System Builder Marathon Q1 2015: Mainstream Enthusiast PC

System Builder Marathon Q1 2015: The Articles

Here are links to each of the five articles in this quarter’s System Builder Marathon (we’ll update them as each story is published). And remember, these systems are all being given away at the end of the marathon.

To enter the giveaway, please fill out this SurveyGizmo form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!

Day 1: The Budget Gaming PC
Day 2: The Mainstream Enthusiast PC
Day 3: Our $1750 Performance PC
Day 4: System Value Compared
Day 5: Alternative $1750 PC

My Q4 2014 System Builder Marathon build was the victim of a faulty motherboard that kept me from generating overclocked results. So, this time, I'll draw comparisons to a system I put together the quarter prior. That PC sported a Core i5-4690K and GeForce GTX 770.

This also gives me an opportunity to see what the GeForce GTX 970 can do pushed beyond its factory clock rates.

As for the CPU, an increased performance budget of $950 let me step up to a powerful Core i7-4790K instead of the Core i5-class processors I usually use in my mid-range builds. I was also able to squeeze in a 240GB SSD, rather than the 120GB drives I typically select.

Enthusiast System Components
MotherboardMSI Z97 PC Mate, LGA 1150 Intel Z97
$90
ProcessorIntel Core i7-4790K: 4GHz Base Clock Rate, 8MB Shared L3 Cache
$320
Heat Sink
Zalman CNPS9900MAX-B
$50
Memory8GB G.Skill Ares (2 x 4GB) DDR3-2133, F3-2133C9D-8GAB
$74
GraphicsAsus Strix GeForce GTX 970 4GB
$340
Storage Drive
Western Digital Blue WD10EZEX 1TB$55
Boot Disk
PNY Optima 240GB Solid State Drive (SSD)
$90
PowerEVGA 600B 80 PLUS Bronze PSU
$55
Price of Performance Hardware$925
Case
Cooler Master HAF XB Evo Computer Case$95
Optical
Pioneer Black Blu-ray BDC-207DBK OEM
$45
OS
Microsoft Windows 8.1 64-bit, OEM$100
Price As Tested$1314

Even with a quality enclosure, Blu-ray Drive and Windows x64 operating system, the total price of my PC falls under $1350. On paper, it's one of the most balanced enthusiast-oriented builds I've ever put together, with no glaring weaknesses. Let's cover the component choices in detail.

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  • hausman
    Math!
  • Grognak
    Your builds are getting more and more expensive.
  • tom10167
    Looks pretty good but get a Black Series for $20 more
  • g-unit1111
    Honestly I would go optical drive less and get a H440 or something similar. Was it a requirement to spend $50 on the blu-ray burner?
  • damric
    Dear God, why another junk Compucase PSU?

    And why a PNY SSD? Save the packaging for that. You will need it for RMA.

    With a budget that large there is no room for parts with high failure rates.
  • de5_Roy
    nice build. my only nitpick is about the motherboard. would choosing a xeon e3 12xx v3 have led to better mobo and/or gfx card and/or psu?
  • cknobman
    Waiting for the day one of you SBM folks take your panties off and skips the optical drive.

    We have reached the day and age where optical drives are really not necessary and just eat into budget for more useful things.
  • des99
    how does the math add up?
    $925 Performace hardware +
    $240 case, os and optical $240
    =$1165
  • pepsimtl
    I think cpu I5 K whill do the same job for gamer and least expensive :)
    This motherboard color is so ugly ( same color 1985 pc ) and all the component except for memory . Just look inside the computer depress me
  • Onus
    Given the power numbers (which I think you know enough to have anticipated), even a 450W Rosewill Capstone would have sufficed. I just don't see an EVGA "B" series making it into an enthusiast build; ever.
    I also really don't like seeing 1.65V RAM. Perhaps 1.6V, but allowing for how different motherboards may tweak RAM for stability, already running at 1.65V seems like more of a risk to the Intel IMC than is worthwhile. I'd really prefer to keep at the standard 1.5V.
  • TallestJon96
    Nice gains with the i7 and 970, but honestly, the i7 was a waste. The GTX 970 is a landmark achievement for GPUs. Extremely high 1080p performance, good 1440p performance, and reasonable 4k performance, all while 145w and $350. I know it's not really 4gb, but 3.5 is a huge step up from 2gb from the past years.

    The next great card will be the one that does 4k well at a reasonable price and power usage.
  • RedJaron
    Like others have said, the costs on page 1 don't add up.

    I'm not going to complain about the i7. There's arguments for and against choosing one over an i5 depending on the computer's designed purpose.

    I agree with Onus. 1.65V RAM does make me a little uncomfortable on an Intel platform, especially when you can get 1.5V modules for the same price.

    I've been looking for a good test bench chassis and have seen a few recommendations to use the HAF XB for one. I might consider one.

