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System Builder Marathon, August 2012: $2000 Performance PC

Finding Value In Higher Quality

System Builder Marathon, August 2012: The Articles

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!

Day 1: The $500 Gaming PC
Day 2: The $1000 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $2000 Performance PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected
Day 5: The Surprise $2000 Alternative Build


The objective of most System Builder Marathon machines is to give you more value than the last time you read our series. We spread these out at easy intervals of $500, $1000, and $2000, creating simple comparisons and fixed budgets. Last time around, however, I managed to build a PC I was happy with for $1741, leaving quite a bit of cash on the table. And, for the first time ever, our highest-end machine came within 3% of winning the overall value comparison. We know how hard diminishing returns usually hit the priciest configuration, so I considered that setup a remarkable success.

Many of you didn't agree, though. We didn't spend all of the money. Our SSD was too small. The machine's optical options were too limited. The platform was pulled from Intel's lowly mainstream segment. Its enclosure didn't look like it belonged in a true boss' office. And maybe we should have cut corners elsewhere in order to create a true leader on the value chart. The feedback was all over the place, and not necessarily unanimous.

For a great many folks, however, the idea of a nicer system has as much to do with its quality as its performance. There are plenty of features we can't represent in a benchmark suite, and we quite often spend money on better parts that don't end up helping our cause when we compare performance per dollar. Nevertheless, our high-end builds start with high expectations, and so we give you this:

Today’s build looks like it might be designed for gaming, but it still has enough class to fit in at the office. Better yet, the case itself is an award-winning product. In fact, most of the components in today’s $2000 build are either award-winners recommended by Tom’s Hardware staff, or newer versions of previously-recommended products. This configuration includes most of the features that you requested from our previous-quarter’s $1741 machine, it comes in at only 0.1% over budget, and, ironically, we can almost guarantee that it'll lose tomorrow's value comparison.

Q3 2012 $2000 PC Components
ProcessorIntel Core i7-3930K (Sandy Bridge-E): 3.2 GHz Base, 3.8 GHz Maximum Turbo Boost, 12 MB Shared L3 Cache$570
GraphicsEVGA 02G-P4-2670-KR: GeForce GTX 670 2 GB (Standard)$400
MotherboardASRock X79 Extreme4: LGA 2011, Intel X79 Express$225
MemoryG.Skill F3-1600C8Q-16GAB: DDR3-1600 C8, 4 GB x 4 (16 GB)$115
System DriveMushkin MKNSSDCR240GB-DX: 240 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD$200
Storage DriveWestern Digital AV-GP Green WD20EURS: 2 TB, 5400 RPM Hard Drive$117
OpticalAsus BW-12B1ST: 12x BD-R, 16x DVD±R, 2x BD-RE$90
CaseNZXT Phantom 410 Gunmetal$100
PowerSeasonic SS-850HT: ATX12V V2.3 80 PLUS Silver$130
CPU CoolerScythe Mugen 3 Rev. B SCMG-3100 $55
 Total Cost $2002

We had to make three minor compromises to get this setup so close to our target budget. They won't seriously detract from the machine's overall quality, though.

To begin, we dropped the GeForce GTX 680 and replaced it with a more value-oriented GeForce GTX 670. We also gave up our 80 PLUS Gold-certified modular power supply to grab a similarly-stable Silver-rated unit, fully aware that our chassis of choice was designed to hide its left-over cables. Finally, we compromised our preferred CPU cooler in favor of a highly-recommended model that costs less.

One question remains, however: as we watch Paul and Don exploit advances in technology to generate even more value from their machines, can I even get close to what last quarter's build managed to do for less money?