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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  • tonyou - Thursday, November 5, 2015 - link

    When we submitted the parts list on September 16, our total price was $794.90 excluding special incentives or rebates. So it wasn't our intention to overspent and flirt with the 3% flex, we just didn't have information about the part's 90 day average price unfortunately.
  • meacupla - Wednesday, October 14, 2015 - link

    I just bought a ML08 yesterday. Build quality seems to be a bit under what silverstone usually has, with bent tabs causing loose panels and HDD mounts that don't snap in place.

    It's nothing a bit of bending can't fix, but I think it's worth mentioning.

    Overall, I like this better than the RVZ01.
  • SaintStryfe - Wednesday, October 14, 2015 - link

    So I went on PC part picker and made a few choices of my own. Here's what I think:

    A student PC for playing MOBAs, light MMOs and school work should overall have a mid-range processor, a solid amount of RAM and a reasonable graphics card. More is always better, but 800$ is more than enough.

    Now I've got a few degrees so I know the ritual of lugging everything to school. It is... not fun. So I wanted to make it small enough to make it easy. So I went Mini ITX. To keep costs down I went with a non-overclockable chip and stock cooling. I am an Intel and nVidia person myself, so I went those too. Without further ado, here you go:

    PCPartPicker part list:
    Price breakdown by merchant:

    CPU: Intel Core i3-4330 3.5GHz Dual-Core Processor ($129.89 @ OutletPC)
    Motherboard: ASRock B85M-ITX Mini ITX LGA1150 Motherboard ($67.98 @ Newegg)
    Memory: Kingston HyperX Fury Black 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1866 Memory ($43.99 @ SuperBiiz)
    Storage: OCZ ARC 100 240GB 2.5" Solid State Drive ($89.99 @ Newegg)
    Storage: Seagate Barracuda 1TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive ($45.89 @ OutletPC)
    Video Card: EVGA GeForce GTX 960 4GB Superclocked Video Card ($215.99 @ SuperBiiz)
    Case: Rosewill Neutron Mini ITX Desktop Case ($39.99 @ Amazon)
    Power Supply: Thermaltake TR2 430W ATX Power Supply ($33.99 @ Best Buy)
    Optical Drive: LG GH24NSC0B DVD/CD Writer ($16.89 @ OutletPC)
    Operating System: Microsoft Windows 10 Home OEM (64-bit) ($93.75 @ OutletPC)
    Keyboard: AmazonBasics KU-0833 +MSU0939 Wired Standard Keyboard w/Optical Mouse ($14.99 @ Amazon)
    Total: $793.34
    Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available
    Generated by PCPartPicker 2015-10-14 15:12 EDT-0400

    Ivy Bridge Core i3's are a solid value. They have more than enough processing power for a modern game, while being cool and energy efficient. The motherboard will hold everything we're throwing at it easily. 8GB of RAM is more than enough for these tasks.

    I went with a lot of IO - a DVD-RW (hey, they're college students, they'll want to trade music, also some school books still insist on using DVDs), a 240GB SSD for boot and a favorite game or two, and a bigger bulk storage drive - I was able to wedge a whole TB drive in there. The kid is NOT running out of storage. If I had an extra 50$ I'd also tack on a external for backup. Oh well - that's for Christmas.

    For MOBAs, light MMO's (WoW or GW2), or older shooters (CS:GO) a 960 is a great card. This EVGA model is only 6" long, but has a full 4 gigs of Memory, so it'll be a hit at LAN parties.

    The case is a nice lil Rosewill number that'll hold all our bits, and have external USB 3 for hooking up a high speed flash drive, plus look good for those LAN parties. The classic Corsair power supply will provide all the juice needed, and being semi-modular lends to removing some of the bulk that won't be needed, like a lot of MOLEX cables.

    I had plenty of cash upto this point, so I tacked on Windows 10 (Most schools have some form of getting MS Office to kids on the cheap, so I forwent that, but hey, OpenOffice, iWorks in the Cloud, ect.) and tossed a simple keyboard and mouse on there.

