System Builder Marathon Q4 2015: $1055 Prosumer PC

Unhappy with last quarters builds, we completely uncapped our budgets with the goal of fixing performance shortcomings.

System Builder Marathon Q4 2015

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!

  1. $1184 Gaming PC
  2. $1055 Prosumer PC
  3. $895 LAN Box PC
  4. System Value Compared
  5. $912 AMD LAN Box PC

$1055 Prosumer PC

Should I apologize for last quarter’s vast value victory, given that my greater System Builder Marathon experience might be seen as an unfair advantage? Equal budgets provided the perfect opportunity for a completely unbiased win, but my actual task would be to own a couple of newbs. However, these weren’t just any new competitors, as I had personally snagged one of them from our community forums. Yet community members have always been first to shred the logic of my component choices, so I cranked my efforts up to 11 in rebuttal.

All apologies were instead reserved for Prosumer builders. Users who run professional programs out of their home office or den (and occasionally take a break to game) usually need a little more memory and graphics than I could cram into an $800 budget. And then there’s the problem of seconds that feel like hours when users are waiting for a project to load off a mechanical hard disk drive. I also added a couple personal misgivings, since I’d abandoned a MicroATX configuration that lacked any optical drive bay, and instead spent an extra $2 on the ATX case in order to save $5 on an optical drive. Would any real-world builder go so far as to change form factors to save $3? Would a real professional application user give up half their RAM to save $35? The consensus of readers is a resounding “no”.

The rules for this quarter’s machines were simple: Build what you should have built the first time. Knowing that people would save twice as long if they really needed twice the budget, we also lifted the budget cap completely. The goal of value-score improvement was the only thing that kept us from buying the best of everything.

The Build

  • Platform Cost: $915
  • Total Hardware Cost: $935
  • Complete System Price: $1055

The majority of readers who mentioned the optical drives of previous System Builder Marathons did so in protest, often claiming that they never use them. Never is a strong word, but we’re certain that most users rarely need an optical drive, and that many already have an external drive for their notebook, or a second system with an optical drive. The one holdup was the OS, since we didn’t want to subject everyone to downloading their OS. For an extra $20, Windows 10 comes on USB. Those who called optical drives a waste of money should be reminded that $20 is what we used to spend on DVD burners.

And now for the hard choices:

Component Selection








Assembly

As detailed in my previous Prosumer PC, Cooler Master’s Hyper T4 includes an X-shaped support plate that fits all three of Intel’s bracket-less LGAs (775, 1156/1155/1151, 1366). Pins on that support plate slide into position on slots, are pushed through the board, and are topped with standoffs (right side of image), then cross brackets (upper half of image), and then nuts (top of image).

After removing the protective sticker from the cooler’s base, I shoved a little thermal compound into the crevices between the heat pipes and base before applying five small dabs of paste in an X-shape. The silvery plate built onto the CPU is called a heat spreader, and pressure from the cooler’s clip distributes the paste evenly across the base and CPU heat spreader.

A single photo illustrates many words, such as the M.2 SSD being held by a single screw and the CPU cooler being attached to the cross brackets of its mounting kit with a clip. The clip itself has a lever to lock it down, which is behind the cooler in this installation. DDR4 SDRAM generally works best when installed into the last slot of each channel, which are the two grey slots on this motherboard.

Prior to final assembly, I prepped the case by pulling off the face panel and re-routing the front-panel leads through an access hole above the optical bay, and twisted out the top two slot covers to make room for the graphics card.

Without a bunch of drives to install, I simply pressed the motherboard’s I/O shield into the corresponding hole in the back of the case, screwed the motherboard onto factory-installed standoffs, pushed the graphics card into its slot, screwed the power supply onto its mount, and connected all the power cables. Leftover power cables are stashed in the optical drive bay, and there’s enough space remaining to shove them above an optical drive if one is ever required. Except for USB 3.0, front panel leads are pulled behind the motherboard and wrapped around the motherboard’s bottom edge. The DIYPC MA01-G case has a little space behind the motherboard tray for cables, so I used it for the graphics power and USB 3.0 cables.

You may have noticed that the lead photo showed no fan grill on the left side panel. The panels are swappable, and that gaping hole would have altered front-to-rear airflow while also allowing more fan noise to escape. With the hole on the other side it’s now behind the CPU socket, and anyone would like to cool the back of the LGA will find that it has enough room to install a fan.

