System Builder Marathon, Q1 2013: $1,600 Alternative PC

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
Day 5: The $1,600 Alternative PC


Surprise! You thought our System Builder Marathon ended last week, right? Well, we were busy working on one final follow-up that doubles the price of Don's $800 machine to see if the limitations of this quarter's narrow price band can be overcome at a still-reasonable $1,600.

Most of Tom's Hardware's editors were enthusiasts before they ever dreamed about covering technology in print. We read dozens of competing review sites to gather the most unbiased balance of opinion and test results before finally plopping down our hard-earned dollars on a handful of parts.

Now, a lot of the components we write about show up at our offices before they're even available to everyone else, and sometimes that pile of free stuff pulls us away from the realities of saving up over the course of weeks or months for a value-packed system to replace once-modern technology. Fortunately, regular interaction with our audience helps keep us grounded.

We continue building our own boxes and participating in the comments for each of the stories we write. Because of this, we're pretty good about anticipating the responses we're going to get for each of our System Builder Marathon machines. Although we're not prophets, we have a pretty good bead on the ways of the enthusiasts. We knew that tightly framing this quarter's competition around the expected price/performance pinnacle would leave a lot of you searching for something more.

That anticipation compelled us to order the parts for an upgraded version of our $1,000 PC for a fifth-day bonus build more than a month ago, priced at $1,600.

But wait. We've been sitting on the parts for a month. The Marathon was published last week. What took us so long to get this story done? What did I fail to anticipate? Today's piece is loaded with twists and turns. Grab a cup of coffee or tea, and join us as we put this last System Builder Marathon machine together.

Q1 2013 $1,600 Alternative PC Components
ProcessorIntel Core i5-3570K: 3.4 GHz Base Clock Rate. 3.8 GHz Turbo Boost, Quad-Core, 6 MB Shared L3 Cache$230
Graphics2 x PowerColor PCS+ AX7870 Myst Edition 2GBD5-2DHPPV3E $520
MotherboardGigabyte Z77X-UD4H: LGA 1155, Intel Z77 Express$170
MemoryCrucial Ballistix Tactical BLT2K4G3D1608ET3LX0: DDR3-1600 C8, 8 GB (2 x 4 GB)$48
System DriveMushkin MKNSSDCR240GB-DX: 240 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD$180
Storage DriveWestern Digital WD1002FAEX: 1 TB, SATA 6Gb/s Hard Drive
OpticalAsus DRW-24B1ST: 24x DVD±R, 12x DVD±R DL$20
CaseFractal Design Define R4 w/Window$120
PowerCorsair HX750: 750 W Modular, ATX12V v2.3, 80 PLUS Gold$120
CPU CoolerNoctua NH-D14$81
  Total Cost $1,594

The prices in that table were what we paid when the parts were ordered, and a lot of them changed over the last six weeks. For example, the PowerColor card is $20 less, per board. Other prices are up. All told, then, the total cost of buying our machine and replicating the build is within $20 of our original invoice.

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  • mi1ez
    ASRock defaults DDR3-2133 memory to 1.5665 V. Add in the 1% over-voltage we’ve been seeing nearly every board vendor sneak in over the past several product cycles, and we come up to around 1.68 V.

    1.5665 + 1% = 1.582165
  • Steveymoo
    Nice, this is a well balanced build! That's a good bit of troubleshooting you did there as well - I always wondered whether the super heavy CPU coolers would cause any problems, especially when you move the case around. I always worry that the large heatsink could sheer off when I have to transport my computer to a new flat.

    Better be careful y'all!
  • spentshells

    get a normal cooler Cm212 or even a CM tx4 and spend that other 50 bucks on some better cards. 7950's should be a minimum for a build of 1600
  • Anonymous
    Could've gone for a 7970 and a 3770k instead. I think most people would prefer to stay away from crossfire in a new build unless they're going for more performance than the best single GPU card. Maybe a board with more USB 3.0 internal headers would've been nice, i'm not a fan of having to plug devices in the back unless they are there to stay(exception being USB audio devices)
  • LePhuronn
    And the moral of this story is don't bother with archaic lumps of metal to cool your CPU. H100 people, simply no other choice.