System Builder Marathon Q1 2015: System Value Compared

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

Ask any performance enthusiast what a reasonable sacrifice might look like, and you'll likely get a blank stare rather than a consistent answer. We all demand plenty of system memory, a fast graphics card and a capable host processor. Moreover, our desires evolve as we realize we might have more money to spend.

Readers overwhelmingly responded to last quarter’s high-end build with a demand for more RAM and a better motherboard, reasoning that anyone spending over $1600 wouldn’t be willing to cut corners in those areas. The next biggest change sounded fairly reasonable: a $60 graphics upgrade. What’s $60 when you’re spending $1600, right?

My competitors responded with a quick “yes” when I asked them if we could increase our budgets. It turns out that they wanted to try out a few upgrades too. But that’s where the agreement fell apart.

I see these machines as $550, $1100 and $1650 configurations, plus the cost of an operating system. The other builders in this contest agreed to treat those numbers as core component limits, allowing an extra $50, $100 and $150 to be spent on parts that don’t make the machine run. That final disagreement is how we end up with $700, $1300 and $1750 budgets—including Windows—and me leaving $150 on the table.

Q1 2015 System Components
 $700 Budget Gaming PC$1300 Enthusiast PC$1750 Performance PC
ProcessorIntel Core i3-4150: 3.5GHz, Two Cores, 3MB CacheIntel Core i7-4790K: 4-4.4GHz, Four Cores, 8MB CacheIntel Core i7-4790K: 4-4.4GHz, Four Cores, 8MB Cache
GraphicsSapphire Dual-X 100373L Radeon R9 280 3GBAsus STRIX-GTX970-DC2OC-4GD5 GTX 970 4GB2x PNY VCGGTX9704XPB GeForce GTX 970 4GB, SLI
MotherboardASRock H81M-HDS: LGA 1150, Intel H81 ExpressMSI Z97 PC Mate: LGA 1150, Intel Z97 ExpressGigabyte Z97X-Gaming 5: LGA 1150, Intel Z97 Express
MemoryG.Skill Ripjaws X DDR3-1600 C9, 8GB (2 x 4GB)G.Skill Ripjaws X DDR3-2133 C9, 8GB (2 x 4GB)G.Skill Ares DDR3-1866 C10, 16GB (2 x 8GB) 
System DriveWD Blue WD10EZEX: 1TB, 7200 RPM, SATA 6Gb/s HDDPNY Optima SSD7SC240GOPT-RB: 2.5" 240GB SATA 6Gb/s SSDCrucial MX100 CT256MX100SSD1 2.5" 256GB SATA 6Gb/s SSD
PowerEVGA 100-W1-0500-KR: 500W, 80 PLUS (standard)EVGA 600B 100-B1-0600-KR: 600W, 80 PLUS BronzeRosewill Capstone-750: 750W, 80 PLUS Gold
CPU CoolerIntel Boxed Heat Sink and FanZalman CNPS9900MAX-BCorsair Hydro H100i Closed-Loop Liquid-Cooler
Platform Cost$519 $1029 $1554
Storage DriveUses System DriveWD Blue WD10EZEX: 1TB, 7200 RPM, SATA 6Gb/s HDDNone
OpticalAsus DRW-24B1ST 24x DVD±RPioneer BDC-207DBK 8x BRD Reader, 16x DVD±RAsus DRW-24B1ST 24x DVD±R
CaseNZXT Source 210 Elite BlackCooler Master HAF XB EvoCorsair Graphite 230T Orange
 Total Hardware Cost $589 $1224 $1654
OSWindows 8.1 x64 OEM
 Complete System Price $689 $1324 $1754

The consequence of my stubbornness is that this month’s high-end build doesn’t have a storage drive, even though the winner of this machine will probably need more capacity than my 256GB SSD affords. I gave the mechanical disk up while pursuing the upgrades demanded by readers, while sticking to my original budget plan. Different enthusiasts have different goals though, and it’s time for me to admit that both budgeting methods are equally valid as long as you have the cash for a pricier setup.

Leaving out a $55 hard drive feels a little like cheating when I’m going up against two cheaper machines sporting at least 1TB of total capacity. Then again, could a 3% cost savings on one component really cost one of my competitors their value victory? Let’s find out!

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