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

How We Tested Our $1600 High-End PC

The following tables include the stock and overclocked settings for this quarter's enthusiast-class gaming build, followed by the configuration we put together earlier this year, which serves as our comparison point.

At the very bottom, you’ll find the programs and games used for benchmarking.

Test Hardware Configurations
Q2 $1600 Performance PCQ1 $2400 Performance PCQ1 $1600 Enthusiast PC
Processor (Overclock)Intel Core i7-4770K: 3.5 to 3.90 GHz, Four Physical CoresO/C to 4.20 GHz, 1.29 VIntel Core i7-4770K: 3.5 to 3.90 GHz, Four Physical CoresO/C to 4.50 GHz, 1.25 VIntel Core i7-4770K: 3.5 to 3.90 GHz, Four Physical CoresO/C to 4.40 GHz, 1.20 V
Graphics (Overclock)Radeon R9 290X: 1050 MHz GPU, GDDR5-5400O/C to 1100 MHz, GDDR5-62002x GeForce GTX 780: 902 MHz GPU, GDDR5-6008O/C to 1059 MHz, GDDR5-6720GeForce GTX 780: 928 MHz GPU, GDDR5-7000O/C to 1128 MHz, GDDR5-7300
Memory (Overclock)8 GB G.Skill DDR3-1866 CAS 8-9-9-24, O/C to DDR3-2133 CL 9-10-10-27, 1.60 V16 GB G.Skill DDR3-1866 CAS 9-10-9-28, O/C to DDR3-2133 CL 9-10-11-10, 1.585 V8 GB Corsair DDR3-1866 CAS 9-10-9-27, No O/C
Motherboard (Overclock)Asus Z97-A: LGA 1150, Intel Z97 Express, Stock 100 MHz BCLKASRock Z87 Extreme4: LGA 1150, Intel Z87 Express, Stock 100 MHz BCLKASRock Z87 Pro3: LGA 1150, Intel Z87 Express, Stock 100 MHz BCLK
CaseCM Storm Scout 2 AdvancedNZXT Phantom 410NZXT Phantom 410
CPU CoolerThermaltake NiC L32Thermaltake CLW0217 Water 2.0 ExtremeCooler Master Hyper 212 EVO
Hard DriveSamsung MZ-7TE250BW 250 GB SATA 6Gb/s SSDSanDisk SDSSDHP-256G-G2 256 GB SATA 6Gb/s SSDSamsung MZ-7TE120BW 120 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD
PowerRosewill HIVE-750: 750 W Semi-Modular, 80 PLUS BronzeCorsair HX750: 750 W Semi-Modular, 80 PLUS GoldCorsair TX650: 650 W, 80 PLUS Bronze
OSMicrosoft Windows 8 Pro x64Microsoft Windows 8 Pro x64Microsoft Windows 8 Pro x64
GraphicsAMD Catalyst 14.4Nvidia GeForce 335.23Nvidia GeForce 334.89
ChipsetIntel INF INF INF

Hope for any level of competitive performance between today’s $1600 build and the $2400 machine it replaces is dashed by a CPU overclock that doesn’t even approach mediocrity. Even the previous $1600 machine outclasses it in that arena, though the new build at least has some memory overclocking to push it through a few benchmarks.

Benchmark Configuration
3D Games
Arma 3V. 1.20 Current PC, V.1.08 Q1 PC 30-sec. Fraps "Infantry Showcase" Test Set 1: Standard Preset, No AA, Standard AF Test Set 2: Ultra Preset, 8x FSAA, Ultra AF
Battlefield 4Version, DirectX 11, 100-sec. Fraps "Tashgar" Test Set 1: Medium Quality Preset, No AA, 4x AF, SSAO Test Set 2: Ultra Quality Preset, 4x MSAA, 16x AF, HBAO
Far Cry 3V. 1.05, DirectX 11, 50-sec. Fraps "Amanaki Outpost" Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA, Standard ATC, SSAO Test Set 2: Ultra Quality, 4x MSAA, Enhanced ATC, HDAO AMD/ HBAO NVidia
Grid 2Version, Direct X 11, Built-in Benchmark Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA Test Set 2: Ultra Quality, 8x MSAA
Audio/Video Encoding
HandBrake CLIVersion: 0.99, Video: Video from Canon EOS 7D (1920x1080, 25 frames) 1 Minutes 22 Seconds, Audio: PCM-S16, 48,000 Hz, Two-channel, to Video: AVC1 Audio: AAC (High Profile)
iTunesVersion x64: Audio CD (Terminator II SE), 53 minutes, default AAC format
LAME MP3Version 3.98.3: Audio CD "Terminator II SE", 53 min, convert WAV to MP3 audio format, Command: -b 160 --nores (160 Kb/s)
TotalCode Studio 2.5Version:, MPEG2 to H.264, MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG-2), Audio: MPEG-2 (44.1 kHz, Two-channel, 16-bit, 224 Kb/s) Codec: H.264 Pro, Mode: PAL 50i (25 FPS), Profile: H.264 BD HDMV
Adobe Creative Suite
Adobe After Effects CCVersion Create Video, 3 Streams, 210 Frames, Render Multiple Frames Simultaneously
Adobe Photoshop CCVersion 14 x64: Filter 15.7 MB TIF Image: Radial Blur, Shape Blur, Median, Polar Coordinates
Adobe Premiere Pro CS6Version, 6.61 GB MXF Project to H.264 to H.264 Blu-ray, Output 1920x1080, Maximum Quality
Adobe Acrobat XIVersion 11.0.0: Print PDF from 115 Page PowerPoint, 128-bit RC4 Encyption
ABBYY FineReaderVersion Read PDF save to Doc, Source: Political Economy (J. Broadhurst 1842) 111 Pages
Autodesk 3ds Max 2013Version 15.0 x64: Space Flyby Mentalray, 248 Frames, 1440x1080
BlenderVersion 2.68a, Cycles Engine, Syntax blender -b thg.blend -f 1, 1920x1080, 8x Anti-Aliasing, Render THG.blend frame 1
Visual StudioVersion 10.0, Compile Google Chrome, Scripted
7-ZipVersion 9.30 alpha, LZMA2, Syntax "a -t7z -r -m0=LZMA2 -mx=5" Benchmark: THG-Workload-2012 (1.3 GB)
WinRARVersion 5.0, RAR, Syntax "winrar a -r -m3" Benchmark: THG-Workload-2012 (1.3 GB)
WinZipVersion 18.0 Pro, Syntax "-a -ez -p -r" Benchmark: THG-Workload-2012 (1.3 GB)
Synthetic Benchmarks and Settings
3DMark ProfessionalVersion:, Fire Strike Standard and Extreme
PCMark 8Version: 1.0.0 x64 Full Test
SiSoftware Sandra 2014Version: 2014.02.20.10, Processor Arithmetic, Cryptography, Memory Bandwidth Benchmarks
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.