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

Less Money, Lower Performance, Better Value?

The highest-end machines I'm tasked with building in our System Builder Marathon always get pushed well past the point of diminishing returns, where a relatively large increase in component price produces a fairly small gain in performance. That means I expected today’s $1600 machine to beat my previous $2400 build on the value front. But how does it fare compared to our previous $1600 PC?

The previous page showed a combined performance score, where this quarter's System Builder Marathon configuration was 3.4% faster at its stock clock rates, but 1% slower when overclocked, compared to Don's $1600 build from last quarter. But it’s also technically cheaper, since this $1600 machine was built on a $1500 budget; the extra $100 went towards its OS.

And yes, that means I win the value fight. Slightly lower hardware costs give my PC a 9% lead over last quarter's $1600 effort. And rather than losing once both builders overclock their hardware, my configuration simply drops that value victory to a 5% margin.

A lower budget this month compelled me into a more game-centric focus on the highest-priced build, which also explains the LAN party-style case and my original choice to build it at $1472 without a hard drive. But even at $1532 (including an unbenchmarked storage disk), it proves itself the better gamer. My lower-cost alternative produced 10%-better performance than the $1600 PC that preceded it. And it still has a 2% performance margin when overclocked, despite the minimal clock gain achieved.

This is no apples-to-apples comparison though. The retail CPU I ended up with really is sub-par. If I had the chance to borrow last quarter's more average Core i7-4770K, I'd really get the chance to show off how well the rest of my machine could work. Hopefully, if you follow in my footsteps, you'll have better luck. Or, simply replace my -4770K with a -4790K, since they're in stock at Newegg now.

There's one other option for adding value this month: at least for the next few days, PowerColor's PCS+ AXR9 290X's sells at a slightly higher price, but includes the 250 GB Samsung 840 EVO I bought for $150. If that deal sounds good to you, jump on it fast. Beyond June, PowerColor reps say the card will drop to $530-ish without the SSD.

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).