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System Builder Marathon: Performance And Value Compared

One, Twice, Three Times A PC

System Builder Marathon, Q3 2013: The Articles

Here are links to each of the five 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 $650 Gaming PC
Day 2: The $1300 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $2550 Performance PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected
Day 5: The $350 Bonus Entry-Level PC

Introduction

Even though our System Builder Marathons are competitive, we're still a team at the end of the day, and none of us shy away from asking the others for advice. As a motherboard editor, I frequently turn to my colleagues with questions about graphics cards and SSDs for my high-end builds. Editor-at-large Paul Henningsen has already read most of our stories before he even starts planning his affordable gaming machines. Even the self-assured Don Woligroski occasionally asks a few questions before ordering his mid-priced system.

My colleagues get really excited about unfamiliar configurations, so I wasn’t surprised when one of them suggested three of Nvidia’s high-value GeForce GTX 760 graphics cards in SLI. It made sense on paper. I wasn’t even surprised when the rest of the team agreed. But I was surprised when Paul's least-expensive PC came in with the same GPU, while the mid-priced setup did not. My spec sheet looked solid, but I had to wonder if this single-versus-triple GPU experiment was being spoiled by the fact that Don didn't go with two-way SLI using GTX 760 in his middle machine.

Another look at the price list showed that in his effort to boost performance in every other place, Don didn’t have enough money to buy two GTX 760s. A single GTX 770 would give him some graphics advantage over the low-cost gaming machine without sacrificing CPU frequency or SSD capacity.

Q3 2013 SBM Components
$650 Gaming PC$1300 Enthusiast PC$2550 Performance PC
ProcessorAMD FX-6300: 3.5-4.1 GHz, Six Cores, 8 MB L3 CacheIntel Core i5-4670K: 3.4 GHz, Quad-Core, 6 MB L3 CacheIntel Core i7-3930K: 3.2-3.8 GHz, Six Cores, 12 MB L3 Cache
GraphicsEVGA 02G-P4-2760-KR GeForce GTX 760 2 GBGigabyte GV-N770OC-2GD GeForce GTX 770 2 GB3 x EVGA 04G-P4-2766-KR GeForce GTX 760 4 GB in SLI
MotherboardMSI 970A-G43: Socket AM3+, AMD 970/SB950Gigabyte Z87X-OC: LGA 1150, Intel Z87 ExpressASRock X79 Extreme6: LGA 2011, Intel X79 Express
MemoryKingston KHX16C9B1RK2/8X: DDR3-1600 C9, 8 GB (2 x 4 GB)Corsair CMZ8GX3M2A1600C9R: DDR3-1600 C9, 8 GB (2 x 4 GB)Mushkin Enhanced 993988S: DDR3-1600 C9, 16 GB (4 x 4 GB)
System DriveWD WD10EZEX: 1 TB SATA 6Gb/s HDDSamsung 840 MZ-7TD120BW: 120 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSDMushkin MKNSSDCR240GB-DX: 240 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD
Storage DriveUses System DriveWD WD10EZEX: 1 TB SATA 6Gb/s HDDWD WD30EZRX: 3 TB, SATA 6Gb/s HDD
OpticalSamsung SH-224DB/RSBS: 24x DVD±R, 48x CD-RSamsung SH-224DB/RSBS: 24x DVD±R, 48x CD-RPioneer BDR-2208: 15x BD-R, 16x DVD±R
CaseNZXT Tempest 210 CA-TP210-01Antec GX 700Lian Li PC-9NA
PowerAntec VP-450: 450 W, ATX12V v2.3CORSAIR 650TX: 650 W Modular, ATX12V v2.3, 80 PLUS BronzeCorsair HX850: 850 W Modular, ATX12V v2.3, 80 PLUS Gold
CPU CoolerAMD Boxed CoolerCorsair H50 Closed-Loop LCNoctua NH-D14 SE2011
$667 $1302 $2544

Choosing three $300 graphics cards rather than two $450 alternatives for my $2550 machine might have been a gamble, but I didn’t jump into it blindly. I knew that high resolutions in some games caused cards with 2 GB to choke, so I ordered 4 GB configurations (shoot, Chris just showed the same thing happening in Gaming At 3840x2160: Is Your PC Ready For A 4K Display?) I also knew that Intel’s LGA 2011 platform made three-way SLI cheaper than the Haswell-based boards out there, and that the extra cores offered on some of the Sandy Bridge-E CPUs would improve performance in several of our productivity benchmarks. What I didn’t know was whether my complete system would offer twice the overall performance of its $1300 rival, though it doesn’t seem likely, given a 50%-greater CPU core count.