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39 comments
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  • 3ogdy
    Great build! Asus has mistakenly named their card "Asus GTX 970-OC-4GD5". It's actually an "Asus GTX 970-OC-3.5GD5". Let's not (edited) around.
    The only thing I see affecting this build's usability (it's a prosumer config after all) is the lack of storage. 200GB (overprovisioning included) is too little by any standards. This build definitely needs a 2TB+ HDD.
  • Crashman
    264464 said:
    Great build! Asus has mistakenly named their card "Asus GTX 970-OC-4GD5". It's actually an "Asus GTX 970-OC-3.5GD5". Let's not fruck around. The only thing I see affecting this build's usability (it's a prosumer config after all) is the lack of storage. 200GB (overprovisioning included) is too little by any standards. This build definitely needs a 2TB+ HDD.

    Have you not heard of the cloud? Yeh, I said that tongue-in-cheek in the article as well, I really just wanted to build it cable-free.

    The guys who said they do everything over the internet (to convince us to drop the optical drive) did give me a convenient excuse to go cable free though, thanks guys!
  • 3ogdy
    Never giving my data to other companies regardless of what the trends are like. I also retain access to my data without the need for a network connection.
    My data is mine, unless of course there's a company like Seagate selling semi-faulty drives and then asking $1000+ for a recovery.

    The cable free approach is definitely welcome. In my mind a prosumer needs more than 250GB locally, but most likely times are changing. I'll stick to my old ways though.
  • James Mason
    I don't think this build being capable of OCing is worth all the drawbacks it has.

    And since you can BCLK OC the locked Skylakes now, the extra money saved with a non K chip would have made this build less misguided, and still given the "option" of OCing.
  • firefoxx04
    Put data on the cloud? How exactly is one supposed to store 2TB of data and actively use it without decent Internet connection (Gbit)

    For over $1000, I don't like the lack of case features, storage, power supply.

    It's like putting a formula one engine into a cheep old van and trying to run it on pump gas. Cool at first but it's still a van.
  • 3ogdy
    211300 said:
    Put data on the cloud? How exactly is one supposed to store 2TB of data and actively use it without decent Internet connection (Gbit) For over $1000, I don't like the lack of case features, storage, power supply. It's like putting a formula one engine into a cheep old van and trying to run it on pump gas. Cool at first but it's still a van.


    The same way people over at Microsoft are increasing prices while cutting storage for OneDrive.
    http://www.anandtech.com/show/9759/microsoft-slashes-onedrive-storage-allotments
    $24 a year for 50GB. What a poor joke. What a poor joke!!! Even my software kits occupy multiple times that.
    Oh wait, it's just for photos and personal videos, right? Which ones? The ones taken with 2MP cameras? Even elderly relatives of mine can fill a 32GB microSD in a couple days of travelling and you offer 50GB a month for that money? Right....flash is cheaper than that, external HDDs are cheaper than that....and most importantly no idiot has access to them, including cops, Facebook or hackers searching for fame.
  • James Mason
    264464 said:
    211300 said:
    Put data on the cloud? How exactly is one supposed to store 2TB of data and actively use it without decent Internet connection (Gbit) For over $1000, I don't like the lack of case features, storage, power supply. It's like putting a formula one engine into a cheep old van and trying to run it on pump gas. Cool at first but it's still a van.
    The same way people over at Microsoft are increasing prices while cutting storage for OneDrive. http://www.anandtech.com/show/9759/microsoft-slashes-onedrive-storage-allotments $24 a year for 50GB. What a poor joke. What a poor joke!!! Even my software kits occupy multiple times that. Oh wait, it's just for photos and personal videos, right? Which ones? The ones taken with 2MP cameras? Even elderly relatives of mine can fill a 32GB microSD in a couple days of travelling and you offer 50GB a month for that money? Right....flash is cheaper than that, external HDDs are cheaper than that....and most importantly no idiot has access to them, including cops, Facebook or hackers searching for fame.


    Eh, you get 1 TB free with an office 365 subscription.

    One Drive is great/best used for documents really, but with a whole terabyte I could keep photos there... If I were the type who keeps photos digitally as opposed to physically.
  • killerofall
    Cloud is still not viable for large amounts of storage due to cost. I can buy a 3TB HDD for less than $100 but to store that online it would cost at least $50 a year. Online storage is only great for backups at this time and good enough for only your most important data (~15GB or less). Using large amounts of online storage also requires a better than average internet connection. If you live out in the middle of nowhere then just forget even trying to use it.

    You can not simply call this a "Prosumer PC" with the lack of local storage. If the budget was around $500 then maybe I could understand the lack of storage, but not at $800+. The only way I could recommend this system is if someone already has another PC or NAS in the house to augment the storage. Even simply adding a 1TB HDD for ~$50 would have been acceptable.
  • killerchickens
    Where I live trying to use the cloud would be a joke not everywhere has fast internet. Next you will tell us to drive to frys to buy our parts.
  • thor220
    Rather have a R9 290 or 390 in a prosumer build. Many applications are able to take advantage of the compute power of these cards and with the money saved one could easily buy a power supply where you don't have to questions whether or not it'll fry.