    And to everyone complaining about the optical drive, relax. It's not robbing money away from CPUs or GPUs so it's not like you can use that money toward faster bench scores.
  • Math Geek
    i use this case as well and freaking love it. more room than you can ever want and once opened up there is nothing you can't get to real quick. not sure about portable lan use since it is so big but as a test bench i have seen nothing like it for such a low price. does have a weird footprint and is HUGE but once you start filling it up, it quickly wins you over. just throw out the hdd hot swap thingy for the front bays and you're good to go. that thing is a hdd killer like i have never seen. would love to see the i5-4690k thrown back in to see exactly what difference it makes with the same 970 overclocked. but overall, it is a good build anyone here will be lucky to win. if you hate the psu, then by all means by a new one. not a huge expense considering the system would be FREE to whoever wins it.
  • envy14tpe
    The build adds up to $1074 not $925. That's a significant difference. But the total of $1314 is correct.
  • vertexx
    Please, please, please put the charts back in line! It is so much easier to scroll than use these terrible charts.

    Nice change-up on the case. I'm not crazy about the looks, but easy access is a nice value add. If you have the desk space, you don't even need to move it to get inside and tinker.
  • ykki
    Could have used the leftover money to get a better mobo (like the extreme 3)
    Also why the heck is that psu used? Doesn't make any sense in a $1000( or where abouts) build.
  • nitrium
    Shouldn't that be an "Asus Strix GeForce GTX 970 3.5 GB"? ;) <ducks>
  • bigpoppalives
    Wow, THW needs to fire this guy ASAP.

    1. CASE. Why choose something 2x bigger than necessary (no SLI, no water cooling, no A/V mixers, no RAID array...) Do you have gorilla fists?

    2. PSU. How does an enthusiast machine only have 2 PCI power connections? This bottleneck makes all the interior space even more useless.

    3. SSD. An obviously terrible choice to anyone familiar with SSD products or the storage demands of an enthusiast machine.

    4. CPU. Not altogether terrible, but only a very small segment of even the biggest PC enthusiasts benefit from the hyperthreading, and even then, only for fairly limited purposes. The other choices make this a terrible multimedia workhorse (limited PCI connections, SSD storage, a/v interfaces, and the absence of a dedicated A/V processor).

    5. BLU-RAY BURNER. More wasted $. Unless of course, you're selling bootlegged videos on the street.

    The 970 is about the only thing you got right. But a monkey could tell you that the 970 is the best choice for an enthusiast machine. (Well, truthfully, a 290x is probably a better value, but if you go with 2 cards, it's hard to beat the quality of 970 SLI). So yeah, you even got this wrong.
  • RedJaron
    1921887 said:
    Wow, THW needs to fire this guy ASAP.
    Don't hold back, tell us how you really feel.


    1921887 said:
    1. CASE. Why choose something 2x bigger than necessary (no SLI, no water cooling, no A/V mixers, no RAID array...) Do you have gorilla fists?
    The money on the case doesn't take away from money for the performance parts. What's so bad about a spacious, easy to work in case? Not everyone likes cramped quarters and you don't have to fill a larger case to the brim to justify having it.

    1921887 said:
    2. PSU. How does an enthusiast machine only have 2 PCI power connections? This bottleneck makes all the interior space even more useless.
    Considering the top-of-the-line GTX 980 only requires two cables, why is this a problem? What twin-GPU solution will outperform a 980 for the same money? What two GPUs can even beat a 970 or 290X for the same money? For a single, non-4K display, two PCIe leads are plenty.


    1921887 said:
    3. SSD. An obviously terrible choice to anyone familiar with SSD products or the storage demands of an enthusiast machine.
    I'm somewhat in agreement here. I would've liked to see a more known quantity here, something by Samsung, Crucial, Kingston, Mushkin, Patriot, or A-Data would've been preferred. Still, even the slowest SSD is still much faster than a spindle.

    1921887 said:
    4. CPU. Not altogether terrible, but only a very small segment of even the biggest PC enthusiasts benefit from the hyperthreading, and even then, only for fairly limited purposes. The other choices make this a terrible multimedia workhorse (limited PCI connections, SSD storage, a/v interfaces, and the absence of a dedicated A/V processor).
    The exact same arguments can be said against SLI/CFX, which you're so adamant about supporting.


    1921887 said:
    5. BLU-RAY BURNER. More wasted $. Unless of course, you're selling bootlegged videos on the street.
    Like the case, the BD doesn't steal any money away.
  • cmi86
    For $1,300 why am I getting a $90 motherboard, $55 PSU (not even a B2) and a $320 CPU? This rig does not need an i7. Save that for the high end build. This rig needs a 4690K, A real board with features like an MSI Gaming 5, Asus Z97A or comparable and a real PSU. The 750w semi mod B2 series from EVGA is is made by superflower and only $30 more than you current selection. Couple that with the $50 for a better board and you are still knocking $20 off your budget.

    I don't mean to gripe but I am getting rather tired of seeing the SBM's reduced to a competition of who can slap together the fastest piece of junk humanly possible. I know you strive for value but in my book value means more than out right performance, it means quality as well.