Skip to main content

System Builder Marathon, Q2 2013: System Value Compared

So Which Diminutive Box Is Best For You?

We approached this quarter’s builds with a semi-compact theme and the idea that small systems can perform just as well as full ATX-based platforms. But mini-ITX motherboards do cost more, simultaneously leaving us with fewer features to brag about. That extra premium is most bothersome at the bottom end of our pricing scale. Paul had to drop the optical drive from his machine to get close to his budget, but you wouldn't know that just by looking at his benchmark results. After all, an optical drive is one of those features that doesn't affect the final analysis, even if it's an important convenience.

When our builders aren't compelled to drop capabilities, and they use the same number of components to hit their respective price points, Don's mid-range machines historically win about as many value comparisons as Paul's entry-level builds. Don didn’t need to cut any of his features to maintain a Core i5 and GeForce GTX 680. Those parts did force him to hit his budget ceiling with only a 60 GB SSD in his shopping cart, though. That's enough for a boot drive. Done today, we think he would have gone with a GeForce GTX 770 and tried to get a 120 GB SSD in there somehow.

Our drive benchmarks are supposed to represent the entire user experience, so I technically could have docked Don half of his drive score for using an SSD that only fits half of our test suite. But he would have lost less than 10% of his total, and still taken second place in our value chart. Equipped with a Tahiti-based Radeon HD 7870 and a fairly modest dual-core processor, Paul’s $650 machine wins no matter how I adjust our performance weighting.

This was also the first time Paul put his budget gamer through the rigors of high-resolution testing, and he takes top value there too. Unfortunately, the frame rates generated by his machine at this resolution require lower-quality settings in both Far Cry 3 and Battlefield 3.

Don’s $1300 machine slaughters our Battlefield 3 benchmark and copes through our lower Far Cry 3 settings at 4800x900, but chokes when Far Cry 3’s details are turned up. Only the $2500 PC is sufficient in our toughest gaming test, and that's the only one that requires performance beyond the $1300 build's capability.

  • swordrage
    Finally some builds that cost nearly the same in my country India. Thanks..
    Reply
  • manitoublack
    Great to see M-ITX in a SBM. The days of needing a full sized ATX are mostly over for 90% of people. M-ATO or M-ITX is the way forward.
    Reply
  • slomo4sho
    The extra $1200 from the $1300 doesn't add much value in this form factor.
    Reply
  • DarkSable
    Sigh. This is why I really, really dislike the system builder marathons; they do nothing but perpetuate the fallacies that already are far too common.

    Someone looking at just this article, which isn't that unlikely, would be lead to believe that an i7 is something that an "ultimate" gaming computer has, that an expensive motherboard helps, and that a $2500 PC is going to be far better than a $1500 one.
    Reply
  • slomo4sho
    11041161 said:
    Sigh. This is why I really, really dislike the system builder marathons; they do nothing but perpetuate the fallacies that already are far too common.

    Someone looking at just this article, which isn't that unlikely, would be lead to believe that an i7 is something that an "ultimate" gaming computer has, that an expensive motherboard helps, and that a $2500 PC is going to be far better than a $1500 one.

    They really should include performance per dollar figures in this writeup.
    Reply
  • DarkSable
    11041186 said:
    They really should include performance per dollar figures in this writeup.

    For the parts, or for the computers themselves? Either would be nice, actually.

    One thing that would go a long way is stressing how wonky their testing is - most people reading this as advice for building a computer are going to be building a gaming computer purely, rendering 70% of the test bench pointless.
    Reply
  • slicedtoad
    I still don't like the bf3 benchmarks. They in no way represent the online experience and really, people that play bf3 spend at least 95% of their time on mp. I realize it's nearly impossible to generate a fair benchmark for online play but the current benchmarks are very misleading.

    And I'm not griping at tom's, all review sites seem to do this. There should be some way to create a better benchmark. Maybe host a custom server and load it up with scripted "players" or something.
    Reply
  • allanitomwesh
    Cheaper is better basically :) Where's that $400 rig?
    Reply
  • Achoo22
    11041210 said:
    most people reading this as advice for building a computer are going to be building a gaming computer purely, rendering 70% of the test bench pointless.

    I feel like they've modified the benchmarking suite to favor AMD as much as possible.
    Reply
  • slomo4sho
    11041382 said:
    I feel like they've modified the benchmarking suite to favor AMD as much as possible.

    And when was the last time an AMD CPU made it into a SBM? Modifying benchmarks to favor a product that is never showcased is a moot point.
    Reply