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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. 

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
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 is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.