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System Builder Marathon, Q1 2014: The $750 Gaming PC

Did I Achieve My Goals, Or Is This A Failure?

This quarter, I set out to build a more affordable gaming equivalent to my previous $800 PC, which, in three months, rose in cost by an astounding $137. Unfortunately for me in this piece, but good for gamers as a community, Radeon R9 280X prices aren't as bad as they were a month ago. It'd be great to see them back down at $300, though the cheapest models as of this writing sell for $350 on Newegg.

We recently introduced some new tests to the System Builder Marathon benchmark suite, and those were the current build's target apps. In them, my current effort serves up 90% of the $800 machine’s average frame rates. That number jumps to 94% once its GeForce GTX 770 is overclocked. Interestingly, I get the same exact totals for stock and overclocked performance in our previously-tested games. Of the titles we used to run, only Far Cry 3 carries over.

But my comparison doesn't end there. In fact, I need a few more charts to keep telling this story. The games we just added are unquestionably less processor-bound. As a result, sporting similarly-quick graphics hardware, the new $750 system competes readily at the most interesting resolutions against my old build, going so far as to beat it once I overclock them both.

The gains seen at high resolutions help this quarter's PC pick up a few percentage points of overall performance, too.

Spending more on the case, power supply, memory, and graphics card prevents the Q1 2014 build from matching the as-purchased value of my $800 machine. However, when I adjust both systems to reflect today's pricing and isolate the performance-oriented parts, my $750 box scores a victory in its stock form. Here's the thing, though: once I overclock the Core i5 in last quarter's machine, value evens out again.

If all you care about is gaming at 1920x1080 or higher, today's cheaper PC is just as capable as the last one I built for more money. Your only concern should be running out of graphics memory at Surround resolutions, which might not be playable anyway, depending on the settings you're using.

Of course, the averages don't give us the whole story, so we turn to the individual games. My $750 machine leads in Far Cry 3, Battlefield 3, and Arma 3, while the $800 PC scores big in Grid 2, F1 2012, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Both rigs trade blows in Battlefield 4, which either favors the Core i5 processor or Radeon R9 280X more than its predecessor. In a blind test, I'm willing to bet that you couldn't tell the difference, though. 

The good news for me is that, despite lofty prices on some components, this most recent machine is a success. The competition is a fundamental tie, and I'd need to test more games to try pinpointing a winner. Intel’s Core i3-4130 again proves itself to be a capable value-oriented gaming processor able to keep up with Nvidia's GeForce GTX 770 in the seven titles we tested. At the same time, I don't have anything bad to say about the previous gaming builds either. As prices drop, AMD’s Radeon R9 280X re-joins the GeForce GTX 760, Core i5-3470, and FX-6300 as worthy options for your next gaming PC.