System Builder Marathon, Q3 2013: $2550 Performance PC

Graphics, Motherboard, And CPU

Graphics: EVGA 04G-P4-2766-KR in Three-Way SLI

This build started out as an effort to find zero-cost upgrades to the previous quarter's machine in as many places as possible. But as it turns out, it's pretty hard to beat the gaming performance of a dual-GPU GeForce GTX 690. A pair of 780s would cost too much. Two GeForce GTX 770s looked to have great value potential. But what about a trio of 760s? Two of our graphics editors gave the three-way SLI solution a nod (though perhaps they were just curious about how it'd do).

Read Customer Reviews of EVGA's 04G-P4-2766-KR


EVGA alleviated my concerns about gaming at 4K by pricing the 4 GB version of its card under $300. Remember, just because we're going to be using three 4 GB boards doesn't mean all of that memory is accessible to each card; the same data is duplicated in each board's GDDR5.

Motherboard: ASRock X79 Extreme6

Nvidia doesn’t support three-way SLI in the x8-x4-x4 mode available from Intel’s mainstream processor interfaces, and LGA 1150 boards upgraded with high-bandwidth PCIe switches cost around $400. Adding to our upgrade woes, Haswell-based processors typically don’t perform much better than the Ivy Bridge-based part in last quarter's build. If we wanted to combine true CPU and GPU upgrades, we’d need to go LGA 2011.

Read Customer Reviews of ASRock's X79 Extreme6


Our search for affordable quality in a three-way SLI board turned up ASRock’s X79 Extreme6 for $220, which was $15 cheaper than the company’s lower-end model, the X79 Extreme4. This is the same motherboard we tested over a year ago in a different package, adding firmware patches to address our previous complaints, and subtracting its separate audio/network combo card.

CPU: Intel Core i7-3930K

Ordered long before the official launch of Intel’s Ivy Bridge-E processors, LGA 2011 didn’t leave any economical upgrades to the previous build’s four-core CPU. I’d need to step back in core technology and step up in core count. Sporting six unlocked Sandy Bridge cores, Intel’s $570 Core i7-3930K was the cheapest upgrade to fit the platform.

Read Customer Reviews of Intel's Core i7-3930K


Then again, on a per-core basis, Sandy Bridge is barely a downgrade from Ivy Bridge, which in turn is barely a downgrade from Haswell. I’m relying on the -3930K’s extra x86 resources to boost overall performance through spectacular results in a handful of well-threaded applications, and my history of pushing it to 4.6 GHz.

This thread is closed for comments
88 comments
    Your comment
  • rolli59
    Nice one I got surprised, Tri SLI! I can see why editors wanted to try it knowing that the GTX770 is just an power efficient and overclocked GTX680.
  • CaptainTom
    3x7970's would decimate this build for the same amount of money...
  • slomo4sho
    The gaming benchmarks are surprisingly disappointing. Maybe going with a 3770K/4770k with three 7970 or 770 may have provides better results.
  • Crashman
    741589 said:
    3x7970's would decimate this build for the same amount of money...
    Not sure about decimating, but it would have cost a little more and not filled Paul's curiosity. IIRC, the 760 4GB's were around $20 cheaper on order day.

    On the other hand, Paul's single GPU was OK with 2GB. I figured we'd need a jump to 4GB with 3-way on his GPU, but 3GB on the 7970 probably would have been enough. Also, a total difference of $60 still would have fit within the budget limit, so, maybe Ivy-Bridge E and Radeons for the next build?

    52743 said:
    This build proves that spending the most money does not equal to best performance.
    In order to prove what you're saying, I would have needed to search for worse-performing overpriced parts. You'll see on Day 4 that this build has the best performance of the three. So this build actually doesn't prove anything, except maybe that six core processors boost six-core benchmarks and that more graphics power gives you better frame rates at 5760x1080 (etc). But we didn't actually need any proof for those things, did we?
  • lp231
    This build proves that spending the most money does not equal to best performance. It's all about balance and most of the time, it's getting 2 or more graphic cards that drives these systems pass the $2K mark. If I had $2550 to spend on a build, I know that half of the $2550 won't be going towards 3 graphic cards.
  • slomo4sho
    8708 said:
    Maybe Ivy-Bridge E and Radeons for the next build?


    Tom, the future builds need to have better budget tiers. The doubling of the funds in each tier is fine in certain cases but it doesn't provide real insight into hardware choices. Having the tiers with a fixed figure increase such as a $250-400 increase in budget per tier would make more sense. Also, I would love to see the comeback of the $500 budget builds.

    Lastly, what happen to the idea of themes each quarter?
  • CaptainTom
    ^ Check the prices. A 7970 is the same price as the 4GB 760's. A 7970 is 20% faster than the a 760 and that lead grows at higher resolutions. Just look at how 3x7970's gain on 3xTitans...
  • CaptainTom
    ^ Check the prices. A 7970 is the same price as the 4GB 760's. A 7970 is 20% faster than the a 760 and that lead grows at higher resolutions. Just look at how 3x7970's gain on 3xTitans...
  • Yargnit
    I'm assuming going with Nvida as opposed to AMD video cards had to do with AMD not fully supporting frame-pacing across multiple monitors and all settings. Thus with 3-way video cards they wanted to go with what would provide the smoothest experience.
  • persuse
    not overclockable ram ?
  • piklar
    SLI GTX 780s with 4770K combo would smash this build out of the park for the same cost. Also a case with decent airflow might have been better..
  • slomo4sho
    700372 said:
    SLI GTX 780s with 4770K combo would smash this build out of the park for the same cost. Also a case with decent airflow might have been better..


