System Builder Marathon Q3 2014: High-End Performance PC

How We Tested

Last quarter’s high-end machine focused on financially smarter choices that might provide similar overall performance to its predecessor, but at two-thirds the price. Even overclocked, though, it struggled to reach the baseline performance of the even earlier $2400 build. Naturally, we have high hopes for this quarter's effort.

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Test Hardware Configurations
Row 0 - Cell 0 Q3 $1600 Performance PCQ2 $1600 Performance PCQ1 $2400 Performance PC
Processor (Overclock)Intel Core i7-4790K: 4 - 4.4 GHz, Four Physical CoresO/C to 4.6 GHz, 1.25 VIntel Core i7-4770K: 3.5 - 3.9 GHz, Four Physical CoresO/C to 4.2 GHz, 1.29 VIntel Core i7-4770K: 3.5 - 3.9 GHz, Four Physical CoresO/C to 4.50 GHz, 1.25 V
Graphics (Overclock)PowerColor Radeon R9 290X: 1050 MHz GPU,  GDDR5-5400O/C to 1082 MHz, GDDR5-5600PowerColor Radeon R9 290X: 1050 MHz GPU,  GDDR5-5400O/C to 1100 MHz, GDDR5-62002x EVGA GeForce GTX 780: 902 MHz GPU, GDDR5-6008O/C to 1059 MHz, GDDR5-6720
Memory (Overclock)8 GB G.Skill DDR3-1866 CAS 8-9-9-24, O/C to DDR3-2400 CL 10-12-12-28, 1.60 V8 GB G.Skill DDR3-1866 CAS 8-9-9-24, O/C to DDR3-2133 CL 9-10-10-27, 1.60 V16 GB G.Skill DDR3-1866 CAS 9-10-9-28, O/C to DDR3-2133 CL 9-10-11-10, 1.585 V
Motherboard (Overclock)MSI Z97 Gaming 5: LGA 1150, Intel Z97 ExpressStock 100 MHz BCLKAsus Z97-A: LGA 1150, Intel Z97 ExpressStock 100 MHz BCLKASRock Z87 Extreme4: LGA 1150, Intel Z87 ExpressStock 100 MHz BCLK
CaseEnermax Ostrog GTCM Storm Scout 2 AdvancedNZXT Phantom 410
CPU CoolerPhanteks PH-TC14PE 140 mmThermaltake NiC L32Thermaltake CLW0217 Water 2.0 Extreme
StoragePlextor M6S PX-256M6S 256 GB SATA 6Gb/s SSDSamsung MZ-7TE250BW 250 GB SATA 6Gb/s SSDSanDisk SDSSDHP-256G-G2 256 GB SATA 6Gb/s SSD
PowerEVGA SuperNova 750 B2: 750 W, 80 PLUS BronzeRosewill HIVE-750: 750 W Semi-Modular, 80 PLUS BronzeCorsair HX750: 750 W Semi-Modular, 80 PLUS Gold
OSMicrosoft Windows 8 Pro x64Microsoft Windows 8 Pro x64Microsoft Windows 8 Pro x64
GraphicsAMD Catalyst 14.4AMD Catalyst 14.4Nvidia GeForce 335.23
ChipsetIntel INF INF INF

More evidence that last quarter’s CPU was a dud comes from this quarter’s CPU. The stock clock didn’t leave much room for an O/C, but the stock clock was higher than the previous machine’s overclock.

This month’s overclocking dud was the graphics card. Fortunately, its factory overclock provides fairly high performance.

