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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.