System Builder Marathon, Q2 2014: Our Budget Gaming PC

How We Tested Our Budget Gaming PC

The following tables include the stock and overclocked settings for this quarter's budget-oriented gaming build, followed by the configuration we put together earlier this year, which serves as our comparison point.

At the very bottom, you’ll find the programs and games used for benchmarking.

Current Budget Gaming PC System Test Configuration
Component Base Settings Overclock Setting
CPUAMD Athlon X4 750K (Trinity), 3.4 GHz (4 GHz max. Turbo Core), Socket FM2, No L3 Cache, Turbo Core enabled, Power-savings enabled4.2 GHz (42*100), 1.272 V (Load), Turbo Core disabled, Power-savings enabled, 2000 MHz CPU-NB Frequency
CPU CoolerAMD Boxed Heat Sink and FanUnchanged
MotherboardASRock FM2A75M Pro4+, AMD A75, BIOS: P1.30 (10-15-13)Unchanged
RAM8 GB (2 x 4 GB) Team Dark Series DDR3-1600, CL 9-9-9-24 XMP at 1.5 VDDR3-1866, CL 9-9-9-24 at 1.625 V
GraphicsMSI R7 265 2GD5 OC 2 GB, 955 MHz GPU, 1400 MHz (5600 MT/s) Memory1050 MHz GPU, 1450 MHz (5800 MT/s) Memory, Custom Fan Profile
Hard DriveWD Blue WD10EZEX 1 TB, 7200 RPM, 64 MB CacheUnchanged
SoundIntegrated Eight-Channel HD AudioUnchanged
NetworkIntegrated Gigabit EthernetUnchanged
PowerEVGA 100-W1-0430-KR 430 W Unchanged
OpticalAsus 24x DVD Burner DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS
Unchanged
 Software and Drivers
Operating SystemWindows 8 Professional x64Unchanged
Graphics DriverAMD Catalyst 14.4Unchanged
Q1 2014 $750 PC System Test Configuration
Component Base Settings Overclock Setting
CPUIntel Core i3-4130 (Haswell): 3.4 GHz, 3 MB Shared L3 Cache, Power-savings enabledUnchanged
CPU CoolerIntel Boxed Heat Sink and FanUnchanged
MotherboardAsus H81M-K, LGA 1150, Intel H81 Express, BIOS: v.0304 (08-23-13)Unchanged
RAM8 GB (2 x 4 GB) Adata DDR3-1600, CL 9-9-9-24 XMP at 1.5 VUnchanged
GraphicsZotac ZT-70301-10P GeForce GTX 770 2 GB, 1059 MHz (1111 Boost, 1150 Max Boost) GPU, 1.2 V, 1753 MHz (7010 MT/s) Memory1283 MHz (Max Boost) GPU, 1903 MHz (7610 MT/s) Memory, (+12 mV, 106% Power, Custom Fan Profile)
Hard DriveWD Blue WD10EZEX 1 TB, 7200 RPM, 64 MB CacheUnchanged
SoundIntegrated Eight-Channel HD AudioUnchanged
NetworkIntegrated Gigabit EthernetUnchanged
PowerRosewill Capstone-450-M 450 W ATXUnchanged
OpticalAsus 24x DVD Burner DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS
Unchanged
 Software and Drivers
Operating SystemWindows 8 Professional x64Unchanged
Graphics DriverNvidia 332.21 WHQLUnchanged
Platform DriverIntel INF 9.4.0.1017Unchanged
Benchmark Configuration
3D Games
Arma 3
V. 1.20 Current PC, V.1.08 Q1 PC
30-sec. Fraps "Infantry Showcase"
Test Set 1: Standard Preset, No AA, Standard AF
Test Set 2: Ultra Preset, 8x FSAA, Ultra AF
Battlefield 4Version 1.0.0.1, DirectX 11, 100-sec. Fraps "Tashgar"
Test Set 1: Medium Quality Preset, No AA, 4x AF, SSAO
Test Set 2: Ultra Quality Preset, 4x MSAA, 16x AF, HBAO
Far Cry 3V. 1.05, DirectX 11, 50-sec. Fraps "Amanaki Outpost"
Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA, Standard ATC, SSAO
Test Set 2: Ultra Quality, 4x MSAA, Enhanced ATC, HDAO AMD/ HBAO NVidia 
Grid 2Version 1.0.85.8679, Direct X 11, Built-in Benchmark
Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA
Test Set 2: Ultra Quality, 8x MSAA
Audio/Video Encoding
HandBrake CLIVersion: 0.99, Video: Video from Canon EOS 7D (1920x1080, 25 frames) 1 Minutes 22 Seconds, Audio: PCM-S16, 48,000 Hz, Two-channel, to Video: AVC1 Audio: AAC (High Profile)
iTunesVersion 11.0.4.4 x64: Audio CD (Terminator II SE), 53 minutes, default AAC format 
LAME MP3Version 3.98.3: Audio CD "Terminator II SE", 53 min, convert WAV to MP3 audio format, Command: -b 160 --nores (160 Kb/s)
TotalCode Studio 2.5Version: 2.5.0.10677, MPEG2 to H.264, MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG-2), Audio: MPEG-2 (44.1 kHz, Two-channel, 16-bit, 224 Kb/s) Codec: H.264 Pro, Mode: PAL 50i (25 FPS), Profile: H.264 BD HDMV
Adobe Creative Suite
Adobe After Effects CCVersion 12.0.0.404: Create Video, 3 Streams, 210 Frames, Render Multiple Frames Simultaneously
Adobe Photoshop CCVersion 14 x64: Filter 15.7 MB TIF Image: Radial Blur, Shape Blur, Median, Polar Coordinates
Adobe Premiere Pro CS6Version 6.0.0.0, 6.61 GB MXF Project to H.264 to H.264 Blu-ray, Output 1920x1080, Maximum Quality
Adobe Acrobat XIVersion 11.0.0: Print PDF from 115 Page PowerPoint, 128-bit RC4 Encyption
Productivity
ABBYY FineReaderVersion 10.0.102.95: Read PDF save to Doc, Source: Political Economy (J. Broadhurst 1842) 111 Pages
Autodesk 3ds Max 2013Version 15.0 x64: Space Flyby Mentalray, 248 Frames, 1440x1080
BlenderVersion 2.68a, Cycles Engine, Syntax blender -b thg.blend -f 1, 1920x1080, 8x Anti-Aliasing, Render THG.blend frame 1
Visual StudioVersion 10.0, Compile Google Chrome, Scripted
Compression
7-ZipVersion 9.30 alpha, LZMA2, Syntax "a -t7z -r -m0=LZMA2 -mx=5"
Benchmark: THG-Workload-2012 (1.3 GB)
WinRARVersion 5.0, RAR, Syntax "winrar a -r -m3"
Benchmark: THG-Workload-2012 (1.3 GB)
WinZipVersion 18.0 Pro, Syntax "-a -ez -p -r"
Benchmark: THG-Workload-2012 (1.3 GB)
Synthetic Benchmarks and Settings
3DMark ProfessionalVersion: 1.2.250.0, Fire Strike Standard and Extreme
PCMark 8Version: 1.0.0 x64 Full Test
SiSoftware Sandra 2014Version: 2014.02.20.10, Processor Arithmetic, Cryptography, Memory Bandwidth Benchmarks
Create a new thread in the US Reviews comments forum about this subject
This thread is closed for comments
76 comments
    Your comment
    Top Comments
  • Please stop those nonsenses so called upgrade path. People who buy budget pc won't upgrade their pc before 2-3 years of usage at least. And by the time they are actually upgrading, they will be buying new CPU and new motherboard aka a whole new platform. But still i'll say a combination of G3258 + H97 and overclock it or a i3 4150 + H97 without overclocking will be a better option.
    20
  • I'm not an expert by any means, so take this with a grain of salt. Would dumping the RAM down to 4 GB have opened up the better graphics card?

