System Builder Marathon, Q2 2014: A Balanced High-End Build

CPU, Graphics, And Memory

CPU: Intel Core i7-4770K

Based primarily on reader requests not to use another six-core CPU, last quarter’s high-end build still featured Intel’s revered Core i7-4770K overclocked to 4.50 GHz.

It was the fastest unlocked CPU in Intel’s LGA 1150 arsenal back when we placed our orders for this quarter, and nothing less than the best would approach that machine's compelling performance. Of course, in the time between then and now, Intel introduced the Core i7-4790K. But it's only supposed to hit availability today.

Read Customer Reviews of Intel's Core i7-4770K CPU

For now, we make do with the -4770K. Hyper-Threading will help in a few of our tests, and top-end processors tend to enjoy the best binning. But the conspiracy theorist in me is suspicious that maybe Intel was setting aside its best quad-core Haswell dies for Devil's Canyon way back when this Core i7 was manufactured (Ed.: Are you trying to foreshadow something, Thomas?).

Graphics Card: PowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X 4GBD5-PPDHE

Last quarter, I struggled and failed to fit two GeForce GTX 780 Tis into my budget, settling instead for two vanilla 780s.

This quarter’s budget is a lot tighter. I don't even have the money for one 780 Ti, let alone two slightly cheaper 780s.

Read Customer Reviews of PowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X 4GBD5-PPDHE Graphics Card

Given a choice between a single GeForce GTX 780 or a single Radeon R9 290X, most of us are going to go the AMD route. Selling for about $30 more than the noisy reference design on the day we placed our order, PowerColor’s PCS+ comes with a big quiet cooler and a small factory overclock. That kind of value is good enough to earn it an award.

Since we made our purchase, the cheapest Radeon R9 290X cards dropped by $20 while the PCS+ went up by $90 and back down to $570 with the 250 GB Samsung 840 EVO. According to PowerColor, this sale will end in days. So, we're using the original and eventual $530 price point for our calculations.

Memory: 8 GB G.Skill DDR3-1866 CAS 8

At least one of our benchmarks speeds up dramatically when we add more than 8 GB of RAM, but the price of a 16 GB kit would have a detrimental impact on value. Limited to a pair of 4 GB modules, we at least needed a good set.

Read Customer Reviews of G.Skill's 8 GB DDR3-1866 CAS 8 RAM

I’ve reviewed enough DRAM to notice that G.Skill uses the same ICs at various frequencies and latencies under a variety of part numbers. Maybe the company bins these differently? While searching for a set that I know would contain the “good stuff” (DDR3-1600 C8, DDR3-1866 C9, DDR3-2133 C10), I found a great deal on a kit that might have been binned a little higher: G.Skill's Ripjaws X F3-14900CL8D-8GBXM DDR3-1866 CAS 8.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • mrmike_49
    Only 8GB RAM for a high end PC? Just plain too much money spent on graphics card. Also, too much money spent on "yuppie" power supply/case
  • wabba
    kidding me, hdd and windows 8, pls, read up on hardware toms hardware.....and software.
  • de5_Roy
    thermaltake nic L32 doesn't seem well suited for the cpu for stock operations. at stock settings, the cpu's load temp is 57c over ambient according to the temp. chart. the q1 $1600 pc has a hyper 212 evo and it ran the stock i7 4770k under 40c over ambient. from the looks, the tt nic cooler seemed a better performer than the hyper 212 evo.
    was multicore enhancement enabled for both the q1 $1600(asrock z87 pro3) and this quarter's high end pc(asus z97-a)? did it affect the heat output? asus keeps m.c.e. enabled by default. i can't see any other factors atm.

    all 3 builds look very well-performing this quarter. looking forward to the perf-value analysis.
  • Taintedskittles
    Reading the reviews on newegg about that PowerColor 290x you chose was hilarious. So whoever win's this thing can look forward to many many rma's in the future. Apparently its plagued with artifacts, bad fans, bios issues, & performance degradation. I would have chosen another brand at the very least.
  • pauldh
    To be fair though, look at the dates of those negative Newegg reviews. All but one of the complaints appeared after this system was ordered mid-May. Prior available feedback WAS almost all positive. And a manufacturer rep jumped in to resolve that one.
  • Crashman
    13586826 said:
    Only 8GB RAM for a high end PC? Just plain too much money spent on graphics card. Also, too much money spent on "yuppie" power supply/case
    A yuppie power supply...OK...

    13587011 said:
    kidding me, hdd and windows 8, pls, read up on hardware toms hardware.....and software.
    The last time I checked the "Samsung 840 EVO MZ-7TE250BW" wasn't an HDD, and nobody wanted us to run OS/2 on a modern gaming system. Please read the charts, wabba

  • crisan_tiberiu
    Make this "competition" global please... :( You have "Tom's Hardware" in every major region in the world... :) Also FedEx and DHL ships everywehere in the world :) make all readers happy :) Our traffic is good for your site, but we never get something special :((
  • rush21hit
    If I had a specs like this, I don't want it to be encased. I'd stick it to my wall even if it means I had to figure out how to do it.
  • SessouXFX
    If aesthetics doesn't play a role, this is a pretty damn good build...
  • Realist9
    I think the author hit his mark for the intent of the build/article based on the budget limit and provides a good starting point for us. However, if I was actually building and buying for myself, I would make some changes to add headroom and compatibility.

    I would go with 16 GB of memory for $85 more, since that’s only $85/$1600=5% more cost. I’d also go ahead and get the Asus 780 for $520. (Side note: I disagree that most would go AMD in a 780 vs 290x, but I know better than to open that can of worms). SLI was mentioned but not used, and I also would not get SLI unless I KNEW it worked with the game I was most interested in. The posts on various forums about SLI causing problems in most games, along with SLI “issues” dating back to 3dFX Voodoo2 cards, keeps me away from SLI.

    I also would stay away from “generally stable, but usually not stable in the games I want to play most” (not quoting the author here) overclocking of the system/video card. It’s nice to see it in the charts, but I read about way too many problems in games caused by overclocking for me to rely on it to get my ‘value’.

    Lastly, I think the pendulum has swung too far towards “value” for the high end build. I suggest tweaking that a little for future high end builds (eg..780Ti, 16 GB memory, 500GB SSD, but continue to stay away from $1000 CPU, $1200 SLI, etc).