Can Less Funding Compete For Top Value?
Today’s benchmark charts detailed the capabilities of my most recent self-built budget-oriented gaming PCs, priced roughly $250 apart. Obviously, we couldn’t trim off one-third of our funding and expect to compete in an all-out footrace using the same tests. That sort of evolution just doesn't happen over the course of three months. We'd need a revolutionary product/architecture launch able to propel performance and drive down prices.
Both systems are, first and foremost, gaming boxes. So, I consider their performances accordingly. A relatively strong showing in the application workloads will help bolster the overall value of today's more affordable build. But was our newer budget too far below the tipping point of diminishing returns?
On the flip side, a huge reduction in graphics muscle takes a big toll on gaming competency this quarter, particularly at higher resolutions. In fact, most of the demanding AAA titles we tested weren't playable in Full HD without some sort of quality compromise. Then again, to be fair, there are plenty of games that this machine could handle easily, too.
Unfortunately, none of the other configurations can match last quarter’s baseline efficiency. Overclocking the $750 machine’s big-ticket item, the GeForce GTX 770, only helped boost performance in games, while processing fortitude remained unchanged. This time around, the AMD-based platform starts out less efficient, and then requires a voltage bump to go faster. In the process, it picks up a tiny gain in overall efficiency.
Is There A Value Winner?
My second-quarter build might be less efficient than its predecessor, but perhaps it can serve up improved value (even if the sweet spot where you get the most bang for your buck is typically higher than this system's cost). First, we'll focus on the total purchase price of the hardware. Then, we'll consider the performance-oriented price tag, excluding the case and optical drive. Finally, we'll factor in the expense of Windows.
Our new efforts match the overall cost of last quarter's configuration right out of the box. But the platform I used this time also has headroom for processor, memory, and graphics tweaking. Factoring out the cost of the case and DVD burner, my AMD-based box starts pulling away even harder. These machines were both built for gaming though, and this quarter's System Builder Marathon machine shines the brightest in other disciplines. At the most relevant resolution of 1920x1080, a $455 budget for performance parts just couldn't match last quarter's $700+ spend.
As we’d expect, a lower-priced machine takes a bigger value hit from adding the expense of an operating system. That could wind up being a game-changing $100 when we try to pinpoint the cost of peak performance-based value.
Ultimately, choosing the best value is more subjective than number-crunching might suggest. We have to factor in the games you're playing, the quality settings you expect to use, and the resulting performance output. My Q2 build is going to cost you quite a bit less, but it also might give up too much speed for your favorite titles. After all, it failed to serve up playability at 1920x1080 in three out of the four games we tested. Meanwhile, the $750 PC survived all seven of the titles it faced last quarter.
In the end, I'm still confident that it's hard to beat an Athlon X4 750K with Radeon R7 265 graphics for gaming at this budget level. I probably could have shifted a few dollars from the motherboard to a Richland-based Athlon X4 760K. And certainly, some folks would be better-served by an AMD FX-6300 or Intel Core i3 with cheaper graphics. If we end up keeping these budget levels next quarter, I might even consider the new enthusiast-friendly unlocked Pentium G3258, which posted respectable performance and benefits from a more favorable upgrade path. But I'd need an affordable motherboard able to survive the rigors of overclocking.
This quarter’s Budget Gaming PC isn’t for everyone. But if your funds are limited and you can live with reduced quality settings, it may satisfy your needs. If it were my machine, I’d replace the side-panel intake fan, or simply disconnect it and drop down to a 4 GHz overclock at stock voltage. I can handle a small performance hit in the name of better acoustics. What remains to be seen is whether Don or Thomas handle their new budget levels as gracefully. Game on, guys!