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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  • coconutboy - Friday, July 10, 2015 - link

    And oh yeah... if I really had to pick a winner...

    Dustin and Corsair's The Accelerator. GTX 980ti is the trump card in this gamer rig contest/
  • needforsuv - Saturday, July 11, 2015 - link

    i shelled out for an i7, 16 gb of ram and a 720 psu in 2012 and right not NONE of it looks dated in fact i am shoehorning in a strix 980 ti and a 612 pwm soon
    also i think 1080p is fine when i've yet to see a review truly push everything down to aa and ao and whatnot
  • Impulses - Tuesday, July 14, 2015 - link

    Ehh, the $50 in cables and lights might look cool to some, but stock cables are arguably neater since they're easier to route and tug taunt...

    The whole braided cable trend still goes over my head, back in the day we worked our butts off to fold or cut/round PATA cables so we wouldn't have large flat cables sticking out... Now people go out of their way to even stick combs into individually braided runs so it lays flat and visible.

    I'm not knocking the choice in the name of aesthetics, I've done things in that vein that probably seem silly to others too, I just don't personally get why it's fashionable.

    Cable braiding started as a trend for individual odd colored cables you couldn't mask any other way (like a fan's), the aftermarket PSU cable replacements just seem like the closest thing to bling inside a desktop.
  • needforsuv - Saturday, July 11, 2015 - link

    i focused my current build on mainly workstation performance which means good CPU and RAM so normal parts were used mainly because I see nothing wrong with them (yes i have kingmax memory) but the important things had no expense spared:
    CPU: i7 2600 - should and does give me tons of futureproof upgrade options w/o bottlenecks
    RAM: 16 GB 1333mhz - who cares what brand it is if it works...
    GPU: GTX 560 1GB (Seems insuffient for me at the time but coming from a 9500 GT I left it)
    HDD: 1TB 7200 rpm Primary and whatever else it has accumulated over the years (MANY TB)
    CASE: TT V4 Black - not too fussed here
    PSU: 720W E720 - I felt the 500 odd watt psu included was not enough, but If it works...

    current state:
    GTX 560 failed due to I suspect the workloads I've been giving it so GT 730 1GB 64 bit DDR3 is whats in my pc now until my STRIX GTX 980 Ti arrives
    Having now accumulated many TB of hard drives I still feel that I am safe with a 720W peak psu
    CPU is fine but stock cooler has to go... in goes a 612 pwm

    Changes that I would've like:
    Maybe a better PSU
    A standard ATX MB vs the Micro-ATX that was included
  • TallestJon96 - Monday, July 13, 2015 - link

    Not to be mean, but Dustin's Build absolutely demolishes Chinny's. I own a 970, but the 980 ti is nearly twice as powerful. Additionally, the i5 is somewhat better. If you guys do benchmarks, I would expect Dustin's to be 60-80% more powerful, and for the same price!
  • GusSmed - Friday, July 17, 2015 - link

    I find some of the choices in both builds kind of odd. Namely, storage seems a bit light in both - even the 500 GB SSD. 500 GB is plenty for games, but who among us doesn't us our gaming PCs for other things? In the real world, it's a little crazy not to spend $50-$100 to add a hard drive to the SSD for bulk storage of photos, videos, and music that almost everyone does store, and make the PC a lot more versatile for a very small outlay. Yeah, it cuts into the $1500 budget, but isn't this supposed to be about realistic builds?
  • manweor - Tuesday, July 28, 2015 - link

    I personally would spend much less even on a gaming build, but if I wanted good value I would go with:
    PCPartPicker part list:
    Price breakdown by merchant:

    CPU: Intel Core i5-4460 3.2GHz Quad-Core Processor ($176.95 @ SuperBiiz)
    CPU Cooler: Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO 82.9 CFM Sleeve Bearing CPU Cooler ($25.98 @ OutletPC)
    Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SLI ATX LGA1150 Motherboard ($118.88 @ OutletPC)
    Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($44.99 @ Newegg)
    Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($44.99 @ Newegg)
    Storage: Crucial BX100 250GB 2.5" Solid State Drive ($83.99 @ Newegg)
    Storage: Seagate Barracuda 1TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive ($48.89 @ OutletPC)
    Video Card: Gigabyte Radeon R9 290 4GB WINDFORCE Video Card (2-Way CrossFire) ($242.98 @ Newegg)
    Video Card: Gigabyte Radeon R9 290 4GB WINDFORCE Video Card (2-Way CrossFire) ($242.98 @ Newegg)
    Case: Phanteks Enthoo Pro ATX Full Tower Case ($99.99 @ Amazon)
    Power Supply: SeaSonic Platinum 1000W 80+ Platinum Certified Fully-Modular ATX Power Supply ($187.04 @ Newegg)
    Operating System: Microsoft Windows 8.1 OEM (64-bit) ($86.98 @ OutletPC)
    Total: $1404.64 -> $1506 without rebates
    Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available
    Generated by PCPartPicker 2015-07-28 09:35 EDT-0400

    Of course crossfire performance might vary, but on average you should get better performance than both their builds. Right now r9 290 are stupidly cheap while still yielding very good performance. Even if CF is not working you still have a really good card, nearly on par with the gtx 970.

    If I wanted to stick with Chinni's build I would get an Evo as cpu cooler for 30$, a good seasonic 620 Bronze PSU for 80$, a cheaper MOBO for 90$ and save on those 70$ of niceties, saving 240$ and getting the exact same performance.

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