System Builder Marathon Q1 2015: $1750 Performance PC

System Builder Marathon, Q1 2015: The Articles

Here are links to each of the five 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: Budget Gaming PC
Day 2: The Mainstream Enthusiast PC
Day 3: Our $1750 Performance PC
Day 4: System Value Compared
Day 5: Alternative $1750 PC

Is the name "System" too generic? Our benchmark suite includes a full range of home, office, business and entertainment software, yet gaming is usually the easiest place to score extra credit. Games count for only 15% of our final value assessment. But a graphics upgrade was still one of the most-requested changes by our readers. Some folks even suggested we pay for more GPU muscle by dropping from a Core i7 to a Core i5 processor, even though that would hit the performance of several non-gaming benchmarks.

More memory capacity was next on the list. Other readers wanted a CPU upgrade to six cores, and a few even asked for an end to what they saw as serious compromises in our build. Finally, someone simply suggested that $1600 isn’t a reasonable price limit for a truly high-end machine, and I mostly agreed.

Our SBM series started with a $4000 high-end PC, and we gradually whittled that down to $1600. This appeared to reflect the dollar value that most of our readers would be willing to pay for a high-end system, if only they could afford to pay it. But then I had to fit an OS into the price…even though I personally scrounge around for one-time deals before I purchase a license.

Noting that our cheapest machine costs $600 including Windows 8.1, I first suggested we move to $600/$1200/$1800 complete PCs. My colleagues countered with $550, $1100 and $1650 hardware limits, and I suddenly found myself able to upgrade both the graphics and memory according to reader suggestions, without downgrading the CPU. Almost.

Q1 2015 $1750 Performance PC Components
ProcessorIntel Core i7-4790K: 4-4.4GHz, Four-Core, 8MB Shared L3 Cache$340
Graphics2x PNY VCGGTX9704XPB GeForce GTX 970 4GB, SLI$660
MotherboardGigabyte Z97X-Gaming 5: LGA 1150, Intel Z97 Express$146
MemoryG.Skill Ares F3-1866C10D-16GAB: DDR3-1866 C10, 16GB (2 x 8GB) $125
System DriveCrucial MX100 CT256MX100SSD1 2.5" 256GB SATA 6Gb/s (SSD)$108
PowerRosewill Capstone-750: 750W Non-Modular, ATX12V v2.31, 80 PLUS Gold$80
CPU CoolerCorsair Hydro H100i Closed-Loop Liquid-Cooler$95
 Platform Cost
$1554
Storage DriveNone$0
OpticalAsus DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS: 24x DVD±R, 48x CD-R$20
CaseCorsair Graphite 230T CC-9011038-WW Orange$80
 Total Hardware Cost
$1654
OSWindows 8.1 X64 OEM$100
 Complete System Price
$1754

What I really did was substitute the previous build’s secondary hard drive for a memory upgrade. That will surely dampen the spirits of our giveaway winner, since nearly anyone who ends up with this machine will need to add storage for their personal data and entertainment library. I hope the winner is able to swap in the drive from the system they’re replacing.

The extra memory will provide a big boost in exactly one of our benchmarks (Adobe After Effects), while its slower data rate and timings may pull down the average frame rate in one of our games (Grid 2). Conversely, the missing storage drive adds nothing to the benchmarks and only serves to hurt the overall value score. A more severe compromise than the “Smurf” case of my previous machine, this improved price/performance move feels a lot like cheating.

Upgrading from the previous quarter’s GeForce GTX 980 to this machine’s 970s in SLI covers $60 of the extra $150 in our budget. Other compromises like the previous machine’s non-SLI-capable motherboard were dealt away using much of the remainder. Unnecessary fluff in today’s configuration, including the windowed case ($10 extra) and a closed-loop CPU cooler ($20 more) add up to about half the cost of the missing hard drive.

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  • ninja85a
    loving the typo at the top for Q3 2015
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  • lorribot
    Is there any performance benefits in gaming or anything else 99% of users will do in having 16GB RAM?
    Would have thought a higher quality 8GB kit, dump the optical drive and spend the money on the top draw SSD and a decent quality 16GB USB 3 stick.
    Oh and there is nothing wrong with quality budget mobos if you don't need all the added junk.
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