System Builder Marathon, Q4 2012: $500 Gaming PC

Is This Our Best $500 Gamer Ever?

With a number of new benchmarks added to our suite, we have to skip the full performance comparison this quarter. Fortunately, our two platforms and their Sandy Bridge-based Pentium processors are separated by a scant 100 MHz. So, the most important data to look at comes from our games. 

We'll start by summarizing average frame rates in the two titles we used last quarter and today, Battlefield 3 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, using the older stock $500 system as a baseline.

When we average all four resolutions, and include mid-range and high-end detail settings, we end up letting a number of bottlenecks affect our results. It's pretty amazing, then, that we see a 12% frame rate boost favoring our current PC, even besting last quarter's overclocked setup. Even more impressive is when we start tuning the Radeon HD 7850. 

Now let's factor out the CPU-limited low-resolution tests and focus purely on the settings we'd actually use for gaming.

Just look at that beat-down! It’s pretty obvious why AMD's Radeon HD 7850 is our new favorite in the sub-$200 graphics card category.

It's a shame that we're only comparing two games. But when we look to the past, Battlefield 3 historically favored Nvidia's hardware. It appears safe to say that the Radeon HD 7850 and Catalyst 12.10 driver package, together, generate more bang from our $170 graphics budget than any card before.

Conclusion

Intel’s Pentium G800-series processor repeatedly prove themselves as capable foundations on which to build a gaming machine. There's a reason that, month after month, they secure the first recommendation in Don Woligrowski’s Best Gaming CPU For The Money column. But what we like most about the Pentium G850 is its $70 price tag. That allowed us to free up additional funds for a higher-end platform, more system memory, and the stellar Radeon HD 7850. Of course, prices change on a daily basis, and we're amused to see the Pentium G860 selling for even less just before publication.

We're disappointed that AMD's Athlon X4 750K is still unavailable here in the U.S. But we're thrilled to present an improved gaming PC based on Intel's Pentium family. This rig sets a new baseline for performance at our $500 price point. There's certainly room for improvement in productivity and content creation apps, but we at least have a good understanding of what we'd give up in the future if a pricier CPU draws budget away from a great graphics card.

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    Top Comments
  • willyroc
    Not to mention that the 500GB version of the HDD is only $3 more.
    26
  • Crashman
    killerchickens$501 Plus $100 for a copy of windows 7.
    Run Linux, this is a hardware shootout.
    22
  • colinstu
    EzioAsI think they'd be better off with a B75 motherboard, 4GB RAM and an i3-3220.


    Exactly. Couldn't've said it better.
    21
  • Other Comments
  • killerchickens
    $501 Plus $100 for a copy of windows 7.
    -20
  • Crashman
    killerchickens$501 Plus $100 for a copy of windows 7.
    Run Linux, this is a hardware shootout.
    22
  • willyroc
    I personally feel that they could have gone with H61 and gotten a 2GB 7850 instead.
    21
  • killerchickens
    CrashmanRun Linux, this is a hardware shootout.


    Linux for a gaming desktop I dont think so.
    -13
  • willyroc
    Not to mention that the 500GB version of the HDD is only $3 more.
    26
  • jerm1027
    Quote:
    Our best alternative remained the quad-core Phenom II X4 995 Black Edition for $95. But we chose not to revisit this old favorite, figuring that adding a Radeon HD 7850 would have taxed our budget.

    What about the Phenom II 965? It's only $75 at TigerDirect.
    9
  • killerchickens
    Why is Windows 8 Professional being used?
    -17
  • EzioAs
    Anonymous said:
    I personally feel that they could have gone with H61 and gotten a 2GB 7850 instead.


    I think they'd be better off with a B75 motherboard, 4GB RAM and an i3-3220.
    21
  • mayankleoboy1
    I am not very comfortable using windows8 in these benches. Reason : Drivers have not yet matured for win8. I would have waited for the next quarter SBM before using win8.
    4
  • killerchickens
    Windows is free and we use Linux in are gaming Machines what are we in Soviet Russia .
    -19
  • kj3639
    Well done! I built a $700 rig for a friend a few weeks ago. Parts were mostly identical except for a Corei5 3330, 2 GB 7850 and 120 GB SSD. The 7850 is by far the most bang for the buck and overclocks quite well. I recently bought two for a crossfire setup on my rig for $300 dollars on black friday as well. The 7850 was a solid choice.
    4
  • colinstu
    EzioAsI think they'd be better off with a B75 motherboard, 4GB RAM and an i3-3220.


    Exactly. Couldn't've said it better.
    21
  • aznshinobi
    The FX-6300 doesn't get any love?
    0
  • killerchickens
    So guys you would buy Windows 8 Professional for a $500 gaming computer.
    -15
  • blazorthon
    aznshinobiThe FX-6300 doesn't get any love?


    It's too expensive.

    killerchickensSo guys you would buy Windows 8 Professional for a $500 gaming computer.


    This was a hardware test. You're OS complaints are irrelevant and there's no practical difference between Home and Pro versions when it comes to simple performance tests. such as these.
    16
  • blazorthon
    killerchickensWindows is free and we use Linux in are gaming Machines what are we in Soviet Russia .


    Several Linux distros works pretty well with most modern popular games, just FYI. Also, getting Windows for free legally is easy if you care to do it. Dreamspark has many free versions available to college students and most people know at least one, even if by proxy. Even in the unlikelihood of not knowing any, there's still the eval copies that MS gives away for free on their own website.
    10
  • blazorthon
    mayankleoboy1I am not very comfortable using windows8 in these benches. Reason : Drivers have not yet matured for win8. I would have waited for the next quarter SBM before using win8.


    I disagree. The current drivers for Windows 8 are pretty much on-par with the Windows 7 drivers. Heck, they're better than AMD's pre-Catalyst 12.6 drivers.
    12
  • de5_Roy
    was hoping to see a piledriver based cpu in this quarter's build. but i was much happier to see the 1gb radeon 7850 instead. nice gaming build.
    7
  • blazorthon
    Anonymous said:
    was hoping to see a piledriver based cpu in this quarter's build. but i was much happier to see the 1gb radeon 7850 instead. nice gaming build.


    Meh, I would've preferred seeing at least an A8-5600K with a cheaper motherboard and memory kit or keep the same memory kit and get a cheaper case. It could have fit, IDK why Tom's didn't do it. Maybe there weren't good prices on other components at the time :/
    -4
  • killerchickens
    blazorthonThis was a hardware test. You're OS complaints are irrelevant and there's no practical difference between Home and Pro versions when it comes to simple performance tests. such as these.


    Windows home still costs $100 which is still some how not part of the budget.
    -16