System Builder Marathon Q2 2015: $1600 Gaming PC

$1600 Gaming PC

So this is my first foray in tackling the System Builders Marathon. I’ve built plenty of machines over the years, but my background is mostly IT and my emphasis was usually to build with a good CPU. When I was offered the chance to work on this quarter's System Builder Marathone, I was told that the SBM would be a totally different experience. They were right, but with a little help from Thomas who answered my questions regarding our System Builder Marathon rules, I was ready to spend some money.

With Paul and Don not available for this quarter’s System Builder Marathon, I knew I had to step into some pretty big shoes. With $3200 at our disposal, Thomas and I were tasked to build two $1600 machines each. One of the two machines was to be ATX-based, while the other would be mini-ITX. To change things up a bit, Thomas would focus on building out a CPU-driven machine and I would focus on a graphics-heavy build.

Oh the fun we had! 

Is $1600 an unrealistic target? I’m pretty sure that's not an over-the-top price for a great machine, even if some of us would have to collect the pieces over a period of time (or save up a bit longer for the big payoff). Regardless, the budget Thomas and I were given is pretty fair, especially for the level of performance we were aiming for.

By the way, I’m simply dubbing this first machine “Big Build”. It’s a tower-based system running Windows 8 and housing an ATX-sized motherboard, which should leave plenty of room for any future upgrades or expansion.

Here’s what I chose for Big Build:

  • Platform Cost: $1348
  • Total Hardware Cost: $1499
  • Complete System Price: $1599

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In order to accomplish the goals I set forth for Big Build, I had to choose a graphics card first, and I went with a brand I’m familiar with. We use Gigabyte’s Windforce-cooled GeForce GTX 970 in our reference systems, so I was pretty cranked to upgrade to the latest/greatest in the Windforce family. Once I got my graphics card settled, I moved on and picked a CPU and motherboard. After all that, I just picked the pieces that made sense and fit into the budget.

  • 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.