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System Builder Marathon Q3 2014: System Value Compared

How We Tested

Anyone familiar with my motherboard reviews or even my Q3 overclocking comments knows why I keep Haswell cores under 1.30 V. Longevity is why I gave up at 4.60 GHz rather than shoot for the moon at 4.7 GHz at 1.31 volts. Some enthusiasts, on the other hand, have been lucky enough to keep Haswell-based CPUs alive for extended periods at 1.35 volts, and anyone willing to saw-off a few memory fins probably isn’t worried about something so trivial.

With full specs including base height (for DRAM clearance) plus a full page of installation notes in our 2011 NH-D14 review, informed readers need not face these challenges.

Test Hardware Configurations
Q3 $600 Gaming PCQ2 $1300 Enthusiast PCQ3 $1600 Performance PC
Processor (Overclock)Intel Pentium G3258: 3.20 GHz, Two Physical CoresO/C to 4.10 GHz, 1.24 VIntel Core i7-4690K: 3.5 - 3.90 GHz, Four Physical CoresO/C to 4.60 GHz, 1.335 VIntel Core i7-4790K: 4.0 - 4.40 GHz, Four Physical CoresO/C to 4.60 GHz, 1.25 V
Graphics (Overclock)Sapphire R9 270: 945 MHz GPU,  GDDR5-5600O/C to 1050 MHz, GDDR5-6000Zotac GTX 770: 1202 MHz GPU,  GDDR5-7200O/C to 1250 MHz, GDDR5-8000PowerColor 290X: 1050 MHz GPU,  GDDR5-5400O/C to 1082 MHz, GDDR5-5600
Memory (Overclock)8 GB Team DDR3-1600 CAS 9-9-9-24, O/C to DDR3-1333 CL 7-7-7-21, 1.55 V8 GB G.Skill DDR3-2400 CAS 10-12-12-31, XMP Defaults (1.65 V)8 GB G.Skill DDR3-1866 CAS 8-9-9-24, O/C to DDR3-2400 CL 10-12-12-28, 1.6 V
Motherboard (Overclock)MSI H81M-P33: LGA 1150, Intel H81 ExpressStock 100 MHz BCLKASRock Z97 Killer: LGA 1150, Intel Z97 ExpressStock 100 MHz BCLKMSI Z97 Gaming 5: LGA 1150, Intel Z97 ExpressStock 100 MHz BCLK
CaseRosewill ChallengerCooler Master HAF XMEnermax Ostrog GT
CPU CoolerIntel Boxed CPU CoolerNoctua NH-D14Phanteks PH-TC14PE 140 mm
Hard DriveWD Blue WD10EZEX 1 TB SATA 6Gb/s HDDAdata Premier Pro SP920 128 GB SATA 6Gb/s SSDPlextor M6S PX-256M6S 256 GB SATA 6Gb/s SSD
PowerAntec VP-450: 450 W Non-Modular, No Efficiency RatingIn Win GreenMe 650: 650 W Non-Modular, 80 PLUS BronzeEVGA SuperNova 750 B2: 750 W, 80 PLUS Bronze
Software
OSMicrosoft Windows 8 Pro x64
GraphicsAMD Catalyst 14.4Nvidia GeForce 344.11AMD Catalyst 14.4
ChipsetIntel INF 9.4.0.1017Intel INF 9.4.0.1026Intel INF 9.4.0.1026
Benchmark Configuration
3D Games
Battlefield 4Version 1.0.0.1, DirectX 11, 100-Sec. Fraps "Tashgar" Test Set 1: High Quality Preset, No AA, 4x AF, SSAO Test Set 2: Ultra Quality Preset, 4x MSAA, 16x AF, HBAO
Grid 2Steam Version, In-Game Test Test Set 1: High Quality Preset, No AA Test Set 2: Ultra Quality Preset, 8x AA
Metro: Last LightSteam version, Built-In Benchmark, "Frontline" SceneTest Set 1: DX11, Med Quality, 4x AF, Low Blur, No SSAA, No Tesselation, No PhysXTest Set 2: DX11, High Quality, 16x AF, Normal Blur, SSAA, Tesselation Normal, No PhysX
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 that includes three streams, 210 frames, Render Multiple Frames Simultaneously
Adobe Photoshop CCVersion 14.0 x64: Filter 15.7 MB TIF Image: Radial Blur, Shape Blur, Median, Polar Coordinates
Adobe Premiere 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, 48,000 Hz, Two-Channel, to Video: AVC1 Audio: AAC (High Profile)
TotalCode Studio 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
Visual Studio 2010Version 10.0, Compile Google Chrome, Scripted
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
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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.

    Reply
  • 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
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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