System Builder Marathon Q1 2014: System Value Compared

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 Performance PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected


Although Paul, Don, and I typically get vastly disparate budgets, we typically try to push as much performance as possible from the money we're given in the System Builder Marathon. That methodology changed a little this quarter when budget machine builder Paul Henningsen went rogue by starting with a $50 off-the-top cut. Our typical spread of 1x, 2x, and 3x budgets would have resulted in an $800 budget. But he decided that there simply wasn’t much he could do to noticeably improve performance with that last $50.

At the opposite end of the scale, I wasn’t ready to turn his $50 reduction into a $150 haircut, which would have been necessary for us to honor the usual price spread. After last quarter's Marathon, readers requested that I make two major changes to my previous effort, and those alterations wouldn't fit neatly into an otherwise-similar $2250 machine. Don didn't have a problem with that; by sticking with my original $2400 budget, he could keep his $1600. And as we saw a couple of days ago, he needed all of that plus some.

That’s where the real fun begins. Nvidia trimmed the prices on its GeForce GTX 780 and 780 Ti in response to AMD’s Radeon R9 290 and 290X. Shortly after that, a shortage of cards caused a surge in Radeon pricing. Don suddenly found himself able to switch from a pair of GeForce GTX 770s to a single GTX 780 Ti, and still had money left over for an upgrade from Intel's Core i5 to an i7, a higher-end case, and a Blu-ray disc burner.

Price drops on the GeForce GTX 780 weren't as significant, so the requests I received to use two left me without the money to keep the Blu-ray drive or Ivy Bridge-E-based CPU on a machine that, considering price alone, should still be able to do everything better.

Q1 2014 System Builder Marathon Components
 $750 Gaming PC$1600 Enthusiast PC$2400 Reader's PC
Processor Intel Core i3-4130: 3.4 GHz, Dual-Core, 3 MB Shared L3 Cache Intel Core i7-4770K: 3.5 - 3.9 GHz, Hexa-Core, 8 MB Shared L3 Cache Intel Core i7-4770K: 3.5 - 3.9 GHz, Hexa-Core, 8 MB Shared L3 Cache
GraphicsZotac ZT-70301-10P GeForce GTX 770 2 GBGalaxy 78NNH5DV8GGX GeForce GTX 780 Ti 3 GB2 x EVGA 03G-P4-2781-KR GeForce GTX 780 3 GB (SLI)
MotherboardAsus H81M-K: LGA 1150, Intel H81 ExpressASRock Z87 Pro3: LGA 1150, Intel Z87 Express
ASRock Z87 Extreme4: LGA 1150, Intel Z87 Express
MemoryAdata XPG-2 AX3U1600W4G9-DGV: DDR3-1600 C9, 8 GB (2 x 4 GB) Corsair Vengeance LP CML8GX3M2A1866C9B: DDR3-1866 C9, 8 GB (2 x 4 GB) G.Skill Ripjaws X F3-1866C9D-16GXM: DDR3-1600 C9, 16 GB (2 x 8 GB) 
System DriveWestern Digital WD10EZEX: 1 TB, 7200 RPM, 64 MB CacheSamsung 840 EVO MZ-7TE120BW: 120 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSDSanDisk Ultra Plus SDSSDHP-256G-G25: 256 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD
Storage Drive(Uses System Drive)Western Digital Black WD5003AZEX: 500 GB, 7200 RPM, 64 MB CacheSeagate Barracuda ST2000DM001: 2 TB, 7200 RPM, 64 MB Cache
OpticalAsus DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS: 24x DVD±R, 48x CD-RLG WH14NS40: 14x BD-R, 2x BD-R, 16x DVD+RLite-On iHAS124-04: 24x DVD±R, 48x CD-R
CaseRosewill Line-M MicroATXNZXT Phantom 410 CA-PH410-B3NZXT Phantom 410 CA-PH410-G1
PowerRosewill Capstone-450-M: 450 W Semi-Modular, ATX12V v2.31, 80 PLUS GoldCorsair TX650: 650 W ATX12V v2.3, 80 PLUS BronzeCorsair HX750: 750 W Semi-Modular, ATX12V v2.3, 80 PLUS Gold
CPU CoolerIntel Core i3 Boxed Fan (included)Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVOThermaltake CLW0217 Water 2.0 Extreme
PWM Fan(Uses CPU Fan)(Uses CPU Fan)Antec Spot Cool Blue LED Fan
 Total Cost $755 $1615 $2310

Time and again, you've seen us demonstrate that the sweet spot for getting the most performance from your dollar requires a budget in the $700 to $1100 range, or thereabouts. That's a moving target, but it still leaves us expecting Paul's $750 gaming PC to win our quest to maximize value. 

It'll be more interesting to see whether my $2400 PC can continue to dominate Don's $1600 effort across most benchmarks. Since our two top machines now use the same CPU, the only hope for my build is that Don somehow screwed up his $1600 configuration.