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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  • timslin101 - Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - link

    I like your build. I think the 970 is a great GPU for the price and I love that case. I'd probably build something smaller with an ITX build though.
    Something like below:
    Processor: 4690K
    Motherboard: Maximus VII Impact
    GPU: Asus GTX970 Mini Direct Cu
    RAM: Vengence Pro 2x8GB
    Storage: SM951 256GB
    PSU: Silverstone ST50F-P
    Case: Silverstone SG13B
    CPU cooling: Corsair H90
    OS: Windows 8.1 64bit OEM
    Extras: Noctua NF-A14

    Cost 1490 total, the PP05-e cables be nice also, but you would go a little over.
    Get Wifi, ridiculously fast SSD, decent CPU and GPU, all in a very small and quiet package. I have a very large and loud PC built in 08. I am tired of that and value small and quiet very highly.
  • Drumsticks - Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - link

    I like your build! As others have said, looks matter, and yours wins out there. I think I agree with a few of the points said by some - the power supply is certainly good enough for a 4460/970 config, perhaps overly so, and 16GB could be nice (although I personally fall under the "8GB really is fine for gaming" camp but I could be wrong :P). But overall, I like clean and quiet, personally.
  • Mr. Beige - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    I like the concept of your build better than the other one - it's far more balanced all around, and more forward-looking rather than just getting the absolute best CPU/GPU you can get right now and leaving the other parts with the leftover budget.

    That said, the choice of CPU/Cooler/Motherboard doesn't seem to mesh well together. If you're going with a non-overclocked CPU, why not save some money and get a non-overclocking motherboard and a cheaper cooler?
  • hulu - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    With a Z97 motherboard you can upgrade the computer to a GTX 970 SLI setup. The power supply seems to be selected with this in mind as well.
  • Stuka87 - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    Your system is certainly the better looking of the two, and its well balanced for the average person. Both systems are great, just pointed to slightly different audiences.
  • Sushisamurai - Friday, July 10, 2015 - link

    It's a good build Chinny!
  • losergamer04 - Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - link

    I actually prefer Chinny's. I think it's the one I would rather build. Though, I would swap down to a 120mm cooler and go to a K CPU along with an AMD card because it, too, is liquid cooled. That way it's still quiet and can OC.
  • fokka - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    with a k CPU and a liquid cooled fury x you would have a quite similar build to dustin's though.
  • etamin - Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - link

    Am I the only one here who genuinely prefers the Zotac build?

    I'm a an infrequent gamer, but I've built many systems for all kinds of purposes including heavy gaming. Here are the issues I have with the Corsair build:

    - Pairing a 980 Ti with a Corsair CS PSU isn't a configuration I'd feel comfortable delivering to a client, since the majority of them expect 6+ years of use on the non-GPU core components.
    - From my experience, the single radiator AIO coolers have underperformed cheaper air coolers (I've used the H50/H70/H80/H100) without reducing noise, since the bundled fans aren't great. So it's dual rads or none for me...Zotac got this right with the H100i.
    - Then there's the makes no sense to me why a case for a $1500 build, whatever the end purpose, does not have removable dust filters in the front! These cases are an instant pass whenever I check vendor inventories because they are unusably annoying to maintain. Another point for Zotac here.
    - And now the biggest, most glaring flaw of the Corsair build...who in their right mind would pick that particular Gigabyte board for an overclocked system? Look at the dinky power delivery on it and tell me that's safe to OC for hours of 4K gaming on end! I would think Dustin would know better than that. Then again, these systems were built to be given away, not for the builders' long term personal use, so I can see why this "detail" was overlooked.

    In the other corner, Zotac considered aesthetics, which I can really relate to as someone who builds for others. The client is ALWAYS impressed if the system looks presentable no matter the components, so I take this decision by Zotac a good move for sweepstakes purposes.

    Now before anyone calls me a Zotac fanboy or a Corsair hater, I'd like to add that I have never seen a Zotac part in person, let alone used one. However, I have used quite a few Corsair products but can only praise a few...namely the Dominators, AX/AXi PSUs, and Obsidian cases.

    My criticisms of the Zotac build mainly lie with the choice of RAM, not so much the amount of RAM, since I still think 8GB is enough for 95% of users including gamers. Dominators are awesome, but they're a luxury product and I wouldn't consider them for budgets under $2500. I would also have swapped the Crucial BX for a Intel 730 SSD of half the capacity only because the 730 is an older, proven reliable design.
  • etamin - Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - link

    And now to enter the giveaway hoping I get the Zotac to use as a secondary PC, or the Corsair as a part-out for cash >:D

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