SFF.Network SFF Build Challenge #3: A creative workstation for $1k or less



Why hello, my fearless readers! My heroes of the tiniest computers! And welcome to this month's challenge!

For our third build challenge, three of our four J's had to create a Photoshoppin', video-editing, graphics-rendering workstation for $1k or less! Not including the OS this time around, either, to really maximize the performance potential!

The rules for this challenge were simple enough: As usual, the three J's could shop at Newegg or Amazon US, and had to prove they could hit below a total price of $1000 at or before the air date of the podcast, by providing a PCPartPicker link. Peripherals, OS, taxes and shipping were not to be included, just the desktop. And, as always, the builds assembled by our players must be functional, and must be at or below the 19L mark - though, as you'll see, one of our competitors seems to have taken some liberties with that figure...

Finally, you can see the prices and choices on this thread, but to hear all the juicy remarks and attacks, you'll have to listen to the show!

But enough of the rules! Let us see the glorious contenders we have this month! We shall start, as always, in alphabetical order, and begin with James's build to start us off.

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James' build:

Case: Silverstone SG09B, $90.00
PSU: Corsair RM 650W ATX PSU, $79.99
Motherboard: AsRock Z170M Extreme4 Micro-ATX, $116.99
CPU: Intel Core i5-6600K, $228.99
CPU Cooler: Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO, $34.89
Graphics: EVGA GeForce GTX 960, $160.00
Memory: Crucial Ballistic Sport LT 16GB, $63.99
Storage: Toshiba 3TB HDD, $94.76; Samsung 850 EVO 250GB, $92.00

TOTAL: $952.60


John's build:

Case: Cooler Master Elite 110, $39.99
PSU: EVGA 400W ATX PSU, $24.99
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-H110N Mini-ITX, $74.99
CPU: Intel Core i7-6700, $314.99
CPU Cooler: ID-COOLING IS-40, $24.99
Graphics: Gigabyte GeForce GTX 950, $134.99
Memory: Crucial Ballistic Sport LT 16GB, $54.99
Storage: Team Group L3 EVO 960GB, $199.99; Sandisk X400 512GB M.2-2280, $129.99

TOTAL: $999.91


Josh's build:

Case: Silverstone Sugo SG13B-Q, $40.99
PSU: EVGA 430W 80+ ATX PSU, $19.99
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z170N-Wifi Mini-ITX, $124.99
CPU: Intel Core i7-6700, $299.99
Graphics: SAPPHIRE Radeon RX 480 8GB, $239.99
Memory: Crucial Ballistic Sport LT 16GB, $53.99
Storage: Corsair Force LE 960GB, $219.99

TOTAL: $999.93

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And so there you have it, my faithful audience - our three competitors for this month's contest! And what diversity we see in part selection... two NVIDIA and one AMD, two i7's and one i5, two HDD-less storage solutions and one 3TB behemoth. What fun!

However, only one of these machines can win! Only one, in the eyes of you, the community, can be chosen as the best build for this challenge! And to select your choice of victor, all you have to do is vote in the poll at the top!

Do so quickly, however, for voting will end this Friday...

Until next month, my dear readers! May your space efficiency be high, and your decibels low!
 

EdZ

Virtual Realist
May 11, 2015
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Oof, that's a tough one. For media editing, some sort of backing store is a good idea (unless you're assuming an external DAS) so that gives James' build a point. But that's at the expensive of an i5 rather than i7, and image and video editing and encoding are the trifecta of workloads that benefit extremely well from CPU parallelism, which gives John's and Josh's builds a point.
I'll probably have to go with John's build. The extra SSD (even if only SATA, that's fast enough for most image/video workloads) allows for one to be dedicated as a scratch disk and alleviate some R/W bottlenecks that might crop up from working on only one disk. And while the RX 480 in Josh's build is undoubtedly faster than the GTX 950, CUDA still has quite a lot more penetration over OpenCL.
 
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Phuncz

Lord of the Boards
SFFn Staff
May 9, 2015
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Interesting and indeed tough. No one here went with Xeon CPUs ? They offer HyperThreading sometimes at lower price-points. Too many Z170 boards, workstations have Q170 boards people ! John's build has the best storage backup out of the box (960+512GB in SSD) if performance is a factor in my opinion (HDDs are for NASes, my grandma says).
 