    The reason why I ask is that budget builders, if they do choose to upgrade anything, typically upgrade RAM (due to the extreme ease at which it can be installed). This way, as they save their pennies they can make the jump from 4 GB to 8 GB while still having the better graphics card that should serve them a bit better and longer than the one in the current system.
    14
  • THANK YOU for finally including the cost of the OS! This is a HUGE budget consideration, ESPECIALLY for those working on low-cost builds.
    10
  • Other Comments
  • I myself just could not see buying a setup like this because of complete lack of a CPU upgrade path.
    -2
  • Please stop those nonsenses so called upgrade path. People who buy budget pc won't upgrade their pc before 2-3 years of usage at least. And by the time they are actually upgrading, they will be buying new CPU and new motherboard aka a whole new platform. But still i'll say a combination of G3258 + H97 and overclock it or a i3 4150 + H97 without overclocking will be a better option.
    20
  • THANK YOU for finally including the cost of the OS! This is a HUGE budget consideration, ESPECIALLY for those working on low-cost builds.
    10
  • I'm personally not surprised at all that the ASUS burner was DOA. I've owned four of them, and each one has died within a month of purchase. Not a fan.
    -1
  • I'd love to see a "vote on the components" build at some point. Each decision would have 3-5 choices with your analysis of why a choice might be good or bad. Then, as readers and enthusiasts, we can vote for our choice and see what wins.
    8
  • Liking the new format and for once,I actually agree with the choices made on this rig!Good show there henningsen,I think it is important to consider that this month's rig,compared to last time at $750,has enough difference in price to graba monitor and keyboarg mouse combo,for a complete system,and that is a win.
    -1
  • I'm not an expert by any means, so take this with a grain of salt. Would dumping the RAM down to 4 GB have opened up the better graphics card?

    The reason why I ask is that budget builders, if they do choose to upgrade anything, typically upgrade RAM (due to the extreme ease at which it can be installed). This way, as they save their pennies they can make the jump from 4 GB to 8 GB while still having the better graphics card that should serve them a bit better and longer than the one in the current system.
    14
  • I hope you stick with the budgets in the future, it seems pretty silly comparing machines from quarter to quarter with wildly fluctuation budgets. It's also nice that budget actually means entry level budget and that the cap is $1500. It seems like after that amount it just ends up throwing money at things because they sound cool rather than really changing the performance of the machine all that much.

    Hopefully next time we will get the see the G3258 in the budget gaming rig since even Tom's own article showed the 3258 pretty much destroying the 750k in games across the board . . . or maybe AMD could come up with something that's actually worth buying over other offerings?
    3
  • 1675850 said:
    I'm not an expert by any means, so take this with a grain of salt. Would dumping the RAM down to 4 GB have opened up the better graphics card? The reason why I ask is that budget builders, if they do choose to upgrade anything, typically upgrade RAM (due to the extreme ease at which it can be installed). This way, as they save their pennies they can make the jump from 4 GB to 8 GB while still having the better graphics card that should serve them a bit better and longer than the one in the current system.


    Actually, you are right on target. This is a big decision for budget-buyers to consider. And here is where I was most torn also. For me it somewhat comes down to current market prices. The way they rise and fall you may grab an 8GB kit later on for the price of a 4GB kit now. Though the reverse has already happened too. We bought 8GB kits for way less in the past. If budget/funding forced me under R7-260X, I'd have dropped to 4GB.

    In this SBM series we run our benchmark workloads from the HDD, not RAM Drive, so it (dropping to 4GB)wouldn't show up in our benchmark charts much at all (beyond a few apps, tops). Yet jumping to R9 270 would have yielded notable gains in frame rates, and even offered higher max playable settings. Yet it also feels like a bit of a cheat on my part; a benchmark win, yet also a "daily livability" loss.

    IMO computing life with 4GB isn't as productive or enjoyable. Stuttering or hitching in games, lengthened time just to exit games or switch between tasks, and even web browsing slowing to a crawl when too many tabs are open.

