displays in Nvidia Surround or AMD Eyefinity mode. Even with those frame rate caps, DRAM bottlenecks and graphics resolution targets, the majority of readers recommended an SLI upgrade to my Q4 high-end build. I eagerly obliged.

Perhaps I was too hasty? A smaller but equally vocal group of enthusiasts suggested that a six-core CPU would be the true answer to overall system performance. Using it would mean dropping from 4.4 to a 3.6GHz Turbo Boost ceiling, giving up a little overclocking capability and paying around $200 more for the CPU, DRAM and motherboard upgrade. They even suggested dropping from a single GeForce GTX 980 to a single 970 to free up that added funding. That's the point when I slammed on the brakes.

I quickly reconsidered my options when competitors agreed to add $50, $100 and $150 to each system’s hardware budget. Either SLI or Haswell-E were now within reach, and I picked SLI for the first system. I’d still need to find $200 in savings to build a six-core machine capable of taking on the SLI configuration in the balance of benchmarks, and some of those savings—such as the windowless version of the SLI machine’s fancy-looking case—are more apparent than others.

Q1 2015 Alternative $1750 PC Components
ProcessorIntel Core i7-5820K: 3.3-3.6GHz, Six Cores, 15 MB Shared L3 Cache$390
GraphicsGigabyte GV-N980WF3OC-4GD GeForce GTX 980 4GB$550
MotherboardMSI X99S SLI Plus: LGA 2011-v3, Intel X99 Express, ATX$195
MemoryAdata AX4U2400W4G16-QRZ: DDR4-2400 C16, 16GB (4 x 4GB)$200
System DriveCrucial MX100 CT256MX100SSD1 2.5" 256GB SATA 6Gb/s (SSD)$108
PowerRosewill Capstone-750: 750W Non-Modular, ATX12V v2.31, 80 PLUS Gold$80
CPU CoolerCooler Master Hyper 612 Ver. 2$46
Platform Cost$1569
Storage DriveNone$0
OpticalAsus DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS: 24x DVD±R, 48x CD-R$20
CaseCorsair Graphite 230T CC-9011036-WW Black$70
Total Hardware Cost$1659
OSWindows 8.1 x64 OEM$100
Complete System Price$1759

Dropping back to last quarter's $600 graphics card would save only $60, so I further economized by switching to an even cheaper GeForce GTX 980. I cut another $49 out of cooling, which is certain to hurt overclocking when paired with an internally-vented graphics card. The windowless black case saved me another $10, and I also picked a basic motherboard as opposed to the SLI build’s mid-priced model to reduce X99’s price penalty.

The storage drive present in my Q4 high-end build—which is important in practice but not essential to the competition—is missing. This is the only time I plan to make that sacrifice, since I feel that the winner of our System Builder Marathon will be far happier with a complete machine. Still, the fact that it was missing from Wednesday’s SLI system means that saving money makes for a fair comparison.

  • Rancifer7
    Its great to see a build that shows just how much of a difference a good CPU and updated architecture can make within the same budget. Well done, thank you.
    Reply
  • zfreak280
    AAAAHHHH! Who spend $1750 on a PC and only puts 256 GB of storage in it!?!?!
    Reply
  • Grognak
    "A smaller but equally vocal group of enthusiasts suggested that a six-core CPU would be the true answer to overall system performance"

    Yeah because as everyone knows, higher definitions need more cores, right? And we don't have thousands of benchmarks showing that there's less than 1% improvement between a regular i7 and an hexacore one when it comes to games. We also don't have benchmarks showing that the 4770k outperforms the 5820k in just about every game thanks to the higher frequency. Clearly this is worth the $200 premium and weaker graphics.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    15392308 said:
    "A smaller but equally vocal group of enthusiasts suggested that a six-core CPU would be the true answer to overall system performance"

    Yeah because as everyone knows, higher definitions need more cores, right? And we don't have thousands of benchmarks showing that there's less than 1% improvement between a regular i7 and an hexacore one when it comes to games. We also don't have benchmarks showing that the 4770k outperforms the 5820k in just about every game thanks to the higher frequency. Clearly this is worth the $200 premium and weaker graphics.
    Er, wow, OK! Thanks for the input!

    Edit: Just to clarify, you think we should ditch the non-gaming benchmarks right?
    Reply
  • damric
    To properly showcase the 6 and 8 core Haswells you need to be gaming while recording/streaming in high quality. The lesser CPUs, especially the quads without HT simply can't keep up at this task. There is a rapidly growing market for making videos of gameplay. Not my thing, but it's something I might attempt if I had the hardware to do it.
    Reply
  • Gurg
    @Crashman Even though I don't know what most of the non-gaming benchmarks are used for, keep them for those for whom they are important. But from what I saw, in a pretty direct comparison, an overclocked 5820K beats a 4790k for ultra settings at higher resolutions.

    Seems like time to drop the 4790k and replace it with the 5820k in the March gaming CPU recommendations. The earlier Haswell E review also appears outdated as better bios, motherboards and ddr4 ram have become available. The cost difference between a 97 and 99 platform have also narrowed considerably.
    Reply
  • redgarl
    Point: Multigpu is the way to go.
    Reply
  • firefoxx04
    He we go with the "more cores suxxxxxx dude!!!" comments.

    Do you idiots really think that people who spend over $1500 on a system ONLY play games? Really?

    Some people do more than just game. They record their gameplay at top notch quality. Some people run lots of virtual machines. Some people like to run folding at home on a couple cores while gaming or doing other things. Video editors love lots of cores too.

    When quad cores became mainstream everyone said "pointless!!! Because games only use 2 cores!!! That statement has turned into, "pointless!!! Games only use 4 cores!!!!.

    The same thing was said about having lots of system ram. Remember when 64mb was the thing? Now im sitting here frustrated that my 8GB ddr3 set is not enough. Same thing with hard drive space. People always tell me, 500gb will take forever to fill up yet im sitting right here with 3TB of storage and I want more.

    This refusal to let better hardware become mainstream is frustrating, and a majority of the people against more cores (and other things) are the same people that watched mainstream go from 2 cores to 4 cores in only a couple years.
    Reply
  • caj
    @firefoxx4

    i cudnt agree without you less. people always refer that i7 are just a waste of money but they forget th endless opportunities that a pc can perform. till now a i7 870 hasnt yet failed me from 4 gpus goin from a 6850, 7850, 7970 and finally 280x. i often use my computer for many purposes. like they say its better to have and not need than to need and not have. the same people who kept saying that 8gb is more than enough while right now i feel more comfortable with 16 gb
    Reply
  • MasterMace
    I agree with your decision to go with a 6 core Intel and not SLI your graphics, although I am curious as to the lack of a HDD for storage. At this pricepoint, removing the HDD is not something I feel to be appropriate. Perhaps at the $1200 pricepoint, you could use the SSD in lieu of the HDD, but at $1800, it feels mandatory. The problem is between your graphics and CPU you're using over 50% of your budget (which is great for gaming, funny enough)
    Reply