A Lofty Goal: Achieving Perfect SBM Balance
System Builder Marathon, Q3 2013: 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.
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If you follow our System Builder Marathon series closely, then you know that the ultimate goal is securing the best all-around performance and value given limited budgets, out of the box and after our best tweaking efforts. Of course, lacking the funds to do all things well, I tend to vary the specific goals for each gaming PC I build. We want to improve, after all, and we can't do that unless we also experiment. Switching things up lets me cover more hardware and learn from the impact each change makes on performance.
Sometimes my goals involve a machine that better competes across a broad range of workloads, matching the previous quarter's performance at lower cost. Other times I gun for the best purely-gaming machine at my price point. Assuming I get somewhere between $500 and $650 for hardware, the Tom's Hardware audience expects my machine to game well, while my colleagues ultimately judge it based on how well it competes in overall value.
When I specifically target 1920x1080 gaming, I often assemble a configuration that sports big graphics and a dual-core processor. Quite frankly, it usually falls flat in our productivity and content creation workloads. And when I’ve attempted to win the overall competition by sourcing a more potent processor, the graphics budget takes a hit, taking our high-resolution gaming potential with it. Ultimately I want an inexpensive processor able to excel in work and play. That's a pretty tall order. Among the contenders, AMD’s FX-6300 appears to pack the most promise. Ever since it dropped to $120, I've been itching to incorporate it into one of my gaming boxes.
We already know from AMD's Piledriver and K10 CPU Architectures Face Off and Is This Even Fair? Budget Ivy Bridge Takes On Core 2 Duo And Quad that Vishera in its three-module, six-core form is quite a force in threaded applications. Outfitted with an enthusiast-friendly unlocked CPU multiplier, it also has the potential to scale way ahead of similarly-priced (but frequency-locked) Core i3 in many games, too. All this suggests to me that the FX-6300 is the crème de la crème of affordable SBM processors.
Officially, I was given the same $650 hardware budget as last quarter. But freed of that round's mini-ITX theme restrictions, I could re-build something comparable for far less money. Thirty bucks could be shed on the B75-based motherboard alone. So, I wasn’t looking to stack today's AMD-based system with performance parts. Instead, I sought to spend less than $200 on the processor, cooler, and motherboard, just as I would do if I was building a machine using Core i3. The savings would address compromises I made last time around (namely, securing 8 GB of RAM and adding back an internal DVD burner).
I have another ace up my sleeve, though. The $250 graphics allotment from last quarter now gives me the freedom to step up from a Tahiti LE-based Radeon HD 7870 to the newer GeForce GTX 760. Even the Radeon HD 7950 Boost is selling for less than $250 these days!
|CPU Cooler||AMD boxed heatsink/fan||0|
|Motherboard||MSI 970A-G43 ATX||$70|
|RAM||Kingston HyperX XMP Blu Red Series KHX16C9B1RK2/8X 8 GB (2 x 4 GB) DDR3-1600||$57|
|Graphics||EVGA GeForce GTX 760 2 GB 02G-P4-2760-KR||$250|
|Hard Drive||WD Blue WD10EZEX 1 TB||$57|
|Case||NZXT Tempest 210 CA-TP210-01||$40|
|Power||Antec VP-450 450 W ATX12V v2.3||$40|
|Optical||Samsung 24x DVD Burner SATA Model SH-224DB/RSBS||$16|
Keeping a six-core FX processor and the surrounding motherboard components cool was a primary concern for me. I couldn’t afford a decent aftermarket cooler without cheating on my budget. Instead, I wanted to tackle the entrance fee by testing AMD's bundled cooler. To help bring temperatures down, I chose a roomy and heavily-ventilated enclosure with two exhaust fans, plus a blower-style graphics cooler that removes GPU heat from the rear I/O bracket. A 12 V power adapter bundled with the card meant we could lean on Antec’s value-oriented VP-450 power supply, and a few remaining dollars let us spring for a WD 1 TB disk drive, landing us exactly on our budget ceiling back when the parts were ordered.