    I got in the habit of outfitting 8GB when RAM was more affordable, especially when the entry-level mobo in use is limited to two sticks. This one supports four, so starting with 4GB becomes more practical. There's some potential for compatibility issues when adding very different memory kits. (single-sided+dual-sided) But nothing I'd worry too much about.

    I'd say budget builders more than anyone should consider building in steps. That's one good reason to build rather than buy. Be it the mobo, CPU, Graphics, PSU, RAM, It's nice know part(s) of your platform has/have staying power, even if you can't afford to do it all well, right from the start.
    7
  • 1648561 said:
    Please stop those nonsenses so called upgrade path. People who buy budget pc won't upgrade their pc before 2-3 years of usage at least. And by the time they are actually upgrading, they will be buying new CPU and new motherboard aka a whole new platform. But still i'll say a combination of G3258 + H97 and overclock it or a i3 4150 + H97 without overclocking will be a better option.


    While I most certainly understand what you are saying, considering the double post directly above it, I'd also like to reiterate budget builders are the ones who should probably MOST consider the upgrade path. If you can afford to hit the upper-mainstream now across the board, fine. You may likely be happy for a few years until your next build. Or at least you'd have the platform to stay with a GPU upgrade, if desired.

    But if you can't, then why settle for the disposable platform mentality and not consider advantaging upgrade potential into your plan? Remember some folks aren't keen on starting over with a fresh OS all to often. A large CPU bump while retaining the mobo, can be a huge plus for those who always feel they lack free time. Starting with a Pentium and later popping in Core i7 has huge lasting potential for those short on cash only, but not in computing desires. For my son, I even started with Celeron so he could build his own with me, and now that rig outfits i5-2500K, and the Celeron ported over to a cheap office PC. It was part of the plan all along, but the cheap chip got us up and running quicker within my budget. Best of all, it only took me minutes to upgrade.
    5
  • 687157 said:
    THANK YOU for finally including the cost of the OS! This is a HUGE budget consideration, ESPECIALLY for those working on low-cost builds.


    Took a while... but you are welcome! :) It was a series tradition that made sense to break. Show support, and we'll plan to keep it this way moving forward.

    111219 said:
    I hope you stick with the budgets in the future, it seems pretty silly comparing machines from quarter to quarter with wildly fluctuation budgets. It's also nice that budget actually means entry level budget and that the cap is $1500. It seems like after that amount it just ends up throwing money at things because they sound cool rather than really changing the performance of the machine all that much. Hopefully next time we will get the see the G3258 in the budget gaming rig since even Tom's own article showed the 3258 pretty much destroying the 750k in games across the board . . . or maybe AMD could come up with something that's actually worth buying over other offerings?


    $750 before the OS/peripherals is way too rich a starting point. We get that.

    What happens though is, our options grow stagnant at the same budgets, and the stories/comparisons start lacking. So we creep the budget up over time seeking a worthy upgrade, or out of curiosity, both ours and readers. Eventually, this one is not a "budget" build in many eyes, and rightfully so. At that point we work back down or simply chop it down. Occasionally new hardware launches fall outside our budgets, but deserve a closer look.

    But thanks. Your feedback is noted, and I too would like to explore all worthy options appearing down here such as the G3258.
    4
  • +1 to staying within the budget. I've been saying for quite some time that the "Budget" build should be at $500 and stick with it (of coarse the OS would be a separate price, since most people can get quite a different price for the OS). My personal choice might have been a bit different, but your options look pretty solid for a "Real" budget build.
    1
  • 29478 said:
    What happens though is, our options grow stagnant at the same budgets, and the stories/comparisons start lacking. So we creep the budget up over time seeking a worthy upgrade, or out of curiosity, both ours and readers. Eventually, this one is not a "budget" build in many eyes, and rightfully so. At that point we work back down or simply chop it down. Occasionally new hardware launches fall outside our budgets, but deserve a closer look.


