System Builder Marathon, Q4 2012: System Value Compared

New Challenges, New Challengers

System Builder Marathon, December 2012: 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 $500 Gaming PC
Day 2: The $1,000 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $2,000 Performance PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected


Most people learn from experience, and a consistent benchmark suite makes it easy for the three builders who participate in our SBM every quarter to figure out where they're going to get the best bang for their buck. Call it gaming the system, if you will. Since most of our benchmarks favor the same types of hardware, we typically end up with three builds that reflect a trio of budgets, but employ the same technologies. Our builds became mostly predictable over the past year, with occasional deviations coming up short in both performance and value.

Windows 8 and its impact on the performance of AMD's Bulldozer proved to be underwhelming, but AMD timed the introduction of more capable hardware to coincide with Microsoft latest, giving us Piledriver-based FX CPUs that do help the company's performance story.

We're also adding a number of new threaded benchmarks this time around. So, the CPUs best able to handle taxing workloads are going to rise to the top, naturally. Could Don's FX-8350 upset the balance of this often-familiar retrospective with eight integer cores in a sub-$1000 system, will my Core i7-3770K-based build brute-force its way through the benchmarks, or will the addition of a Radeon HD 7850 help catapult Paul's $500 build to the top of our value charts?

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Q4 2012 System Builder Marathon PC Components
Row 0 - Cell 0 $500 Gaming PC$1,000 Enthusiast PC$2,000 Performance PC
ProcessorIntel Pentium G850: 2.9 GHz, 3 MB Shared L3 CacheAMD FX-8350: 4.0 GHz - 4.2 GHz, 8 MB Shared L3 CacheIntel Core i7-3770K: 3.5 GHz - 3.9 GHz, 8 MB Shared L3 Cache
GraphicsPowerColor AX7850 1GBD5-DH: Radeon HD 7850 1 GBGigabyte GV-N670OC-2GD: GeForce GTX 670 2 GB2 x MSI R7970-2PMD3GD5/OC: Radeon HD 7970 3 GB, CrossFire
MotherboardASRock H77 Pro4/MVP: LGA 1155, Intel H77 ExpressGigabyte GA-970A-D3: Socket AM3+, AMD 970/SB950Gigabyte GA-Z77X-D3H: LGA 1155, Intel Z77 Express
MemoryG.Skill F3-10600CL9D-8GBNT: DDR3-1333 C9, 2 x 4 GB (8 GB)Mushkin Blackline 997043: DDR3-1600 C8, 2 x 4 GB (8 GB)G.Skill F3-1600C8D-8GAB: DDR3-1600 C8, 2 x 4 GB (8 GB)
System DriveWestern Digital WD3200AAKX: 320 GB, 7,200 RPM HDDOCZ AGT3-25SAT3-60G: 60 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSDMushkin MKNSSDCR240GB-DX: 240 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD
Storage DriveUses System DriveHitachi Deskstar 7K1000.C: 1 TB 7,200 RPM Hard DriveSeagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST31500341AS: 1.5 TB, 7,200 RPM Hard Drive
OpticalLG GH24NS90: 24x DVD±R, 48x CD-RLG GH24NS90: 24x DVD±R, 48x CD-RAsus BW-12B1ST: 12x BD-R, 16x DVD±R, 2x BD-RE
CaseRosewill BlackboneHEC BlitzCooler Master Storm Enforcer SGC-1000-KWN1
PowerAntec VP-450: 450 W, ATX 12V v2.3Corsair CX600 V2: 600 W,  ATX12V v2.3,  80 PLUSCorsair HX750: ATX12V V2.3 80 PLUS Gold
CPU CoolerIntel Boxed Heat Sink and FanXigamtek Loki SD963Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo RR-212E-20PK-R2
Total Cost$501 $1,009 $1,900
Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • lengcaifai
    actually the piledriver based build is more all-rounded, it can be a decent workstation and a decent gaming desktop for those who have tight budget
  • mayankleoboy1
    Which of these builds is the most future-proof ?
  • stickmansam
    The piledriver build should have had some parts swapped out for cheaper ones to reflect the changes in pricing changes from last Quarter. That would have been a more fair comparison to the $1000 build from last quarter.
  • mayankleoboy1
    For the $500 build, why would it have 60% of its value calculated by apps, when it was build for gaming purpose ?
    Just a thought, but shouldnt the percentwise distribution of value for each built based on the purpose for which it was built ?
    Something like : games, apps, storage.

    $500 build : 80%, 15%, 5% (cheapest best gaming with lots of cheap storage. )
    $1000 build : 50%, 40%, 10% (slightly better games over apps. Great apps. fast storage for boot)
    $2000 build. : 42.5%, 42.5%, 15% (equally good games and apps. fast storage should be plenty and fast)
  • mohit9206
    wow its unbelievable to see a $500 gaming pc achieve 50+ fps in Battlefield 3 at 1080p on ultra settings.
    goes to show how even a $500 pc can thrash and destroy xbox 360 and ps3.
  • the1kingbob
    lengcaifaiactually the piledriver based build is more all-rounded, it can be a decent workstation and a decent gaming desktop for those who have tight budget
    I was pleasantly surprised how well it turned out. I believe I would have gone with one that had less cores and spent the money elsewhere. Overall though, it turned out to be a pretty good machine. Now only if they could get the power usage under control.
  • slicedtoad
    You need to use a slightly more complicated performance comparison algorithm. Something that takes into account the fact that over 120fps is useless and doesn't run into problems with things like fps caps at low res.
  • Marcus52
    mohit9206wow its unbelievable to see a $500 gaming pc achieve 50+ fps in Battlefield 3 at 1080p on ultra settings.goes to show how even a $500 pc can thrash and destroy xbox 360 and ps3.
    Yeah the AMD 7850 really pulled its gaming performance up. Very nice too that the Intel G850 didn't choke it off. A sweet build!
  • ojas
    Um i must ask this, BF3, 2560x1600, ultra: is cross-fire not working? Why should 2 7970s serve up the same performance as a single 670? Or am i missing something? Thomas mentions the drop being "extreme" in his build's article but...something's wrong, i think...
  • So we're left with the AMD platform winning out the value comparison for no other reason than the mid-range Intel solution was not permitted to compete - so without filling all the places at the table this test is meaningless. The AMD solution only gets a default win due to no other permitted competition in that price range. This is garbage.

    Firstly, the bulk of sane consumers with even half a clue and with $1000 in their pocket would not have given the AMD platform a 2nd look if given the choice. Are we really suggesting that they would have thrown $1000 at a solution that would not give them a 3770K upgrade option later on if they felt like it?

    Also, this comparison deliberately factored out power consumption, which was rather convenient for AMD. I'm afraid you can't factor this out in this day and age, just because it's hard to quantify the cost across the entire globe. What you could do is produce some sythetics that represent average consumption over a given task and mutliply it up to get the total power over a year - then folk can work out what that would cost them in their own location. What I would like to know is how much that AMD solution would cost me to run for a couple of years when compared to a comparible Intel solution, and then work out what I could have bought with the money saved - it might not be much but I think it's valid - it could be the difference between a decent cooler or a piece of trash.

    Please make these value comparisons tell the whole story by including both platforms within that price bracket - I know that makes life hard for the reviewing team but boo hoo hoo, you're the ones that set out to prove a point, so do a full job please. Tell us the full story, not half of it.