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System Builder Marathon Q1 2016: $1232 Prosumer PC

Performance, Efficiency & Analysis

Never lead a page with a table if you want people to actually scroll down to performance charts? Though the comparison table of the previous page is most useful to our valued readers, here's a photo to remind image skimmers of what’s being compared.

And now I'll follow through with the obligatory benchmarks table.

Benchmark Settings
3D Games
Battlefield 4Version 1.0.0.1, DirectX 11, 100-sec. Fraps "Tashgar" Test Set 1: Medium Quality Preset, No AA, 4X AF, SSAO Test Set 2: Ultra Quality Preset,  4X MSAA, 16X AF, HBAO
Grid 2Version 1.0.85.8679, Direct X 11, Built-in Benchmark Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA Test Set 2: Ultra Quality, 8x MSAA
Arma 3Version 1.08.113494, 30-Sec. Fraps "Infantry Showcase" Test Set 1: Standard Preset, No AA, Standard AF Test Set 2: Ultra Preset, 8x FSAA, Ultra AF
Far Cry 3V. 1.04, DirectX 11, 50-sec. Fraps "Amanaki Outpost" Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA, Standard ATC, SSAO Test Set 2: Ultra Quality, 4x MSAA, Enhanced ATC, HDAO
Adobe Creative Suite
Adobe After Effects CCVersion 12.0.0.404: Create Video which includes 3 Streams, 210 Frames, Render Multiple Frames Simultaneosly
Adobe Photoshop CCVersion 14.0 x64: Filter 15.7MB TIF Image: Radial Blur, Shape Blur, Median, Polar Coordinates
Adobe Premeire Pro CCVersion 7.0.0 (342), 6.61 GB MXF Project to H.264 to H.264 Blu-ray, Output 1920x1080, Maximum Quality
Audio/Video Encoding
iTunesVersion 11.0.4.4 x64: Audio CD (Terminator II SE), 53 minutes, default AAC format
Lame MP3Version 3.98.3: Audio CD "Terminator II SE", 53 min, convert WAV to MP3 audio format, Command: -b 160 --nores (160 kb/s)
Handbrake CLIVersion: 0.99: Video from Canon Eos 7D (1920x1080, 25 FPS) 1 Minutes 22 Seconds Audio: PCM-S16, 48000 Hz, 2-Channel, to Video: AVC1 Audio: AAC (High Profile)
TotalCodeStudio 2.5Version: 2.5.0.10677: MPEG-2 to H.264, MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG-2), Audio: MPEG-2 (44.1 kHz, 2 Channel, 16-Bit, 224 kb/s), Codec: H.264 Pro, Mode: PAL 50i (25 FPS), Profile: H.264 BD HDMV
Productivity
ABBYY FineReaderVersion 10.0.102.95: Read PDF save to Doc, Source: Political Economy (J. Broadhurst 1842) 111 Pages
Adobe Acrobat 11Version 11.0.0.379: Print PDF from 115 Page PowerPoint, 128-bit RC4 Encryption
Autodesk 3ds Max 2013Version 15.0 x64: Space Flyby Mentalray, 248 Frames, 1440x1080
BlenderVersion: 2.68A, Cycles Engine, Syntax blender -b thg.blend -f 1, 1920x1080, 8x Anti-Aliasing, Render THG.blend frame 1
File Compression
WinZipVersion 18.0 Pro: THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to ZIP, command line switches "-a -ez -p -r"
WinRARVersion 5.0: THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to RAR, command line switches "winrar a -r -m3"
7-ZipVersion 9.30 alpha (64-bit): THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to .7z, command line switches "a -t7z -r -m0=LZMA2 -mx=5"
Synthetic Benchmarks and Settings
3DMark ProfessionalVersion: 1.2.250.0 (64-bit), Fire Strike Benchmark
PCMark 8Version: 1.0.0 x64, Full Test
SiSoftware SandraVersion 2014.02.20.10, CPU Test = CPU Arithmetic / Multimedia / Cryptography, Memory Bandwidth Benchmarks

Synthetics

Synthetic benchmarks are a great tool for use in identifying component weaknesses, but PCMark’s storage test also plays a role in our final analysis. That’s because it’s the one benchmark that best represents startup times for some of the actual applications in our test suite.

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3DMark gets a boost from the new platform that could be credited to the CPU’s added cache or activated core virtualization. Meanwhile, the one benchmark that matters towards final analysis, PCMark Storage remains consistent between the current SATA SSD and the previous quarter’s M.2 version.

Sandra Cryptography shows the AES instructions limitation applied when using BCLK to overclock locked processors.

Gaming

Arma 3 and Battlefield 4 show weak preference for the new build’s higher-model CPU

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Far Cry 3 responds poorly to the new platform, showing lower FPS at single-screen resolutions compared to last quarter. Yet the application we’d expect to penalize the new system’s slower RAM, Grid 2 barely cares.

Applications

The virtual cores enabled by Intel Hyper Threading pay huge dividends in video encoding, even as audio encoding aps favor the previous non-Hyper-Threaded machine. The HT advantage is also found in After Effects and Premiere, to a lesser effect, and the 16GB DRAM capacity of both recent systems destroys the 8GB Q3 build in After Effects.

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Well-threaded office, productivity, and compression applications also appear to benefit from the Hyper Threading technology enabled only in the new build. The use of a mechanical hard drive as primary storage crippled the Q3 build significantly in 7-Zip.

