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

Mass Storage, OS, And Optical Drive

Hard Drive: Western Digital Blue WD10EZEX

This is where we get into the parts that we don't need in the lab, but you probably will once you get this machine home. Western Digital’s 1 TB Blue drive offers a bunch of capacity to store your photos and media without busting my budget.

Read Customer Reviews of Western Digital's Blue WD10EZEX

The WD10EZEX has a 7200 RPM spindle to improve response time and a SATA 6Gb/s interface for speedy accesses to 64 MB of data cache. But really, I only bought this disk to store information that doesn't need to live on the precious solid-state storage.

OS: Windows 8.1

One of the first questions our contest winners ask is whether we give them software to go along with their new PCs. Up until now, we haven't taken operating system cost into account. But at your request, this expense is factored in for the first time.

Read Customer Reviews of Microsoft's Windows 8.1 Operating System

New systems qualify for the OEM version of Windows 8.1, which costs $100. And we can now put to rest those complaints from readers who were trying to compare pre-built systems, which typically come bundled with operating systems, to our builds.

Optical Drive: Lite-On iHAS124

Many readers claim that they no longer want or need an optical drive, but our operating system shipped to us on optical media. Besides, I'm willing to bet that you have something precious stashed away on a DVD or CD that you’d like to read someday.

Read Customer Reviews of Lite-On's iHAS124 ODD

The iHAS124 also burns DVD media at 24x, just in case you have a few blank discs laying around. Plus, it's great for loading an unrecognized GbE controller driver...since you can't exactly download that until the network connection is up and running.

Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.