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System Builder Marathon, August 2012: System Value Compared

Chasing Down Diminishing Returns

System Builder Marathon, August 2012: The Articles

Here are links to each of the five articles in this quarter’s System Builder Marathon (we’ll update them as each story is published). And remember, these systems are all being given away at the end of the marathon.

To enter the giveaway, please fill out this SurveyGizmo form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!

Day 1: The $500 Gaming PC
Day 2: The $1000 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $2000 Performance PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected
Day 5: The Surprise $2000 Alternative Build

Introduction

Is it fair to compare differently-priced PCs based on their performance alone? Cheap computers typically lack convenient features and durable parts, which are hallmarks of higher-end machines. Meanwhile, mid-range builders try combining the two worlds, sacrificing some of the more extravagant additions that sometimes go unused in a performance-oriented desktop. Even if Paul, Don, and I are all completely successful at our $500, $1000, and $2000 price points, Don's middle-of-the-road configuration is going to have a huge advantage right out of the gate for its potential to cram balanced performance into a well-built enclosure.

Of course, Paul and I are always challenged to pull your attention away from that middle machine. Paul’s $500 gaming box generates its buzz by generating playable frame rates at 1920x1080 at an extremely modest price, while my $2000 build seeks success by identifying areas where Don might have gone a little too light, and fixing them with an extra thousand dollars worth of funding.

What happens, then, when the $1000 PC has no obvious failings? Traditionally, $700 (give or take $100) is the point where measuring performance and value start tapering off into diminishing returns. Can Don’s $1000 build push the point where money starts flying out the door faster than performance increases?

Q3 2012 System Builder Marathon PC Components
$500 Gaming PC$1000 Enthusiast PC$2000 Performance PC
ProcessorIntel Pentium G860: 3.0 GHz, 3 MB Shared L3 CacheIntel Core i5-3570K: 3.4 Base, 6 MB Shared L3 CacheIntel Core i7-3930K: 3.2 GHz Base, 12 MB Shared L3 Cache
GraphicsMSI N560GTX-M2D1GD5: GeForce GTX 560 1 GBGigabyte GV-N670OC-2GD: GeForce GTX 670 2 GBEVGA 02G-P4-2670-KR: GeForce GTX 670 2 GB
MotherboardGigabyte GA-B75M-D3V: LGA 1155, Intel B75 ExpressASRock Fatal1ty P67: LGA 1155, Intel P67 ExpressASRock X79 Extreme4: LGA 2011, Intel X79 Express
MemoryG.Skill F3-10600CL9D-4GBNS: DDR3-1333 C9, 2 GB x 2 (4 GB)Mushkin Blackline 997043: DDR3-1600 C8, 4 GB x 2 (8 GB)G.Skill F3-1600C8Q-16GAB: DDR3-1600 C8, 4 GB x 4 (16 GB)
System DriveWestern Digital WD5000AAKX: 500 GB, 7200 RPM Hard DriveOCZ AGT3-25SAT3-60G: 60 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSDMushkin MKNSSDCR240GB-DX: 240 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD
Storage DriveUses System DriveSeagate Barracuda ST3750525AS: 750 GB, 7200 RPM Hard DriveWestern Digital AV-GP Green WD20EURS: 2 TB, 5400 RPM Hard Drive
OpticalSamsung SH-222BB: 22x DVD±R, 48x CD-RSamsung SH-222BB: 22x DVD±R, 48x CD-RAsus BW-12B1ST: 12x BD-R, 16x DVD±R, 2x BD-RE
CaseRosewill R218-P-BKRosewill Redbone BlackNZXT Phantom 410 Gunmetal
PowerAntec VP-450: 450 W, ATX 12V v2.3Corsair CX600 V2: 600 W, ATX12V v2.3, 80 PLUSSeasonic SS-850HT: 850 W, ATX12V V2.3, 80 PLUS Silver
CPU CoolerPentium G860 Boxed CoolerXigamtek Loki SD963Scythe Mugen 3 Rev. B SCMG-3100
Total Cost$501 $1065 $2002

Just because its shortcomings aren't obvious this time around doesn't make the $1000 machine’s flaws any less serious. It still uses a cheap case better suited to $600 machines, its SSD is too small to hold our test suite, and it does go $65 over budget. Understandably, though, all of those compromises were needed to get a GeForce GTX 670 and Core i5-3570K under its hood. Don bent the rules a little bit, just like any real-world builder would, to get very real performance benefits. Because he did this in response to reader requests, Paul and I are letting him get away with it.

