System Builder Marathon, Q4 2012: $2,000 Performance PC

From CPU To GPU: Shifting The Balance

System Builder Marathon, December 2012: 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 $500 Gaming PC
Day 2: The $1,000 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $2,000 Performance PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected


The goal of our highest-priced build has always been to perform exceptionally across our entire benchmark suite. We break the results down into a final score, which is weighted 30% game, 60% application, and 10% storage performance. That balance gives us a number of different ways to spend our money, from dual-socket workstation platforms to triple-GPU gaming rigs.

When we try to optimize for processor performance, the biggest issue we encounter is a lack of scaling in many apps. A great number of the video transcoding and office productivity applications we run are designed specifically for professionals. But the speed-up we see in most of them rarely justifies the cost of more complex CPUs.

We could easily build a machine able to tackle every workload with exceptional proficiency by sinking lots of money into graphics and host processing, but real-world buyers must juggle available funds and performance goals. Today's $2,000 machine is our latest attempt at a real-world build.

Here's the thing, though. There's really no such thing as "too slow" when it comes to converting a movie file or running a document through an optical character recognition application. But it's very apparent when your favorite game isn't playable. Last quarter, we put much of our $2,000 ceiling into a heavy-hitting CPU. This time around, we're aiming to make the most of that 30% gaming score with a more capable graphics configuration. 

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Q4 2012 $2,000 PC Components
ProcessorIntel Core i7-3770K (Ivy Bridge): 3.5 GHz Base Clock Rate, 3.9 GHz Maximum Turbo Boost, 8 MB Shared L3 Cache$320
Graphics2 x MSI R7970-2PMD3GD5/OC: Radeon HD 7970 3 GB, In CrossFire$780
MotherboardGigabyte GA-Z77X-D3H: LGA 1155, Intel Z77 Express$150
MemoryG.Skill F3-1600C8D-8GAB: DDR3-1600 C8, 4 GB x 2 (8 GB)$50
System DriveMushkin MKNSSDCR240GB-DX: 240 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD$175
Storage DriveSeagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST31500341AS: 1.5 TB, 7200 RPM Hard Drive$80
OpticalAsus BW-12B1ST: 12x BD-R, 16x DVD±R, 2x BD-RE$80
CaseCooler Master Storm Enforcer SGC-1000-KWN1$85
PowerCorsair HX750: ATX12V V2.3 80 PLUS Gold$145
CPU CoolerCooler Master Hyper 212 Evo RR-212E-20PK-R2 $35
Row 10 - Cell 0 Total Cost$1,900

There's a good chance that you looked at the image above and thought, "This quarter's high-end build isn't just graphics-heavy, it also looks like a gaming PC." We still insist that this is simply a high-end, general-purpose PC with a special emphasis on gaming. The fact that Cooler Master's case is oozing red is simply a matter of cost-cutting on a build that ran $1,985 on the day we placed our order, using an affordable chassis to meet our quality demands. The fact that all of these parts sell for $1,900 today means our value comparison should look even more attractive...if we made smart decisions.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • Novuake
    Yeah, should have gone for an ASRock board at the same price point...
  • Crashman
    NovuakeYeah, should have gone for an ASRock board at the same price point...Maybe, maybe not, motherboard market has changed a little since the parts were bought and I've since seen some D5-series Gigabyte boards (with their better PWM) drop to $ least temporarily.
  • mayankleoboy1
    Too much of cheap CPU coolers
  • For the next SBM build, use the "SAMSUNG 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) MV-3V4G3D/US". People are posting low timings with very high frequencies. Plus it is low profile (half the size of every other non-heatsink memory modules on the market) and operates at 1.35v (overvolt it to 1.65v without worry).
  • kj3639
    After building that awful piledriver rig you go ahead and do something like this... and totally REDEEM YOURSELVES!!!

    -Good Job
  • herooftimex
    Suggested changes:

    Core i5 3570k - savings of $120
    2x - MSI N670 PE 2GD5/OC - $800 (gtx 670 OC'd to 1019 core clock)

    Rosewill FORTRESS-750 - $140 (80 plus platinum + 7 year limited warranty)
    LIAN LI PC-7B plus II - $100 (gamer cases look tacky, less is more)
    I think Toms needs a new article: "The Dream Build" with gaming in mind.
  • Darkerson
    kj3639After building that awful piledriver rig you go ahead and do something like this... and totally REDEEM YOURSELVES!!!-Good JobThey really had nothing to redeem themselves about. They went with something a little different, just to try it out. Id rather they go off the beaten path so we can get a better idea of how these builds would turn out without having to buy and build them ourselves.
    Also, if they didnt try something different, they would almost always be cookie-cutter builds until the next big thing came out. No thanks!
    At any rate, this is a really nice build. Have to say, though, I would be happy to win any of these.
  • C12Friedman
    My first thought, I kept going back to it also, was the motherboard, why? I kept going 2nd page, 1st page, 2nd page, back to first page, confusion reigned in my head. Took me a while to get past the second page. But since it was addressed at the end of the article, I guess it's known.
  • One think to consider are both Q3 and Q4 systems future proof. It's important for games and serious task to be able to extend life of your PC and Q4 in this category is certainly penny wise but pound foolish.