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System Builder Marathon Q4 2015: System Value Compared

Value & Conclusion

My build takes top honors in the overall value chart for the third quarter in a row, but it’s only the second time I’ve competed against Chris and Eric, but we can see these guys sneaking up, so my future as a builder may not be as triumphant.

Moreover, Eric saved $20 on his OS by getting the download version, then spent an extra $4.46 on a thumb drive to allow him to send the OS to the winner without requiring the winner to download it a second time. And he didn’t even include the price of the thumb drive in his build. But he’s not the worst offender.

You see, I was the only builder who didn’t include an adequate amount of storage space. Both Eric and Chris added 1TB hard drives to theirs, even though secondary storage doesn’t put any points into the performance analysis. To top it off, I used a $20 case. Platform price-to-performance is really the only fair way to compare the value of these machines, since Eric and I scratched $20 and $100 off what we should have respectively paid if we wanted to put all three builds in the same class.

When we compare these machines fairly, my 99% baseline (of the total average) value is a dead match to Eric’s. Only by overclocking am I able to retain my victory against a system with a locked CPU. And that is fair, because the extra amount I paid for overclocking capability is in the calculation.

If we only look at the 5760x1080 tests, Eric proves that he’s the only builder with top gaming value. Chris’ gaming machine even falls behind my own dual-purpose build, but that’s because it’s actually a slightly more expensive dual-purpose build in spite of its name.

Nobody ever said that every System Builder Marathon needed to be a fair competition. We could all be building for different purposes, and at different prices, as we were a year ago. The Platform Performance Value chart shows that my competitors are quickly progressing towards best-overall-value victories, and the final chart shows that Eric nailed his gaming-value theme.

Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware, covering Cases, Cooling, Memory and Motherboards. Follow him on Twitter.

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  • Onus
    I like all three of these machines. Any changes I'd make would be niggles, and mostly a matter of scale. I'd be happy to win any of them, and would probably do some minor mixing and matching with what I already have.
    For all of them, I'd upgrade the SSD to 500GB just because I can.
    I'd pull the power-scarfing R9 390 out of the gaming PC, put in my GTX970, and probably add another drive for a RAID1 pair. I'm not anti-AMD, but another 200W+ under load is a horrific waste. I really hope AMD can get back in the low-power competition; the HD4670, HD5670, HD6670, and HD7750 were all amazing cards for how little power they used.
    The prosumer machine would get a RAID1 pair of drives added.
    The LAN box is actually a tough call. I could just add one more drive to it also, but I'd be sorely tempted to put a H170 mITX board and Skylake i3 in it instead, if only because those are available to me. I would not need to though; it's an excellent machine as it is.

    Reply
  • Crashman
    17222247 said:
    I like all three of these machines.
    Maybe that's why the individual builds are still generating feedback and the 3-way comparison isn't :)

    Reply
  • RedJaron
    The Windows I bought for my build isn't download only. It's on a DVD with the rest of my parts. I threw in the USB drive so the winner wouldn't have to install Windows over a USB 2.0 ODD.

    That said, I really thought I had a shot at the value win when I saw you two spending $200 more than me. Skylake's better memory bandwidth makes a big difference. We may need to re-visit memory bandwidth in gaming because I'm pretty sure I saw mine get affected with the machines I built this time.

    But I shot-myself in the foot by limiting what I could build last quarter. There's only so many ways you can take a LAN box. A general purpose PC would've been wide open for value oriented changes and improvements. If I get a shot next quarter, I may well game the system to make something designed to win value. That actually could be an interesting experiment. Would a machine purpose built for value alone still provide enough pure performance to satisfy an end user?
    Reply
  • Crashman
    17224021 said:
    The Windows I bought for my build isn't download only. It's on a DVD with the rest of my parts. I threw in the USB drive so the winner wouldn't have to install Windows over a USB 2.0 ODD.

    That said, I really thought I had a shot at the value win when I saw you two spending $200 more than me. Skylake's better memory bandwidth makes a big difference. We may need to re-visit memory bandwidth in gaming because I'm pretty sure I saw mine get affected with the machines I built this time.

    But I shot-myself in the foot by limiting what I could build last quarter. There's only so many ways you can take a LAN box. A general purpose PC would've been wide open for value oriented changes and improvements. If I get a shot next quarter, I may well game the system to make something designed to win value. That actually could be an interesting experiment. Would a machine purpose built for value alone still provide enough pure performance to satisfy an end user?
    Dude, isn't it enough to tie me at stock speed? I mean, I spent the OC money to OC right? I'd better get some advantage from it!

    Sorry about the DVD thing, Newegg isn't actually telling me that the Win10 package you bought comes with media.
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  • RedJaron
    Well, no, like you said, part of your cost was the ability to overclock. If you didn't use that, it's like paying for a dGPU but not installing it. You were right, that is a fair comparison. I lost.
    Reply
  • Onus
    It's great to get a high bang/buck, but you still need some minimum amount of "bang" to be useful. Those with 144Hz monitors will disagree, but for mainstream 1080p gaming, counting FPS over 60 as no better than 60 might hand that value win to a GTX950.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    17224971 said:
    Well, no, like you said, part of your cost was the ability to overclock. If you didn't use that, it's like paying for a dGPU but not installing it. You were right, that is a fair comparison. I lost.
    Yes, and your climb rate means next time you'll probably win. But I have a plan:

    I CAN'T win if I spend big, so how about next time we give me a big somewhat-specific budget where I'm required to spend most of the money, and likewise an excuse not to win? Then I'd basically be putting all my O/C effort in to reach 80-90 percent of your score :-D

    These head-to-heads are brutal, I don't want anyone to lose the value competition unless they have an excuse such as "chasing better quality and more user-friendly features."

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  • Onus
    Make it more brutal; cut the budgets down to $550-$600.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    17225115 said:
    Make it more brutal; cut the budgets down to $550-$600.
    Remember Paul? We figured out that you can find perfect performance-value around $600, and that the closer you got to $800 by trying to cram in performance parts, the more the rest of the system held you back. That you had to keep upgrading the rest of the system until you reached balance, before you'd get the value score back up at a higher performance level. And that the second value zenith was around $1100.

    People want to see $800 builds, but we knew long ago that everything between $650 and $1050 was a "dead zone".

    Did this experience with Paul give me an unfair advantage? It depends on what you consider fair. I would have used this CPU anyway, and a $250 to $320 graphics card, so my path was set without consideration of the final price. Fortunately, reader feedback on the Q3 SBM meant that I didn't need to pick the graphics card, they did it for me.
    Reply
  • RedJaron
    Well, if we're all at that magical $600 range, then it could be interesting to see who can find the best balance. Granted, at that price range, are we each going to end up with near identical builds due to us chasing the same sales? I wouldn't mind going after something a little more simple.
    Reply