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System Builder Marathon Q2 2014: System Value Compared

A SBM Based On Reader Feedback

System Builder Marathon, Q2 2014: The Articles

Here are links to each of the four 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 Budget Gaming PC
Day 2: Our Mainstream Enthusiast System
Day 3: The Balanced High-End Build
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected

Choosing This Quarter's Winning Build

Paul, Don, and I already talked about the various reasons for this quarter’s budget restructuring in each of our respective stories. But the overall rationale involved a handful of requests from the audience. First, we saw a bunch of messages that Paul should return his budget gaming machine to its origins, “The $500 Gaming PC”. Second, we received a lot of requests to narrow the price range between our top and bottom builds. And third, we wanted to address the critique that our systems can't be compared to off-the-shelf machines because they don't include an operating system.

So Paul jumped back to $500, and then added an operating system. Since Don’s PC always costs twice as much as Paul’s, his sacrifice would be twice as great. Even harsher, my high-end build wouldn’t cost four times as much as Paul’s. It'd get a 3x multiplier instead. If you think a 3x jump is still a huge difference, consider the real-world price differences between entry-level and high-end components. My challenge would be great indeed.

Fortunately, we were all fairly close to that sweet spot in budget-oriented performance hardware right around $800 (give or take a couple hundred dollars). Although that sounds like a fairly large margin for error, the market is constantly changing as new mainstream parts are introduced. Furthermore, not all purchase decisions are made equally. For example, Paul was able to pull a value rabbit out of AMD’s hat with the low-cost Athlon X4 750K. Findings like those are probably why Intel finally caved and released an unlocked dual-core Pentium, which wasn’t available yet when we placed our orders.

Then there was the happy coincidence that the PowerColor graphics cards Don and I bought rose in price a little, but came bundled with a 250 GB Samsung 840 EVO just as our stories were going live. This small miracle addresses the biggest omission from Don's budget-constrained machine and saves me a $150 line item I was already planning to buy. Of course, neither of us gave ourselves credit for the windfall. But hey, as of this writing, the sale is still going on if you want to capitalize.

System Builder Marathon Q2 2014: The Machines
$600 Gaming PC$1200 Enthusiast PC$1600 Performance PC
ProcessorAMD Athlon X4 750K: 3.4 to 4 GHz, Quad-Core, 4 MB Shared L2 CacheIntel Core i5-4670K: 3.4 to 3.8 GHz, Quad-Core, 6 MB Shared L3 CacheIntel Core i7-4770K: 3.5 to 3.9 GHz, Quad-Core, 8 MB Shared L3 Cache
GraphicsMSI R7 265 2GD5 OC 2 GBPowerColor TurboDuo AXR9 290 4GBD5-TDHE/OC Radeon R9 290PowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X 4GBD5-PPDHE Radeon R9 290X
MotherboardASRock FM2A75M: Socket FM2+, AMD A75ASRock Z97 Pro3: LGA 1150 Intel Z97 ExpressAsus Z97-A: LGA 1150, Intel Z97 Express
MemoryTeam Group Dark TDBD38G1600HC9DC01: DDR3-1600 C9, 8 GB (2 x 4 GB)Team Group Vulcan TLYD38G1600HC9DC01: DDR3-1600 C9, 8 GB (2 x 4 GB)G.Skill Ripjaws X F3-14900CL8D-8GBXM: DDR3-1866 C8, 8 GB (2 x 4 GB)
System DriveWD Blue WD10EZEX: 1 TB, 7200 RPM, 64 MB CacheWD Blue WD10EZEX: 1 TB, 7200 RPM, 64 MB CacheSamsung 840 EVO MZ-7TE250BW: 250 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD
PowerEVGA 100-W1-0430-KR: 430 W, ATX12V v2.31, 80 PLUSCorsair CX750: 750 W, ATX12V v2.3, 80 PLUS BronzeRosewill HIVE-750: 750 W Semi-Modular, ATX12V v2.3, 80 PLUS Bronze
CPU CoolerAMD Athlon Boxed Fan (included)Cooler Master Hyper 212 PlusThermaltake NiC L32 (CL-P002-AL14RE-A) 140mm
Platform Cost$454 $1066 $1362
Storage Drive(Uses System Drive)(Uses System Drive)Western Digital Blue WD10EZEX: 1 TB, 7200 RPM, 64MB Cache
OpticalAsus DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS: 24x DVD±R, 48x CD-RLG GH24NSB0: 24x DVD±R, 48x CD-RLite-On iHAS124-04: 24x DVD±R, 48x CD-R
CaseRosewill Redbone U3Apevia X-HermesCM Storm Scout 2 Advanced
Total HW$519 $1146 $1532
OSWindows 8.1 x64 OEMWindows 8.1 x64 OEMWindows 8.1 x64 OEM
Total Cost$619 $1246 $1632

It's unfortunate that Intel's Devil's Canyon-based CPUs weren't available when we placed our orders back in May. We knew they were being introduced in early June. But they didn't ship out until a couple of days ago. Good thing we didn't wait. On the bright side, though, you can expect at least a couple of us to experiment with Intel's improved Haswell-based, overclocking-friendly models when we place our orders for Q3 here shortly. 

I realize that availability now of Core i5-4690K and Core i7-4790K means some of our readers are going to want to go that route instead. But we take comfort in the knowledge that our own tests reveal a mere 100 MHz overclocking advantage compared to a few of the Core i5-4670K and Core i7-4770K CPUs we’ve already tested.

That was also before I discovered the Core i7-4770K in this quarter's high-end machine is the worst-overclocking -4770K I've ever used, causing me to ponder the possibility of Intel setting aside its best dies for -4790Ks well before those newer processors launched. A complete comparison of overclock settings is found on the next page, so onward we go!

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.