    The 970 is what I'd recommend if you were going to do serious overclocking. No way on a 400w unit.
  • improviz
    I wish you'd be realistic and spec at least 500GB or, better, 1TB SSDs in your new high-end builds. I have a 500GB 840 Pro and it's still full and I have to install things on my D: drive. Of course, I do have Adobe CS6 Production Premium. And some animation programs. So maybe, more program overhead than some. But really, a 250GB SSD barely has room for any programs on it. The rest of the build is fine, although I'd go for more memory.
  • improviz


    Eh, you get 1 TB free with an office 365 subscription.

    One Drive is great/best used for documents really, but with a whole terabyte I could keep photos there... If I were the type who keeps photos digitally as opposed to physically.

    Eh, so, NOT "free". You're paying for it with your Office 365 subscription. Meh. I don't like the cloud, although I do use Carbonite. I have 4TB Raid1 data arrays, an external eSata dock that I can use for bare drives, and a 3TB WD My Book USB 3.0 (inexpensive card I dropped into my older PC). Even with a very fast Comcast Speed Blast 50mbs connection, the cloud doesn't excite me. Security issues aside, other than Google Docs and an FTP service (HighTail), I don't like the cloud all that much.
  • Crashman
    211300 said:
    Put data on the cloud? How exactly is one supposed to store 2TB of data and actively use it without decent Internet connection (Gbit) For over $1000, I don't like the lack of case features, storage, power supply. It's like putting a formula one engine into a cheep old van and trying to run it on pump gas. Cool at first but it's still a van.
    I'm taking all comments about the power supply being too small as an indication that the person didn't read the article, or read the article and didn't care about the data presented. This isn't a religious debate, we actually have proof.
  • okcnaline
    This is a prosumer build? GTX 970 isn't supported by any professional programs (3D modeling, video editing) in terms of CUDA acceleration (at least, not yet).
  • Crashman
    1536795 said:
    I don't think this build being capable of OCing is worth all the drawbacks it has. And since you can BCLK OC the locked Skylakes now, the extra money saved with a non K chip would have made this build less misguided, and still given the "option" of OCing.
    All the drawbacks of being overclockable? Nobody said you had to overclock it.

    Without chasing value through overclocking, I can't think of a good reason to go with a lower-model processor. More performance drawbacks. Or were you thinking of a 6600 non-K? Or were you thinking that the more-expensive CPU prevented me from using other high-end parts?

    There was no budget limit, only a value target: The choice of CPU had nothing to do with any of the real drawbacks (cheap case, no hard drive). Better still, because I knew that a cheap case and lack of hard drive would give the machine an unfair advantage in the Day 4 "Complete System" value comparison, I'll add emphasis to the "Platform Value" chart in that article.

    1483911 said:
    This is a prosumer build? GTX 970 isn't supported by any professional programs (3D modeling, video editing) in terms of CUDA acceleration (at least, not yet).
    Our GPU-accelerated pro apps use OpenCL, it works great for that :) I actually look at the benchmark set before making any choices, but I didn't pick this specific card. The card was a reader decision from the last SBM that I found no good reason to reject.
  • Onus
    Choice of language should reflect that this is a family-friendly site. Criticism is fine; foul language is not. Thanks.

    This build is excellent in an office environment (could be a home office) where some form of local data storage is available. The vapor is a huge source of uncertainty (including outright failure) and data compromise. Without that, additional hard drive space is needed, potentially a RAID1 array.
    I loved the choice of PSU; SBM articles have been consistent in refuting the need for oversized PSUs with actual data. Well done.
  • cknobman
    Interesting build but I just don't like the cuts you made to storage and the case.

    For a prosumer build I think you went overkill on the graphics card.
    You could have put in something like the 950 extreme (just reviewed) review here which would have gotten you 1080p gaming easy and then take all the saved money and use it for a HDD and better case.
  • Crashman
    47340 said:
    Choice of language should reflect that this is a family-friendly site. Criticism is fine; foul language is not. Thanks.
    Sorry boss, if I said something naughty you should have PM'd me after removing it :)
    59464 said:
    Interesting build but I just don't like the cuts you made to storage and the case. For a prosumer build I think you went overkill on the graphics card. You could have put in something like the 950 extreme (just reviewed) review here which would have gotten you 1080p gaming easy and then take all the saved money and use it for a HDD and better case.
    How is the 950 doing in OpenCL? I think that's the primary factor in non-gaming graphics-assisted benchmarks. I'm not a GPU guru, so any advice is appreciated.

