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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…

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.