System Builder Marathon Q4 2014: Value Compared

System Builder Marathon, Q4 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: Budget Gaming PC
Day 2: Mainstream Enthusiast System
Day 3: $1600 Performance PC
Day 4: System Value Compared

You only need to build a few PCs to realize that the easiest performance gains at most budget levels are found in graphics upgrades. It’s no wonder, then, that as soon as Nvidia announced a game-changing pair of high-end cards, our $1100 and $1600 System Builder Marathon authors bought one of each. Suddenly, this is a gaming machine marathon, in spite of the fact that only 15% of our overall performance score comes from games.

Anyone who assumes that we don’t take the rest of our test suite seriously is mistaken. We’ve placed SSDs in our most expensive two systems for several generations, and the top build usually has Intel’s flagship processor for whatever mainstream interface is available. Moving that platform up to six cores would have helped fewer than 15% of our benchmark suite, drawing hundreds of dollars out of the graphics budget. Then again, most of you are realistic about what we're able to do for less than $2000, realizing it'd be impossible to create a do-everything wonder system for that amount.

Similarly, doubling memory capacity from 8 to 16GB would have helped either the $1100 or $1600 build reach higher performance levels in just one of our benchmarks, while forcing either machine to give up one "level" in graphics performance. Either of us could have spent more money on RAM, but to what effect in value when only one benchmark is noticeably affected?

The maximum allowable budgets for these machines are $600, $1200 and $1800. An extra 8GB would have put Don Woligroski almost exactly against his $1200 limit, and my $1600 machine would have come out to around $1700 with the same alteration. Yet, experience tells us that the smart money in this competition goes towards cost-cutting in the places that affect performance the least. As a result, this quarter’s $600, $1100 and $1600 machines look like replacements for last year’s $500, $1000 and $1500 systems…plus an operating system.

Q4 2014 System Builder Marathon Components
 Q4 $600 Performance PCQ4 $1200 Performance PCQ4 $1600 Performance PC
ProcessorIntel Pentium G3258: 3.2GHz, Dual-Core, 3MB LLCIntel Core i5-4690K: 3.5-3.9GHz, Quad-Core, 6MB LLCIntel Core i7-4790K: 4.0-4.4GHz, Quad-Core, 8MB LLC
GraphicsMSI R9 270X Gaming 2GZatac ZT-90101-10P GeForce GTX 970 4GBPNY VCGGTX9804XPB-CG GeForce GTX 980 4GB
MotherboardMSI H81M-P33: LGA 1150, Intel H81 ExpressAsus Z87-A: LGA 1150, Intel Z87 ExpressBiostar Hi-Fi Z97WE: LGA 1150, Intel Z97 Express
MemoryTeam Vulcan DDR3-1600 C9, 8GB (2 x 4GB) G.Skill Ripjaws X DDR3-2133 C9, 8GB (2 x 4GB) G.Skill Ripjaws X DDR3-2133 C9, 8GB (2 x 4GB) 
System DriveWD Blue WD10EZEX: 1TB, SATA 6Gb/s HDDKingston V300 SV300S37A/120G 2.5" 120GB SATA 6Gb/s (SSD)Plextor M6S PX-256M6S 2.5" 256GB SATA 6Gb/s (SSD)
PowerEVGA 100-W1-500-KR: 500W, 80 PLUS StandardEVGA 100-W1-500-KR: 500W, 80 PLUS StandardRosewill Capstone-750-M: 750W, 80 PLUS Gold
CPU CoolerIntel Boxed CoolerID Cooling SE-213Phanteks PH-TC14PE_BK
Platform Cost$440 $872 $1411
Storage DriveUses System DriveWD Blue WD10EZEX: 1TB, SATA 6Gb/s HDDWD Blue WD10EZEX: 1TB, SATA 6Gb/s HDD
OpticalLucky Goldstar GH24NSB0B: 24x DVD±R, 48x CD-RAsus DRW-24F1ST: 24x DVD±R, 48x CD-RAsus DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS: 24x DVD±R, 48x CD-R
CaseDIYPC M89-R microATXDIYPC Adventurer 9601RThermaltake Chaser A31 VP300A5W2N Blue
Total Hardware Cost$488 $1025 $1542
OSWindows 8.1 x64 OEMWindows 8.1 x64 OEMWindows 8.1 x64 OEM
Complete System Price$588 $1125 $1642

These were $588, $1100 and $1602 machines when we initially placed our orders. Let’s take a closer look at what happened, and how it affected our configurations.

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