System Builder Marathon, Q1 2013: System Value Compared

System Builder Marathon, Q1 2013: 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 $600 Gaming PC
Day 2: The $800 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $1,000 Performance PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected


Our System Builder Marathon series typically includes three builds that target the best gaming value, the best overall value, and the best overall performance. That formula usually works well for us, and the mid-priced setup does take top honors in our final analysis (at least it has the previous three quarters). Of course, we also use a really wide spread of price points most of the time: $500, $1,000, and $2,000, or some variation of doubling price two times. With time, we've figured out that you usually get the best performance for your dollar somewhere in the $1,000 range.

Can we get even more precise, though? 

This quarter, we're zooming in on that sweet spot by narrowing our focus to price points all around it. I typically find that the most value-oriented components can be combined into a complete hardware solution (minus peripherals) that costs around $800. That price falls closest to our usual mid-range build. So, our results almost always support my theory.

Don, Paul, and Chris decided that it was time to put some money on that claim, which is how $800 became the mid-point for this quarter's System Builder Marathon. I was forced to give up half of my $2,000 budget to build a $1,000 system, while Don dropped from $1,000 to $800. Paul, on the other hand, jumped from $500 to $600 (lucky him). Knowing that an $800 system win would hand me the debate and a $1,000 system win would hand me the competition, I had only one thing left to say to those odds: Game on!

The one thing I didn't anticipate was that an extra $100 would give Paul the opportunity to use an Ivy Bridge-based processor with limited overclocking to the tune of 400 MHz over its stock setting. Surely that small speed-up wouldn't be enough to let the $600 machine keep up with fully-unlocked $800 and $1,000 boxes, right?

Q1 2013 System Builder Marathon Components
 $600 Gaming PC$800 Enthusiast PC$1000 Performance PC
ProcessorIntel Core i5-3350P: 3.1-3.3 GHz, Quad Core, 6 MB L3 CacheIntel Core i5-3570K: 3.4-3.8 GHz, Quad Core, 6 MB L3 CacheIntel Core i5-3570K: 3.4-3.8 GHz, Quad Core, 6 MB L3 Cache
GraphicsHIS Radeon HD 7850 1 GB H785F1G2MPowerColor PCS+ AX7870 Myst Edition 2GBD5-2DHPPV3E PowerColor PCS+ AX7870 Myst Edition 2GBD5-2DHPPV3E 
MotherboardASRock Z75 Pro3: LGA 1155, Z75 ExpressASRock Z77 Pro3: LGA 1155, Intel Z77 ExpressASRock Z77 Extreme4: LGA 1155, Intel Z77 Express
MemoryG.Skill Ripjaws F3-12800CL9D-4GBRL: DDR3-1600 C9, 2 GB x 2 (4 GB) Crucial Ballistix Tactical BLE2KIT4GD31608DE1TX0: DDR3-1600 C8, 4 GB x 2 (8 GB)Crucial Ballistix Tactical BLT2K4G3D1608ET3LX0: DDR3-1600 C8, 4 GB x 2 (8 GB)
System DriveSeagate Barracuda ST500DM002: 500 GB SATA 6Gb/s HDDSeagate Barracuda ST500DM002: 500 GB SATA 6Gb/s HDDMushkin MKNSSDCR240GB-DX: 240 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD
Storage DriveUses System DriveUses System DriveUses System Drive
OpticalSamsung SH-224BB/RSBS: 24x DVD±R, 8x DVD±R DLSamsung SH-224BB: 24x DVD±R, 12x DVD±R DLLite-On iHAS124: 24x DVD±R, 12x DVD±R DL
CaseXigmatek Asgard II B/B
Xigmatek Asgard II B/BRosewill Redbone U3
PowerAntec Neo Eco 400C: 400 W, ATX12V v2.3, 80 PLUSAntec Neo Eco 520C: 520 W, ATX12V v2.3, 80 PLUS
Antec Neo Eco 520C: 520 W, ATX12V v2.3, 80 PLUS
CPU CoolerIntel Boxed Heat Sink And Fan
Rosewill RCX-ZAIO-92Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus RR-B10-212P-G1
Total Cost$600 $795 $980
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  • 13thmonkey
    thomas, your assertion that you'd expect an overall power drop as a result of the SSD is utter rubbish, the difference in power draw between an ssd and a hdd is perhaps 5W (at the outside?) whilst this is measurable for a drive on its own, any minor variations in other components, a better mobo, an extra fan (as you pointed out) and just general noise (what is idle really) will mask that benefit.

    Yes SSD's are more power efficient but you should only expect to see the benefit when you have optimised the whole build for lower power levels. Its a bit of a marketing ploy really, 7W or 2W doesn't really matter if your total system load is 150-400W, don't fall for the marketing, we need our reviewers to be immune to that and to cut through the BS.
  • Anonymous
    excellent very interesting i enjoyed reading every bit of it!
    I personally would like to take your conclusions and suspicions and see them followed through it would be nice to see a system builder marathon with the same price points but have each team given a standard ssd to start their build with. i think this would give us a good idea of the additional performance of ssd and prevent the compromise we see every time with storage vs cpu/gpu
  • Steveymoo
    Another experiment in system building. I'm guessing 90% of people that visit this site are PC gamers, and every single time I read these system builder marathons, I see poorly balanced builds. Never enough money spent on the GPU, or a single GPU option when dual GPUs would have kicked much more ass.

    Though, in absolute fairness, games are so graphically none intensive now, I don't suppose there's much point blowing a wad on GPUs.
  • Kef
    Interesting, but how about a test based around something we would prefer to live with (semi enthusiast level). The marathon series has been much of a muchness for quite a while, so I'd like to see something investigating price points. How about all three investigate at a specific price point with a list of objectives at that value - (say 600, 1000, 1300, 1800)
    1. Say all three get an 1300 budget
    2. each toss a coin between AMD/NVIDIA single card setups (some variation please)
    3. All systems should have an SSD boot drive + separate storage drive
    4. Air cooled vs water cooled vs stock cooling
    5. Would be nice to have a case that wouldn't frighten the pets.
    6. Gaming and video encoding as the objectives

    other variations might include a HTPC challenge

    A couple of these until the next big jump in GPU's / CPU's would be nice.
  • MajinCry
    Many systems built here!

    But wait, there seems to be a SMALL issue here...

    "" | "$600 Gaming PC $800 Enthusiast PC $1000 Performance PC"

  • SchizoFrog
    Just looking at the % of the price levels and who ever is working out the sums needs to go back to school. $800 is 1 third of $600 on top, which should be 133.3% not 132.5% and as for $1000, well that is 2 thirds of $600 on top so it should be 166.6% and not 163.3%. Not nearly, not about, without going in to infinite decimals it is exactly that. If they can't even get these basic sums right then how can we trust any of the figures given here?
  • moberr
    When do tomshardware.CO.UK plan to hand out Pounds?