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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  • 3ogdy - Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - link

    I loved it! There's one thing I found ironic, though: Chinny Chuang's given her build the name "Hey good lookin'", while using an NZXT S340 case, which is basically a black box with transparent side panel. Ehm.....what? :) She could've used something like this and it would've been just about the same and much much cheaper. (basically FREE, for that matter).
  • dakishimesan - Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - link

    I really like the case she chose:
  • Visual - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    She didn't name the config after the case, she named it after herself. You could obviously announce the winner of this round already from the photos on the first page.
  • mr_tawan - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    Well mounting components on the cardboard box could have been more expensive than buying a chasis :-).

    Seriously I think the case is pretty good on showing how the components inside looks, just like a jewel case.
  • crimson117 - Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - link

    Can you please post a table of the two configs side by side for comparison?
  • Brazos - Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - link

    2nd that motion
  • Achaios - Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - link

    Although Chinnie is a cutie and I hate to vote against her (sry Chinnie), my vote for the best gaming system goes to Dustin.

    Dustin hit the nail on the head with the 980TI, the k CPU and the 16GB RAM. I think Dustin "gets it".

    Chinnie's errors: Non-K CPU, means no CPU overclocking - 8 GB is insufficient for a gaming rig (I know b/c I am using 8 GB RAM too and I cba to change it which leads to petty inconveniences.) - GTX 970 GPU instead of a GTX 980 or 980Ti. I would avoid a GTX 970 (no need to explain why).

    As for my System Upgrade philosophy: I upgrade motherboard, RAM, CPU and storage every 4-5 years and GPU every 2 years, which means that within the average lifetime of a rig I would upgrade the GPU twice. Cheers.
  • Gyro231995 - Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - link

    The 4690k is $50 more expensive than her choice, the 4460. That, with the water cooling, will make a quiet build. The Z97 motherboard will allow for SLI later on.

    The water cooling also looks pretty nice. I would rather a 212 Evo and get the 4690k, but the Evo really isn't a pretty cooler.

    8GB is fine if you don't have a bunch of stuff in the background while gaming.

    Are you still hung up on the 3.5GB thing? Seriously? It's the best she could have gotten on budget; it is easy to suggest a pricier card but it is hard to fit it in budget and keep the general theme.

    I agree that Dustin's build is better but it seems like you are ignoring the theme of Chinnie's. It isn't straight out performance; it is good performance with good looks.

    In a world where value is kind, neither builds are perfect. Fortunately this competition is hardly a locked down, rule burdened competition. It is cool to see both builders explore what can be done in budget.
  • Sammaul - Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - link

    Both of you are correct. Point of fact, I see nothing wrong with either of these builds, aside from the fact that both pretty much left out all peripherals....if you were building a new rig from scratch, never having a gaming rig before....proper keyboard, mouse, and controller(if you use one) are a must at minimum. But Chinnie's build is just fine at 1440, and will work with a Rift. Dustin's is without a doubt more future proof...
  • Impulses - Monday, July 13, 2015 - link

    She did waste $50+ in stuff that adds nothing but aesthetics... Not that I hold that against her, I care enough about how my PC looks to match RAM/mobo colors and things like that. I still keep a cold cathode inside it for that matter and I chose a Phanteks HSF over a Noctua largely because of aesthetics (but also a $30 price difference after MIR). I recognize not everyone's gonna care for that but those differences are what's gonna make an exercise like this interesting.

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