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System Builder Marathon, August 2012: Alternative $2000 Gaming PC

Opening The Floodgates: 5760x1080 And More Graphics

System Builder Marathon, August 2012: The Articles

Here are links to each of the five 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 $500 Gaming PC
Day 2: The $1000 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $2000 Performance PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected
Day 5: The Surprise $2000 Alternative Build

Introduction

Realistic expectations have always been a problem for the highest-priced build in our System Builder Marathon. Mixing reader feedback with practicality, our benchmark set uses a wide range of games, single-threaded, and more thoroughly parallelized applications. The workstation-oriented processors available to our most generous budget (like the Core i7-3930K we used this quarter) lose much of their value when only one-third of our tests are able to exploit their extra cores. Altering our suite of metrics to unrealistically favor the most expensive configuration would simply be unfair to Don and Paul, whose affordable machines aren't meant to compete in those apps.

Rather than focusing on processor performance, the other pricey path we could follow would be emphasizing graphics. Plenty of enthusiasts understand the desire to cram in multiple GPUs, particularly as graphics card technology advances to the point where gaming across three screens is a truly viable prospect. And when you're not gaming, a trio of displays is great for productivity, too.

It used to be that 2560x1600 was the resolution used to evaluate enthusiast graphics cards. But with 30" screens selling for more than $1000, it remained a setting accessible to only a tiny segment of the folks who'd consider themselves power users. Small, affordable panels able to do 1920x1080 cost a lot less and offer more screen space.

And so we found ourselves wondering how else we might spend our $2000 budget this quarter. Why not tackle a more pointed graphics challenge, leaving the beefy six-core CPU aside in favor of a couple of GeForce GTX 670s? Of course, that'd also require an upgrade to our testing methodology, leaving the $500 and $1000 machines in the dust as we upgrade one of our labs to 5760x1080 testing.

Today’s story compares the original CPU-heavy $2000 configuration to a GPU-laden alternative setup. We're still running the full benchmark set to evaluate its overall value, but today’s test will also address gaming performance at 5760x1080. And, keeping reader feedback in mind, we’ve maintained a high-quality case and high-capacity SSD as part of today’s alternative system.

Q3 2012 Alternative $2000 Gaming PC Components
ProcessorIntel Core i5-3570K (Ivy Bridge): 3.4 GHz Base, 3.8 GHz Maximum Turbo Boost, 6 MB Shared L3 Cache$230
Graphics2 x EVGA 02G-P4-2670-KR: GeForce GTX 670 2 GB (SLI)$800
MotherboardGigabyte G1.Sniper 3: LGA 1155, Intel Z77 Express$280
MemoryG.Skill F3-1600C8D-8GAB: DDR3-1600 C8, 4 GB x 2 (8 GB)$55
System DriveMushkin MKNSSDCR240GB-DX: 240 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD$200
Storage DriveSeagate ST500DM005: 500 GB, 7200 RPM Hard Drive$70
OpticalLite-On iHAS124: 24x DVD±R, 48x CD-R$18
CaseAntec Eleven Hundred$100
PowerSeasonic X-1050: 1050 W ATX12V V2.3 80 PLUS Gold$200
CPU CoolerCooler Master Hyper 212 Evo$35
Total Cost$1988

In comparing our big splurge on a CPU versus today's big GPU expense, the biggest difference between today's machine versus the one you read about two days ago is the loss of a Core i7-3930K in favor of a Core i5-3570K. Stepping down from a super high-end Sandy Bridge-E part down to a lowly Core i5 was necessary in order to honor the budget.

Two other compromises, the loss of a Blu-ray writer and a smaller storage drive, opened up enough budget for a motherboard that supports future four-way SLI upgrades. And, dropping back from 16 to 8 GB of RAM left us enough money to upgrade the power supply for similar reasons.

Before anyone starts shooting these components choices down in the comments section, let's move on to the rationale for our decisions.

  • idroid
    now THAT'S a real 2000$ PC, not the other 2000$
    Reply
  • zander1983
    Now this is a $2000 machine. The 3930k is a nice-to-have, but not a need-to-have. If you need more horse power, swap the 3570k for a 3770k.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    idroidnow THAT'S a real 2000$ PC, not the other 2000$Actually, this one is the fake, as in the experimental PC designed specifically for gaming. The other one was picked by reader recommendations, and that's why it made it into the "main event".

    That is to say, as much as this one costs, it's still pretty much worthless to the majority of high-end users. Basically it's a $1000 PC with a bunch of extras.

    To put it another way, money "wasted" on the other one went towards making it more flexible and practical. Money "wasted" on this one went towards supporting future upgrades to its SLI array. It's nothing more than an expensive toy.
    Reply
  • brucek2
    I enjoyed the article and am glad Tom's ran it. I agree with Crashman though about this being an experimental system: while I may rarely have call to exercise six cores, it is something that would come in handy from time to time. Meanwhile, I will never be gaming at 5760x1080. I'd get more value out of the original system.
    Reply
  • hmp_goose
    Why aren't they in portrait mode?
    Reply
  • dudewitbow
    orz, using blue ares ram and an antec eleven hundred together makes me think back to my wishlist changes I wish I could have gotten instead.(albeit im still deficient on other parts)
    Reply
  • Crashman
    hmp_gooseWhy aren't they in portrait mode?Too narrow. The wide bezels are a major distraction when they're that close together. I think manufacturers should make some 5x4 or at least some 4x3 mid-sized displays specifically for this purpose.dudewitboworz, using blue ares ram and an antec eleven hundred together makes me think back to my wishlist changes I wish I could have gotten instead.(albeit im still deficient on other parts)Ares is cool because it lets you run pretty much any CPU cooler you want, without sacrificing memory frequency or timings.
    Reply
  • EzioAs
    9536498 said:
    Actually, this one is the fake, as in the experimental PC designed specifically for gaming. The other one was picked by reader recommendations, and that's why it made it into the "main event".

    That is to say, as much as this one costs, it's still pretty much worthless to the majority of high-end users. Basically it's a $1000 PC with a bunch of extras.

    To put it another way, money "wasted" on the other one went towards making it more flexible and practical. Money "wasted" on this one went towards supporting future upgrades to its SLI array. It's nothing more than an expensive toy.

    Really? If it were me, I'd pick this one over the original $2000 PC. There are a lot more people gaming at 5760x1080 and 2560x1600 than they used to be so having more GPU performance is much more beneficial. Although that's primarily for the gamers, for other 3D purposes, video editing, etc the 6-cores 3930K and single GPU might be the best choice
    Reply
  • bawchicawawa
    Would have went with crossfire 7970 for that res.
    Reply
  • killabanks
    they are both great machines!! i personally think the sweet spot is somewhere around 1500 if you can get acceptable 5760x1080 performance
    Reply