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System Builder Marathon Q4 2014: Value Compared

Benchmark Results

3DMark gets us started with a bang, showing the $1100 PC with 70% more graphics power than the $600 PC. The $1600 system outpaces the $1100 machine by far less, but it makes up the difference in overclocking.

Overclocking doesn’t help as much in PCMark, but the $1600 machine’s SSD handily outpaces the cheaper one used in the $1100 configuration. The $600 PC gets stuck with a mechanical hard drive.

Sandra's Arithmetic module gives the $1600 build more of an advantage than we thought it should, though the extra cache might help its Core i7-4790K just as much as a higher clock rate. The $1100 machine’s Core i5-4690K handily outpaces the $600 machine's halved core count and last-level cache.

Reduced instruction set support (AES and AVX) hurts the $600 PC tremendously in Sandra's Cryptography test, while higher memory settings further boost the performance of the $1600 system.

What happens when you let XMP memory revert to SPD settings? G.Skill now ignores JEDEC’s approval of DDR3-1600 CAS9 SPD configuration, letting its DDR3-2133 CAS 8 revert to the older DDR3-1600 CAS 11 SPD, which is what Don used in his $1100 PC’s baseline.

I, on the other hand, see the XMP “overclock” as a rated value, enable it in my baseline, and get a positive bump from Sandra's Bandwidth benchmark. Overclocking beyond XMP helps a little, too.

Battlefield 4 shows the $1600 PC up against the 200  FPS cap at the game’s Medium quality preset, which also limits the performance side of the value equation.

The $1600 system is nearly three times as powerful as the $600 PC at Battlefield 4’s Ultra settings, which means that it could at least be competitive in the overall performance-value analysis. The $1100 PC rightly falls between these extremes.

Don’s $1100 setup comes too close for comfort to my $1600 build at Grid 2’s high settings, though I’m happy to see Don double the numbers of Paul’s $600 box.

Don’s GeForce GTX 970 beats my 980 at Grid 2’s Ultra quality preset and 5760x1080, but overclocking allows my weak graphics sample to beat his powerful 970.

Don’s $1100 build fares surprisingly poorly in Arma 3 at the game's standard settings, causing me to question whether it may be bottlenecked by DRAM bandwidth. I’ll look for answers in the response thread below!

The $1100 PC loses fewer frames per second than the other builds when Arma 3 is cranked up to Ultra quality. Perhaps Don used the High preset by mistake in the “Standard” test?

I’ve never been able to figure out how Don gets such high frame rates at Far Cry 3’s high-quality settings, as every machine I test appears CPU- or DRAM-restricted at moderate resolutions. I don’t think Don has an answer for this phenomenon, either.

Paul’s $600 build barely passes its 1920x1080 playability goal at Far Cry 3's Ultra preset, and my $1600 build requires overclocking to reach my own 5760x1080 goal. Don’s $1100 machine does well, leaning hard on its powerful GeForce GTX 970.

Lower is better in timed tests, where HandBrake is the only encoding app to show proper price-to-performance scaling between all three machines. Concerning price and value, less is more in the other tests.

The $1100 machine beats its price difference in Adobe Premiere and our CPU-bound Photoshop filters. The $1600 machine is a strong performer, but not by the 50% needed to beat the $1100 PC's value.

Single-threaded Adobe Acrobat again puts value in Paul’s hands, but the rest of our productivity suite balances the higher prices of $1100 and $1600 machine hardware with big performance gains.

Don and I got what we paid for in 7-Zip and CPU-based WinZip file compression. The race tightens up in WinRAR and WinZip OpenCL compression.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • SinxarKnights
    Too bad Don didn't get his rig working properly. Oh well I guess.
  • g-unit1111
    I was personally not a fan of the drab, bueraucrat approved case choices but overall these are some sweet rigs. I actually bought the MSI H81 / Pentium G3258 combo for my HTPC based off the recommendations here and have been really pleased with the results so far.
  • the1kingbob
    I have little desire to read when no AMD CPU is involved
  • Crashman
    14927184 said:
    I have little desire to read when no AMD CPU is involved
    AMD is over-represented in SBMs, with over 2/3 of prior graphics cards being Radeons and even one of the cards in this one being an R9 270X.

    You should print that statement on foil before making your next hat :)

  • Onus
    I hope Don is able to figure out what went wrong, then update his results with some kind of overclocking results. He did say he would try...
  • rayden54
    @Crashman GPU =/= CPU
  • rayden54
    A couple questions: I've heard that there are some new games that don't work at all on dual core processors including the famed Pentium G3258. Have you encountered this issue and would it effect your recommendations if it's true?
  • Bannereus
    Tough break for Don ... too bad this one couldn't be solved with a hacksaw xD

    If overclocking wasn't part of the competition, the $1100 rig would have been the closest to beating the value of the budget entry that I've seen in a while.
    I'm really glad to see that efficiency and value are coming to the higher-performance market (even without overclocking savy).
  • MasterMace
    If you're looking for value performance you can't use a card over $250, you have to SLI/XF 2 - 200-250 cards. But people aren't looking for that as frequently as it adds the cost of a much bigger power draw.

    I'm still hoping for a build that dual-sockets to get rid of the CPU bottleneck.
  • g-unit1111
    14928639 said:
    A couple questions: I've heard that there are some new games that don't work at all on dual core processors including the famed Pentium G3258. Have you encountered this issue and would it effect your recommendations if it's true?

    The Pentium G3258 is a good processor, and people like it because it's a cheap overclock friendly solution where the low end Intel i3s are not. But as an owner of one, for gaming it really has no practical usage. The system that I use mine in is mainly a media playback machine.