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System Builder Marathon Q3 2014: System Value Compared

Value Conclusion

Readers who know the System Builder Marathon know that the cheapest machine always has the best performance-per-dollar, partly because it’s cheap, but mostly because its builder knows which cheap parts are required to reach a certain performance level. But does it really need to always win? Don and I had other plans.

Assuming you’re re-using your case and operating system, building with $946 of the $1300 machine’s parts still gets you a marginal value loss compared to the $600 PC. Yet, if you look back at how slow that machine was in certain benchmarks, it might be worth your time to spend the extra money (if you can).

If you already have an extra Windows license, you might prefer to build with all of our hardware, and only the hardware. Paul’s $600 build retains its value leadership, but my $1600 PC begins to gain on Don’s $1300 machine.

Adding nothing to a system’s performance, a new operating system hits Paul’s value score hard. My $1600 machine starts out stronger than Don’s, but aggressive overclocking pushes his beast into second place.

In fact, games are the only place where I can really find enough of a performance advantage to offset my machine’s extra price. Paul’s $600 machine can't compete there, and if I were to put zeros in places where Don’s system couldn’t play smoothly at 5760x1080, my lead would be even larger. That sounds like a terribly specific place to find value, but Don invented this parameter for our SBMs after all.

In total, Paul’s machine has the best value in numbers, but a look at some of our benchmarks shows that it’s going to be too slow for many of our readers. Make sure you look carefully before you take a leap at that one.

Readers who expect that I’d always pick my own machine should read the conclusion of our previous SBM. Even though my performance standards are high, I’m always interested in value. And going by the charts, Don’s machine looks like the best compromise of fast-enough performance and almost-cheap-enough value.

On the other hand, a look back at some of Hacksaw Don’s installation woes shows that its parts list needs revision before we can make a broad recommendation. And that leaves me, the quiet guy who types a lot, running a quiet machine that computes a lot. I said yesterday that I’d recommend it to anyone who can afford it, and I still do.

Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • ingtar33
    Agree with your conclusions. My personal experience on intel dual cores back it up. the performance drop off from a true quad core is far too extreme to justify the saved money. While it might give you great bang for your buck, the tradeoffs are just too extreme if you plan to use it for more then just a steambox.
    Reply
  • Onus
    All three machines in this quarter's SBM were well-devised and well-executed IMHO. All three are similar to what I might build for myself at similar budgets.
    The first I think I'd build as an uncle-nephew project, then he and his sisters would have an excellent homework machine that would be capable of some fun too.
    Either the second or third I'd mix and match with some of my own parts, but their platforms would become my new primary machine, just to update what I've got. I'd love to win any of them.
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  • DouglasThurman
    I think to spice things up their next build-off should make static one item...like the CPU, and then have them all build low, middle and high end systems around that item. And spice it up by going either Intel or AMD. The whole "Don't include items which don't affect performance" should be thrown out the door and include stuff like that. I mean when I build a system I have to take everything into account, not just the juicy bits.
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  • It's past time to get rid of 1600x900 and make 1920x1080 the base line resolution. Also you guys need to add 2560x1440, it is starting to become the new norm. My high school son and I do not now anybody who uses 1600x900. He says it is old fashion tech for desktops.
    Reply
  • DXRick
    If one were thinking of building a Haswell-E-Based system instead (X99 motherboard, 5820K CPU and DDR4 RAM), what would be the performance and price difference?

    Thanks.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    14256871 said:
    It's past time to get rid of 1600x900 and make 1920x1080 the base line resolution. Also you guys need to add 2560x1440, it is starting to become the new norm. My high school son and I do not now anybody who uses 1600x900. He says it is old fashion tech for desktops.
    The new norm? We all have 2560x1600 displays and were told to quit using them because they were outdated. They don't support 2560x1440 though, and "it's the new norm" is not going to convince everyone to buy new hardware to enable the downgrade from 2560x1600 to 2560x1440. Eventually we'll all upgrade to 4k displays, it's just not needed for everyone yet.

    Conversely, 1600x900 and 1280x720 ARE able to run on 1920x1080 displays.

    Nobody thinks you're using a 1600x900 display. 1600x900 is a backup resolution for people who want to run 1920x1080 with super-high quality, but find that their graphics card is too weak. Options for a slightly-underpowered graphics card are to set 1600x900, which looks good on a 1920x1080 display, or to use lower quality settings. If you're not geek enough to know that, you've no room to complain.

    14258322 said:
    If one were thinking of building a Haswell-E-Based system instead (X99 motherboard, 5820K CPU and DDR4 RAM), what would be the performance and price difference?

    Thanks.
    The motherboard would cost around $120 more, the CPU $50 more, and the DRAM at least $50 more to reach slightly lower overall performance rating (DDR4-2133 CAS 16, for example). The added threads would allow faster encoding and compiling times in roughly 20% of the tests, while lower clock rate would cause slower performance in nearly all the other tests. We'd probably be lucky to break even on this benchmark set, while spending more money.

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  • Amdlova
    For what I need today... Just a p3 1000mhz will be fine to me. the 600us machine its perfect fine to me. With mantle and direct x 12 i will never spend again 360us on one processor. I will get a pentium g3258 and a 390x. I miss the old days with the e7300 Oc at 5.0ghz
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  • crashman 1080x720? I think you meant 1280x720 which will display on a 2560x1440 monitor along with 1600x900 and 1920x1080. Who is telling you to get rid of your monitor? I know it is possible to display 1600x900 on a 1920x1080 monitor, if you read my post it only says the resolution and does not specify a monitor. I added the last sentence because I thought it was funny what he thinks is old tech. He is always asking me about the olden days back in the 80's. Anyways most people I know are wanting to, or already have upgraded to a 1440 monitor that's why I said the new norm.
    Thanks for not thinking of me as a geek now go tell that to my ex-wife.
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  • Crashman
    14259266 said:
    crashman 1080x720? I think you meant 1280x720 which will display on a 2560x1440 monitor along with 1600x900 and 1920x1080. Who is telling you to get rid of your monitor? I know it is possible to display 1600x900 on a 1920x1080 monitor, if you read my post it only says the resolution and does not specify a monitor. I added the last sentence because I thought it was funny what he thinks is old tech. He is always asking me about the olden days back in the 80's. Anyways most people I know are wanting to, or already have upgraded to a 1440 monitor that's why I said the new norm.
    Thanks for not thinking of me as a geek now go tell that to my ex-wife.
    You asked for the drop of the lower resolution (1600x900) because nobody uses it any more. I explained why some people will use it on their 1920x1080 display, to gain a few FPS without lowering details.

    People asked us a long time ago to quit with the 2560x1600 tests because hardly anyone had 2560x1600 monitors. And our 2560x1600 monitors won't do 2560x1440, so we'd have to pay for a new "QHD" monitor in order to drop to 2560x1440 from our long-forgotten 2560x1600.

    3x 1920x1080 is cheap enough for most high-end builders (I got my screen for around $120 each), and gives you the advantage of peripheral vision. Gaming is pretty cool in "Surround", a lot of guys even prefer it.

    Reply
  • ralanahm
    I have noticed that the lowest system never has a hybrid drive like a seagate 1tb desktop drive the price is less than $20 more and would make the pc more snappy about 80% of the time. It is totally worth it for regular work I got one and cloned my work laptop and now my 6 year old laptop is great now for office work.
    Reply