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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  • Ian Cutress - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    We specified this build as $1500 single monitor gaming, and left it at that. It was up to the entrant to decide if that was 1080p, 1440p or 4K, or if that meant steambox type arrangements or hardcore PC type builds. We specify budget and direction, and the rest is up to them. That means they have to consider the audience they're building for, and design appropriately. If we lock it down too much, we end up with minor variations of case, CPU and GPU.

    If you've got an idea for a future budget / build aim, e.g. $700 HTPC, let me know. I'm compiling a list of what people are requesting for future rounds of the project.
  • Freaky_Angelus - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    Good day Ian,

    Not so much requesting but merely suggesting that the already proposed 'console' idea gets a more separate field or the HTPC needs Audio as a required component.

    For me HTPC means showing exactly that, Home Theater and would be stuck at 4 requirements:
    - Playback video
    - Audio delivery
    - Design
    - Storage

    $700 is rather high (considering my now old HTPC of €350) for just a htpc build, the upgrade to 4K (don't have, but it can barely do that) is minimal on that. You'll need a full Home Theater build (including audio approach i.m.o.) to make it interesting on $700.

    If you'd expand that direction towards a Console HTPC, as gamer1000k did, regardles of budget for the competition, you'll have a direction that can go many ways. You define the TV and state: "Budget X and build a console HTPC for this TV. Room has couch, go fill!"

    With the same $1500, gamer1000k will now have a (close to) perfect console, but no way to listen to music except the earplugs his phone brought with him ;) That may make the overall competition more challenging as I'm afraid this current setup will see a lot of i5 4660/4760K etc cores combined with 960/970/980 selections.
  • Freaky_Angelus - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    Sorry, obvious the TV has some speakers but no self-respecting movie fan will disagree you need more than that ;) so in advance, yes gamer1000k could also listen through the TV!
  • wrkingclass_hero - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    I wish that the Build-A-Rig contest was champion format, with the previous winner returning to face the new challenger, that way I get to see Dustin kick everyones' asses as the perennial champ.
  • Galcobar - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    Noticed in a few spots that specs for parts weren't filled in; i.e. on The Accelerator build page the GPU draws 2xx watts.
  • Ian Cutress - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    Thanks for the catch! I wrote some of this offline while travelling and didn't have immediate access to the data, then didn't see it on the copy edit runs. I found two of the missing bits of info - any more let me know. :)
  • leopard_jumps - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    PCPartPicker part list:
    Price breakdown by merchant:

    CPU: Intel Xeon E3-1241 V3 3.5GHz Quad-Core Processor ($263.99 @ SuperBiiz)
    Motherboard: MSI Z97-GAMING 5 ATX LGA1150 Motherboard ($139.99 @ SuperBiiz)
    Memory: G.Skill Ares Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1866 Memory ($53.99 @ Newegg)
    Storage: Samsung 850 EVO-Series 250GB 2.5" Solid State Drive ($97.99 @ Amazon)
    Video Card: EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti 6GB Superclocked+ ACX 2.0+ Video Card ($688.99 @ B&H)
    Case: Corsair 300R ATX Mid Tower Case ($49.99 @ Newegg)
    Power Supply: SeaSonic G 550W 80+ Gold Certified Semi-Modular ATX Power Supply ($78.99 @ SuperBiiz)
    Operating System: Microsoft Windows 8.1 OEM (64-bit) ($86.98 @ OutletPC)
    Total: $1460.91
    Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available
    Generated by PCPartPicker 2015-07-09 03:34 EDT-0400
  • OregonSlacker - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    Chinny gets my vote for personality, build looks and overall fun, Dustin gets my vote for Tech Knowledge and Choice of hardware... as a gamer I'd have to admit I'd rather have Dustin's build , overclocking ability, more ram and the 980ti over the faulted 970 any day of the week. Sorry Chinny, we still love you and hope to see ya soon again at PDXlan! -OregonSlacker aka Shane Dickson
  • Chinny Chuang - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    Yeah...I totally agree; I would like to go for the GTX 980 Ti AMP if it was available while we finished the build. I love Dustin's too; hopefully I will see you guys soon! 😊
  • OC'd Packrat - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    Both builds are quite nice, but Dustin's seems to have a more cohesive selection of components with the nice 4690k-980ti pair powered by a reasonable 650W PSU, with 16GB of ram for about the same price as Good Lookin's 8GB. An H100i might be overkill for Good Lookin's non-overclocking CPU (save $30-$40 here!), and the PSU may never quite make use of its larger wattage, but Zotac's build does seem to fulfill its cool, quiet minimalist goals.

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