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 Newegg.com 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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  • quidpro - Tuesday, October 13, 2015 - link

    Links for the Crucial system have url destinations swapped for PSU and Chassis Reply
  • geniekid - Tuesday, October 13, 2015 - link

    Very torn between these two builds!

    The processors are the most interesting aspect, IMHO. Both are two-core processors but one is Hyperthreading-enabled while the other is known to overlock well. Presumably an overclocked G3258 will be better for games and single threaded applications but I expect the numbers to be quite close. I'm very eager to see the benchmarks.

    The GPU difference, on the other hand, is something I predict will be a significant difference. Mid-range GPUs like the 950 GTX and 960 GTX are situated on a steep section of the price-performance curve and spending a little extra here can go a long way. That said, the price difference between the two GPUs here is almost identical to the price difference between the two builds overall so any benefit of the Silverstone build should really be attributed to Milo's higher cost.

    Regarding storage, 256 GB SSD on the Crucial is really nice. It wouldn't hold my entire games library but it would probably hold the games I play most often with occasional re-installs to manage the changing nature of "games I play most often".

    In the end I think I'm in favor of Silverstone's Milo just because my inner geek is drawn to the G3258. The idea of a build whose value stems from its overclock-ability appeals to me and even more to college me.
    Reply
  • CountDown_0 - Tuesday, October 13, 2015 - link

    I'd go for the Crucial build, because the CPU is so much better and the SSD is twice as large. The GPU is not much slower, the optical drive still makes sense, Windows 10 would be better but the upgrade is free, so it's still ok.

    Anyway, I would like to say another thing. The PSUs are ridicolously overkill!!! Both of them! Not just Crucial's one!

    The PC I'm using right now is based on Silverstone's RVZ01. I have an i5 4690k (still at stock frequencies), 16 GB of RAM, a 512 GB SSD, an optical drive, and a MSI GTX 960 Gaming G1. Compare these specs with the 2 builds proposed here: my consumption is certainly higher. Well, the PSU I have is Silverstone's 300W ST30SF, and it's even too much - I am playing The Witcher (1) and, thanks to a (admittedly cheap and thus probably not too precise) power meter I have seen a peak of 180W (at the wall! Which means that the DC power it delivers is even lower, let's say 15% less, then it's 153W!). Both these PSUs are REALLY overkill!!
    Reply
  • Jumangi - Tuesday, October 13, 2015 - link

    At only $800 budget it should be about the internal core complements like the gpu and cpu. The looks of a flashier case don't mean squat if your games run poorly. The crucial build spends way to much on the PSU and case. Can easily save money to get a much better CPU. Reply
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  • Cliff34 - Wednesday, October 14, 2015 - link

    Can i have one suggestion as to the article? Is it possible to show the prices next to the items in the last page where you compare both systems? This will help to gauge where the money is being spent :). Reply
  • Stuka87 - Wednesday, October 14, 2015 - link

    Really surprised they both went with nVidia GPUs, they could have both gotten AMDs that were quite a bit fast for that price, or gone with a same speed card with less money. In this price range price should be a very important factor. Both the 950 and 960 are badly over priced cards.

    Go with an AMD, and then get a better CPU with the residual money.
    Reply
  • colonelclaw - Wednesday, October 14, 2015 - link

    My take on this challenge would be to drop any gaming aspirations and go for raw computing power and more memory. An integrated CPU/GPU would allow for 16 or 32GB RAM and more/faster storage. The reason for this is interpreting the 'back to school' theme to mean a PC designed for work first and foremost, preferably math/science-based.

    I would then sneakily give the recipient of said machine a PS4 whilst their parents weren't looking, because downtime is important.
    Reply
  • SUpstone - Wednesday, October 14, 2015 - link

    Your idea of a budget is different to mine. If the build budget is $800 then that's all there is... you can't spend $812! I've read the rules and I see you allow 3% flex so Silverstone are within your rules... but Crucial could've addressed what seems to be the main criticism and chose a GTX 960 and been within your $824 limit. If you're really struggling to get the budget together, or you're building PCs as a business, then overspends are a no-go.

    In my experience the core i3 is a sound value for money choice for good productivity / media / games performance. An i5 is nice to have but not necessary. I agree with what many others have said: chose one 500GB SSD and lose the HDD. I'd keep the optical disk drive... for the student who wants to watch movies on the PC monitor pre-owned DVDs may be old skool but will be cheap and easy.
    Reply

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