    This rig will last a kid 4-5 years easily, and comes right in on budget. What do you think of my solution?
  • SUpstone - Friday, October 16, 2015 - link

    Nicely done! and your comment about the necessity of a back-up drive is spot on too... I can easily imagine a student leaves home for college and also leaves behind them the back-up service that mum and/or dad did on the home PC. Easily overlooked.
  • SaintStryfe - Tuesday, October 20, 2015 - link

    Thank you!

    I know I've seen a few Core i5's with a small SSD or just a mechanical drive, and such, but I just feel that in my experience as a college student, having that bulk storage is the most important thing. You get files/music from your friends, you install games, you save videos for school projects, it just gets eaten up. Having the SSD, DVD and 1TB means you never have to say "Sorry".

    Note due to college networks being pretty good most of the time, it is entirely reasonable to do a cloud backup service too - Pogoplug or something like that. But I don't know, I guess I'm just old fashioned. I like a disk that if the world is burning, I can grab on my way out.
  • lichoblack - Wednesday, October 14, 2015 - link

    I've made this excersise of a 800$ BTS rig and went about 3$ overbudget. Instead of the milo, I went with the FT03mini, for a really distinctive miniITX build. So here it is:

    My entry to the 800$ BTS build

    Cart Item List:

    Qty. Product Description Savings Total Price
    SILVERSTONE Black Fortress Series SST-FT03B-MINI Mini ITX Media Center / HTPC Case
    Item #:N82E16811163197
    Return Policy: Standard Return Policy

    EVGA GeForce GTX 960 04G-P4-3962-KR 4GB SC GAMING, Only 6.8 inches, Perfect for mITX Build Graphics Card
    Item #:N82E16814487133
    Return Policy: Standard Return Policy

    OCZ ARC 100 2.5" 120GB SATA III MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD) ARC100-25SAT3-120G
    Item #:N82E16820228115
    Return Policy: Standard Return Policy

    Microsoft Windows 8.1 64-bit
    Item #:N82E16832416776
    Return Policy: Consumable Product Return Policy

    Kingston 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory Model KVR16LN11K2/8
    Item #:N82E16820239877
    Return Policy: Standard Return Policy

    Intel Pentium G3258 3.2 GHz LGA 1150 BX80646G3258 Desktop Processor
    Item #:N82E16819117374
    Return Policy: Replacement Only Return Policy

    ASRock Z97E-ITX/ac Mini ITX Intel Motherboard
    Item #:N82E16813157504
    Return Policy: Standard Return Policy

    SILVERSTONE ST45SF 450W Power Supply
    Item #:N82E16817256063
    Return Policy: Standard Return Policy

    NVIDIA Gift - Heroes of the Storm
    Item #:N82E16800995242
    Return Policy: Consumable Product Return Policy

    Grand Total: $828.92
  • twotwotwo - Thursday, October 15, 2015 - link

    OK, that SFF SilverStone is *cute*, and (or, because) I usually don't like desktop designs.
  • BrokenCrayons - Thursday, October 15, 2015 - link

    Yes, that's so true about the SilverStone case. It's very worthy of a few squees. A few years ago, I had a gigantic Lian Li case which I got second hand. It was the most impracticaly, obnoxiously huge thing and had it's own set of wheels. Since the Crucial box is sort of like a cute little baby version of that same case, I really can't completely side with SilverStone on this one based on the case. Either way, I'm glad the days of full tower cases are behind us. Honestly, pretty much anything bigger than a MicroATX is impractical and I'd much prefer a laptop over anything chained to a wall via a power outlet. Even the ease of getting a discrete GPU doesn't justify the extra size. I'll just keep my expectations low and enjoy older/less demanding games on an iGPU in a laptop.
  • PPalmgren - Thursday, October 15, 2015 - link

    Imagine, once M.2 takes off and as SSD prices continue to plummet, being able to build a system in a case that has no expansion slots. Lots of interesting possibilities.
  • gamer1000k - Thursday, October 15, 2015 - link

    This is already possible, the price of M.2 SSDs (the sata ones anyways) are equivalent to the other form factors and 500GB drives are readily available.

    Combine that with an Iris Pro iGPU and you would have a very capable, compact system.

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