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System Builder Marathon, Sept. '09: $650 Gaming PC

System Builder Marathon, Sept. '09: $650 Gaming PC
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System Builder Marathon, September 2009: The Articles

Here are links to each of the four articles in this month’s System Builder Marathon (we’ll update them as each story is published). And remember, these systems are all being given away at the end of the marathon. After some delay (sorry folks), the contest is ready to be entered. Please visit the entry page, here.

Day 1: The $650 Gaming PC
Day 2: The $1,250 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $2,500 Performance PC
Day 4: Performance and Value Dissected

Introduction

As you may recall, the previous System Builder Marathon (SBM) from May 2009 entailed assembling PCs around a portable theme. The $600 Gaming PC was built within a $90 cube-style case, leaving roughly $500 for the remaining system components. Sporting an Intel Pentium E5200 and BFG GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 graphics card, this system was impressive once overclocked, but the processor’s stock performance still left much to be desired. Having the size limitations now lifted, the goal for this September 2009 system was to kick things up a notch and build the best budget gaming machine our SBM series has seen to date.

We overclock our SBM PCs to squeeze more performance from each budget, but also realize not all of our readers put the same value into overclocked performance. Our two higher-budget systems still usually deliver solid performance before overclocking, but typically the cheapest system has been built from the ground up for its overclocking potential. This time, we not only aim to increase the gaming performance from our overclocked system, but also want a far more capable stock-clocked machine. To accomplish our goal, we’ll increase our CPU budget and turn towards AMD’s Phenom II line of processors.

We also desired more graphics muscle, so in another first for our budget PC, we managed to squeeze a pair of AMD Radeon HD 4850 graphics cards into the mix. Rounding out this Dragon platform is an AMD 790X/SB750 motherboard with CrossFire support. 

Once again we needed to make some sacrifices while increasing our typical $625 budget just a bit, but the end result should be well worth the effort. Before we highlight each choice, let’s take a look at the complete component list for this month’s $650 Gaming PC.

$650 Gaming PC System Components

Component
Model
Price (USD)
CPU
AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition $103
CPU Cooler
AMD Boxed Heatsink/Fan0
Motherboard
Gigabyte GA-MA790X-UD4P $110
 RAM
OCZ 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500) Model OCZ2G10664GK$50
Graphics
2 x Sapphire 100245HDMI Radeon HD 4850 512MB $190
Hard Drive
Western Digital Caviar Blue WD5000AAKS 500GB $57
Sound
Integrated
0
Network
Integrated
0
Case
Rosewill Wind Ryder RZLS142A-P BK
$30
Power
Antec EarthWatts EA650 650W
$80
Optical Drive
Samsung Black 22X DVD Burner SATA Model SH-S223B
$27
Total Price

$647
Display all 94 comments.
Top Comments
  • 13 Hide
    anamaniac , September 24, 2009 6:44 AM
    Wonderful. =D

    What about the new $100 quad core athlon with no L3?
    I know I like extra cores. Wonderful choice regardless.

    I wonder what the quad core athlon with a 512MB 5850 (which would increase the budget though) will be like. Both cheap yet highend parts. =D

    Nice to see what only a pocketful of cash can get you.
Other Comments
  • 9 Hide
    dirtmountain , September 24, 2009 6:39 AM
    A nicely done build, great work with overclocking on a stock cooler and an impeccable write up. Thanks for the great article Mr. Henningsen. AMD did a good job for a budget build, especially at stock clocks.
  • 6 Hide
    one-shot , September 24, 2009 6:39 AM
    Great article! It's crazy to see all of that packed into a case for only ~$650.
  • 13 Hide
    anamaniac , September 24, 2009 6:44 AM
    Wonderful. =D

    What about the new $100 quad core athlon with no L3?
    I know I like extra cores. Wonderful choice regardless.

    I wonder what the quad core athlon with a 512MB 5850 (which would increase the budget though) will be like. Both cheap yet highend parts. =D

