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)
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • fokka - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    ok, first off, i'm not surprised that dustin's rig comes out ahead, what's surprising though is how far ahead it comes out.

    squeezing a 980ti into the budget is a great start and i think he's right saying a 1500$ single screen rig should be able to run a 4k resolution. even with throwing almost half the budget on a single component he still manages to include a great CPU, tons of storage, while not really skimping on the rest of the components.

    compared to that, the zotac build is almost a joke. a gtx 970 in a 1500 rig seems almost aneamic next to dustin's 980ti and they manage to significantly downgrade the CPU and RAM as well, without saving more than a just couple bucks. but somehow this non-overclocked CPU has to be expensiveley water cooled with a 240mm radiator...

    it's also funny how dustin manages to drive a 980ti and an overclocked 5690k with a 650w PSU, while the zotac build throws in an oversized and overprized 750w PSU for a much lesser build.

    reading the interview it starts to make a bit more sense, with the zotac marketing guys "not really being gamers" and using tablets and iphones for their everyday stuff.

    thinking about it i can still only shake my head looking at the zotac build and unless dustin's rig catches fire, i think we already know the winner of this round.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    I wouldn't knock Chinny and Buu's rig, they made decisions that went in a different direction than mine but are no less valid.

    They focused less on absolute performance and more on overall experience. They wanted something that looked great and would run quietly, and I guarantee you their build is quieter than mine. The H100i seems a bit like overkill, but those fans will *never* have to spin up. Likewise, overspeccing on the PSU isn't necessarily a bad thing as again, that PSU's fan will almost never have to spin up.

    I also have to give them props for thinking to include a way to actually *install* their copy of Windows, which I missed. ;)
  • leopard_jumps - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    i5 4460 is absolutely unacceptable for $1500 . The second rig in the article is not balanced at all .
  • leopard_jumps - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    i5 4460 is absolutely unacceptable for $1500 rig . The second rig in the article is not balanced at all .
  • AssBall - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    The Zotac rig is a nice build. Those extra's really sharpen it up, and a 500gb drive is a good choice. That being said, I do like Corsair's CPU cooler and will be looking into that Carbide 200 for my next build.

    Great write up and fun article, Anandtech. Looking forward to more of these in the future.
  • PolarisOrbit - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    This looks interesting, I hope to see a bunch of different perspectives on computer builds with different companies representing each build. One thing I don't like about other site build-a-thons is the tendency for the competitors to make unrealistic builds since the winners are based purely on performance. A system where $1000 was spent on GPUs and only $80 storage may benchmark well, but it's completely impractical. Things that don't have good benchmark measures still have practical value to consumers (like the space savings of ITX compared to EATX), and I will be interested to see how Anandtech accounts such things in the competition.
  • echoe - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    As most people are saying, Dustin's system is way more performant. If I were to go for a 970 I'd probably try to get a 5820k in there, something like this:
    I don't really like the looks of Chinny's system either, though the lower noise is attractive.
  • BrokenCrayons - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    I personally prefer Chinny's build as a more balanced approach that acknowledges acoustics and cabling, but I admit it's a very tough choice and Dustin's specs are appealing from a performance perspective. For me, it's a wash on CPUs since overclocking doesn't matter at all to me and I think either processor is enough for any modern games. 8GB of RAM is something of a liability that will loom larger in the near future and I admit that I think 16GB is a wiser choice. The GPU is important, but I can't see 4k gaming actually adding value. It strikes me as resolution for the sake of resolution so I wouldn't consider the GPU difference very relevant. What ends up making the decision for me is storage. A 500GB SSD is a ton more useful when games regularly require well over 50GB. I'd rather have to keep the resolution down a little than juggle titles or purchase a some sort of additional storage right away.
  • Impulses - Tuesday, July 14, 2015 - link

    Dustin's system needs a HDD... But I'm baffled by the sudden notion that all games *must* be installed on NAND flash... (not to pick in your post in particular)

    There's games where load times don't even change dramatically because the bottleneck is at the CPU/GPU unpacking compressed stuff, and even if that isn't the case, I'd probably put just about everything else over load times (aesthetics, noise, fps, etc) if that's the last thing to get cut on a budget.

    That being said, I'm about to replace my 2x128GB SSD for a 1TB (possibly two later) so I can move everything I use with any frequency to flash. :p

    Die HDDs die! I just don't think it'd be my priority over most other things, specially since it's one of the easier things to address down the road AND one area where prices are highly volatile. Case in point, the 500GB 850 EVO currently floating over $160...

    I'd expect more price drops with everyone else getting into TLC/3D NAND and PCI-E/M2 drives taking over the premium sector.
  • Wraithtek - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    Here's what I came up with:

    In short: An i5-4690k + GTX 970 system with 500GB SSD + 1TB 7200RPM HDD and quiet air cooling. Threw in a blu-ray drive and spare 140mm fan. $1501.70 (before $15 shipping). A nice all around system with a bit more storage space.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now