Power, Heat & Efficiency

In spite of its high core-voltage setting, the new system’s CPU pulls less full-load power than the Q4’s CPU when both are overclocked. Stock clocks are a completely different matter, as the Q4 baseline was far more miserly. Looking at the data more closely, it appears the new platform is power-throttling its CPU under artificially high loads.

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Peak GPU temperature goes down when it's overclocked, only because I selected a custom fan slope to go with that overclock. The new build’s improved CPU cooler and case also work to keep CPU temperatures below those of preceding builds. Peak efficiency at idle is identical between the two latest builds, but a performance increase that exceeds its power increase allows efficiency to go up when the new machine is overclocked.

Noise Level

Because I used a custom fan slope when overclocking, it’s hard to blame the new case entirely for poor full-load results. Instead we have to look at both machines at stock settings to verify that the new case has noisier fans (higher sound levels at idle), but is similarly capable containing the noise of identically-set internal components (similar noise level at full load).

Value

Remember the money I squandered on a better case and additional storage? Both upgrades add “bucks” without increasing performance “bang” in the complete system value analysis.

Starting out 4% down in value, the new machine narrowed its losses to 3% when both are overclocked.

Taking away the price of the OS from both machines makes the new system’s value look worse, since the money I squandered on quality upgrades is now a larger portion of the smaller system prices.

On the other hand, this build comes with no apologies, where I was forced to apologize for not including mass storage in my Q4 2015 build. Many builders will use their old cases and mass storage devices when configuring a new system, and this is also the place where I can prove that my CPU selection was more than adequate. Without counting the parts not needed to make the machine operate, the new platform has 3% to 5% more performance-per-dollar than the Q4 system.

The Q1 2016 machine has the same graphics card as its Q4 predecessor, so its performance gains at high gaming resolutions are marginal and exceeded by far the price increase of the Xeon platform. Most gamers would probably be just as happy with the previous, less expensive machine.

My goals this quarter were to increase CPU performance, case quality and storage capacity at minimal cost. I succeeded in the fairest value comparison, but would need to give up the case and storage upgrade to come out ahead in other value comparisons. Though I’m comfortable with the new results, we’d all love to hear your thoughts concerning the direction for our next System Builder Marathon.

MORE: Latest Systems NewsMORE: Systems in the Forums

Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware, covering Cases, Cooling, Memory and Motherboards. Follow him on Twitter.

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  • damric
    Love the Wolfstone but they have been sold out for weeks and replaced with the Wolfalloy which just isn't as awesome.
    Reply
  • Onus
    I have to wonder what results you might have gotten with a Z170 and an i5-6600K. For all those arguing for Xeons, that comparison would be very useful.
    Due to the light load, I think I can withhold any notable grumbling about the PSU, even though it isn't one I'd buy myself.
    This was an interesting build, but I'll need to think about it before I even think about coming to any conclusions. I'm not sure that BCLK overclocking is going to be readily available. You might have hit a small niche audience, but it is an interesting one.
    Reply
  • DouglasLand
    Maybe the move down to an i5 and not so much case would have gotten you a 980ti? Again though you were right to try and balance the build compared to the other ones.
    Reply
  • elbert
    Great build with the xeon. I would drop the HD and replace the samsung 850 with the samsung 950 pro. Beings there is only one m.2 slot its a shame to waste on anything but the fastest.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    17737769 said:
    I have to wonder what results you might have gotten with a Z170 and an i5-6600K. For all those arguing for Xeons, that comparison would be very useful.
    Scroll down to the configuration table on the second page. Then look at those performance charts again :D

    Reply
  • dstarr3
    That case is a great way to make people think you have a 12-year-old.
    Reply
  • SinxarKnights
    Decent PC's... but the cases you guys pick... What is the equivalent of the Antec 300 these days? Does anything like that exist anymore? I should add that I understand the need to choose different cases. Variety, advertising, etc. I just don't like the way they look. Reminds me of the first PC I built, total disaster of a case, "never again" I said.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    17738432 said:
    Decent PC's... but the cases you guys pick... What is the equivalent of the Antec 300 these days? Does anything like that exist anymore? I should add that I understand the need to choose different cases. Variety, advertising, etc. I just don't like the way they look. Reminds me of the first PC I built, total disaster of a case, "never again" I said.
    The WolfStone is a slightly better case than the 300, and was purchased at the same price the 300 used to cost when it was most popular.

    I realize it looks a little playful: I considered only the material quality and ventilation in its selection.
    Reply
  • Onus
    No wonder I don't get much done on weekdays after work, I must have been half asleep...
    I wonder how many boards will continue to allow BCLK overclocking on Xeons; for those not sharply focused on gaming, it looks like a solid choice. For the gamers though, it looks like the i5 is a little better.
    Reply
  • Math Geek
    not that impressed with the xeon so far. kep seeing folks swearing by them in the forum as "will stomp an i5 for the same money" don't really see that stomping reflected here.

    what is interesting is an i3 oc'ed this way. seen a few reviews of this with the supermicro board and that was impressive. close enough to i5 performance oc'ed and so much cheaper making it a very interesting idea from a value perspective. perhaps next time you could go this way and drop the extra cash into the next step of gpu.

    that sounds like an interesting build to me.
    Reply