$1600 Performance PC
Prices change but the value cause remains. Our System Builder Marathon originally merged our ultimate PC and budget PCs into a series of face-offs intended to inform and entertain, as builders struggled against each other to reach the ultimate value across a tough set of tasks. We’ve long forgotten our $500, $1500 and $4500 machines as the majority of readers started sounding like Jimmy McMillan every time one of our budgets crossed the $2,000 threshold. We get that. We like saving money too!
A look at what many readers were saying indicates that the realistic budget limit for most enthusiasts is around $1600. That’s also about where the top of the mainstream and bottom of the high-end markets meet. Careful budgeters know that this is just enough money to buy a high-end CPU, a high-end GPU, and all the parts to support those processors. But that’s just the cost of the parts! While I build with leftover licenses from old machines and upgrade keys purchased through promotions, many readers want a complete system price with software to compare to mass-configured systems that include a $100 OS. Believing that $1600 would be the minimum hardware cost for a high-end build, I questioned what I do with just $1500 worth of hardware.
Zalman Z11 Neo
Cooler Master Hyper 612 v2
Intel Core i7-5820K
- Platform Cost: $1,345
- Total Hardware Cost: $1,495
- Complete System Price: $1,595
I can actually do quite well with $1500 if I’m willing to step down to a GTX 970 or R9 290X. My commitment last quarter to stick with Haswell-E prevented me from sacrificing CPU for GPU performance, and also helped me avoid dealing with the heat vs performance debate between dual R9 290X graphics in CrossFire or a single GTX 980. Dropping down to graphics I could still afford, the GTX 970 costs as much as a single R9 290X, offers similar performance, and uses much less power.
The only really big sacrifice then is cooling. The Hyper 612 Ver.2 is massive in scale but has less mass than we’d expect, a lower-speed fan than we’d like, and thus less performance than we believe a cooler this size should have. An extra $30 for cooling would have been a big budget buster.
Here’s how I picked and assembled these parts.