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System Builder Marathon, Q1 2014: The $2400 People’s Choice PC

Our High-End Build Evolves

System Builder Marathon, Q1 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 $2400 Reader's Choice PC
Day 2: Our New Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $750 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected

Introduction

Our System Builder Marathon typically caters to the value-oriented gaming, performance-enthusiast, and extreme performance markets. The benchmarks we use are similarly diverse; we try to include tests relevant to power users concerned with productivity, content creation, and gaming. Weighting the suite helps ensure that each type of test affects the end result the way we think is most fair. To that end, games only count towards 20% of our overall evaluation.

I typically get the privilege of building with the largest budget. That's both a blessing and a curse, though. Twenty-four-hundred dollars should be enough money to optimize for all of the benchmarks we run, which explains why my previous two efforts paired high-end CPUs with multiple graphics cards.

Was I wrong in that approach, though? More than once, readers pegged my "jack of all trades" approach as a master of none. Some folks criticized the use of gaming-class graphics cards in a workstation. Others thought it was a waste to use a professional-level processor in a gaming box. More than anything, though, it was stipulated that no machine should be expected to do everything well, and any effort to the contrary would fall short somehow.

Gamers were the most vocal advocates for change, making good points favoring a Haswell-based processor instead of Ivy Bridge-E. After all, only a handful of benchmarks scale well beyond four cores, and the newer architecture's better per-core performance helps improve the benchmark results in less aggressively-threaded metrics. Haswell-based processors also use less power, allowing us to choose a PSU that's either cheaper, more efficient, or a combination of both. Lower CPU prices, a dual-channel memory kit (instead of quad), and a Z87 Express-based motherboard (rather than X79) leaves more room in the budget for graphics, too.

Incidentally, graphics turned out to be the most contentious part of my previous build. Purchased for a mere $400 per card at the start of the cryptocurrency gold-rush, my two Radeon R9 290s quickly rose to $1200 before I could even write about why I picked them. Worse, those newly-expensive cards also compelled me to buy a super-quiet case that a lot of readers didn’t like. In comparison, at $520 per board, the GeForce GTX 780s our readers were recommending would run quiet enough to pick almost any case out there.

Q1 2014 $2400 Performance PC Components
ProcessorIntel Core i7-4770K (Haswell): 3.5-3.9 GHz, Quad-Core, 8 MB Shared L3 Cache$340
Graphics2 x EVGA 03G-P4-2781-KR GeForce GTX 780 3 GB (SLI)$1040
MotherboardASRock Z87 Extreme4: LGA 1150, Intel Z87 Express$145
MemoryG.Skill Ripjaws X F3-1866C9D-16GXM: DDR3-1866 C9, 16 GB (2 x 8 GB)$163
System DriveSanDisk Ultra Plus SDSSDHP-256G-G25: 256 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD$170
Storage DriveSeagate Barracuda ST2000DM001: 2 TB, SATA 6Gb/s Hard Drive$90
OpticalLite-On iHAS124-04: 24x DVD±R, 48x CD-R$20
CaseNZXT Phantom 410 Series CA-PH410-G1$90
PowerCorsair HX750: 750 W Semi-Modular, ATX12V v2.3, 80 PLUS Gold$140
CPU CoolerThermaltake CLW0217 Water 2.0 Extreme$95
PWM FanAntec SpotCool Blue LED Fan$17
 Total Cost $2310

Has our audience's guidance turned this month’s do-everything PC into a high-end gaming build? We’ll run a few benchmarks to answer that question. But first, let's examine the components and how they all come together.

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