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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.