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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  • DanNeely - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    If anything, I'd say Chinny's system is better balanced. Dustin went all in for FPS at the expense of everyone else (brilliantly pandering to the commentariat); but a 970 is enough to run most of the eye candy at 1440p and more or less max everything out at 1080p. The only thing I'd critique Chinny's build for is only going with 8gb of ram; but that's easy enough to fix while staying in budget (OEM windows, or no USB-DVD, or no light kit, or etc) or in an after the fact upgrade. Dustin's undersized SSD is a bigger problem and doesn't present as easy of an option to fix. Even with a NAS available to offload media, I'd be leery of recommending only 256GB of storage to anyone into gaming. The biggest current titles devour enough that unless you're someone who plays a single game until they get bored and never goes back that you'd be wasting a lot of time un/reinstalling titles because they won't all fit.
  • ImSpartacus - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    Dustin said that a "single monitor" meant that it had to do 4k.

    Given the 4k requirement, he configured his system well.

    However, if single monitor means 1440p, then it's overkill.
  • fokka - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    it's well balaced if you only look at the core components like CPU, RAM and graphics, but why use an expensive 750w power supply? why use a 240mm radiator for a non-overclocked CPU, when you've got an air cooled graphics card in the same case, making much more noise?

    having a clean and quite build is nice and well, but the amount of power the zotac build sacrifices compared to dustin's, while spending loads of money on unnecessary and poorly balanced components just aren't worth it imho.
  • ImSpartacus - Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - link

    Dustin Sklavos is my spirit animal.
  • Qrash - Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - link

    A quick check at the provided NewEgg link and on the Gigabyte website indicatest that the GA-Z97-HD3 audio solution is the Realtek ALC887 not the 1150. Perhaps the model name is incorrect?
  • Chinny Chuang - Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - link

    Hi Guys! Sorry that some of you didn't like the Hey Good Looking build. I like a very clean and minimal system and it really looks great to me. I thought had a good balance of storage, speed, and power. I like that the Dustin system uses a ZOTAC 980Ti =) but the ZOTAC 980 Ti AMP! would have been even better! (same selling price)
  • dakishimesan - Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - link

    Looks matter, and I like your build very much.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - link

    I would have if it were available when I put it together. :)

    I do think it's a drag that your build went in before mine and wasn't able to score a 980 Ti.

    I love your build, though. Maybe you and I should collaborate on a build that we can post to both Zotac and Corsair's FBs? I totally understand where you're coming from with yours (say hi to Buu for me!) and think we could put together a system that has both our names on it. :)
  • Chinny Chuang - Thursday, July 9, 2015 - link

    Hi Dustin, thank you for picking ZOTAC GTX 980 Ti on your awesome build. yeah, I think building something together is a great idea; let's build a "Dream Machine" and share it on our social media!
  • Tchamber - Friday, July 10, 2015 - link

    Chinny, your system is good, perhaps not as performance oriented as Dustin's, but I for one can't stand running out of disk space, and appreciate the larger SSD. The case, too, it looks sharp, and no one wants an eyesore sitting on his desk! It's nice to see such varied machines with the same price point.

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