System Builder Marathon Q3 2014: High-End Performance PC

Can We Build An Even Higher-End $1600 PC?

System Builder Marathon, Q3 2014: 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 Budget Gaming PC
Day 2: Our Mainstream Enthusiast System
Day 3: The $1600 High-End Build
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected

Building upon a new mandate for our lowest-priced machine, my high-end build from last quarter faced a surprisingly tight budget, along with some restrictions that may have appeared odd. Adding a $100 operating system to the $600 machine’s total cost meant limiting Paul to a mere $500 of hardware. Doubling those numbers for the mid-priced machine meant it could have up to $1000 in components and up to $200 in extras, including the operating system. And tripling those numbers meant my top-range configuration included as much as $1500 in critical parts and $300 in extras.

Those add-ons could only include items that wouldn't affect our test scores, such as the Windows license and non-benchmarked storage (an optical drive and/or non-OS storage drive). Don argued that cases should be among those parts, since we weren’t testing the extra lights and front-panel connectors that often push enclosure prices skyward. I made that concession, even though cases do affect cooling and therefore overclocking.

Unable to push unrealistic budgetary compromises into my own build, I stuck to spending $1500 for all hardware (that's three times the base machine) and $1600 for the complete PC, including its operating system. Even though my specs looked great in the Newegg shopping cart and successfully beat my prior effort when it came to giving you better value, I still found enough problems last quarter that I decided to take another run at it for today’s presentation.

The previous machine’s $90 case is gone, which helps increase the cooling budget. The award-winning Ostrog GT replaces it at two-thirds the cost, similar thermal performance, and perhaps a less office-friendly appearance.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Q3 2014 $1600 Performance PC Components
ProcessorIntel Core i7-4790K: 4.0 - 4.4 GHz, Quad-Core, 8 MB Shared L3 Cache$340
GraphicsPowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X 4GBD5-PPDHE Radeon R9 290X$530
MotherboardMSI Z97 Gaming 5: LGA 1150, Intel Z97 Express$138
MemoryG.Skill Ripjaws X F3-14900CL8D-8GBXM: DDR3-1600 C8, 8 GB (2 x 4 GB)$89
System DrivePlextor M6S PX-256M6S: 256 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD$135
PowerEVGA SuperNova 750 B2: 750 W Semi-Modular, ATX12V v2.31, 80 PLUS Bronze$90
CPU CoolerPhanteks PH-TC14PE_BK 140 mm$75
Platform Cost$1397
Storage DriveWD Blue WD10EZEX: 1.0 TB, SATA 6Gb/s Hard Drive$60
OpticalLG GH24NSB0B: 24x DVD±R, 48x CD-R$18
CaseEnermax Ostrog GT ECA3280A-BR$60
Total Hardware Cost$1535
OSWindows 8.1 X64 OEM$100
Complete System Price$1635

Other changes include a cheaper motherboard in the award-winning MSI Z97 Gaming 5, which makes room for better CPU. If you’re clicking those links, you’re probably starting to see a theme. These parts were given value awards in our lowest-priced enthusiast product segments. Only those components that have the biggest impact on benchmarks get the high-end treatment this quarter.

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.