Spending More On Better Gaming Performance
System Builder Marathon, Q4 2013: The Articles
Here are links to each of the four 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.
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In the weeks leading up to our last System Builder Marathon of the year, graphics card pricing kept us on our toes. Because of the latest GPU launches, price dips, and subsequent increases on the AMD side, Thomas, Don, and I decided to focus our efforts on the PC gaming experience, specifically. Of course, it didn't hurt that Sony and Microsoft just launched their latest consoles, cramming in a ton of good technology that we wanted to counter.
My $650 build from the last quarter paired a six-core AMD FX-6300 processor with GeForce GTX 760 graphics, which proved to be a potent combination in both general-purpose applications and games. By the time our series went live, the Radeon HD 7950 was selling for a more attractive price. But when it came time to order this quarter, the toned-down Tahiti-based board was selling for more than Nvidia's GeForce GTX 760.
So, would I build pretty much the same $650 Gaming PC and watch it coast through the benchmarks as it did the quarter before? The $10 I'd save on a GeForce GTX 760 would have been chewed up by pricier storage. I could have switched over to a Core i3, but that would have only left room for parallel substitutions, and no notable improvements. None of that sounded very exciting.
Stepping down to AMD's Radeon R9 270X for $200 didn't sound very exciting either. I would rather have grabbed the Tahiti LE-based PowerColor HD 7870 Myst, which was priced amazingly at $170 back then (and bundled with free games). Unfortunately, those sold out before we placed our orders. And considering the other guys were also targeting gaming performance, I wasn’t about to go cheap on graphics processing. Even worse, taunting me from just out of reach was the perfect solution: AMD's Radeon R9 280X at its attractive $300 launch price. That was the card I really wanted. But with a $650 budget, I couldn't get the rest of my build up to snuff. Even dropping to an Athlon X4 750K required omitting a DVD burner and using a $60 motherboard.
So, I approached the rest of the team and asked for the money to jump up to the R9 280X or to reset back to $500 for the whole system. Both ideas sounded better than recreating the same concept at $650. The higher-ups were feeling generous this holiday season, and we decided to explore the improvements enabled by more expensive systems.
Of course, then the whole Litecoin rush hit and pushed my 280X from $300 up to $420. I meant well, at least.
Back when we ordered, Gigabyte's Radeon R9 280X was one of the least expensive and highest-clocked models. The only downside was a voltage lock on the GPU, ultimately limiting overclocking headroom. The next step was picking a solid platform. I configured two totally different options: a tweakable AMD FX-6300 and a more restricted build packing Intel’s potent Core i5. The cooler and motherboard I would have relied on to take the Vishera design close to 4.5 GHz actually made the AMD option $10 to $20 more expensive, violating the budget. The enthusiast in me favored that option, but my inner-realist knew that we could inevitably pull higher frame rates from Core i5. ASRock's affordable Z75 Pro3 motherboard could get the most out of the -3470’s limited headroom, and Intel's bundled cooler would get the job done at no extra cost.
|CPU||Intel Core i5-3470 (Ivy Bridge)||$190|
|CPU Cooler||Intel Boxed Heat Sink and Fan||0|
|Motherboard||ASRock Z75 Pro3: LGA 1155, Intel Z75 Express||$77|
|RAM||Team Vulcan 8 GB (2 x 4 GB) DDR3 1600 TLBD38G1600HC9DC01||$54|
|Graphics||Gigabyte Radeon R9 280X GV-R928XOC-3GD||$300|
|Hard Drive||Western Digital Blue WD10EZEX 1 TB||$70|
|Case||Xigmatek Asgard Pro USB 3.0 CCC-AE37BS-U02||$45|
|Power||EVGA 500 B 100-B1-0500-KR 500 W ATX12V v2.91||$45|
|Optical||Lite-On 24x DVD Burner SATA iHAS124-04||$18|
Although it cost me $13 more for a 1 TB hard drive, I didn't think that an $800 PC should be limited to 500 GB of capacity. Of course, you couldn't even configure this same setup today. There's the issue of AMD's pricing, first off. Also, though, my Xigmatek Asgard appears to be discontinued altogether. Looks like whoever wins this quarter's Gaming PC will get more value than originally intended.