Price / Performance: How to build the most efficient computer in June 2020.
Updated: Jun 30
Computing technology has never made larger leaps and bounds than it has in the last decade, and modern consumers are reaping the benefits. There's been blazing advancements just since 2016. Even if you live under a rock, you've likely heard whispers about AMD coming back strong to strike at the overlord of the computing market, Intel. The rigorous competition between these two corporations has driven prices down, increased performance, and sped up the research / production process far past what either company would be doing on their own. It's forced them to be uncomfortable. They're innovating not because they want to, but because they have to in order to survive. Pleasant for them? Perhaps not. Amazing for us? Definitely. You've never been able to build such a powerful machine while spending so little money. Budget builds for less than $600 U.S.D. are plentiful and available all over the internet: Simply searching "Best computer for (your budget here)" will bring up thousands of results. Many of them will be thoughtful, high quality videos from well known members of the computing community that can be trusted to offer sound advice. You can find good information for builds well past the $2000 range if you're an aficionado or someone that can afford such a large investment in what will likely be used as a platform for entertainment. But what if your concern isn't necessarily the price, but the price to performance? As a consumer myself, I'm always asking what's the best bang for my buck? It's a common phrase that many people might not understand. It doesn't mean what's good but also cheap. It means: what is the very best performance per dollar I can achieve. What is literally the best machine I can get while also taking into account that I don't want to pay a 100% price increase for a 15% performance increase. Fortunately for us, unlike when you buy a motorcycle, a car, a bed, or even a new pair of shoes--there are objective metrics to substantiate the question and elucidate the way forward. There's no debate or opinion to obfuscate the matter. Websites like cpubenchmark.net and videocardbenchmark.net have compiled thousands of sets of data and answered the question for consumers (that is, consumers that care) clearly. Running a CPU or GPU through various synthetic and real world "benchmarks" designed to test their computing and rendering ability will offer a "score" to rank it against other units in the market. By dividing this score by the price of the CPU or GPU itself, you come away with a way to rank the components based on their performance and price.
The result? We know that a consumer can maximize their investment in terms of price/performance (aka the amount of computing power you can achieve per dollar you spend) by sticking to the mid range market and avoiding the enthusiast items (like the GTX 2080ti, a GPU that can cost up to $1500, or the i9 10900x, a $700 CPU). What's nice about this is it makes being efficient and intelligent friendly to the market at large. Most of us don't have $2500 to spend on a gaming or work PC, but with a little saving, we can almost all come up with $800 to invest in a piece of technology/entertainment that will last 5 years or more, even if it takes a couple months of saving up or has to wait for Christmas. Take a look at cpubenchmark.net's performance chart. The most efficient CPU's on the market: Most are under $200. Compared to the top of the line $700 i9 10900x, that's an incredible difference! You'll see a $104.99, $166.99, and $73.99 CPU taking the top 3 spots. This means that, for their price, these CPU's are the best money can buy for the performance they offer.
The story for your GPU is the same. Again, taking a look at Passmark's incredible data, we see that mid range cheaper options are outperforming the ridiculously expensive enthusiast options when it comes to valuing your dollar. The highest rated options are $159.99, $124.99, and $229.99 respectively.
What does this mean for people who want to build a powerful PC in June of 2020 but care about whether or not they're wasting money? A few things, but the largest takeaway is that, perhaps, it's actually more efficient to save your money and avoid the extremely expensive parts in favor of high quality less expensive options that can still perform admirably and get the job done. If you were to take the most powerful option (Looking at the CPU Mark and G3D mark columns on the right side of each chart to recognize performance itself) from the top 3 price/performance winners, you'd come out with a build that might look a little like this:
Ryzen 5 3600 ($169),
GeForce GTX 1660 SUPER ($229), 16GB of 3200MHZ Ram ($150),
500GB NVME SSD ($110),
600W Power Supply ($75),
b450 Motherboard ($70), A computer case ($75).
Putting this machine together would result in owning a computer that could run any modern game past 100 FPS on high settings for less than $900. Again, this is less than the cost of a single enthusiast graphic card, for your entire computer, and that computer is no slouch. It's a powerful machine which will remain powerful for several years and be fully capable of being utilized both as a professional workstation as well as a gaming machine. The conclusion of the data available to us is simple. If you care about how much money you're going to spend, avoid both the least expensive and most expensive parts on the market and aim for the middle. Incidentally, this also proves true for most other aspects of life. If you start to pay attention to vehicles, clothes, phones, watches, or a thousand other things we buy regularly, you'll find that the middle of the pack normally offers the best value for your dollar. It's a good way to both make sure you're paying for a quality product that will stand up to being used and last, while also not getting caught up in hype or overwhelmed with PR propaganda that wants to target consumers that seek quality. There are a lot of ways to go about building a computer, and a lot of reasons to build one. Whether you want a cheap machine to emulate old nintendo and playstation games, something beefy to play modern Triple-A titles, or something professional to render videos and compile data sets for your job as a software engineer--looking at the price/performance charts is going to be a good idea if you don't want to get ripped off. Incidentally, this machine here would be capable of doing all 3 of those things (and you could pair it with a good monitor and still come in under $1000). So while you can find hundreds of videos by searching "Best computer for (x budget)" on Google or YouTube, the truth is that the best computer for people that care about money is going to be right around $900, and it's going to perform well enough to stand up to any task you can throw at it, so long as you're reasonable with your expectations and don't expect a machine that will run ultra settings at 4k (which even $3000 machines struggle with).