    Since you do these quarterly, why not alternate between productivity boxes and gaming boxes? Have maybe a game or two in the productivity benchmark suite and maybe one or two workhorse benchmarks in the gaming suite but otherwise the vast majority of the benchmarks tailored to the specific tasks of the builds. That way you have about 6 months between similar builds which should cut down on the repetition. This would also keep the focus of the boxes in each budget band consistent, unlike this month where you are building a budget gaming rig, middle of the road rig, and balanced rig.

    Realistically these days a gaming rig is just a productivity rig with a big honkin' video card in it anyway so people that want the best of both worlds can look at the productivity rig and pick the video card that suits them from the best gaming cards for the money article if there is some huge announcement between gaming rig articles or the opposite way with processors/storage.

    This would also cut down on the amount of work each quarter having focused benchmarks specific to the task at hand. You could introduce one new benchmark each round and the oldest one gets dropped so that you can always compare the latest builds with the past few but your benchmarks never get stale.
    -2
  • Love to see you're back to $500-600 starting point for gaming machines. It's a challenging task thus interesting.
    0
  • Quote:
    Please stop those nonsenses so called upgrade path. People who buy budget pc won't upgrade their pc before 2-3 years of usage at least. And by the time they are actually upgrading, they will be buying new CPU and new motherboard aka a whole new platform. But still i'll say a combination of G3258 + H97 and overclock it or a i3 4150 + H97 without overclocking will be a better option.

    This AMD combo is 140$
    4150 + H97 (cheapest on newegg) = 210$... thats a lot of money.
    -1
  • I think it is difficult to build a system that everyone is happy with. I myself usually start off cheap and add new upgrades as I go along. There are a lot of ways to upgrade a computer. Specifically I think most people upgrade video cards and the CPU or they might add a new hard drive SSD of course. I have done several upgrades over the years and I still use my old aluminum LanBoy case. ;-) So I can save a lot of money by reusing my case, power supply, memory, etc.
    2
  • I really like the article and the SBM builds in general combine these with the monthly updates for CPU and GPU for the money and gives everyone a great start for any price point.

    One thing I would like to see though is rather then having money drive the marathon have a performance goal and see the cheapest build you can make that can reach it,
    For example
    Budget -
    medium on games x,y,z with 40 fps at 1080p,
    Blender 1 Frame 1080p in 5:00,
    iTunes 1:00
    Enthusiast -
    very high with 2x AA on x,y,z, with 40 fps at 2560
    Blender 1 Frame 1080p in 3:00,
    iTunes 0:50
    Monster -
    Ultra on x,y,z, with 40 fps on 3x1080p
    Blender 1 Frame 1080p in 2:30,
    iTunes 0:45

    These are just numbers I came up with from looking at the last few SMB's but something along these lines would be cool to see since would give a base line of this is the minimum to do these tasks.

    In either case keep up the great work
    1
  • Based on the Celeron build of a year or so ago, would it be worthwhile to look at a Kabini build as a gamer targeting 1920x1080, or does the x4 PCIe lane-limit make that an utter waste of time? If not, that platform would free up money for the graphics card.
    0
  • 1641813 said:
    Quote:
    Please stop those nonsenses so called upgrade path. People who buy budget pc won't upgrade their pc before 2-3 years of usage at least. And by the time they are actually upgrading, they will be buying new CPU and new motherboard aka a whole new platform. But still i'll say a combination of G3258 + H97 and overclock it or a i3 4150 + H97 without overclocking will be a better option.
    This AMD combo is 140$ 4150 + H97 (cheapest on newegg) = 210$... thats a lot of money.


    Asus H81's are 60-65 bucks and a G3258 is 75 for a total of 140 as well... and on Toms article it pretty much destroys the 750k at gaming while using less power. Plus you have an upgrade path to i5's and i7's if you really wanted to where the 750k is pretty much as good as it gets at this point. That's pretty much win-win-win Intel.
    1
  • i may be in the minority in this: kinda seems like $500 ($519 sans o.s.) limit doesn't offer smooth 1080p gaming performance for newer games, both in terms of cpu and gfx power.
    overall this is a nice build. the parts were chosen well. i wouldn't start with 4GB system memory even if it afforded more gfx power.
    0