System Builder Marathon Q2 2015: $1600 Gaming PC

How We Test

Test Setup

I covered some of the points on how we tested Big Build in the prior Overclocking section. Aside from those notes, we purchased the parts, assembled the machines and ran the tests ourselves. I set up Big Build and the other machine in our Los Angeles test lab where I had access to the tools and space needed for this quarter’s System Builders Marathon. One key factor that I find important for working in the lab is having a climate-controlled environment to run the machines in, especially when testing the overclocking. Since most of my work was done at night, I had the A/C to myself and set the temperature to about 73 degrees F. With both machines fired up around mid-afternoon, the room's temperature rose to about 78 degrees F.

Using the standard Tom’s Hardware image and software, I benchmarked the non-overclocked PC configuration first, then set the overclocking on that machine and ran the tests one more time.

The 27” Viewsonic VP2780-4K and 28” Acer XB280HK let us test in style and convenience thanks to Nvidia’s Surround setting.

Aside from the variety of tools and hardware needed, we also introduced 4K monitors to the test scenario. We used a couple of 27” Viewsonic VP2780-4K displays sandwiching a 28” Acer XB280HK. Since Big Build’s Gigabyte GTX 980 graphics card had three DisplayPort outputs, we used them all for testing.

The images we use center on Windows 8 and are pre-loaded with all of the System Builder Marathon software. We simply write a fresh image to the machine's SSD, update the firmware, install the drivers and configure third-party tuning apps.

Comparison Systems

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 Q2 $1600 Gaming PCQ1 $1750 Performance PCQ4 2014 $1600 PC
Processor (Overclock)Intel Core i5-4690K: 3.5GHz, Four Physical Cores O/C to 4.2-4.4GHz, 1.24VIntel Core i7-4790K: 4.0-4.4GHz, Four Physical Cores O/C to 4.6-4.8GHz, +20mVIntel Core i7-4790K: 4.0-4.4GHz, Four Physical Cores O/C to 4.6GHz, 1.26V
Graphics (Overclock)Gigabyte GeForce GTX 980: 1178MHz GPU, GDDR5-7010 O/C to 1335MHz, GDDR5-80002x PNY GeForce GTX 970: 1178MHz GPU, GDDR5-7012 O/C to 1328MHz, GDDR5-7312PNY GeForce GTX 980: 1216MHz GPU,  GDDR5-7012 O/C to 1456MHz, GDDR5-7972
Memory (Overclock)16GB Team Extreme DDR3-2400 CAS 10-12-12-31, Applied XMP Profile16GB G.Skill DDR3-1866 CAS 10-11-10-28, O/C to DDR3-2133 CL 11-12-11-24, 1.6V8GB G.Skill DDR3-2133 CAS 9-11-10-28, O/C to DDR3-2400 CL 10-12-12-28, 1.6V
Motherboard (Overclock)ASRock Z97 Extreme6: LGA 1150, Intel Z97 Express Stock 100MHz BCLKGigabyte Z97X-Gaming 5: LGA 1150, Intel Z97 ExpressStock 100MHz BCLKBiostar Hi-Fi Z97WE:LGA 1150, Intel Z97 ExpressStock 100MHz BCLK
CaseDIYPC Adventurer-9601GCorsair Graphite 230TThermaltake Chaser A31
CPU CoolerZalman CNPS10X OptimaCorsair H100i Closed-LoopPhanteks PH-TC14PE 140mm
Hard DriveSanDisk Extreme Pro 240GB SATA 6Gb/s SSDCrucial MX100 256GB SATA 6Gb/s SSDPlextor M6S PX-256M6S 256GB SATA 6Gb/s SSD
PowerCorsair CSM Series CS750M:  750W, 80 PLUS GoldRosewill Capstone-750: 750W, 80 PLUS GoldRosewill Capstone-750-M: 750W, 80 PLUS Gold
OSMicrosoft Windows 8 Pro x64Microsoft Windows 8 Pro x64Microsoft Windows 8 Pro x64
GraphicsNvidia GeForce 353.06Nvidia GeForce 347.25Nvidia GeForce 344.75
ChipsetIntel INF INF INF
  • 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.