System Builder Marathon Q2 2015: $1600 Gaming PC

Power, Heat, Efficiency And Value

With all of the equipment inside the DIYPC case, Big Build drew quite a bit of power just sitting idle. But once the GPU and CPU received a load, draw from the wall increased 5x. Thomas' experience in this series is apparent when you look at his results from Q4 2014 and Q1 2015, where power consumption went up by 10x under load compared to the idle measurements.

Even though I was looking forward to the power and thermal tests (mostly because they were the last ones I had to run), I spent quite a while trying to mitigate the system crashing whenever I started running Prime95. As explained earlier, I ultimately ended up dropping the CPU to 4.2GHZ and adjusting the GPU to lower settings as well. Other than the temperature and power tests, all of this build's other benchmarks were run with the CPU at 4.4GHz.

Also a note about the results in the Temperatures Above Ambient graph. The fans on the GPU were set to manual and configured to go to 100% during the overclock testing. Also, the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 980 I used got an unobstructed flow of air from the front of the case because of the hard drive cages I removed.

By going with a Core i5, I discovered that it's possible to build a great gaming rig for $1600, though overclocking it (at least in this case) is a must. In its baseline configuration, Big Build isn’t going to win any awards. However, it does hammer home the point that finding time and patience for tuning can yield a rewarding performance increase. I would have had to go over-budget by $100 or $150 to score a higher-end Core i7 CPU.

Looking at the Overall Performance chart, the task that I was originally assigned – building a gaming PC – seems to have been accomplished, even if my take on the system needs to be overclocked for an optimal experience. Our Tom's Hardware technical career guidance counselors deem the overclocked Big Build to be a decent graphics workstation, too. Interestingly enough, we also see the SanDisk Pro SSD thrusted into the spotlight as its storage performance misses the 100% target by just 1%. So, if you’re a gamer or a creative content producer, a machine like Big Build may just fit in with your career plans if you don’t mind a little overclocking.

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Julio Urquidi is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware, covering Networking, Notebooks and Systems. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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  • pasow
    your listing for the GTX 980 in the article links to the motherboard.
  • Math Geek
    i like that the builds finally contain both ssd and hdd as well as some alternative cooling solutions this time around. nice to see that there are other options for cooling besides the normal suggestions that still do a nice job. that case also seemed like a decent choice though for the money, i'm sure there are better ones you could have gotten.

    now cue the corsair psu haters in 3....2.....

    edit: i see a lot of different ideas of what "could" have been done with the money, but honestly we all know what these suggested parts can do already. using non-traditional parts in the build gives up numbers on some pieces we may not have tried out before. the numbers may not be overly positive but i learn something from them either way. so maybe take this as a lesson on "what not to do" and move on if you're so inclined. always nice to see stats on machines built with "other" parts at least for the learning opportunity :)
  • balister
    Is there a typo with the price on the gtx 980 or did you pay more for it when you got the components? I'm showing that the price of the system (minus Windows and not counting in shipping) of ~$1295 (a little over $200 shy of the $1600 mark).
  • SylentVyper
    There is a LOT of waste in this build. You can get the same build, with all the same specs, while paying $300 less.

    You can get RAM for almost half that price, a good SSD for about half that price, and an SLI-capable motherboard for half that price.
  • AdviserKulikov
    According to tom's own benchmarks, RAM doesn't have a significant impact on performance in gaming, any reason why the gaming PC is featuring memory overcosted by about $50-$60?
  • Jeffs0418
    There are some major typos and incorrect links here. Somehow I doubt the GTX980 price of $169.99...
    If it is I want one!
  • 10tacle
    Wow they were only getting to 4.2GHz at 1.24v and hitting 89C+ on three of the four cores. That is not good. Not sure if it's a bad chip, but even that mid-range cooler should do way better than that. For comparison with my 4690K on a Noctua NH-D14, in the summer I scale back my overclock and run at 4.3GHz at 1.12v and hit mid-50C even with a 78F indoor A/C setting.
  • Andrewst1021
    A lot of waste, 8 gb of ram and a cheaper case would of put you just shy of the gtx 980ti price range.
  • WHComp
    You can get an Intel Xeon E3-1231v3 for $7 more on newegg:

    I am not a gamer but I do build a lot of CAD workstations at work. I do not see why the xeon is not a massive improvement over the i5. It is missing the integrated graphics, but that should not matter for gamers same as it works for my CAD workstations.

    I have wondered about this for a long time, someone please explain.
  • Aspiring techie
    Was it possible to mount a case fan on the other side of the Zalman cooler, or did I miss something? If it was, then you could have gotten the temps down by a few degrees in a push-pull configuration.