BirdofPrey

Standards Guru
Sep 3, 2015
797
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Interesting and indeed tough. No one here went with Xeon CPUs ? They offer HyperThreading sometimes at lower price-points. Too many Z170 boards, workstations have Q170 boards people ! John's build has the best storage backup out of the box (960+512GB in SSD) if performance is a factor in my opinion (HDDs are for NASes, my grandma says).
Yeah that is odd; workstations are generally server class hardware, though I can agree to give up workstation graphics cards since oftentimes they are the same thing with different drivers and a higher price point.

I have to go with John's build as well. the storage layout is the best when moving large files and the i7 is better for leveraging the sort of workloads multimedia editing and rendering tend to have than the i5
 

EdZ

Virtual Realist
May 11, 2015
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Xeons don't offer any inherent performance advantage, for single-socket (E3 and some E5) Xeons, at least. They offer the advantage of ECC (if needed for stability/reliability), occasionally cheaper for a certain performance level (highly variable which comes out ahead in price/performance throughout the range of Core and Xeon chips, varies between generations, etc), and more extensive validation. For pre-built workstations, it's usually the extra validation you're paying for.
 

Phuncz

Lord of the Boards
SFFn Staff
May 9, 2015
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My point about Xeon was that HyperThreading was available at lower price (about 10%), considering the i7-6700 is the cheapest consumer CPU with HyperThreading from the Skylake generation. But I forgot that Intel made Xeon CPUs not work on consumer chipsets anymore, so you're stuck with C23x boards too, which aren't cheaper most of the time. Also slightly different specs.
 

PlayfulPhoenix

Founder of SFF.N
Original poster
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Chimera Industries
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Feb 22, 2015
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Interesting and indeed tough. No one here went with Xeon CPUs ? They offer HyperThreading sometimes at lower price-points. Too many Z170 boards, workstations have Q170 boards people ! John's build has the best storage backup out of the box (960+512GB in SSD) if performance is a factor in my opinion (HDDs are for NASes, my grandma says).

Only thing I'll mention (which was part of my critique during the podcast) is that the M.2 drive in John's only has SATA speeds. So it's not any faster than the bargain-basement, brand-you've-never-heard-of SATA drive he paired it with.

I used a "midrange" drive, comparatively; James paired a very good drive (with much less storage) to a large HDD. We all went at this at very different angles.
 

Josh | NFC

Not From Concentrate
NFC Systems
Jun 12, 2015
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I enjoy and appreciate you guys doing this!!! I realize not everyone has buckets of pirate gold to spend, but I think it would be nice to see you guys raise the budget to 2k. It would be helpful to me to get y'alls expert opinions.

A problem I have not addressed here is massive amounts of storage needed to do 4K video editing and color correction. 16GB seems to be a decent floor, although 32GB would be more reasonable for small clips. Resolve can and will use 8GB of GPU memory too which is nice, and without loads of GPU memory playback can be choppy with color effects applied. Finally, I did a test with a Hitachi Deskstar vs a Sandisk Ultra II just to see if 155MB/s (HDD) was going to be good enough for optimized media playback. I ran the optimization which turned a 20GB file into almost 400GB and edited off the HDD drive. It really wasn't good enough for 10 bit YUV and totally unworkable for RGB at 1080p 23.98. I then moved down to a GPU with 2GB from 8GB of ram to see what the bare minimum was. It was infuriating, but editable...keep in mind you could barely play the clip back without dropping 70% of the frames.

I'm not sure what the best route is...even buying a bunch of cheap 900GB Sandisk Ultra II is expensive; and you well could use five of them for even a relatively small video project. The good news is they are plenty fast combined with a GPU with at least 4GB of ram.

...I'm rambling

Thanks again for doing what you do!
 

GuilleAcoustic

Chief Procrastination Officer
SFFn Staff
LOSIAS
Jun 29, 2015
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My budget for each of my workstation have always been around 1200 - 1300 euros, excluding OS and peripherals. I keep them for 5 years, so I carefully choose components that offer at least a 5 years warranty (Asus Gryphon, EVGA GPU, etc.).