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.