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$600 Budget MicroATX Gaming Rig

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November 11, 2009 3:42:01 PM

Hey everyone! Looking for some pro advice from the community. I'm an avid system builder, with my latest OC'd e2180 system / 8800GT serving me well for over two years.

I've been a bit out of the curve recently with hardware developments and have a real-life situation that is compelling me to build a NEW system focused on portability and bang-for-buck (you always need an excuse to upgrade, right)?!

Basically, I need to move my system every week between two locations, thus the desire for portability.

It seems like the no-brainer approach is to go with the following for a case:

Thermaltake VF1000BWS Black Aluminum Front Panel/ SECC Chassis MicroATX Desktop Computer Case
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811133035&cm_re=thermaltake-_-11-133-035-_-Product

As such, my opportunities are limited to MicroATX motherboards (a new venue for me).

In addition, I've picked up a NEW 24" Dell Monitor, so I've got higher requirements for resolution (1920x1200).

Thus far, my research has led me to believe that the biggest bang-for-buck for CPUs are the AMD Phenom II X3 or X4 chips. In addition, to meet the resolution requirements, I'm looking seriously at Crossfire setups using the very affordable 4850s in SLI.

However, I can't seem to find many motherboards to support the above requirements.

I guess my first question is, am I barking up the wrong tree? Can I really get the performance I need out of mATX board on a 24" monitor? And if so, is the AMD scenario going to be a performance bottleneck for me?

Thanks

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APPROXIMATE PURCHASE DATE: Within a month

BUDGET RANGE: $600

SYSTEM USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT: Gaming, gaming and more gaming. Oh and make some video editing on the side.

PARTS NOT REQUIRED: Keyboard, Mouse, Monitor, DVD-R SATA Drive, SATA Hard Drive and Power Supply (see below)
Corsair 550VX Power Supply
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817139004

PREFERRED WEBSITE(S) FOR PARTS: newegg, zipzoomfly, etc.

PARTS PREFERENCES: See above (mATX MB and AMD Phenom II)

OVERCLOCKING: Maybe

SLI OR CROSSFIRE: Yes

MONITOR RESOLUTION: 1920x1200

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: Portability is key
November 11, 2009 4:45:16 PM

I could not find an mATX board that supports SLI. I'm sure someone will speak up if I missed something, but I searched NewEgg for AMD boards that were mATX and had 2x PCIe 2.0 16x, and that were SLI certified and mATX. Both searches came up empty. I did find 3 mATX boards with 2x PCIe 2.0 16x that could be CrossFire candidates but are not your typical brand and don't list SLI certification: http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Submit=E...

Would you be willing to consider the Intel route?

It looks like the parts you need are: CPU, MotherBoard, RAM and GPU. I checked a few combos on newegg and you could get:

Intel i5 750 + mATX CF/SLI capable Gigabyte GA-P55M-UD4 + 4GB G.Skill 1333 CAS7 RAM for ~$430. That'd leave you with $170 to play with for your video card. I realize that's not much for what you're trying to do, so this may not be feasible for 2x video cards. The 4770's start around $110 and the cheapest 4850's I saw on the egg started at $115.



$230.98
G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10666) Desktop Memory Model F3-10666CL7D-4GBRH - Retail
+ GIGABYTE GA-P55M-UD4 LGA 1156 Intel P55 Micro ATX Intel Motherboard - Retail
http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboDealDetails.aspx?Ite...

$199.99
Intel Core i5-750 Lynnfield 2.66GHz 8MB L3 Cache LGA 1156 95W Quad-Core Processor - Retail
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
If you have access to a MicroCenter you could get this even cheaper.

*On a side note, these RAM prices are still moving. They're all higher than they were 6 weeks ago. And I watched the RAM I listed go up by $1 just over the 10 minutes I was looking around.

Or you could try looking into the C2D/C2Q route. Motherboards appear limited however to a couple DFI models: http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Submit=E...
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November 11, 2009 4:58:40 PM

Great timing. I just started to spec out a potential P55 Intel build with the i5 processor.

BTW, there is a solid DFI board that supports AMD AM3 with CrossfireX support:

DFI LP JR 790GX-M3H5 AM3 AMD 790GX HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813136068

On thing I can't quite get a straight answer on is the whole 8x/8x Crossfire issue. Based on the theads I've seen so far, the 8x/8x Crossfire looks like it can actually hinder performance because of throughput bottleneck issues.

Is this true?

BTW, I'm definitely targetting the 2x 4850s for solid gameplay at 1920x1200 which will take me a bit over the $500 budget, but something I'd still consider if the bang-for-buck is there.
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November 11, 2009 6:22:51 PM

tazdirector said:
On thing I can't quite get a straight answer on is the whole 8x/8x Crossfire issue. Based on the theads I've seen so far, the 8x/8x Crossfire looks like it can actually hinder performance because of throughput bottleneck issues.

Is this true?


Different people have different opinions on this. I've never done it myself, but I'll try to find you a review so you can make up your own mind. One difference to note, some boards with 2 PCIe 2.0 x16 lanes run in x16, x4 mode. Nvidia does not certify or license SLI for these. And you do NOT want to CrossFire on these.

