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System Builder Marathon Q3 2015: AMD Mini PC

Final Word

I've made my hypothesis, conducted my experiments, and observed the results. So, do the results support the hypothesis? In some ways, yes. But not all. Does an 860K bottleneck a GTX 970? Yes. Is the bottleneck detrimental to your gaming experience? That of course is up to personal interpretation. So long as framerates stay north of 60 fps, does it matter a whole lot? For only $695 worth of hardware, you get smooth gaming across three screens, sometimes at the highest detail settings. Did you ever think you could do that?

It doesn't work for all games. Arma 3 showed that very clearly. There is also the lack of performance in productivity tasks. Let's be honest: this is not a machine most people would build. It was purpose built to conduct an experiment. As I said before, the idea of an 860K in an ITX case doesn't make a lot of sense due to thermal limitations. Adding aftermarket cooling leaves you spending more money than you would on a much more capable i3 platform. Also, if your budget is so tight that you build this lopsided system, I wonder how you would have three monitors for gaming.

Amid the absurdity of the Munchkin, I can't help but feel a sense of pride in it. It's a ridiculous machine. There's no way else to say it. But it still succeeds in its purpose and gives us a better understanding of the limits of the relationship between CPU and GPU in modern games. After seeing this, I'm very interested in what an i3 paired with a 970 or 290X could accomplish. The total cost of a system based on an i3-4160 and a cheap motherboard like the MSI H81M-E34 would be almost the same price as the Munchkin. And I'm willing to bet the Munchkin would get thoroughly embarrassed in such a matchup.

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Eric Vander Linden is an Associate Contributing Writer at Tom's Hardware. Follow him on Twitter.

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  • RedJaron
    Ok, let's have it! I'm ready for the second-guessing. ;)
    Reply
  • ykki
    All the talk about the ''path less travelled" and you still couldn't ditch the optical drive (in favor of a better psu).
    Aside from that its nice to see an AMD platform in ITX.
    Reply
  • chimera201
    This is what I wanted. Comparing different systems at the same price. And 800$ is a good pick for the price. But what I actually want to see is a comparison of

    Intel CPU & Nvidia GPU system
    Intel CPU & AMD GPU system
    AMD CPU & Nvidia GPU system
    AMD CPU & AMD GPU system

    at the same price at the same time
    Reply
  • Flying-Q
    All the talk about the ''path less travelled" and you still couldn't ditch the optical drive (in favor of a better psu).
    Aside from that its nice to see an AMD platform in ITX.
    The ODD wasn't Eric's choice, it was an editorial requirement.
    From the article
    My first submitted part list didn't include an optical drive and my chosen GPU had a $20 instant rebate. This allowed me to fit a 240 GB SSD and SeaSonic modular power supply. Management told me I had to include an optical drive. My case didn't have a 5.25" bay, meaning I'd have to get a more expensive external drive or a different case.

    Speaking of which, it is about time 'management' recognise that ODDs are no longer mandatory. I built a machine 5 years ago with an ODD and have used it only 3 times in those 5 years, and those occasions only because I couldn't be bothered to go downstairs to get my keys with their attached USB stick. On one of those occasions I had to take an external ODD with me as my friend didn't have any ODD of his own!

    Aside from all that, Eric, this is a really great SBM experiment and your writing style is a pleasure to read. Thank you.
    Reply
  • alidan
    is there any way to move to videos/audio that you make 100% yourself, so that we can run our current systems through the same tests? i'm assuming there are a number of people here who would live to bench their system against these to see what an upgrade would cost them.

    also, on the optical drive front, i see no reason not to include one.
    if you want to talk music, depending on the band, its cheaper to buy used cd's than it is to buy the songs individually, and its far cheaper to buy a used dvd/bluray than to even rent a movie or tv series, some exceptions can be made if you have netflix dvd/bluray delivery, but even than, a 4 disc or 6 disc season would cost you something like 5-8$ to rent and likely the same to buy and have it shipped for free.

    personally, i have a bluray burner that i use quite a bit, and i have a dvd drive that till it broke was almost constantly used... its hooked up to an IDE cable, and the last time i messed with one of those the computer wouldn't go passed the bios anymore... so i dont take it out just because i dont want my computer to screw up in a way i dont know how to fix...

    lets also say you want to legitimately buy games, you can get in box on the pc games for cheaper than digital most of the time, and when a game goes on sale digitally, you can get them used on the pc for cheaper, though you probably won't line up with the eula if you go that route.

    i would at the very least love to see a drive bay case in all builds like this, but the drive itself does not need to be there, a decent compromise or in the case of you absolutely do not want to have an internal drive space, than make an annotated price that shows what it would cost to hook one up... i believe an external sata ide interface is able to run dvd/bluray drives along with hdds (i had to get one when 2 of my external drive cases failed on me, cheaper getting one 20$ thing opposed to 2 cases, one for each interface.
    Reply
  • RedJaron
    16691054 said:
    Speaking of which, it is about time 'management' recognise that ODDs are no longer mandatory. I built a machine 5 years ago with an ODD and have used it only 3 times in those 5 years, and those occasions only because I couldn't be bothered to go downstairs to get my keys with their attached USB stick. On one of those occasions I had to take an external ODD with me as my friend didn't have any ODD of his own!
    As I said, regularly I disagree with the "no ODD" crowd. You're right in that they're not always a hard requirement. However I've had enough requirements for them in the last three years that I'll still include one in my personal builds. But, also as I said in the article, I always have a flexible budget where adding an extra $20 isn't out of the question.