    I didn't pick this 970, but may have if readers hadn't already recommend it in the last SBM response thread.
  • okcnaline
    8708 said:
    Our GPU-accelerated pro apps use OpenCL, it works great for that :) I actually look at the benchmark set before making any choices, but I didn't pick this specific card. The card was a reader decision from the last SBM that I found no good reason to reject.


    Autodesk doesn't support GTX 970 in any of their applications like Revit, 3ds Max, AutoCAD (I checked, all 2016 editions). Adobe doesn't support any Maxwell-based GeForce cards at all. I doubt that Dassault Systemés has ever supported GeForce cards. What "pro apps" were you talking about? Having certifications go beyond performance - you get extra features like RealView in SolidWorks and real-time rendering in Adobe video-editing applications.

    And Onus, who were you referring to with the foul language?

    As for the SSD, if it's enough for the programs and maybe some footage, it's good enough. That's because the professional infrastructure for video editing or 3D modeling is that a centralized server with a really powerful GPU and CPU would render and store the final file that uploads to other places. Workstations use captured footage, and after completing the work on the footage, they would be sent to the server to render.
  • Crashman
    1483911 said:
    Autodesk doesn't support GTX 970 in any of their applications like Revit, 3ds Max, AutoCAD (I checked, all 2016 editions). Adobe doesn't support any Maxwell-based GeForce cards at all. I doubt that Dassault Systemés has ever supported GeForce cards.
    I picked up some performance in Photoshop's OpenCL filters and 3ds Max over the GTX 750 Ti so these apps are obviously using something of the card's abilities (even if they're not optimized for its newer architecture). Anandtech has an article on its compute capabilities, where it looks pretty good.

    I remember when guys were modding their GeForce 2's to trick the OS into treating them as otherwise-identical Quadro models to gain huge benefits in Autodesk applications. This type of collusion (refusal by Autodesk to support the consumer card) would have me recommend that people who do these types of projects from home look for alternative application developers.
  • sauron18
    I would prefer the i5 6500 now that the z170 can overclock non K CPU, i know the 6600k is a better procesor but $75 more for the same CPU, higher multiplier and uncloked. A saw a test on Digital Foundry from Euro Gamer they overclocked the 6500 to 4.5ghz for a $200 CPU.
  • okcnaline
    8708 said:
    I picked up some performance in Photoshop's OpenCL filters and 3ds Max over the GTX 750 Ti so these apps are obviously using something of the card's abilities (even if they're not optimized for its newer architecture). Anandtech has an article on its compute capabilities, where it looks pretty good. I remember when guys were modding their GeForce 2's to trick the OS into treating them as otherwise-identical Quadro models to gain huge benefits in Autodesk applications. This type of collusion (refusal by Autodesk to support the consumer card) would have me recommend that people who do these types of projects from home look for alternative application developers.

    Photoshop doesn't require much other than having OpenCL 2.0. That's one program out of many that require Quadro or older flagship GPUs for prosumers. So I really don't see your point. Photoshop is not all, the reason I bought a Lenovo P300 30AH004MUS (Xeon E3-1241 v3, Quadro K620) for $849 is because I'm getting a certified card in SolidWorks and I'm getting 8 threads, both of which may actually beat out your build in terms of features and multi-threaded loads. And my graphics card is the professional dialect of the OEM card GTX 745.

    And also, as for the Quadro hardmod you're talking about, it doesn't work for Maxwell cards solely because the developer of the mod, gnif from EEVBlog, hasn't been on the forums recently. So far it works on GTX 770, GTX Titan Black, GTX 690, GTX 680, GTX 660 Ti, and a couple of cards that has the Quadro correspondent. Older flagship cards are hard to get and very expensive, but lacking the performance of today's GPU of the same level.

    The GTX 970 is theoretically capable of the mod, but until someone gets a Quadro M5000 and figures out how the process goes, the reply to your second paragraph is no.
  • RedJaron
    While I use cloud storage for a lot of things, I use it to sync files between machines where a copy of the file is still stored locally. While I know some people don't have internet connections suitable for massive file storage online, I would think a prosumer would make that a priority if at all possible. So I can understand the assumption that the cloud would be good enough for mass storage. Personally I would still opt for a big local drive. I can keep my current projects local and use network/cloud storage for archiving.
  • Crashman
    1483911 said:
    The GTX 970 is theoretically capable of the mod, but until someone gets a Quadro M5000 and figures out how the process goes, the reply to your second paragraph is no.
    I didn't leave a question, so I guess the answer must be yes? Will we next be discussing the meaning of life?