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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  • Silesius - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    Loved the article. IMO while performance wise Dustin's build is great, I think the days where computers are an ugly beast should be over. So I'm more aligned with Chinny's philosophy of building, even if it could use some improvement.

    Since the Fury launch I been wondering how small can you go with that kind of performance on Mini-ITX. Is a build like this possible?

    PCPartPicker part list:
    Price breakdown by merchant:

    CPU: Intel Core i5-4670K 3.4GHz Quad-Core Processor ($234.99 @ Amazon)
    CPU Cooler: Thermaltake Water 3.0 Pro 99.0 CFM Liquid CPU Cooler
    Motherboard: MSI Z97I AC Mini ITX LGA1150 Motherboard ($127.99 @ SuperBiiz)
    Memory: Corsair Vengeance Pro 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3-2400 Memory ($104.99 @ Micro Center)
    Storage: Crucial BX100 500GB 2.5" Solid State Drive ($179.99 @ Adorama)
    Video Card: XFX Radeon R9 Fury X 4GB Video Card ($676.93 @ Amazon)
    Case: Thermaltake Core V1 Mini ITX Tower Case ($37.99 @ Micro Center)
    Power Supply: Corsair CSM 650W 80+ Gold Certified Semi-Modular ATX Power Supply ($87.47 @ Amazon)
    Operating System: Microsoft Windows 8.1 OEM (64-bit) ($86.98 @ OutletPC)
    Total: $1537.33
    Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available
    Generated by PCPartPicker 2015-07-09 18:27 EDT-0400

    I know that the Thermaltake Core V1 can accomodate Fury's water pump mounting it on the front instead of the 200mm fan. This would make a sweet looking machine and silent as well.
  • BrokenCrayons - Friday, July 10, 2015 - link

    I've been interested in ITX form factors since VIA had acquired Cyrix and the IDT Winchip teams to sell their low-power C3 processors on Epia motherboards. They were sort of leading the charge for "adequate performing" low heat/noise/power computing in the first half of the last decade. Since the Atom came around, I used a Zotac motherboard with the ION chipset and an Atom 330. It was a fun little bite-sized system that I loved for how well it worked as a carryable system for LAN parties. While I think the Fury X isn't quite there yet because it requires you find space someplace for the watercooler which ultimate makes the card about the same total size as any other modern, high-end GPU, I'm excited to see what HBM can do to help more practical, cost-effective GPUs that are smaller, half-height cards cooled with a small HSF or can run with just a passive heatsink.
  • Ryan Smith - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    I have removed some inappropriate and overall completely sad posts from the article. This is not Tinder; if you wish to continue being able to post comments, please behave like an adult.
  • Southrncomfortjm - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    I like mine:
  • theMillen - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    BAM! 1496 after rebate (1554 before rebates) covers the essentials, but i believe with an i7 after dx12 becomes more prevelant, the extra threads may be more useful in a gaming capacity. 8gb of well reviewed ddr3 1600, 250gb 850 evo also well reviewed, but better yet, a non-reference 980 ti (and one of the best out right now)! the only downside is that you will have to use windows 10 tech insider for the forseable future (or until find a sale to move to retail license) but since m$ is being ms and letting you beta test past RTM there isn't a huge issue, as ive been testing mine on a rig only a little beefier than the one here with no issues well BEFORE RTM... and here you go! (oh did i forget to mention the sexy new design r5 is in there :-p along with an h100i to keep you i7 nice and cool while oc'd ;))
  • ruthan - Friday, July 10, 2015 - link

    Hmm, only 2 competitors in the race, this is boring, its like soccer league with 2 teams.

    About rigs im very disappointed - i would not recommend such build to my friends, Dustin build - is strongly crippled by only 240 GB disk=> whole machine for real user is joke, sorry but gaming computer in 2015 with 240 GB storage- you could have installed up to 5 games - great experience.
    Other build is very boring without any interesting idea with lots gimmicks included and as icing is there noisy Zotac G970..

    Half of readers would do better job.
  • BrokenCrayons - Friday, July 10, 2015 - link

    There should be more competition later in other budget brackets in the same format if I understand how things are supposed to be setup, but comparing more than two computers from two different companies might get pretty complicated to keep track of from a reader perspective and tougher to present in a single article. Besides, this isn't supposed to be an out-for-blood competition. It's more just for fun and a great way to stage a hardware giveaway so try not to take it too seriously.

    Besides that, I really like how both Corsair and Zotac are able to reach out to their customers through this competition. Lots of us aren't surprised to see Dustin interacting in the comments section given his history with Anandtech in the past, but it's great to know other companies like Zotac are willing to interact with and listen to potential buyers on a personal level that goes beyond just marketing material, RMA support, and the stuff written on the outside of a product box.
  • Sushisamurai - Friday, July 10, 2015 - link

    Nice! Zotac's build is actually pretty close to a new budget system I was thinking of building. I differ only in power supply, SSD/HDD, GPU (AMD).
  • chittychitty - Friday, July 10, 2015 - link

    I vote for Dustin's build.
  • coconutboy - Friday, July 10, 2015 - link

    Was really looking forward to these series of contests, and not just for the giveaway either. Ya'll didn't disappoint. The interview segment is great and really humanizes what would otherwise be a more sterile affair; keep this up! major kudos to Anandtech, Zotac and Corsair. I'm honestly really excited about these competitions, woo hoo!

    As far as crowning a champ, a lot of people posting in these comments are taking a very narrow view of what constitutes a "winner". I really appreciate that Dustin and Chinny/Buu took different approaches and both had portions of their builds that I would incorporate, and other parts that I would never touch. Specifically:

    - I treat my computer chassis much like monitors, so I keep them for ~7-10 years and they sit ON my desk. This also means I am extremely concerned with noise and will not tolerate 50dB, much less the annoying whine & whoosh of blower reference gpus. With that in mind, no way would I ever buy the low-end cases recommended here. If Chinny or Dustin went that route, they'd get crucified in the comments by people favoring a different case so of course they went cheap. However, I'll bet a lot of us Anandtech readers spend over $100 on our cases. It might cost more the first time out, but it saves dollars the next time around when we don't need to upgrade our cheap-o POS. Similarly, I liked Chinny's cabling upgrades to keep things nice 'n' neat because that's something I'd do with my build (even though I'm not too fond of windows which, combined, probably causes conflict with some folk's sensibilities). Her choice of mobo & 750w PSU is major overkill tho, and wastes ~$70-90 that coulda gone elsewhere.

    - I wouldn't consider building a 4k system for another 2-3 years because, for my tastes, it's currently too expensive versus the enjoyment I'd get out of spending that money on an overseas vacation or one of the upcoming VR headsets. This is the same reason I never built a 3-monitor or 3d gaming setup. Early adopters pay top $$ and often get burned. But that's just my opinon, and with 4k becoming more and more affordable, it's great to see Dustin tapping into the new Triplehead/Eyefinity/3d Surround.

    - I really like gamer100k's build as a different approach, but it's horribly deficient for my noise-sensitive tastes. I LOVE the case, but a gtx 980ti in that thing is gonna be a jet engine. The tiny ssd and 8GB of RAM are also deal-breakers.

    Without digging through newegg, if it was my rig, I wouldn't need a case or PSU so I'd save right there. I'd also settle for nothing less than:

    - 16GB RAM
    - gtx 970 (great for now, saves money for a huge upgrade when something new hits in 2016-17)
    - 500GB ssd
    - 2TB hdd (local storage trumps NAS/media server, which I'd still have anyhow)
    - closed-loop cpu cooler

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