    Nice to see what only a pocketful of cash can get you.
  • 6 Hide
    tacoslave , September 24, 2009 6:51 AM
    i know it wasn't available at the time but what about that 100 dollar quad core the athlon II x4?
  • 1 Hide
    rdawise , September 24, 2009 6:57 AM
    Good article. I know you stated you were leaving the "unlocking" of the other cores to the winner of the contest, but were you guys able to unlock? If so, could you re-run those benchmarks? Again great article.
  • 4 Hide
    stray_gator , September 24, 2009 7:17 AM
    While "forcing" all AMD builds for a single marathon is a good idea, the timing is somewhat unfortunate.
    An article which explores the performance and value of a complete Lynnfield build is something I (and many others, i'd dare to guess) would like to see but haven't yet, and this month's SBM is a missed opportunity in that regard.
  • 0 Hide
    jj463rd , September 24, 2009 7:23 AM
    That's a bitchin budget gamer system especially looking at the gaming benchmarks.Just this month I was thinking about building a similar type of system with the Phenom II X2 550BE.I was going to go with gigabytes 785G type board (just one graphics card slot) though however I may reconsider that especially with what you presented here although I was shooting for a much cheaper budget build (about $180 less than what you have),Newegg did have a gigabyte 785G board with the Phenom II X2 and $20 off in a combo deal until the end of this month.
    I think that your choices were better than mine (more powerful).
  • 1 Hide
    gkay09 , September 24, 2009 7:28 AM
    Another alternate mobo - 785G ...they are availbale in AM3/AM2+ flavours and have SB 710, which can allow core unlocking -http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813128394
    But not sure about their o/c potential though...
  • 2 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , September 24, 2009 7:37 AM
    Nice to see a cheap system still using a quality motherboard.
  • 8 Hide
    lvlouro , September 24, 2009 8:01 AM
    ChairFaceI usually love reading these, but this time I just went directly to the comment section. There's no point in building or owning an amd box, they are too weak compared to modern Intel/Nvidia based systems.


    It's a budget build... I doubt that you could do any better with intel for this price, and seriously doubt that nvidia would be better.

    Face it nvidia is not the best right now. I own a 8800GT 512, it was/is an excelent card but just because nvidia did something awesome doesn't mean that presently it's the best choice.

    I really can't understand people who bias their choices based on the brand.
    My advice: don't buy a brand buy quality/performance/cost, it will save you some money and you'll be better served...
  • 1 Hide
    jj463rd , September 24, 2009 8:04 AM
    gkay09Another alternate mobo - 785G ...they are availbale in AM3/AM2+ flavours and have SB 710, which can allow core unlocking -http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813128394 But not sure about their o/c potential though...

    Yeah that was the one in the combo deal with the Phenom II X2 550 BE.
    I was considering one Radeon 5850 card for it.I wonder how one Radeon 5850 compares to 2 Radeon 4850's CF'd.
  • 0 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , September 24, 2009 8:13 AM
    jj463rdI wonder how one Radeon 5850 compares to 2 Radeon 4850's CF'd.

    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/radeon-hd-5870,2422-16.html
    The new big brother of the new card's shown here. Given the minor differences in speed and a few shaders missing I'm guessing this chart's difference between 2x4870 and 5870 account more or less to the difference between a 5850 and 2x4850 (assuming 1gb memory, 512 just isn't enough for 2500, and at 1600 u only need one 4850 512mb in most games).
    In any event - consider the savings in power consumption when calculating cost. The new cards are so much cheaper to idle - and my 4870 idles most of the time.
  • 0 Hide
    gkay09 , September 24, 2009 8:23 AM
    And why not this HDD? Wouldnt this be faster than that WD Blue ?
    Samsung F3 500GB
    $49.99 with Free Shipping
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822152181
  • 0 Hide
    amnotanoobie , September 24, 2009 9:08 AM
    Just a thought, would the Athlon II X4 be a better alternative if the user is geared towards productivity apps rather than games?
  • 4 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , September 24, 2009 9:14 AM
    amnotanoobieJust a thought, would the Athlon II X4 be a better alternative if the user is geared towards productivity apps rather than games?

    If a user is geared towards that, something with an i7 is a better choice. Just drop the graphics altogether (or get a 4650 or something).
  • 0 Hide
    toxxel , September 24, 2009 9:32 AM
    All hopes go to the winner of this system on a successful unlock of the 2 disabled cores, after throwing on a nice after market hsf. Though I wonder how this build would have went with a single 4870 1gb instead of two 4850's and an after market cooler was used bench wise with it running x4 not x2. Winner might want to do some research if unsuccessful at unlocking with the stock bios after reading buyer comments on the mb which bios version to flash(latest isn't always best).
  • 0 Hide
    r_manic , September 24, 2009 9:58 AM
  • 1 Hide
    jj463rd , September 24, 2009 9:59 AM
    You know after all it would be very hard to out do this budget system build especially if the cores are unlocked.Dang
  • 0 Hide
    r0x0r , September 24, 2009 10:15 AM
    Can I enter the competition if I live outside of the United States?
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