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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  • Mr Perfect - Wednesday, October 14, 2015 - link

    True, I was simply trying to get more of these mITX challenges going, though. The first builds where ATX monsters and it's easy to build one of those. There are no space constraints, cooling components is a snap and it's easy keeping noise in check. A mITX takes a little finesse though, so I'd think it would make for a more interesting competition. The round two builds got hit pretty hard with the budget hammer, they didn't get to push any boundaries.
  • gamer1000k - Tuesday, October 13, 2015 - link

    I priced out a $1500 mITX for fun in the previous build-a-rig competition. It ended up pretty similar to the Corsair build (unlocked i5 and 980TI) but in a mITX case.
  • PPalmgren - Thursday, October 15, 2015 - link

    I have a 980ti in a micro-ATX case, with really strong cooling, and the thing still gets quite loud. I'm pretty close to that 'noise cutoff' point where the noise becomes a major detractor. I can't imagine a 980ti doing any better in an ITX unless it was a roomy cube with dedicated airflow like the Corsair 250D.
  • gamer1000k - Thursday, October 15, 2015 - link

    The case I chose (Silverstone FTZ01) uses a riser card to move the GPU next to the motherboard instead of putting it on top of it and has vents directly over the GPU fans. This design provides better GPU cooling than a lot of large towers since the GPU can directly pull in cool air from the room instead of hot air from inside the case.
  • Zap - Tuesday, October 13, 2015 - link

    I'm liking this build-a-rig round, from the budget to the SFF results.

    If I had to choose, I would pick the Silverstone. I don't think there are any show stoppers in the choices. Redirect data folders (My Videos, My Documents, Downloads, etc.) to the HDD to alleviate space issues on the SSD. If nothing is running off the HDD, won't notice the lack of performance. Dual cores is still somewhat sufficient as long as the user doesn't keep tons of stuff running all the time.

    The Crucial build does have more weaknesses. Most glaring weakness is the PSU. This unit is only 72% efficient, no published combined +12v output (theoretical max 43A or 516W but I wouldn't trust that) or temperature rating, and doesn't even have active PFC. Note that Thermaltake makes multiple TR2 600W units, and I'm talking about the one linked at Newegg which is the TR-600. There is an updated TR-600P model for only $12 more at Newegg which fixes all these issues. Other than that, already pointed out that $20 more gets a GTX 960. Rest of the parts are fine for their purposes.

    If I had to configure a system?
    (Pricing/availability taken from Newegg 10/13/15 not counting rebates, taxes, shipping)

    CPU - Intel Core i3-4170 $125
    (Good price for 4 threads.)
    Mobo - ASRock H81M-ITX/WIFI $63
    (PCIe2 not yet limitation, basic WiFi in case that's what the dorms have.)
    GPU - MSI GTX 960 4GB $205
    (Overclocked, 4GB for those "2GB not enough" naysayers."
    RAM - Mushkin ECO2 8GB (2 x 4GB) $36
    (Great price for 1600MHz 1.35v DDR3L)
    SSD - Crucial MX200 2.5" 500GB SSD $130
    (I think one big SSD is more usable unless actually storing huge amounts of data.)
    HDD - none
    PSU - Silverstone ST45SF $70
    (Proven unit. Get FSP version if cheaper at time of buying.)
    Case - Silverstone Milo ML08B $75
    (So small, does it really need a handle?)
    CPU cooler - none/stock
    OS - Windows 10 $100
    Extras - none
    Total = $804
  • frenchy_2001 - Friday, October 16, 2015 - link

    I like your build. More balanced.
    Better CPU, but sacrificed OC (good trade off)
    More SSD, but no HDD (fine for the budget. Can always add more storage for cheap later)
    no handle (not a need for me)
    DDR3L (can maybe reuse for a Skylake build down the road)
    Stock cooler (most probably fine)
    4GB 960 (good for now and immediate future)

    Then, down the road, you can add storage and maybe a quieter cooler if needed.
    That box can be used both as main dorm PC and/or HTPC.

    Very nice.
  • Flunk - Tuesday, October 13, 2015 - link

    These sustems are pretty well matched. With the exception of the Thermaltake TR2 600W in Crucial's build. That is one seriously cheap power supply (in a bad way), although maybe I'm biased because I've had several Thermaltake power supplies blow up on me.
  • KAlmquist - Tuesday, October 13, 2015 - link

    I agree, especially since this build isn't going to draw anything close to 600W. A Seasonic SSP-300ET ($41) would be better, but if it were me I would try to fit a Seasonic SSR-360GP ($64) or an FSP Group Aurum S 400W ($60) into the budget.
  • PPalmgren - Thursday, October 15, 2015 - link

    It seems like the goal was to allow upgradeability room, and in that case, I think its a decent fit. No better/different than a CX600 or something.
  • amightywind - Tuesday, October 13, 2015 - link

    Both cases are great. I prefer the Crucial/i3 build. Multithreading is no longer optional and clearly appropriate for back-to-school. The weaker graphics don't put me off. In the past 15 years I have built half-a-dozen mid-market machines with reduced size cases using Anandtech's build guides. I'm glad they are emphasizing this again. Really useful info, but with a short half-life. The hobbyist PC component market is really a thing to behold. I really like the idea competing builds with constraints.

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