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System Builder Marathon Q4 2014: $1600 Performance PC

Is Maxwell Smart?

System Builder Marathon, Q4 2014: 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 Budget Gaming PC
Day 2: Mainstream Enthusiast System
Day 3: $1600 Performance PC
Day 4: System Value Compared

Three months ago I assembled a PC that, like the one before it, used AMD’s top graphics solution to provide top gaming performance at a moderate price. In a world of $600+ graphics cards, even the small savings of a $530 part would bank towards my system’s value. This month I squeezed and extra $30 of my budget for graphics, decided that I’d also like to get $30 closer to my target budget, and that I’d make whatever cuts were necessary on other parts to cover the difference. I’ve heard rumors of GTX 980 efficiency and seen proof of its performance, but is it really intelligent to cut corners on most of my other parts just to pay for a single upgrade?

That blue case? I realize that some readers will be appalled, but it saved me at around $14 (the previous system’s case had gone up by $10). Other cuts include choosing temporarily-discounted parts that I might have otherwise overlooked, but most importantly, I went with a cheaper motherboard.

Q4 2014 $1600 Performance PC Components
ProcessorIntel Core i7-4790K: 4.0GHz-4.4GHz, Four Core, 8 MB Cache$330
GraphicsPNY VCGGTX9804XPB-CG GeForce GTX 980 4GB$600
MotherboardBiostar Hi-Fi Z97WE: LGA 1150, Intel Z97 Express$115
MemoryG.Skill Ripjaws X F3-17000CL9D-8GBXM: DDR3-2133 C9, 8GB (2 x 4GB)$76
System DrivePlextor M6S PX-256M6S 2.5" 256GB SATA 6Gb/s (SSD)$135
PowerRosewill CAPSTONE-750-M: 750W Semi-Modular, ATX12V v2.31, 80 PLUS Gold$80
CPU CoolerPhanteks PH-TC14PE_BK 140mm$75
Platform Cost$1,411
Storage DriveWD Blue WD10EZEX: 1.0 TB, SATA 6Gb/s HDD$55
OpticalAsus DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS: 24x DVD±R, 48X CD-R$20
CaseThermaltake Chaser A31 VP300A5W2N Blue$56
Total Hardware Cost$1,542
OSWindows 8.1 X64 OEM$100
Complete System Price$1,642

Note that I’m still trying to use only $1600 of my $1800 budget, due to my different perspective on value. While the other guys agreed upon $500-$1000-$1500 prices for the platform alone, I looked at the $100-$200-$300 available budgets for “other stuff” and thought to myself “If Paul can build his machine for $500 plus OS, I can do it for $1500 plus OS”. I got pretty close this time at $1502…and then my order got delayed (on our end). Newegg discontinued sale of one of the components. There were no appropriate replacements, but if I wanted to pay $40 more, I could get an identical component with a different label on the box.

That’s right, I had planned to get my hardware budget down to $1500 while increasing performance in at least the gaming portion of our benchmarks, and had originally specified a $560 GTX 980 reference card from another brand to get there. The rear-exhausting card would allow me to use a lower-cost case without any big sacrifices in noise, as Nvidia specifically designed this cooler to produce 10db less noise compared to traditional blower coolers of similar capacity.

Always more of a system builder than graphics reviewer, I haven’t submitted to the axial-fan group-think that appears to have infected tunnel-visioned graphics editors who don’t even consider the impact of case heat during their open-platform testing. Ventilated side panels may reduce the heat accumulation of internally-vented graphics cards, but I argue that opening the side of a case to let the noise out is counter-intuitive when the intent of using axial fans is to reduce noise.

I might have set aside that argument to save $40 if not for the fact that I was now locked in. By the time I found out that Asus’ card would no longer be stocked, my closed-sided case had already shipped.

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