    In terms of the first version of the Munchkin, I asked management if I could just include a regular internal drive ( even though the case couldn't fit it ), and just say the user would have to use it from the bench before the case was closed up. They wouldn't go for it. ;)

    16691054 said:
    Aside from all that, Eric, this is a really great SBM experiment and your writing style is a pleasure to read. Thank you.
    Thank you. I know I tend to get a bit verbose, but I wanted this to be kind of like a narrative.
    Reply
  • RedJaron
    16691160 said:
    is there any way to move to videos/audio that you make 100% yourself, so that we can run our current systems through the same tests? i'm assuming there are a number of people here who would live to bench their system against these to see what an upgrade would cost them.
    This was kinda my idea when Joe and I designed the bench suite used for the $60 mboards. Everything used there was free and freely available so everyone else could run the same thing to compare their system. Joe has modified it for his uses as he has basically come to own that review segment.

    The problem with it is that it's largely made up of synthetics. Synthetic benches are great for hardware testing because they can be more strenuous and use every new feature and instruction set. That means they can show off strengths and weaknesses better.

    However, for the SBM we also want to use real-world software to get real-world-applicable results. That means we use things like MS Office, Adobe Creative Cloud, iTunes, and code compilers. You could run the same tests on your machine, but you'd have to have the exact same software as well as the same project files and such. I don't think it's some super Tom's Hardware secret exactly what we use, we just don't want to host a 200 GB image that contains the files and instructions how to use it.


    16691160 said:
    also, on the optical drive front, i see no reason not to include one.
    if you want to talk music, depending on the band, its cheaper to buy used cd's than it is to buy the songs individually, and its far cheaper to buy a used dvd/bluray than to even rent a movie or tv series, some exceptions can be made if you have netflix dvd/bluray delivery, but even than, a 4 disc or 6 disc season would cost you something like 5-8$ to rent and likely the same to buy and have it shipped for free.

    personally, i have a bluray burner that i use quite a bit, and i have a dvd drive that till it broke was almost constantly used... its hooked up to an IDE cable, and the last time i messed with one of those the computer wouldn't go passed the bios anymore... so i dont take it out just because i dont want my computer to screw up in a way i dont know how to fix...

    lets also say you want to legitimately buy games, you can get in box on the pc games for cheaper than digital most of the time, and when a game goes on sale digitally, you can get them used on the pc for cheaper, though you probably won't line up with the eula if you go that route.

    i would at the very least love to see a drive bay case in all builds like this, but the drive itself does not need to be there, a decent compromise or in the case of you absolutely do not want to have an internal drive space, than make an annotated price that shows what it would cost to hook one up... i believe an external sata ide interface is able to run dvd/bluray drives along with hdds (i had to get one when 2 of my external drive cases failed on me, cheaper getting one 20$ thing opposed to 2 cases, one for each interface.
    As I said, for myself I usually use an ODD. However, I will recognize that not everyone wants or needs one. If you're fortunate to have a good internet connection, downloading games and software isn't a problem. Someone who lives in the boonies and doesn't have a fat pipe, or that has a metered connection, doesn't want to deal with 20GB downloads. With the Munchkin as a LAN box, I didn't think an ODD was necessary. Ten years ago when I was going to LANs more regularly, sharing a game disc to get everyone a copy so we could all play it was common. If you go to a LAN party now, most files will be shared over network or via USB stick.

    I don't agree with the idea that every SBM case must have an external bay. Getting an external USB ODD is easy enough for those cases and machines. An external drive also has the benefit of being portable so you can share it among all your home computers.
    Reply
  • Onus
    I do feel compelled to comment on the Corsair CX. Personally I would have risked the untested ARC, under the theory that "the orc that one hears (the CX) is worse than the orc that one fears (the ARC)." With that out of the way, this article was a pleasure to read, and the limited comments we made back and forth did not reveal what an outstanding analysis we would all get to read. Whether anyone would build a PC like this or not, the value of the data point it has provided is undeniable. Very well done.
    Reply
  • RedJaron
    I'm not crazy on the CX either. If this was in a system that was constantly drawing 400W, I'd be a little worried. But the PSU has it's own air intake to keep it cool, and it doesn't go above 60% load so I think it's fine.
    Reply
  • braincruser
    When you are building a LAN pc, can we have a same priced laptop in there to compare the performance. Many of us use laptops regularly and would like to know where they stand compared to desktops.
    Reply