    Not quite... the three cards, CPU, and motherboard total $1690.
    2x 780 = $1300
    This would leave $390 for the CPU and board... The 4770K is currently $340 so you end up with $50 for the board. Although the extra $75-100 may have resulted in better performance than what is observed in this article, going with 3 7970s with a 4770K may have provided better performance at a lower cost.
  • ojas
    Agree with Yargnit, CrossFire performance isn't something to write home about.

    @Article: I guess this build is more balanced as it does everything well, though a part of me is a bit dissappointed with the gaming benchies.

    SB-E's showing it's age, i guess.

    Thomas: Time to upgrade your gaming benchmarks, maybe? Games like Crysis 3 should be included IMO. FC3 is a good thing to keep. BF3, maybe not.

    Other suggestions:
    Arma 3, TW: Rome II.
  • Plusthinking Iq
    at 2k and above, there should not be any hhd's, just ssd, evo 750gb maybe, hdd is sad. and one 780, sli is not worth it, i do not agree with cheap all in one closed watercooling, to noisy, expensive and noisy is bad, and in a few years its slow and noisy pc.
  • Traciatim
    These crazy over priced special purpose machines are kind of silly. We already know tri-sli doesn't scale well unless you a pushing a huge amount of pixels. Thr huge budgets make it so it's easy to go overboard on something in almost every tier. I think you should keep it at 500-1000-1500. At least that way the budget causes the machines to have some better constraints.
  • Crashman
    1413468 said:
    at 2k and above, there should not be any hhd's, just ssd, evo 750gb maybe, hdd is sad.
    That my friend is an opinion. And one in fact that many of us would consider wrong. If you had the money for a 750GB SSD and a bunch of storage, you could buy three 2 TB HDD's for RAID 5 and have enough money left for an expensive dinner.
  • piklar
    Id have gone for the $2600 to see how far I could push it performance wise. A 4770K with SLI GTX 780s, $340 for the 4770K , $1300 for the cards, MSI Z87-G45 for $145 , Ripjaws X Series (2 x 4GB) DDR3 2133 for $80 totals $1865 leaving $735 towards the case Raven RV03 for airflow, decent 900-1000W PSU, Cooling (hyper 212 Evo would be fine in push/pull) SSD - Samsung 840 EVO 250gb with 2TB of storage is fine and any cheapo diskdrive dvd burner. This build would destroy the build in the article..
  • iam2thecrowe
    741589 said:
    3x7970's would decimate this build for the same amount of money...


    yes it might produce more FPS as recorded by FRAPS...............but would not produce smoother game play
  • iam2thecrowe
    700372 said:
    Id have gone for the $2600 to see how far I could push it performance wise. A 4770K with SLI GTX 780s, $340 for the 4770K , $1300 for the cards, MSI Z87-G45 for $145 , Ripjaws X Series (2 x 4GB) DDR3 2133 for $80 totals $1865 leaving $735 towards the case Raven RV03 for airflow, decent 900-1000W PSU, Cooling (hyper 212 Evo would be fine in push/pull) SSD - Samsung 840 EVO 250gb with 2TB of storage is fine and any cheapo diskdrive dvd burner. This build would destroy the build in the article..


    i totally agree with this, but i would figure out how to fit a corsair h100 liquid cooler in there. Even just a pair of 770's overclocked would have been a good choice.
  • Onus
    Who would build and use this PC, other than a tech-site hardware editor? I really believe the actual [type of] user needs to be identified for the high-tier "professional" PC. As a result, once again I'm disappointed in what looks like clear lack of value in this build. I usually stew over my responses to these builds, and I'll have more to say about this one, but I really didn't care for it. Hopefully my contemplations over the next few hours will answer the "Why?" question a little better. As it is, I'm really looking forward to seeing the value that one of you guys squeezes out of the $350 build.
  • geok1ng
    Strike 3. TH managed to epic fail on all 3 builds this quarter. More of the same: picking a CPU that you know will not overclock well, pair it with 4GB VGAs for gaming titles that you know do not need 4GB and do not have the juice to actually run anything that really needs 4GB and this is the end result: a hot powerhog, overpriced piece of hardware. As BOFH would say: an steaming turd.
  • Crashman
    178001 said:
    Strike 3. TH managed to epic fail on all 3 builds this quarter. More of the same: picking a CPU that you know will not overclock well, pair it with 4GB VGAs for gaming titles that you know do not need 4GB and do not have the juice to actually run anything that really needs 4GB and this is the end result: a hot powerhog, overpriced piece of hardware. As BOFH would say: an steaming turd.
    Strike 3 for a guy who doesn't know much about computers. Look at the benchmark results and the recent 4k gaming article to see why extra cores boosted scores, extra GPUs boosted 4800 and 5760, and extra GDDR5 was needed to run 5760 reliably. Unlike the other guy's opinion that capacity can't justify the use of an HDD, your complete argument is counter-factual. Good day!
  • Plusthinking Iq
    8708 said:
    1413468 said:
    at 2k and above, there should not be any hhd's, just ssd, evo 750gb maybe, hdd is sad.
    That my friend is an opinion. And one in fact that many of us would consider wrong. If you had the money for a 750GB SSD and a bunch of storage, you could buy three 2 TB HDD's for RAID 5 and have enough money left for an expensive dinner.


    ssd is not an opinion, is fastest 1 unit solution, and the best solution is less parts, highest speed, stop holding back the future by buying a hhd,
  • sarinaide
    They were certainly not aiming for prettiest rig around.