This could get messier for Don though, since his $1300 quad-core setup needs to double the performance of Paul’s $650 six-core machine. However, rather than hand Paul the value crown based on theoretical potential, let's first look at how these machines actually perform.

  • ryude
    Value is one thing, but when it comes to gaming you have to build for a minimum acceptable framerate and graphical fidelity. Once you factor those in you see that the $1300 build is indeed the value leader. The $650 build cannot play all games at 1080p60, high settings, and decent AA.
    Reply
  • itzsnypah
    It always seems that to be the best value in SBM you need the cheapest case, psu and motherboard and spend as much as you can on graphics.
    Reply
  • rolli59
    Agree with the value pick and now looking to see what you guys did for $350!
    Reply
  • Martell1977
    So at what price point does diminishing returns really kick in, approximately? Would spending a little more on the GPU for the $650 still be a solid value add?

    Basically, at what point between $650 and $1300 does the price/performance ratio seriously diminish?
    Reply
  • Crashman
    11603306 said:
    It always seems that to be the best value in SBM you need the cheapest case, psu and motherboard and spend as much as you can on graphics.
    That doesn't stop me from setting a minimum quality standard for the high-end build, that comes at a higher price than the minimum performance standard. And, it doesn't stop me from adding a secondary storage drive, because these are things that the owner of this system would expect to have. I go into this knowing that I'm "wasting" money on quality, features and convenience items, and it doesn't bother me at all :)
    11603341 said:
    So at what price point does diminishing returns really kick in, approximately? Would spending a little more on the GPU for the $650 still be a solid value add?

    Basically, at what point between $650 and $1300 does the price/performance ratio seriously diminish?
    One of our SBM's focused on that question. It's currently somewhere around $700.

    Reply
  • ingtar33
    11603258 said:
    Value is one thing, but when it comes to gaming you have to build for a minimum acceptable framerate and graphical fidelity. Once you factor those in you see that the $1300 build is indeed the value leader. The $650 build cannot play all games at 1080p60, high settings, and decent AA.

    you didn't bother reading the benching at all apparently. The 650 build was way over 60fps in all titles on ultra settings at 1080p except for far cry (it was even over 60fps on skyrim, which really hates amd cpus). Far Cry 3 has always been a gpu melter in the category of crysis 3; so it shouldn't be surprising a 760gtx can't max fc3 on ultra at 1080p. It doesn't in any other bench anywhere either. And fc3 was clearly playable on ultra at 1080p (30-40fps). Personally if i built a $650 machine and it killed every game i threw at it at 1080p and 60fps i'd call it a day. there really isn't a reason to spend more on your hardware unless you're going to spend a fortune on better/multiple monitors with bigger resolutions...

    Computer tech has come a long way, that we basically have a mainstream gaming platform at 1080p for $650 is a great thing.
    Reply
  • nerrawg
    11603258 said:
    Value is one thing, but when it comes to gaming you have to build for a minimum acceptable framerate and graphical fidelity. Once you factor those in you see that the $1300 build is indeed the value leader. The $650 build cannot play all games at 1080p60, high settings, and decent AA.

    Actually what you realise is that the CPU on the $650 build is probably good enough for a GTX 780/AMD7970 or 2 GTX 760's in SLI. With that added expenditure of only $150-300 you could play anything you want to at 1080p without the PC breaking a sweat. It goes to show that, while the AMD Piledrivers are far behind intel's quad core K series, they can still represent decent value for a gaming PC. Nice article.
    Reply
  • m32
    ingtar33, I agree with you. In the coming months your $650 is going to get you more with AMD's 7000 series price dropping. More money is great if you got it. Get your Titans if you can! Average folks are going to be sticking to the sub $850 range.
    Reply
  • icerider
    Great SBM guys. Would have preferred to see the $650 machine get this,
    GIGABYTE GV-R795WF3-3GD Radeon HD 7950 3GB for $224 ($199 after rebate)
    and spent the additional money on a ,
    COOLER MASTER Hyper 212 Plus
    which gives plenty of headroom to take a fx-6300 to an easy 4.5 ghz OC with low temps. Just built my first 2 FX-6300s this way with absolutely no problem.
    With an extra Gig of graphics memory, comparable gpu oc ability and framerates and a solid OC on the cpu I think this system would be an easy walk away winner.
    Reply
  • bemused_fred
    OK, OK, OK. Could someone please explain why there are benchmarks in this at all? Does anyone ever expect the $650 PC to come near the $1300 and $2550 ones withs superior hardware? It's a complete waste of time to make those graphs, because a 5-year-old can probably tell you what the results will be: the more expensive stuff gets you better performance.
    Reply