Our System Builder Marathon, By The Numbers
I'm so used to seeing the cheapest PC win our value comparison that I nearly asked “by how much” rather than “who” the winner would be. And the best place to be when trying to score a value win with cheap components is at an open-air bench, since a benchable platform doesn’t need a case or optical drive. That's how the crew chose to start our value analysis this quarter: performance-oriented parts-only.
The above chart is really only useful to people who want to upgrade old system with new internal components though, and this is a System Builder Marathon. The cheap machine’s margin of victory is reduced when we create a complete system of these platforms.
And then there’s the argument that some enthusiasts don't have a decent operating system laying around (or at least a key not already in-use on another machine), and you really need one to play games or run any of the tested applications. Most of us certainly wouldn’t want to recycle an old Windows XP license, and that’s not even within the limits of your contract if the old OS was an OEM version. A third chart shows the “worst value scenario” for the cheap PC, where it’s paired with the same $100 Windows 8.1 license as its more expensive rivals.
If you want to game on a single FHD monitor, the $600 PC is a great start. You’ll save a bunch of money and have hundreds of gigabytes of spare storage space on its single hard drive for your videos, photos, and downloads. Programs are going to be slower to load than if you had an SSD. But if you're already using an older PC, that's not going to be surprising. Congratulations once again, Paul!
Don's $1200 PC edges out my $1600 PC in value, though it's also stuck running programs from the same slow hard drive. And its 10% margin occurred only after Don got lucky and drew better than me in the overclocking lottery. Naturally, your mileage may vary. Still, there's a lot of performance to appreciate from the mid-range configuration, and it appears well-balanced.
Enthusiasts with a little more to spend can appreciate that my $1600 PC is even faster, despite a slight value penalty. Tom's Hardware readers already know this, but as you throw additional budget at high-end systems, it gets increasingly difficult to improve value. Poor overclock aside, I can be fairly proud of the hardware combination I put together.
What I just said about overall value also applies to high-resolution gaming. Sure, there are one or two game settings where the $1200 PC barely fails and the $1600 PC barely passes. But I’d rather adjust my game settings down than drop an extra $400 on equipment if I were on a tight budget.
And so I again concede Don's second-place value over my own third-place build, even though I wouldn’t personally build that machine. Then again, I'm the guy with the lab full of computer equipment.