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System Builder Marathon, March 2012: System Value Compared

Three Different Goals, One Value Conclusion

As I suggested yesterday, when it comes to building performance-oriented PCs, most enthusiasts start seeing some form of diminishing returns after spending between $600 and $800. That’s because less-expensive parts generally offer far less performance, while better-performing parts generally cost far more money.

This quarter, however, Paul took a big risk by pairing an overpriced performance-oriented part (his graphics card) with a platform that wouldn't overclock at all. We understand where he was going there. More important than simply winning our Marathon, he wanted to give gamers a build that'd manage playable 1920x1080 frame rates, even if it meant getting wasted on the productivity apps.

His approach could have lost him the value competition, had Don not tried the same strategy with a more generous budget. In retrospect, we have to wonder how much more value he could have extracted from a slightly more expensive motherboard (with fully-functional memory) in the mid-priced machine.

Meanwhile, my $2600 build creates value from some of its overpriced components by overclocking well. We're left wondering if sacrifices on the flashy cooler, quiet case, and Blu-ray writer could have been parlayed into even better go-fast hardware, which may have overcome the value enabled by Don's machine. Of course, then I'd have to hear it from everyone in the comments section poking fun at cheap-looking components in a high-end build.

Don certainly proved his point when it comes to graphics performance. He used the same card as me to achieve similar performance at 2560x1600. A little luck with GPU overclocking gave him the upper hand, even, bringing his $1300 machine within 2% of my higher-end box.

But few of us could recommend the $1300 system to a friend or family member. Even Don seemed pretty worried about the quality of his finished product. We recommend that anyone considering a revamp of that build at least read a few of our motherboard reviews before making a revision. Consult with our forum members on parts that haven’t been reviewed yet. And consider whether the recently-released (and less expensive) GeForce GTX 680 might yield even better performance for your money.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • sonexpc
    Looks like $650 PC can do almost everything smoothly ! Even most of the game can get over 40fps...
    which is not bad... for Just $650 ...So the first piority for gaming PC is still the Video card!
    Reply
  • MMO Fan
    nobody needs a $600 cpu
    Reply
  • shoot you
    I always love seeing the System builder articles (even though I cant build one myself for now hahahaha).

    Great as always. It sad that the Nvidia GTX 680 has yet to be considered due to availability and pricing issues hehehehe.

    Reply
  • iamauser
    Translation: we don't actually stand behind any of these builds as being worthwhile to emulate.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    iamauserTranslation: we don't actually stand behind any of these builds as being worthwhile to emulate.The $650 and $2600 PC builders loved their machines, it's just hard to recommend either of those to "everyone" or even "most people" since most of the readers really want $800-1200 machines.
    Reply
  • MMO Fan
    CrashmanThe $650 and $2600 PC builders loved their machines, it's just hard to recommend either of those to "everyone" or even "most people" since most of the readers really want $800-1200 machines.It's hard to recomend them because they just are not real good for the large outlay of cash as in the money could have been spent on better parts but instead was spent on "balancing" and pleasing the TH memebers.
    Reply
  • Wave Fusion
    I'd love to build a PC with a beefy GPU someday.
    But coming from a notebook background, I more or less have to start from scratch.

    I can use my old mouse, and my TV as a monitor. But on top of the estimated build costs listed, I also need the OS, keyboard, and likely other misc. odds and ends.

    $200 ($100 OEM) for Windows 7 is brutal.

    I also don't want to waste time on a desktop that only has a GPU advantage over the notebook.
    Desktop upgrades over even a mobile i7 is still pricey.

    Since I know my 2720QM uses the same die as desktops; it'd be swell if I could just yank it out; plug it in a desktop board and call it a 2600k. In a desktop it wouldn't have to stay in a 45W TDP

    But.. *sigh*.. the parts are locked, the sockets don't match; and a real life desktop carbon copy of my notebook is out of my budget atm.
    --
    If I could find a way to attach a 7870 to my notebook motherboard, I wouldn't have a problem with the frankenstein-ish creation.

    The 6670 just doesn't cut it sometimes
    Reply
  • MMO Fan
    Wave FusionI'd love to build a PC with a beefy GPU someday.But coming from a notebook background, I more or less have to start from scratch.I can use my old mouse, and my TV as a monitor. But on top of the estimated build costs listed, I also need the OS, keyboard, and likely other misc. odds and ends.$200 ($100 OEM) for Windows 7 is brutal. I also don't want to waste time on a desktop that only has a GPU advantage over the notebook.Desktop upgrades over even a mobile i7 is still pricey.Since I know my 2720QM uses the same die as desktops; it'd be swell if I could just yank it out; plug it in a desktop board and call it a 2600k. In a desktop it wouldn't have to stay in a 45W TDPBut.. *sigh*.. the parts are locked, the sockets don't match; and a real life desktop carbon copy of my notebook is out of my budget atm.--If I could find a way to attach a 7870 to my notebook motherboard, I wouldn't have a problem with the frankenstein-ish creation.The 6670 just doesn't cut it sometimesAny Desktop CPU this side of C2Duo will substancially out perform any Laptop CPU
    Reply
  • Crashman
    MMO fanIt's hard to recomend them because they just are not real good for the large outlay of cash as in the money could have been spent on better parts but instead was spent on "balancing" and pleasing the TH memebers.I'll explain this the way I did in your other $2600 PC comments. You're simply wrong. I can't help you understand why someone would want a PC that performs well in multiple areas. I can't help you understand why someone would want their PC to be quiet. I can't help you to understand why someone would want their PC to store more applications on the faster device. I can't help you to understand these things because you have already rejected them. Your prejudice excludes any "balanced" analysis.

    But at least you're fairly nice about it.
    Reply
  • MMO Fan
    CrashmanI'll explain this the way I did in your other $2600 PC comments. You're simply wrong. I can't help you understand why someone would want a PC that performs well in multiple areas. I can't help you understand why someone would want their PC to be quiet. I can't help you to understand why someone would want their PC to store more applications on the faster device. I can't help you to understand these things because you have already rejected them. Your prejudice excludes any "balanced" analysis.But at least you're fairly nice about it.7970 is more than "well" it is the best of the best and Fractal Design Define R3 is $100 or some $30 less than the P280 and performance better these two points I made are just for starters. If you will I could go on and build a far better machine for $2600 but you seem to think this TH $2600 "performance" build is the best when it is far from it.
    Reply