With such robust specifications, we're left with two questions about the $1000 configuration: first, how badly will it destroy the $2000 machine's value, and second, how well will the $500 machine keep up in the benchmarks?

  • abitoms
    (double post)
    Reply
  • abitoms
    The statistician (really) in me wonders wat might have happened to the $500 system's value if a quad FX was used in it...

    I mean swapping the G860 for a FX 4100 and a Radeon 7770 *might'* have provided an interesting contrast to the above $500 system.

    Productivity up by 20% and games down by 20% I guess. Can only speculate.

    Btw, thanks crashman for the tip.
    This is just me wondering aloud. So...dunno why the thumbs down
    Reply
  • Crashman
    abitomsdamn,.... thought there was an Edit button somewhere.(sorry)So adding to my prev comment, swapping the G860 for a FX 4100 and a Radeon 7770 *might'* have provided an interesting contrast to the above $500 system.Above your first post there's a link "Read the comments in the forums". In the forums you can quick edit (on the view pane) or full edit (on a new page), and in full edit mode you can even delete your second post. That is, if you add the missing information the the first post.
    Reply
  • mayankleoboy1
    Since the benchmarks give a fair weight to the 'pro' applications, GPGPU benchmarks should be there as well.

    And those gaming benchmarks are ridiculous. Most are getting FPS in the 100+ range. So really, there is no comparison between the systems. all values above 60 are the same. How can 150 FPS be better than 120FPS on a 60HZ monitor?
    Reply
  • Crashman
    mayankleoboy1How can 150 FPS be better than 120FPS on a 60HZ monitor?Hopefully it will go along with a maximum frame time drop from 500ms to 50ms :)
    Reply
  • I know it's probably hard to do, but it would be awesome if Tom's could find out the price where price/performance is optimal instead of searching for the optimal build for a set price.
    Reply
  • frihyland
    Great article, seems like it might be time to switch up the price points for your builds though. $600, $1200, and $1800 seem much more reasonable and would give us better comparisons I think.

    Edit: Ninja'd by chmr
    Reply
  • perishedinflames
    frihylandGreat article, seems like it might be time to switch up the price points for your builds though. $600, $1200, and $1800 seem much more reasonable and would give us better comparisons I think.Edit: Ninja'd by chmr
    current price-tags feel awkward i have to agree.
    to be more specific:
    a. Entry level gaming pc ($500): you try to pick the cheapest parts so that you save for the best GPU the rest of your money can buy
    b. Enthusiast gaming pc ($1000): how most people try to build, save here and there (either by finding good deals or by dropping quality in RAM and Chassis mostly) so that you can get an awesome CPU & GPU (prolly a SSD too)
    c. Hardcore gaming pc ($2000): the tag is too high so you just blindly buy the most expensive parts (like a sheikh on vacation)

    what would show more accurate results might be one of the following two:
    1. two builds; one of $700-$800 and one of around $1500 (+/- $100)
    2. three builds again but with some $150-$200 offset; entry-lvl 650-700, enthusiast 1200-1400, hardcore 1700-1900
    Reply
  • noob2222
    abitomsThe statistician (really) in me wonders wat might have happened to the $500 system's value if a quad FX was used in it...I mean swapping the G860 for a FX 4100 and a Radeon 7770 *might'* have provided an interesting contrast to the above $500 system.Productivity up by 20% and games down by 20% I guess. Can only speculate.Btw, thanks crashman for the tip.This is just me wondering aloud. So...dunno why the thumbs downToms did a bunch of game reviews showing how bad AMD is so they don't have to use them for the SBM articles. 11 of the past 12 SBM have all been Intel, and the one AMD was bugged with a cheap cpu.

    Even though SBM was I thought to test hardware with different components, apparently as long as its only with Intel.

    BF3 as a test needs to be done online, wether its controlled or not, you can at least get a feel of how its going to work. Especially with a dual core cpu.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    noob2222Toms did a bunch of game reviews showing how bad AMD is so they don't have to use them for the SBM articles.Nice conspiracy theory, but I'm not party to it. So, go back to bugging the $500 and $1000 PC builders. They must know something I don't.
    Reply