Build-A-Rig Round 1 - $1500 Single Monitor Gaming PC

Last week we introduced our new Build-A-Rig project. At a high level, we ask two or three companies in the PC industry each round to configure a system to a budget. Then, with our partners Newegg, we build and test each system in glorious battle, along with interviewing the participants about how they approach the industry. Regardless of the winner, all the systems built are given away to our lucky readers. Imagine Top Gear UK’s ‘Star In A Reasonably Priced Car’, but instead of celebrities racing around a track, we let the configured PCs do the racing where both style and performance count. In this first round, we chose Corsair Memory and Zotac as the first head-to-head.

The Rules

When we approach the companies to configure within a budget, there are certain rules they have to follow in order to be fair:

  • All components must be available at at the time of selection (so no pre-choosing unreleased parts)
  • No combo deals will be considered
  • No mail-in-rebates will be considered
  • Components must be compatible
  • There will be sometime between configuration and giveaway, so a 3% leeway is given on the overall build budget if prices change
  • There is no compulsion to use the hardware of who you’re up against
  • Each round, we will let the companies competing know who they’re up against, but not the build until it is published on AnandTech
  • Each company must agree to an interview on their build

This means that whatever the budget, each participant might end up deciding a different sized build, or a different concept (Steam box or hardcore gaming). As we have found out, it also means that each participant has a stringent choice – either select their best components and perhaps have to reduce the rest of the build to fit the budget, or choose the best performance and only their own mid-or-low range hardware.

Of course, for each build by the companies that actually make the hardware, we also want our readers to chime in with their own thoughts. What would you do differently?

It should be noted that for Round 1, companies were asked to supply builds before June 10th, which is before the release of AMD’s Fury X.

The Contest

As this is Round 1 of our glorious project, we went straight in at a potential premium and asked our contestants to produce a specification list for a system that costs $1500, with a focus on single monitor gaming. For the parts list, this means the following:

  • Processor (CPU)
  • Motherboard
  • Graphics Card(s) (GPU)
  • Memory (DRAM)
  • Storage (SSD or HDD, or both)
  • Power Supply (PSU)
  • Chassis (Case)
  • CPU Cooling
  • Operating System
  • Extras

Obviously there are more elements to a full gaming system than this, particularly when discussing the monitor, keyboard, mouse, mouse mat and other utilities, although we will reserve the choice of some of those with a bigger budget to play with. Something like a monitor is arguably a 10-year lifecycle purchase, whereas keyboards and/or mice are either upgrades from something very simple or replacements when breaks occur.

Because we only specified $1500 for single monitor gaming, this opens up how both Corsair and Zotac have interpreted what this means and we get very different builds focusing on performance and style.

The Participants – Dustin Sklavos from Corsair Memory

Long time readers from AnandTech will recognize the name Dustin Sklavos. Dustin is a former AnandTech editor, and was our primary cases, cooling and power supplies reviewer from 2010 until 2013. Dustin had an uncanny ability to go through reviews at an alarming rate, and was not afraid to show his feelings about a product. Corsair poached him in the latter half of 2013 and ever since he has been part of their technical marketing division, finding ways in which Corsair products are useful to end-users and writing parts of Corsair’s blog, but also getting stuck in with product design and currently stands as the product manager for Corsair’s latest 4K mini-ITX gaming project, the Bulldog.

The Participants – Chinny Chuang and Buu Ly from Zotac

Chinny and I (Ian) met over five years ago while Chinny worked with Rosewill, Newegg’s house brand. At the time she was technically Dustin’s primary contact for supplying cases for review. But we met at a trade show and share a common love of felines. Chinny has now been at Zotac for almost two years, devising strategies to aid Zotac’s position in the North America market, particularly with mini-PCs (which is Ganesh’s domain) and graphics cards. Chinny is joined on this build and in the Interview by Buu Ly, a longtime colleague of Chinny and they always seem to end up at the same companies working together.

Up Next: Interview with Dustin Sklavos, Corsair Memory

Build-A-Rig R1: Interview with Dustin Sklavos (Corsair Memory)
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  • LeonMoreno - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    Sorry, but Zotac's build is complitely not thought-out, even nonsensical. Non-K, low clocked i5 with 970 is fine with me, only in an under $1K setup. Major flaws are: overpriced z97 board for non-K CPU, overpriced, overpowered PSU (bear in mind PSUs got a bracket when they hit their top efficiency), no point in non-K CPU watercooling when GPU stays aircooled (will be a weak point when gaming, my personal wish is to see one day GPUs with quiet, double 12cm fans for affordable price). RAM is also over the top, nice looking but You could find something cheaper, faster and still esthetic. Basically Zotac rig looks like designed by someone who never owned a PC, but rather works in funeral home. At least put some white or red or blue for contrast for Christ's sake?
  • etamin - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    You sir sound like a typical inexperienced builder with an inflated ego. The Zotac build has many upsides and If you can't see them, of course you will favor the raw performance capabilities of the Corsair build.
  • LeonMoreno - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    Are You trolling Me or what? What exactly are those upsides, other than aesthetics? Where did I mention favoring Corsair rig? Actually havn't looked at Corsair design that much, just noticed that after lots of deliberation and for slightly over 1K, I managed to build a PC with 4690K and 970, I just would not justify nearly 500$ or 33% more for PCs looks. Yes, Corsair's choice is not optimal, but I was reffering to Zotac's build. It could be done better, also it will be too dark inside if You plan to show it off. And watercooling a 88W CPU is waste of money when GPU stays cooled with 10cm high speed fans in a gaming PC.
  • Fiernaq - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    For a pure gaming rig at that cost I'd probably go a slightly different route but there's nothing terribly wrong with either Dustin's or Chinny's builds. I'll try to add an actual parts list in later but for now this is probably what I would look for in a $1500 gaming build:

    Case: Inexpensive but not rinky-dink. I'd probably want to spend between $80-$100 here.
    MB: Socket 1150 for the CPU. There are a lot of things to consider here but most of them are desired rather than required. I'd put an upper limit of about $150 here but would hope to spend a bit less, maybe $120 or so.
    CPU: Intel i5-4690K. No question. It hits the sweet spot for the price and desired use.
    CPU Cooler: Air for sure; maybe a Cryorig R1? I'd rather not drop down to a 212+ but there's not a whole lot of good options in the $40-$60 range I'd like to be in for this build.
    RAM: 2x4GB DDR3-1866 is actually a very good choice for this build although there are cheaper options even if you stay with Corsair. Expect about $60 for this.
    GPU: GTX 980. A 970 is to low and a 980ti is too high for 1440p on mid/low or 1080p on high which is about where I'd expect to be in this price range and the cost difference is also about right with a decent 980 such as the ASUS Strix coming in at around $500.
    SSD: Go with a 500GB one. Seriously. Steam. 'nuff said. If this wasn't a gaming computer then 256GB would be plenty. $200ish should do the trick.
    PSU: 600W should be plenty but this is one area where I would definitely ask about expected upgrade plans as the addition of a second GTX 980 card a year later would probably demand a bigger PSU and I'd rather get that now instead of having to upgrade both components simultaneously.
    Optical Drive: Get one. $20 for a regular DVD super-multi or splurge on a blu-ray if it's something important to you.
    OS: Win7 OEM. Why bother with anything more?

    A comment about the RAM since I know someone will ask - as a gamer with a recently built $2000+ computer who only put 2x4GB in it, I haven't needed more. A good chunk of my gaming is triple-A titles and I even keep a browser open on the second monitor sometimes with a few tabs open and not once has memory been an issue or even close to an issue for me. That said, I also work in IT and my laptop at work most assuredly has 12GB of RAM so I can run a VM with Win10 and at that point even 12GB is the minimum I'd want just to run one VM at a time. Likewise, if I streamed my gaming to Twitch or did other RAM intensive stuff I would probably want more than 8GB but the posted design specifications for this contest did not mention any of that kind of thing so for a pure gamer I think 8GB is fine.
  • Fiernaq - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    WTB an edit button for typos. Also an expandable comment box so I don't have to type everything up in Notepad and copy/paste.
  • Fiernaq - Friday, July 10, 2015 - link

    And here's what I came up with. I've set everything to override to Newegg prices and everything else on the checklist should be good as well. One question I couldn't find a mention of is shipping

    PCPartPicker part list:

    CPU: Intel Core i5-4690K 3.5GHz Quad-Core Processor ($239.99 @ Newegg)
    CPU Cooler: Noctua NH-D15 82.5 CFM CPU Cooler ($93.04 @ Newegg)
    Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z97X-UD3H-BK ATX LGA1150 Motherboard ($134.99 @ Newegg)
    Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1866 Memory ($52.99 @ Newegg)
    Storage: Samsung 850 EVO-Series 500GB 2.5" Solid State Drive ($161.99 @ Newegg)
    Video Card: MSI GeForce GTX 980 4GB Twin Frozr Video Card ($519.99 @ Newegg)
    Case: Fractal Design Define R4 w/Window (Titanium Grey) ATX Mid Tower Case ($99.99 @ Newegg)
    Power Supply: EVGA SuperNOVA G2 550W 80+ Gold Certified Fully-Modular ATX Power Supply ($89.99 @ Newegg)
    Optical Drive: Asus DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS DVD/CD Writer ($19.99 @ Newegg)
    Operating System: Microsoft Windows 8.1 OEM (64-bit) ($99.99 @ Newegg)

    Total: $1512.95

    Comments: The NH-D15 is probably overkill for the amount of overclocking most people making this computer would bother with but that also means you can run it at lower RPMs most of the time. A 550W PSU should be just about perfect for this build but if you're worried that overclocking will require more then you could bumpt up to the 650W version of the same PSU for just $10 more. If you're looking at the total cost and saying "It's over $1500", well, unlike some people, I included an optical drive and besides, it's still well within the 3% margin and you could build this for significantly less if you bought some items from other vendors such as NCIX. Or you could drop to the CoolerMaster 212 Evo CPU cooler if you're still worried about staying within budget.
  • Impulses - Tuesday, July 14, 2015 - link

    The Thermalright TRUE Spirits have been around for a few years and are often overlooked, but for precisely $45-55 they perform much closer to the premium $70+ HSF units than a $30 212+.
  • Fiernaq - Thursday, July 16, 2015 - link

    I may give those a try at some point. Went over some reviews of them and as usual in the air cooling segment nobody can seem to agree on how good they actually are but at least nobody thinks they're terrible. Most of the reviews seemed to put it at least as good if not slightly better than the 212 Evo and some reviews were much better. Doyll from overclock recommended them which is usually a good sign.
  • Stuka87 - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    I really like the idea of this contest.

    Wanted Chinny to win, but Dustin's choice of components is going to win from a performance standpoint. Although I think Chinny's will be the nicer looking of the two.
  • Uplink10 - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    My thoughts:
    -GIGABYTE GA-Z97X-UD3H-BK is a mistake, $140 is too much for a motherboard, you can get similar for $90
    -CORSAIR Dominator Platinum 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1866, $84 is too much better to buy this kit "ADATA XPG V1.0 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 " for $43

    Buying K processors and Z motherboards is also a mistake because that is the way today's customers are being cheated into paying more just so they have the option to raise the max frequency to an unspecified one. And that is not why people first started to overclock.

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