...

Ok, did some research. Here's some things I found. Basically, it seems that there is a difference but most-notably at the highest-end GPUs. For example, you get more out of quad-core CF/SLI GPUs (such as 2x 4870x2) when dealing with x16,x16. However, at 2x single card setups the gains seem to be much more modest. Marginal even. It depends on your GPU. And bear in mind some of these reviews are doing x16,x16 on the top end Intel 1366 / i7 9xx chips.

Here's an article from Tom's. It has lots of good data, but is using quad-GPU setups. The conclusion puts things in perspective.
http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/core-i5-lynnfield,2...


Here's another article, I pulled out this quote but you should still give it a read. "The P45 offers dual PCI Express x8 operation in CrossFire mode compared to dual x16 on the 790FX, X48, and X58 boards. However, we did not notice any performance differences between dual x8 and dual x16 operation when comparing the P45 to the X48 in offline testing utilizing our resolutions and quality settings."
http://www.anandtech.com/showdoc.aspx?i=3506&p=1


And from a review of Lynnfield (comparing to CF/SLI on Bloomfield), when dealing with dual (2x single) GPUs "For the most part, the X58 platform was only a couple of percent better in scaling." However when moving up to more intensive, and more expensive, quad (2x dual) GPUs "Almost across the board the quad-GPU results significantly favor X58."
Keep in mind this is in a stress test running all settings at their max, resolution at 2560 x 1600 but with no AA. You can read this here:
http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?i=363...

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November 11, 2009 6:27:45 PM

Wow ekoostik...you should get paid for this!

Thanks for the breakdown...I'm reading the links now, but it seems like the 8x/8x will not be a bottleneck considering my target video cards (2x single 4850s).
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November 11, 2009 7:19:45 PM

tazdirector said:
Wow ekoostik...you should get paid for this!


Do two things I enjoy - work with/learn about all kinds of technology from the newest to the most obscure, and help people use it/find answers - and get paid for it, now there's an idea! If only I could find a way to do that...
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November 11, 2009 7:49:41 PM

Alright, after some reading, I'm penciling in the following for my new system build:

MOTHERBOARD:
DFI LP JR 790GX-M2RS AM2+/AM2 AMD 790GX HDMI AMD Motherboard - $105
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

PROCESSOR:
AMD Phenom II X3 720 2.8GHz AM3 Triple-Core Black Processor - $120
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

VIDEO CARD(s):
2 x Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 512MB in CrossfireX Configuration - $105 ea ($210 total)
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001XW4BKO
** I'm planning on hunting down the best of the Black Friday deals for these **


** Looking for recommendations for 4GB (Dual-Channel) DDR3 ram that is OC friendly **

Including estimate RAM cost (~$100), total for upgrades is at $535.

The above will be combined with my EXISTING components:

CASE:
Thermaltake VF1000BWS Black Aluminum Front Panel/ SECC Chassis MicroATX Desktop Computer Case
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

POWER SUPPLY:
Corsair 550VX Power Supply

SATA Drive and SATA DVD-R Drive
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Thoughts? Is the X3 a waste at this price point and should I just spend the extra $40 for the X4 955 BE?
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November 11, 2009 8:04:10 PM

I know when Black Friday deals come out that you will be intently scrutinizing internet deals. You will be well rewarded for this but the selections you contemplate now are only useful study so you know a great deal(s) when you see it.
Keep an eye on coming Intel i5-750/P55 deals. Microcenter is selling the 750s for $150 NOW. P55 boards will selectively be cheap soon.
You may also find the 955 BE price slashed as well as a loss leader.
On a personal note, since there is a Microcenter nearby my home, I would not even consider anything less than an i5...
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November 11, 2009 8:13:23 PM

An Asus Maximus III Gene is a mATX board that supports CF and SLI setups. Probably a little out of your budget for this build though.
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November 11, 2009 8:36:36 PM

I didn't read all these posts but you said gaming, gaming, gaming.......... scrap the 4850's. Dx10 there. You sound like you'll hang on to your machine for 2 or 3 years before the next upgrade. Time to think about DX11 and the better graphics it's going to bring along. Vista or W7 will both give you this as will ATI 5700/5800 series cards. Start hitting all the review sites and check out the benchmarks.
Watch the mother boards. Some if not all of the AMD supported boards don't have true 16x16 Xfire. Seems most of them have 16x4....... WTF is that ?
There is a bigger case that has a handle on it. Can't think of the brand right now but you could probably fit an ATX board in it. Check out newegg..... rosewill ??? This might sway you into adifferent motherboard.


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November 11, 2009 9:15:53 PM

Thanks Swifty. To be honest, I've always tried to stay just BEHIND the curve a bit since that's where the cost-performance money spot has always been.

In my opinion, DX11 still has a few years before we see gamers truly harnessing it's potential (DX10 is still relatively underused IMHO).

Plus, the current ATI 48XX series is at that perfect price point.

@ Newf, the I7 is definitely on my radar. If I can nab one sub $150, I'll stay in the Intel family.
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