Spending More On Better Gaming Performance
System Builder Marathon, Q4 2013: 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 $800 Gaming PC
Day 2: The $1600 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $2400 Performance PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected
In the weeks leading up to our last System Builder Marathon of the year, graphics card pricing kept us on our toes. Because of the latest GPU launches, price dips, and subsequent increases on the AMD side, Thomas, Don, and I decided to focus our efforts on the PC gaming experience, specifically. Of course, it didn't hurt that Sony and Microsoft just launched their latest consoles, cramming in a ton of good technology that we wanted to counter.
My $650 build from the last quarter paired a six-core AMD FX-6300 processor with GeForce GTX 760 graphics, which proved to be a potent combination in both general-purpose applications and games. By the time our series went live, the Radeon HD 7950 was selling for a more attractive price. But when it came time to order this quarter, the toned-down Tahiti-based board was selling for more than Nvidia's GeForce GTX 760.
So, would I build pretty much the same $650 Gaming PC and watch it coast through the benchmarks as it did the quarter before? The $10 I'd save on a GeForce GTX 760 would have been chewed up by pricier storage. I could have switched over to a Core i3, but that would have only left room for parallel substitutions, and no notable improvements. None of that sounded very exciting.
Stepping down to AMD's Radeon R9 270X for $200 didn't sound very exciting either. I would rather have grabbed the Tahiti LE-based PowerColor HD 7870 Myst, which was priced amazingly at $170 back then (and bundled with free games). Unfortunately, those sold out before we placed our orders. And considering the other guys were also targeting gaming performance, I wasn’t about to go cheap on graphics processing. Even worse, taunting me from just out of reach was the perfect solution: AMD's Radeon R9 280X at its attractive $300 launch price. That was the card I really wanted. But with a $650 budget, I couldn't get the rest of my build up to snuff. Even dropping to an Athlon X4 750K required omitting a DVD burner and using a $60 motherboard.
So, I approached the rest of the team and asked for the money to jump up to the R9 280X or to reset back to $500 for the whole system. Both ideas sounded better than recreating the same concept at $650. The higher-ups were feeling generous this holiday season, and we decided to explore the improvements enabled by more expensive systems.
Of course, then the whole Litecoin rush hit and pushed my 280X from $300 up to $420. I meant well, at least.
Back when we ordered, Gigabyte's Radeon R9 280X was one of the least expensive and highest-clocked models. The only downside was a voltage lock on the GPU, ultimately limiting overclocking headroom. The next step was picking a solid platform. I configured two totally different options: a tweakable AMD FX-6300 and a more restricted build packing Intel’s potent Core i5. The cooler and motherboard I would have relied on to take the Vishera design close to 4.5 GHz actually made the AMD option $10 to $20 more expensive, violating the budget. The enthusiast in me favored that option, but my inner-realist knew that we could inevitably pull higher frame rates from Core i5. ASRock's affordable Z75 Pro3 motherboard could get the most out of the -3470’s limited headroom, and Intel's bundled cooler would get the job done at no extra cost.
|CPU||Intel Core i5-3470 (Ivy Bridge)||$190|
|CPU Cooler||Intel Boxed Heat Sink and Fan||0|
|Motherboard||ASRock Z75 Pro3: LGA 1155, Intel Z75 Express||$77|
|RAM||Team Vulcan 8 GB (2 x 4 GB) DDR3 1600 TLBD38G1600HC9DC01||$54|
|Graphics||Gigabyte Radeon R9 280X GV-R928XOC-3GD||$300|
|Hard Drive||Western Digital Blue WD10EZEX 1 TB||$70|
|Case||Xigmatek Asgard Pro USB 3.0 CCC-AE37BS-U02||$45|
|Power||EVGA 500 B 100-B1-0500-KR 500 W ATX12V v2.91||$45|
|Optical||Lite-On 24x DVD Burner SATA iHAS124-04||$18|
|Row 9 - Cell 0||Total Price||$799|
Although it cost me $13 more for a 1 TB hard drive, I didn't think that an $800 PC should be limited to 500 GB of capacity. Of course, you couldn't even configure this same setup today. There's the issue of AMD's pricing, first off. Also, though, my Xigmatek Asgard appears to be discontinued altogether. Looks like whoever wins this quarter's Gaming PC will get more value than originally intended.
Not all countries have good internet infrastructure. If that wasn't the case Microsoft wouldn't have to reverse its policies on the X1. Another thing is retail game DVDs costs very less in my country. For example, Bioshock Infinite costs only 15.97$ at launch date. If I were to buy it through Steam at launch date it would have cost me 59.99$
I know that the writers of "best CPUs" for the money always make a huge fuss about how "oh, you save 7W (or however much it is) by not having the on-board graphics", but I still think it's worth keeping, for if your discrete card gives out on you. My PC buggered up installing my graphics drivers once, and if it weren't for my intel "backup" GPU, my rig would have been bricked.
For us, both were available from Newegg at a $10 difference. Either is fine. I chose the -3350P back for the Q1 $600 Gaming PC, and it's OC was limited to 3.5-3.7 GHz with this same Z75 Pro3 mobo. But I actually prefer the -3470 at these prices for reasons stated in the text (higher clocks and backup HD 2500 graphics). It fit in under budget, and its higher Turbo limit provide a 300 MHz boost across the board (3.8-4.0 GHz) when overclocking. That right there is worth $10 in an SBM where value equals a straight bang for buck calculation.
My own thoughts on this one are mixed. I like to see the challenge of a lower budget. This $800 PC was quite good, however. With the focus on gaming this SBM cycle, this one looks like a shoe-in for value winner. I don't see what two or three times the budget will buy that can offer similar multiples of performance, especially that will be visible in actual use.
That said, for my own uses, I'd take the "High" to "Max" settings in my games that a GTX650Ti Boost would offer, and put the balance into a SSD.
I currently just built a "budget" machine for my son which ended up close to $850. That build was using an Asus M5A78L-M/USB3 Micro ATX AM3+ motherboard, AMD FX-6300 3.5GHz to (O.C. to 4.3GHz @ 38 C), w/ an Enermax ETS-T40-TB 86.7 CFM CPU Cooler.
What I wanted had to be tempered with what I could squeeze into the budget so a new Asus Radeon R7 260X 2GB Video Card was put in for now. A WD Caviar (Blue) 1TB drive was put in for storage, G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory and a Corsair CX 500W 80+ Bronze Certified Semi-Modular ATX Power Supply to make it all run. Windows 8.1 was installed and the case is a nice looking Corsair 350D case.
My working theory is this rig will run well now and a new video card, better CPU cooler with a faster stronger CPU and an SSD down the road are all manageable upgrades that could keep this machine running good, playable frame rates for several years down the road.
There is always more than one way to skin a cat and to me this was the least amount I would build with.