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System Builder Marathon Q2 2015: $1600 Performance PC

$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.

  • Platform Cost: $1,345
  • Total Hardware Cost: $1,495
  • Complete System Price: $1,595

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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.

Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • synphul
    Looks like a solid build but the thing sticking out like such a sore thumb is that overpriced under performing cooler. May as well have paired that build with a $30 corsair cx builder psu.

    For the same price as that cpu cooler the build could have easily supported the thermalright true spirit 140 power which is a much better cooler. Offering similar if not identical performance to the noctua nh-d14. $5 over the price of that hyper 612 so it wouldn't have blown the budget. If $5 blows a budget set for $1600 people need to rethink their priorities.
  • ingtar33
    yeah, i'm with synphul. You should have tried to hunt down a Thermalright Macho HR-02 rev.b; it's about the same pricerange and a much better performer then that junk coolermaster. still great article.
  • vimes123
    In my opinion this is not really a gaming PC build (EDIT: I guess it is not supposed to be either, it would be nice to define what "Performance PC" means, though).
    You would never settle for a 970 in a $1500 build. One could easily cut $200 from the cpu (i5-4590), $50 from the mainboard and $50 from the imo pointlessly expensive Samsung 850 for a regular 250gb ssd.
    Put these additional $300 into the graphic card and you are in Radeon R9 fury or Geforce 980ti territory.
    What use is any build if the purpose is not clear?
  • Aspiring techie
    The arrows are in the way AGAIN!
  • MasterMace
    a $1600 build with only a GTX 970 in it? Of course its credibility is shot.
  • rolli59
    I guess people are missing the point that this is the $1600 performance/productivity build not the $1600 gaming build to be featured in ARTICLE 3!
  • clonazepam
    16142462 said:
    I guess people are missing the point that this is the $1600 performance/productivity build not the $1600 gaming build to be featured in ARTICLE 3!

    Interesting approach this time around. Eager to see the rest!
  • jonxor
    Article asks: "This month’s high-end build looks lighter than its predecessor, yet includes a six-core Haswell-E CPU. Will the shift away from graphics kill its gaming cred?" Yes. Yes it did. It cost nearly the same as the SLI machine, and was comparably terrible in gaming, and in exchange you got about a 5% increase in a few media/rendering apps. For the price, you almost could have built an equally fast rendering PC without a dedicated GPU, and a gaming PC with a nice graphics card. Toms articles over the past few years proved that once you get to a certain point, 99% of games don't get any benefit from faster CPU's, (look at the "best CPU for the money" articles). What was going on with this build? it seemed to have wandered from the original mission of a gaming PC, and into a 1600$ office PC that can unzip files slightly faster? This is bizarre and confusing.

    Not to say I wouldn't want this PC if it were cheaper, but why spend so much to make it middle-of-the-road in everything?
  • tsnor
    Umm, maybe they got tired of the comments claiming a i7-5720K w/DDR4 and 6 cpus would crush the devil's canyon cpu, video heavy builds they usually spec.

    I like the build variety. It's good to see data showing why a gaming system would never be built this way.
  • synphul
    Exactly, it's not exclusively a gaming build. The majority of the build makes sense, the case is more or less personal preference and open to interpretation provided it still does the job and provides effective cooling. This particular case will support coolers over 200mm tall which makes it a perfect candidate for the taller and more effective true spirit 140 power without breaking the budget. For a gaming build I'd definitely work a 980 in there at this budget but the extra cores are beneficial to general performance and heavier workloads aside from gaming. The 970 is still more than adequate for much more than 'occasional' gaming though.

    Each type of build will focus elsewhere depending on the specific intentions. There are a lot of editing and content creation type tasks as well as office work and other computing that requires little in the way of a gpu at all and instead may focus on a raid array or more ram. Or a gaming setup that will sacrifice those things for a bigger gpu. Still a solid build and a good article. That cooler just makes me think the rest of the build was complete and someone rummaged around in a bin of extras to find something to cool it and that's what they came up with.

    It's not a terrible cooler but at $50 I would expect a better level of performance. The be quiet pure rock has better thermals and nearly equal sound levels for the price, literally. Scythe mugen 4 comes to mind (though newegg has just about the highest prices on it), raijentek themis evo etc. More of a personal preference, but the 612 v2 appears to have the same wonky retention system as the 212 evo as well. Hard to beat the true spirit 140 power at the $50 mark when given a case plenty wide to support it.