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System Builder Marathon Q3 2014: System Value Compared

More Performance, More Value

System Builder Marathon, Q3 2014: The Articles

Here are links to each of the four 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 Budget Gaming PC
Day 2: Our Mainstream Enthusiast System
Day 3: The $1600 High-End Build
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected

Our latest round of System Builder Marathon machines saw Paul and Don chasing bigger overclocks while I simply tried to fix mine. Purchased just before Intel launched Devil's Canyon, my machine last quarter was stuck with a mere 4.2 GHz CPU overclock that required a massive 1.28 V to reach. Lacking the Haswell update's cooling advantage, my -4770K appeared to be nothing more than a reject, cast off from Intel’s binning process as the company began stockpiling anything resembling a good die for its next new model. Or maybe it was just bad luck-of-the-draw.

Paul switched his $500 PC to Intel’s low-cost overclocking CPU, the Pentium G3258, after noting a new way to use cheap boards with unlocked CPUs.

Don took advantage of a long-standing $75 discount on Zotac’s factory-overclocked GeForce GTX 770, putting any savings on his $1000 PC towards a larger CPU cooler.

Meanwhile, I avoided the binning tomfoolery altogether by ordering its flagship Haswell-based Core i7-4790K, using a recent motherboard price drop to offset the CPU upcharge.

But wait, didn’t we call these $600, $1300, and $1600 builds? In theory, we’re supposed to have $500, $1000, and $1500 to cover mandatory hardware, and negotiations with all three builders yielded $100, $200, and $300 for stuff that wouldn’t be needed to make the system operational (the platform).

That leads to $600, $1200, and $1800 budgets including the operating system, case, optical drive, and accessories. Paul can’t fit anything more than the OS into his $100, so he refers to his platform budget at $450. Don overspends, so he just changed the name of his $1200 machine to $1300. And though more money was available to me, I’m still trying to fit all of my hardware into a 3x multiple of Paul’s total hardware budget.

Q3 2014 System Builder Marathon Components
Q3 $600 PCQ2 $1300 PCQ3 $1600 PC
ProcessorIntel Pentium G3258 3.2 GHz, no Turbo Boost Two Cores, 3 MB L3Intel Core i5-4690K: 3.5 GHz-3.9 GHz Four Cores, 6 MB L3Intel Core i7-4790K: 4.0GHz-4.4GHz Four Cores, 8 MB L3
GraphicsSapphire Dual-X 100365L 2 GB Radeon R9 270Zotac AMP! Superclocked ZT-70303-10P 3 GB GeForce GTX 770PowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X 4 GB Radeon R9 290X
MotherboardMSI H81M-P33: LGA 1150, Intel H81ASRock Z97 Killer: LGA1150, Intel Z97MSI Z97 Gaming 5: LGA 1150, Intel Z97
MemoryTeam Dark TDBD38G1600HC9DC01 DDR3-1600 C9, 8 GBG.Skill Trident F3-2400C10D-8GTD DDR3-2400 C10, 8 GBG.Skill Ripjaws X F3-14900CL8D-8GBXM DDR3-1600 C8, 8 GB
System DriveWD Blue WD10EZEX: 1 TB, SATA 6Gb/s HDDASP920SS3-128GM-C 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 Semi-Modular 80 PLUS Bronze
CPU CoolerIntel Boxed CPU CoolerNoctua NH-D14Phanteks PH-TC14PE
Platform$455 $946 $1,397
Storage DriveUses System DriveWD Blue WD10EZEX: 1 TB, SATA 6Gb/s HDDWD Blue WD10EZEX: 1 TB, SATA 6Gb/s HDD
OpticalLG GH24NSB0B: 24x DVD±R, 48x CD-RAsus DRW-24B1ST: 24x DVD±R, 48x CD-RLG GH24NSB0B: 24x DVD±R, 48x CD-R
CaseRosewill ChallengerCooler Master HAF XM RC-922XM-KKN1Enermax Ostrog GT ECA3280A-BR
Total HW$523 $1146 $1535
OSWindows 8.1 x64 OEM
Total Price$623 $1246 $1635

Though I blamed a lackluster CPU sample for my previous overclocking woes, I wanted to remove all doubt from your minds concerning this quarter’s build. Choosing a cheaper case allowed me to spend more on CPU cooling. Don had the same idea, but chose to add the cost of a similar cooler on top of his budget. He did keep the total cost below $1250 though, so I still would have probably called it a slightly over-budget $1200 PC rather than pretend its budget was higher. Then again, I’m treating my $1800 budget as if it were $1600…

  • 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