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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.