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System Builder Marathon Q3 2014: Mainstream Enthusiast PC

Q3 2014 Mainstream Enthusiast PC Under $1300 Verdict

In this third quarter of 2014 we put a strong focus on overclocking. The cost of premium cooling forced us to compromise in the graphics department, though, with a cheaper graphics card. Of course, if the GeForce GTX 970 was for sale when we chose parts for this build we could have had our cake and eaten it, too.

Alas, that is not the case. Let's focus on application performance, then, and see if the higher-clocked Core i5-4690K has won us significant ground over the Core i5-4670K in our Q2 enthusiast build:

It's clear that the Core i5-4690K/Noctua NH-D14 cooler/G.Skill 2400 MT/s RAM had an affect on performance, but it's not as dramatic as we'd hoped. If you're looking for multi-threaded workstation performance you'd probably be better off investing in a Core i7 processor and a $30 aftermarket cooler. Of course, overclocking is like climbing a mountain: people do it because it is there. For an enthusiast who considers the persuit of higher clock rates its own reward, there are worse ways to spend your money. Indeed, my experience with this particular install was interesting and fun, despite (perhaps even because of) the physical modifications I had to make to the RAM.

Out of curiosity, how did the GeForce GTX 770 fare against the Radeon R9 290 in the previous build?

At 1920x1080, the GeForce GTX 770 has nothing to apologize for. It really held it's own against the newer Radeon R9 290, even beating it in some titles. Of course, when the resolution is raised to triple-monitor 4800x900, the Radeon's shader and bandwidth advantages kick in and it takes a lead overall, but it's not as high as we expected. The better platform really helped it stay in the game.

When price vs. performance is compared, the new build doesn't look as attractive as the Q3 enthusiast system. There are a couple reasons for this, but primarily it's due to the fact that overclocking equipment such as high-end cooling and memory comes at a price premium, forcing us to downgrade our graphics card. In addition, we added an SSD because it's almost a necessity: once you've booted to one, you can't go back.

While our overclocking experiment was a success in the sense that it got us farther than $30 CPU coolers and value RAM have taken us in the past, this result only validates our usual formula for a solid midrange system: invest in a Core i5, pair it with a cheap and effective cooler, add 8 GB of reasonably priced RAM, and spend the rest on the best graphics card you can afford.

I look forward to seeing how this PC compares with the budget and high-end PCs put together by Paul Henningsen and Thomas Soderstom. We'll find out how this enthusiast build compares from a value perspective in our day 4 value comparison this Friday.