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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  • OC'd Packrat - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    Also, Dustin's serious/competitive face is adorable.
  • flyingpants1 - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    Oh my god.. This is terrible. Here's the fixed version

    $1250 for i5 4690/GTX 980, with money left over to upgrade RAM and SSD
  • Ian Cutress - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    Single Channel DDR3-1600 C11 DRAM to start? Though it's an interesting component selection. The 80 Bronze is suitable though is a lower rating than the ones used by Corsair and Zotac. I'd stick in 16GB 2133 and 500GB SSD there, see how close that takes you to the budget. Obviously for the BAR project, we're working in association with Newegg for pricing.
  • OceanGrown - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    My vote goes to Zotac Chinny and Buu.

    The games I play the most on a daily basis are DOTA2, LOL, CSGO, TF2, some indie games, and occasional AAA titles. The GTX970 is more than enough for my use, and this OC version has the same performance as the GTX980. I also prefer the after market triple fan coolers, as it will keep my card at much lower temp compared to the reference 980Ti blower type cooler. Not to say the 980Ti is not a beast, but when you crank up the graphic settings on demanding games the 980Ti single fan really speeds up and and it can get quite hot and noisy.

    I also enjoy the 500GB SSD path, as it more of a realistic everyday gaming PC which I can enjoy storing much more games/data.

    I also like the appeal consideration of this gaming system, to include cable wraps and accent lighting and see through side window. This makes my gaming PC not an eye sore.

    Overall, I like the Zotac system because it is much more of a "balanced" system. It may not win in a toe to toe comparison against the 980Ti beast, but it is definitely suitable for a everyday gamer like myself.
  • 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: ASRock Z97 Anniversary ATX LGA1150 Motherboard ($82.98 @ Newegg)
    Memory: Corsair Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($47.99 @ Newegg)
    Storage: Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive ($52.49 @ OutletPC)
    Video Card: EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti 6GB Superclocked+ ACX 2.0+ Video Card ($688.99 @ B&H)
    Case: Enermax ECA3253-BW ATX Mid Tower Case ($39.99 @ Directron)
    Power Supply: Antec EarthWatts Green 650W 80+ Bronze Certified ATX Power Supply ($64.99 @ Amazon)
    Operating System: Microsoft Windows 8.1 OEM (64-bit) ($86.98 @ OutletPC)
    Monitor: Acer H236HLbid 60Hz 23.0" Monitor ($129.99 @ Newegg)
    Total: $1458.39
    Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available
    Generated by PCPartPicker 2015-07-09 05:32 EDT-0400
  • SilentRunning - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    Why is the same OS $20 more expensive for the Zotac?
  • Ian Cutress - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    OEM version vs Full version. Full comes with 32-bit and 64-bit, also longer support. OEM is designed for single machines from SIs only, so is sold as 32-bit or 64-bit with only a year of support.
  • SilentRunning - Friday, July 10, 2015 - link

    So then the hyperlink is wrong for the Zotac build. Both builds point to the same newegg item N82E16832416776 Windows 8.1 64 bit OEM.
  • fokka - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    because it's the full retail version and not an OEM version for a single build.
  • leopard_jumps - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    $900 rig

    PCPartPicker part list:
    Price breakdown by merchant:

    CPU: Intel Core i5-4590 3.3GHz Quad-Core Processor ($189.95 @ SuperBiiz)
    Motherboard: ASRock H97M PRO4 Micro ATX LGA1150 Motherboard ($79.89 @ OutletPC)
    Memory: Corsair Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($47.99 @ Newegg)
    Storage: Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive ($52.49 @ OutletPC)
    Video Card: Zotac GeForce GTX 970 4GB Video Card ($314.99 @ B&H)
    Case: Deepcool TESSERACT BF ATX Mid Tower Case ($44.98 @ Newegg)
    Power Supply: XFX 550W 80+ Bronze Certified ATX Power Supply ($58.99 @ SuperBiiz)
    Operating System: Microsoft Windows 8.1 OEM (64-bit) ($86.98 @ OutletPC)
    Total: $876.26
    Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available
    Generated by PCPartPicker 2015-07-09 07:22 EDT-0400

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