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System Builder Marathon, Q1 2013: System Value Compared

In Search Of The Best Possible Value

System Builder Marathon, Q1 2013: The Articles

Here are links to each of the four 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 $600 Gaming PC
Day 2: The $800 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $1,000 Performance PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected
Day 5: The $1,600 Alternative PC


Our System Builder Marathon series typically includes three builds that target the best gaming value, the best overall value, and the best overall performance. That formula usually works well for us, and the mid-priced setup does take top honors in our final analysis (at least it has the previous three quarters). Of course, we also use a really wide spread of price points most of the time: $500, $1,000, and $2,000, or some variation of doubling price two times. With time, we've figured out that you usually get the best performance for your dollar somewhere in the $1,000 range.

Can we get even more precise, though? 

This quarter, we're zooming in on that sweet spot by narrowing our focus to price points all around it. I typically find that the most value-oriented components can be combined into a complete hardware solution (minus peripherals) that costs around $800. That price falls closest to our usual mid-range build. So, our results almost always support my theory.

Don, Paul, and Chris decided that it was time to put some money on that claim, which is how $800 became the mid-point for this quarter's System Builder Marathon. I was forced to give up half of my $2,000 budget to build a $1,000 system, while Don dropped from $1,000 to $800. Paul, on the other hand, jumped from $500 to $600 (lucky him). Knowing that an $800 system win would hand me the debate and a $1,000 system win would hand me the competition, I had only one thing left to say to those odds: Game on!

The one thing I didn't anticipate was that an extra $100 would give Paul the opportunity to use an Ivy Bridge-based processor with limited overclocking to the tune of 400 MHz over its stock setting. Surely that small speed-up wouldn't be enough to let the $600 machine keep up with fully-unlocked $800 and $1,000 boxes, right?

Q1 2013 System Builder Marathon Components
$600 Gaming PC$800 Enthusiast PC$1000 Performance PC
ProcessorIntel Core i5-3350P: 3.1-3.3 GHz, Quad Core, 6 MB L3 CacheIntel Core i5-3570K: 3.4-3.8 GHz, Quad Core, 6 MB L3 CacheIntel Core i5-3570K: 3.4-3.8 GHz, Quad Core, 6 MB L3 Cache
GraphicsHIS Radeon HD 7850 1 GB H785F1G2MPowerColor PCS+ AX7870 Myst Edition 2GBD5-2DHPPV3EPowerColor PCS+ AX7870 Myst Edition 2GBD5-2DHPPV3E
MotherboardASRock Z75 Pro3: LGA 1155, Z75 ExpressASRock Z77 Pro3: LGA 1155, Intel Z77 ExpressASRock Z77 Extreme4: LGA 1155, Intel Z77 Express
MemoryG.Skill Ripjaws F3-12800CL9D-4GBRL: DDR3-1600 C9, 2 GB x 2 (4 GB)Crucial Ballistix Tactical BLE2KIT4GD31608DE1TX0: DDR3-1600 C8, 4 GB x 2 (8 GB)Crucial Ballistix Tactical BLT2K4G3D1608ET3LX0: DDR3-1600 C8, 4 GB x 2 (8 GB)
System DriveSeagate Barracuda ST500DM002: 500 GB SATA 6Gb/s HDDSeagate Barracuda ST500DM002: 500 GB SATA 6Gb/s HDDMushkin MKNSSDCR240GB-DX: 240 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD
Storage DriveUses System DriveUses System DriveUses System Drive
OpticalSamsung SH-224BB/RSBS: 24x DVD±R, 8x DVD±R DLSamsung SH-224BB: 24x DVD±R, 12x DVD±R DLLite-On iHAS124: 24x DVD±R, 12x DVD±R DL
CaseXigmatek Asgard II B/B Xigmatek Asgard II B/BRosewill Redbone U3
PowerAntec Neo Eco 400C: 400 W, ATX12V v2.3, 80 PLUSAntec Neo Eco 520C: 520 W, ATX12V v2.3, 80 PLUSAntec Neo Eco 520C: 520 W, ATX12V v2.3, 80 PLUS
CPU CoolerIntel Boxed Heat Sink And FanRosewill RCX-ZAIO-92Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus RR-B10-212P-G1
Total Cost$600 $795 $980
Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.