Last quarter 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 round, given the timing as school is starting, we chose SilverStone and Crucial with a budget of $800 for a back-to-school system.

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 sometimes be a price difference 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 2, companies were asked to supply builds before September 25th. This makes sourcing Skylake parts somewhat troublesome.

Previous Build-A-Rig Rounds

Here are links to our Build-A-Rig Introduction and previous challengers:

Round 1: $1500 Single Monitor Gaming PC
Corsair's 'The Accelerator', as chosen by Dustin Sklavos (Interview, Breakdown, Build Log, Results)
Zotac's 'Hey Good Lookin', as chosen by Chinny Chuang (Interview, Breakdown, Build Log, Results)

The Contest

This is Round 2 of our glorious project, and given the September-October timeframe, we asked our contestants to produce a specification list for a system that costs $800, with a focus on back-to-school operation. 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 system than this, particularly when discussing the monitor, keyboard, mouse, mouse mat and other utilities, although we will reserve that choice of rounds 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 $800, this opens up how both SilverStone and Crucial have interpreted what this means and we get very different builds focusing on performance and style.

The Participants – Tony Ou from SilverStone Technology

Despite the look of youth, Tony is an industry veteran. We first crossed paths back at Computex 2011, my first major industry event, and I was instantly struck by Tony’s own knowledge about his own product lines and how they fit into the industry as a whole. Every case has a story to tell, and I remember the discussions we had around the push for a Thunderbolt-based graphics dock, as well as some words about the difficulties of producing such a device. Tony is very much into his gaming PC cases as well as the small form factor builds, echoing the sentiment of his employer.

The Participants – Jeremy Mortenson from Crucial (Micron)

The best way to think of Crucial is a brand of Micron, whereby Crucial sells more to end-users and Micron focuses on DRAM IC production, NAND, and business customers. Jeremy covers both, and like Tony he has been in this industry a good number of years and flexes that knowledge to the fullest. This leads to some interesting conversations around the $800 build here, as Jeremy has approached the build somewhat differently for the cooling and OS choice than I suspect 95% of our potential participants would have done. He's also an avid gamer, with a collection stretching back over 20 years of important industry titles.

Up Next: Interview with Tony Ou (SilverStone Technology)

Build-A-Rig R2: Interview with Tony Ou (SilverStone Technology)
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  • jgarcows - Wednesday, October 14, 2015 - link

    I can't believe the SSD he picked for the first system. For $20 more, he could have had the 250 GB version of the BX100. That would have let him drop the 1TB HDD (why bother with the hassle of a second drive for so little additional storage) and given him $40 more to spend somewhere else.
  • cknobman - Tuesday, October 13, 2015 - link

    Two excellent builds!!

    I am torn as well since both have distinct advantages and disadvantage.

    Good thing is neither build has a crippling disadvantage.

    Great case choices too :)

    Crucial has the storage and processor advantage.
    Silverstone has the gaming advantage.

    I'd be happy to own either one but if I absolutely had to pick one it would be the Silverstone and I would probably put it in my media room and hook it up to my plasma TV.
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, October 13, 2015 - link

    More or less how I feel; with the caveat that by going equally far over budget Crucial could match Silverstone in the gaming dept.

    If I was going to tweak either design, I'd probably dump the HDD and go with a budget 512GB SSD as my sole storage. As long as you're not collecting TV/Movie rips it's plenty of space, and having done it in the past I really don't like the idea of having to deal with split storage again. Even with an SSD big enough to handle everything but media files it was still a hassle.
  • fokka - Tuesday, October 13, 2015 - link

    good points. i agree that the crucial build should have gone with the 960, while still not costing more than the silverstone rig. but of course the builders didn't know their respective hardware choices, so pitfalls like this aren't surprising.

    i like your idea with the 512gb ssd. personally i need more than 256gb of storage, but i don't really need more than 512gb. omitting the hdd would be a good way to save a couple of bucks so you can upgrade the ssd and have a simpler setup with better performance. you also save some power and have less vibrations, but i guess that's not that big of a deal in a gaming system.
  • coconutboy - Thursday, October 15, 2015 - link

    Good summary Dan. I'm really like that Milo case (Thermaltake Cube isn't bad either), but it'd be tough to argue against Jeremy's build if he had a 512GB ssd and a gtx 960.

    Too bad the deadline was so far back, because in the past 3 weeks or so, there have been a number of 500GB+ Crucial/Samsung ssds for $130-150. Given that option, I wonder if Tony/Jeremy would have ditched their hdds and gone all in on ssds?
  • BrokenCrayons - Tuesday, October 13, 2015 - link

    Like fokka said, this is a much closer call than the higher budget systems (though I really preferred Hey Good Lookin :) between those two). Each of these systems has distinctive advantages and they both show thought and care in component choices. Milo has some future-proofing with respect to CPU upgrades, a really nice case, and a bit more GPU. Bantam's got a solid CPU, lots more solid state storage, and includes a DVD drive -- something a lot of us still can't quite escape needing once in a while. So yeah, I can't outright favor one or the other. They're both excellent builds within their budget constraints.

    On a side note, I've really enjoyed these build-a-rig articles just in general. While the heart of it is building a system within a budget and comparing it, the interviews that go along with it are an enjoyable read. I hope Anandtech continues to run these sorts of things on occasion as technology changes.
  • jaydee - Tuesday, October 13, 2015 - link

    I like the case, SSD, CPU of the Crucial build, not much of a gamer, so GPU isn't a big deal to me. 600W is total overkill though for a 54W CPU and 90W GPU. This system isn't going to max out higher than 200W, so you're always in the sub-optimal range for this power supply, so I believe that is a poor choice. I'd much rather see a SFF 300-400W PSU like FSP or Silverstone.
  • fokka - Tuesday, October 13, 2015 - link

    i agree. many people seem to buy 600w PSUs "just to be save", but i think on a custom build like this a 3x oversized psu can almost be considered a poor choice. but as always, to each their own.
  • zero2dash - Tuesday, October 13, 2015 - link

    Assuming the Intel Microcode update doesn't remove the Silverstone build's ability to OC like it has with a lot of other boards - I'd much rather have that build, because I think you come out ahead in performance CPU+GPU especially if you can OC, vs. the i3 with the weaker GPU.
  • fokka - Tuesday, October 13, 2015 - link

    the question is how much ahead? you're saving on the cpu, but spending more on the board and the cooler, just to have the "hassle" of overclocking. i'm not saying it doesn't make any sense but personally i would prefer the i3 and be set.

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