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Benchmark Configuration
3D Games
Battlefield 4Version, DirectX 11, 100-Sec. Fraps "Tashgar" Test Set 1: High Quality Preset, No AA, 4x AF, SSAO Test Set 2: Ultra Quality Preset, 4x MSAA, 16x AF, HBAO
Grid 2Steam Version, In-Game Test Test Set 1: High Quality Preset, No AA Test Set 2: Ultra Quality Preset, 8x AA
Metro: Last LightSteam version, Built-In Benchmark, "Frontline" SceneTest Set 1: DX11, Med Quality, 4x AF, Low Blur, No SSAA, No Tesselation, No PhysXTest Set 2: DX11, High Quality, 16x AF, Normal Blur, SSAA, Tesselation Normal, No PhysX
Far Cry 3V. 1.04, DirectX 11, 50-sec. Fraps "Amanaki Outpost" Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA, Standard ATC., SSAO Test Set 2: Ultra Quality, 4x MSAA, Enhanced ATC, HDAO
Adobe Creative Suite
Adobe After Effects CCVersion Create Video that includes three streams, 210 frames, Render Multiple Frames Simultaneously
Adobe Photoshop CCVersion 14.0 x64: Filter 15.7 MB TIF Image: Radial Blur, Shape Blur, Median, Polar Coordinates
Adobe Premiere Pro CCVersion 7.0.0 (342), 6.61 GB MXF Project to H.264 to H.264 Blu-ray, Output 1920x1080, Maximum Quality
Audio/Video Encoding
iTunesVersion x64: Audio CD (Terminator II SE), 53 minutes, default AAC format
LAME MP3Version 3.98.3: Audio CD "Terminator II SE", 53 min, convert WAV to MP3 audio format, Command: -b 160 --nores (160 Kb/s)
HandBrake CLIVersion: 0.99: Video from Canon EOS 7D (1920x1080, 25 FPS) 1 Minutes 22 Seconds Audio: PCM-S16, 48,000 Hz, Two-Channel, to Video: AVC1 Audio: AAC (High Profile)
TotalCode Studio 2.5Version: MPEG-2 to H.264, MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG-2), Audio: MPEG-2 (44.1 kHz, 2 Channel, 16-Bit, 224 Kb/s), Codec: H.264 Pro, Mode: PAL 50i (25 FPS), Profile: H.264 BD HDMV
ABBYY FineReaderVersion Read PDF save to Doc, Source: Political Economy (J. Broadhurst 1842) 111 Pages
Adobe Acrobat 11Version Print PDF from 115 Page PowerPoint, 128-bit RC4 Encryption
Autodesk 3ds Max 2013Version 15.0 x64: Space Flyby Mentalray, 248 Frames, 1440x1080
BlenderVersion: 2.68A, Cycles Engine, Syntax blender -b thg.blend -f 1, 1920x1080, 8x Anti-Aliasing, Render THG.blend frame 1
Visual Studio 2010Version 10.0, Compile Google Chrome, Scripted
File Compression
WinZipVersion 18.0 Pro: THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to ZIP, command line switches "-a -ez -p -r"
WinRARVersion 5.0: THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to RAR, command line switches "winrar a -r -m3"
7-ZipVersion 9.30 alpha (64-bit): THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to .7z, command line switches "a -t7z -r -m0=LZMA2 -mx=5"
Synthetic Benchmarks and Settings
3DMark ProfessionalVersion: (64-bit), Fire Strike Benchmark
PCMark 8Version: 1.0.0 x64, Full Test
SiSoftware SandraVersion 2014.02.20.10, CPU Test = CPU Arithmetic / Multimedia / Cryptography, Memory Bandwidth Benchmarks
Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • Onus
    Alternate builds, regardless of other merits, which do not conform to SBM rules (e.g. parts from sources other than Newegg) will be deleted as off-topic to the SBM discussion.
  • SuckRaven
    I love the SBM articles that Tom's publishes, and read them regularly. However with respect to the self-limiting / self imposed (or perhaps not self) budget constraints, I feel that often the various builds end up feeling somewhat dated. I understand this is a result of the criteria that are set, and well explained, but I also think Tom's should do a somewhat more price-no-object oriented build as well. Of course, I am aware of the difficulties here. But a build with current motherboards with X99 chipsets, the newest Haswell-E processors, the latest in NVIDIA / AMD multi-GPUs, DDR4 RAM, the fastest/most durable SSDs, and liquid and air cooling might be of interest to a lot of readers as well (including myself). Efficiency and performance value/dollar aside, I would love to see a machine like this go head to head with the current high-end build, just for the sake of curiosity, if not necessarily practicality.
  • Onus
    I thoroughly enjoyed the writeup of this PC. I've often found selections in the high-priced build way more than I need myself, but this is the first time I can recall not also thinking "what a waste" about one part or another. This one was good.
  • mavikt
    I won't get excited for a new build until both CPU and GPU have gotten their die shrink.
    These quarterly builds usually only show miniscule improvements unless something disruptive happens to the market like a tick or tock. These articles could as well be bi-annual. Good though that the price point that you're at shifts from time to time.
  • bmyton
    4790k -> 4690k = -$100
    290x -> SLI 770 = +$100
    Same budget, theoretically a 10-15% performance boost, and new topic of discussion as part of the article.

    These SBM builds have taken very few risks in the last few quarters...
  • ShermOR
    GTX 980 $560 = + $30 = $1665
  • Crashman
    14249729 said:
    4790k -> 4690k = -$100
    290x -> SLI 770 = +$100
    Same budget, theoretically a 10-15% performance boost, and new topic of discussion as part of the article.

    These SBM builds have taken very few risks in the last few quarters...
    I was actually thinking of using two of the cards Don used in his build, before I found out that Don had one. That would only be +$20 without downgrading the CPU.

  • Mac266
    PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant
    CPU: Intel Core i5-4690K 3.5GHz Quad-Core Processor ($239.99 @ Newegg)
    CPU Cooler: Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO 82.9 CFM Sleeve Bearing CPU Cooler ($34.99 @ Newegg)
    Motherboard: ASRock Z97 EXTREME4 ATX LGA1150 Motherboard ($143.79 @ Newegg)
    Memory: Team Vulcan 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($76.99 @ Newegg)
    Storage: Crucial MX100 256GB 2.5" Solid State Drive ($115.98 @ Newegg)
    Storage: Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive ($59.99 @ Newegg)
    Video Card: Asus GeForce GTX 780 3GB DirectCU II Video Card (2-Way SLI) ($329.99 @ Newegg)
    Video Card: Asus GeForce GTX 780 3GB DirectCU II Video Card (2-Way SLI) ($329.99 @ Newegg)
    Power Supply: Corsair Professional 850W 80+ Gold Certified Semi-Modular ATX Power Supply ($129.99 @ Newegg)
    Total: $1461.70
    Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when availableGenerated by PCPartPicker 2014-09-25 18:14 EDT-0400
    What about this? Might be cheating, given the price drops from the GTX 900 series release. Also add $10 from a promo on the PSU.
  • DynamoNED
    This is one of my favorite High-End Builds in recent memory, because it is very balanced, without some of the excesses from previous builds. It's very nearly what I would build myself on that budget. Bravo, Thomas!
  • 10tacle
    This is like the third SBM article I've seen that just missed the latest GPU release, and hence, it wasn't included. Surely it was known the GTX 980 release was around the corner when this build was thought up. Is there a reason why these SMBs can't be held off if it is known a new GPU series is coming out (and will actually be available in stock) within a matter of a couple of weeks or even a month?

    With that said, I do find these SBM articles most interesting of all.