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System Builder Marathon, June 2012: System Value Compared

A Close Competition, Complements Of Tough Decisions

System Builder Marathon, June 2012: 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.

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

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


In the PC world, the point of diminishing returns is where you throw increasing amounts of money at hardware for smaller performance increases. This happens for a number of reasons. To begin, top-binned components are some of the most scarce, so supply is limited, making them more expensive. Also, bottlenecks start surfacing more prominently at the bleeding edge, preventing the same great scaling we often see in the mid-range space. Unfortunately, there’s also a floor at which certain parts cannot be manufactured any less expensively while still retaining their core capabilities. When we start comparing prices to performance, we always end up finding a point in the middle that we call the best value.

With a budget the comes closest to that point of diminishing returns, builder Paul Henningsen’s low-cost machines usually end up at or near the top of our performance per dollar charts. At the same time, when we drill into the numbers his machines generate, an argument can be made that they're sometimes inadequate for the most discerning power users, despite their value proposition. Don Woligroski's efforts, on the other hand, involve spending more money, often result in a less impressive finish when we compare performance to cost, but are better able to satisfy more of our audience. That makes the $1000+ machine easier for us to recommend.

This month’s austerity measures undercut Paul’s build completely, forcing him to choose between creating a capable graphics-oriented platform over a better-balanced combination of parts. No doubt, that was a hard choice to make, but given his gaming focus, he clearly did the best he could with a $500 ceiling.

And with that compromise in mind, we're set up for one of the rare occasions where a machine other than the lowest-priced build could end up topping the value charts.

Q2 2012 $2000 PC Components
$500 Gaming PC$1000 Enthusiast PC$2000 Performance PC
ProcessorIntel Celeron G530: 2.4 GHz, LGA 1155, 2 MB CacheIntel Core i5-2400: 3.1-3.4 GHz, LGA 1155, 6 MB CacheIntel Core i7-3770K: 3.5-3.9GHz, LGA 1155, 8 MB Cache
GraphicsECS NGT560TI-1GPI-F1 GeForce GTX 560 TiSapphire 11197-01-40G: Radeon HD 7970 (Factory O/C)Asus GTX680-DC2T-2GD5: GeForce GTX 680 (Factory O/C)
MotherboardGigabyte GA-H61MA-D3V: LGA 1155, Intel H61 ExpressGigabyte P67X-UD3-B3: LGA 1155, Intel P67 ExpressASRock Z77 Extreme6: LGA 1155, Intel Z77 Express
MemoryPareema MD313C80809L2: DDR3-1333 C9, 2 GB x 2 (4 GB)Patriot AP38G1608U2K: DDR3-1600 C8, 2 GB x 2 (4 GB)G.Skill F3-1600C8D-8GAB: DDR3-1600 C8, 4 GB x 2 (8 GB)
System DriveWestern Digital WD3200AAKX: 320 GB, 7200 RPM HDDSeagate Barracuda ST3750525AS: 750 GB, 7200 RPM HDDMushkin MKNSSDCR120GB-MX: 120 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD
Storage DriveUses System DriveUses System DriveSeagate Barracuda Green ST2000DL003: 2 TB, 5900 RPM HDD
OpticalLG GH22NS90B: 22x DVD±R, 8x DVD±R DLLG GH22NS90B: 22x DVD±R, 8x DVD±R DLLite-On iHAS124-04: 24x DVD±R, 12x DVD±R DL
CaseRosewill R101-P-BKLogisys Optimus IIAntec Nine Hundred w/USB 3.0
PowerAntec VP-450: 450 W, ATX V2.3Corsair CX600 V2: 600 W, ATX12V V2.3, 80 PLUS-CertifiedSeasonic X750 Gold SS-750KM: ATX12V V2.3, 80 PLUS Gold
CPU CoolerIntel Boxed CoolerIntel Boxed CoolerZalman CNPS12X
Total Price$500 $1034 $1741

But a trio of factors combine to make a compelling case for our high-end build. First, I scored one of Nvidia’s hard-to-find GeForce GTX 680s for just a few dollars more than the Radeon HD 7970 used in Don's $1000 build. Second, the processor I picked accommodates overclocking, which is something the Tom's Hardware audience favors for adding value, in spite of the expensive cooling apparatus often required. And third, I decided to forgo most of the parts that haven’t contributed to the overall performance of previous builds, leaving the savings off of the balance sheet altogether. Could this be our first three-way performance-per-dollar tie?

Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.