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System Builder Marathon Q4 2015: System Value Compared

Introduction & Q4 2015 Build Lineup

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

System Value Compared

Performance remains a key component of the performance-per-price equation we call “Value”. Last quarter, we tried to squeeze as many high-performance parts into our $800 builds as possible, and every machine failed to provide convincing numbers due to the inadequacies of other components. My Prosumer PC sacrificed graphics power to pay for a better CPU, Eric’s Mini Gaming PC sacrificed CPU capability to pay for more graphics power, and Chris’ Gaming PC sacrificed a little of both to get a better performance balance across the complete benchmark set. Comparing results, we decided that $800 wasn’t enough to satisfy even the most frugal of performance enthusiasts. Cutting down to $650 or so might get us better value in an economy PC, but the extra $150 was just tempting us with high-end parts that other components couldn’t keep up with.

This time around, we spent more money to fix the performance shortcomings of each machine, with Chris taking the lead at $1184. That’s barely below the bottom of the high-end market, but it’s also pretty tough to find any low-end components on his list. Eric stuck closer to home in his $895 expenditure, yet departed completely from his previous AMD platform.

Q4 SBM Components List
Chris' $1184 Gaming PCThomas' $1055 Prosumer PCEric's $895 "LAN Box" PC
ProcessorIntel Core i5-6600K: 3.5GHz-3.9GHz, Four Cores, 6 MB CacheIntel Core i5-6600K: 3.5GHz-3.9GHz, Four Cores, 6 MB CacheIntel i3-4170: 3.7 GHz, Two Cores, 3 MB L3 Cache
GraphicsPowerColor PCS+ AXR9 390 8GBD5-PPDHE Radeon R9 390 8GBAsus TURBO-GTX970-OC-4GD5 GeForce GTX 970 4GBAsus TURBO-GTX970-OC-4GD5 GeForce GTX 970 4GB
MotherboardGigabyte GA-Z170XP-SLI: LGA 1151,  Intel Z170, ATXGigabyte Z170M-DH3: LGA 1151,  Intel Z170, MicroATXASRock H97M-ITX/ac: LGA 1150, Intel H97, Mini ITX
MemoryGigabyte GA-Z170XP-SLI: LGA 1151,  Intel Z170, ATXPNY MD16GK2D4240015AR: DDR4-2400 C15, 16GB (2 x 8GB)Crucial BLS2K4G3D169DS1J: DDR3-1600 C9, 8GB (2 x 4GB)
System DriveSamsung 850 EVO MZ-75E250B/AM 250GB SATA 6Gb/s 2.5" SSDSAMSUNG 850 EVO MZ-N5E250BW 250GB SATA 6Gb/s M.2 SSDSamsung 850 EVO MZ-75E250B/AM 250GB SATA 6Gb/s 2.5" SSD
PowerEVGA 220-GS-0650-V1 650W Modular, 80 PLUS GoldSeaSonic SS-400ET: 400W Non-Modular,  80 PLUS BronzeSeaSonic M12II 620 Bronze 620W  Full Modular 80 PLUS Bronze
CPU CoolerCooler Master Hyper 212 EvoCooler Master Hyper T4Core i3-4170 Included Cooler
Platform Cost$926 $915 $680
Storage DriveSeagate Barracuda ST1000DM003 1TB 7200 RPM Hard DriveUses System DriveWD Caviar Blue WD10EZEX 3.5" 1TB 7200 RPM 64MB Cache HDD
OpticalAsus DRW-24F1ST 24x DVD±RNoneAsus SDRW-08D2S-U 24X DVD±R
CaseCorsair Carbide SPEC-03 ATXDIYPC MA01-G Black MicroATXThermaltake Core V1
Total Hardware$1,064 $935 $795
OSWindows 10 Home USB PackWindows 10 Home USB PackWindows 10 x64 OEM
Complete System$1,184 $1,055 $895

Similarities between certain components are neither coincidental nor collaborative, except for the expected collaboration between readers and writers. Readers of last quarter’s System Builder Marathon recommended that my replacement machine receive the graphics from Eric’s previous machine and the SSD from Chris’, and so it has. As those were also the best components of Eric’s and Chris’ previous builds, they felt no obligation to replace these. Each of us also tried our hand at overclocking, though Eric’s CPU and motherboard were “locked”.

Test Hardware Configurations
Chris' $1184 Gaming PCThomas' $1055 Prosumer PCEric's $895 "LAN Box" PC
Processor (Overclock)Intel Core i5-6600K: 3.50 GHz - 3.90 GHz, Four Physical Cores O/C to 4.6GHz, 1.39VIntel Core i5-6600K: 3.50 GHz - 3.90 GHz, Four Physical Cores O/C to 4.5GHz, 1.30VIntel i3-4170: 3.7 GHz, Dual-Core with Hyper-Threading
Graphics (Overclock)PowerColor Radeon R9 390: <1010MHz Core, 1500MHz Memory O/C to <1155MHz Core, 1740MHz MemoryAsus GeForce GTX 970: <1228MHz GPU, GDDR5-7010 O/C to <1390MHz, GDDR5-7880Asus GeForce GTX 970: <1228MHz GPU, GDDR5-7010 O/C to <1400MHz, GDDR5-7410
Memory (Overclock)8GB G.Skill DDR4-2400 CAS 15-15-15-35, O/C to DDR4-2800 CL 13-13-13-28, 1.34V16GB PNY DDR4-2400 CAS 15-15-15-35, O/C to DDR4-2666 CL 14-14-14-28, 1.24V8GB Crucial DDR3-1600 CAS 9-9-9-24, O/C to DDR3-1600 8-8-8-24, 1.5V
Motherboard (Overclock)Gigabyte GA-Z170XP-SLI: LGA 1151, Intel Z170 Stock ClocksGigabyte Z170M-DH3: LGA 1151, Intel Z170 Stock ClocksASRock H97M-ITX/ac: LGA 1150, Intel H97 Stock Clocks
CaseCorsair SPEC-03DIYPC MA01-GThermaltake Core V1
CPU CoolerCooler Master Hyper 212 EvoCooler Master Hyper T4Core i3-4170 Included Cooler
Hard DriveSamsung 850 Evo 250GB SATA 6Gb/s 2.5" SSDSamsung 850 Evo 250GB SATA 6Gb/s M.2 SSDSamsung 850 Evo 250GB 2.5" SSD
PowerEVGA 220-GS-0650-V1: 650W, 80 PLUS GoldSeaSonic SS-400ET: 400W, 80 PLUS BronzeSeasonic M12II Bronze 620W
Software
OSMicrosoft Windows 8.1 Pro x64Microsoft Windows 8 Pro x64Microsoft Windows 8 Pro x64
GraphicsAMD Crimson 15.11Nvidia GeForce 359.06Nvidia GeForce 359.06
ChipsetIntel INF 10.1.1Intel INF 10.1.1Intel INF 10.0.0.27

I’ve only been using 1.30V to overclock Haswell CPUs, but I have no problem with the 1.39V setting Chris used to gain a 100MHz overclocking advantage. This is a competition after all, and he hasn’t shown any evidence of his CPU overheating. Real-world users must decide for themselves if the small boost in performance is worth the moderate increase in power consumption.

With the hardware set up, we’re ready to see how these machines run!

  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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."

    Reply
  • 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