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Here are links to each of the four articles in this quarter’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.
To enter the giveaway, please fill out this SurveyGizmo form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!
Day 1: The $500 Gaming PC
Day 2: The $1,000 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $2,000 Performance PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected
After last quarter's build (System Builder Marathon, August 2012: $500 Gaming PC), our intention was to move away from a pure $500 gaming rig and instead shift focus to a more well-rounded machine based on a quad-core AMD processor.
And then we caught wind of AMD's Radeon HD 7850 with 1 GB of GDDR5 for the same price as Nvidia's GeForce GTX 560, which we used last time around.
Procuring that much 3D performance for our budget gaming box became priority number one, even if it meant limiting the amount of money we could spend on our system's CPU.
Normally, when we think of AMD's Trinity architecture, we're reminded of capable on-die graphics and not super-fast x86 performance. But when the company introduced its current-gen APUs recently, we noticed an odd addition that looked like it could have been an alternative to Intel's dual-core Pentium.
We pinned our hopes on the Athlon X4 750K, armed with two Piledriver modules totaling four cores. A base clock rate of 3.4 GHz would ramp up to 4 GHz under the influence of Turbo Core, though we'd use its unlocked multiplier to go as fast as possible. Because the chip's graphics engine was disabled, according to AMD's specs, we wouldn't need to worry about unused logic wasting power. And as a result of the new Socket FM2 interface, we'd supposedly have an upgrade path moving forward.
But when the new X4 750K didn't show up for sale after launch, we reached out to AMD, which unfortunately seemed bewildered by the lack of availability, too. We had a couple of weeks to spare waiting for Microsoft's Windows 8 launch, but our deadline to order parts came and went without the Socket FM2-based Athlon showing up. As of this writing, the X4 750K is still nowhere to be found.
Starting at $130, the new Piledriver-based FX chips were out of this build's price range, and better-suited to one of the two higher-end configurations we'll be presenting. We would have had to drop to a Radeon HD 7770, 4 GB of memory, and still come up with another $15 of cost savings just to get the entry-level FX-4300.
Unfortunately, Bulldozer-based FXes hadn't come down in price either. The FX-4100 was still $110, and the faster FX-4170 was $120. 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. After all, we already covered similar CPUs in multiplier-locked and enthusiast-friendly Black Edition trims.
|$500 Gaming PC System Components|
|CPU||Intel Pentium G850 (Sandy Bridge): 2.9 GHz Base Clock Rate, No Turbo Boost, 3 MB Shared L3 Cache||$70|
|Heat Sink||Intel Boxed Heat Sink and Fan||0|
|Motherboard||ASRock H77 Pro4/MVP: LGA 1155, Intel H77 Express||$70|
|RAM||G.Skill Value Series 8 GB (2 x 4 GB) DDR3-1333 F3-10600CL9D-8GBNT||$34|
|Graphics||PowerColor AX7850 1GBD5-DH: Radeon HD 7850 1 GB||$170|
|Hard Drive||Western Digital WD3200AAKX: 320 GB, 7200 RPM SATA 6Gb/s Hard Drive||$65|
|Case||Rosewill Blackbone ATX Mid-Tower||$40|
|Power Supply||Antec VP-450 450 W||$36|
|Optical Drive||LG 24x DVD Burner SATA Model GH24NS90-OEM||$16|
Given the challenges on AMD's side, we just couldn’t ignore the price drops on Intel's proven dual-core line-up. With the Pentium G850 at our disposal for just $70, we could build a more potent gaming rig than last quarter and still have money left over for other components, allowing us to buy a more feature-complete motherboard and, finally, 8 GB of memory.
The only compromise we had to make was the same $65 storage budget as last time around. And this quarter, we were only able to secure 320 GB of capacity. We didn’t want to break the budget for storage we didn’t need, but we were disappointed to pay so much per gigabyte when larger drives were selling for only a few dollars more.