Finding the Best Values on Computer Parts Using the Cost-Efficiency Frontier

Which computer parts are better than others? Ideally, CPUs or graphics cards that have higher performance and cost less will be preferred over those that have lower performance and cost more. Computer parts are often compared using a ratio of benchmark score to price (e.g. passmarks per dollar), but this ratio fails to account for absolute performance. For instance, a free, antiquated Pentium 4 has an infinite passmarks/dollar ratio, but is a poor choice for a modern computer.

A more systematic way to compare computer parts is to use the cost efficiency frontier. I’ve plotted the utility (i.e. passmark benchmark score) of processors and graphics cards vs. price and calculated the cost-efficiency frontier to identify the best deals.

CPUs and GPUs on the frontier are economically optimal choices because they provide the best performance for their price. The farther a component is from the frontier, the less cost-efficient it is on a passmark/dollar basis. Therefore, these graphs make it easy to find the best value CPU or graphics card for your situation and budget.  Search for the part that is:

  1. Below your maximum price,
  2. Above your minimum performance threshold, and
  3. Closest to the frontier.

Parts can be compared to the frontier to determine which one provides the most bang for your buck.

Although the PassMark benchmark has its flaws, its broad coverage of CPUs and GPUs enables this analysis.  One surprising result was the extent of processor market segmentation.  Passmark covered 2231 processors, which is a huge number considering the comparatively low number of x86 architecture families.  For instance, why do we need the Intel I5-4570 and the I5-4460? They are essentially exactly the same!

For more information on cost-effectiveness analyses, please read “General Methods for the Assessment of the Relation of Benefits to Costs.”