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System Builder Marathon, March 2011: $500 Gaming PC

System Builder Marathon, March 2011: $500 Gaming PC
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System Builder Marathon, March 2011: The Articles

Here are links to each of the five 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.

To enter the giveaway, please fill out this Google form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!

Day 1: The $2,000 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1,000 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $500 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected
Day 5: Tom's Hand-Picked SuperCombo

Introduction

The conclusion of our December 2010 $500 PC story hinted exactly where I hoped to take this month’s gaming rig. Specifically, I was interested in an AMD Phenom II X4 quad-core processor paired with Radeon HD 6850 or GeForce GTX 460 (1 GB) graphics. However, I anticipated that pulling this off would likely mean building a $600 gaming machine, a move that would throw off our clean $500/$1000/$2000 dollar brackets. So, what sacrifices would be needed to keep this build on target?

$500 Gaming PC System Components

Component Model Price
CPUAMD Phenom II X4 925$125
CPU CoolerAMD boxed heatsink/fan$0
MotherboardASRock M3A770DE $60
RAMG.Skill 4 GB (2 x 2 GB) DDR3-1333 (PC3 10600) Model F3-10666CL9D-4GBNS$40
GraphicsSapphire 100315L Radeon HD 6850 1 GB$170
Hard DriveSamsung Spinpoint F4 HD322GJ/U 320 GB SATA 3Gb/s $43
CaseXigmatek Asgard II B/O CPC-T45UE-U01$30
PowerAntec EarthWatts Green EA380D 380 W$40
OpticalLite-On 24x DVD Burner SATA iHAS 124-04$19
Total Price
$527


Many of you enjoy quad-core computing on the cheap thanks to unlocked dormant cores on AMD’s X2 and X3 processors. But, since we’re only batting 60% on the unlocking front (with full system stability) in our System Builder Marathons, I wasn’t going to risk competing in a well-threaded application suite with anything less than four cores.

AMD has a few attractive quad-core offerings within range of this system’s budgetary constraints, and buying into one means setting aside at least $100 for an Athlon II X4 640. Fortunately, DDR3 is now super-cheap. Utilizing 4 GB, along with a familiar $60 Socket AM3 motherboard, leaves $300 for other components, paving the way for unprecedented graphics muscle at this price point without sacrificing PSU quality.

The Athlon II X4 640 is the perfect choice for assembling a true $500 Gaming PC. At the other end of the spectrum, the $145 Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition is even more appealing to enthusiasts like us who love to overclock without constraints. It offers a 3.2 GHz clock rate, an unlocked multiplier, 6 MB of shared L3 cache, and a fairly decent heatpipe-based boxed cooler.

While it's not worth sacrificing graphics muscle or bumping us all the way up to another $550 build, I was willing to break the bank and get my hands on the cheapest quad-core Phenom II with abundant L3 cache: the X4 925.

Display all 98 comments.
  • 3 Hide
    tacoslave , March 25, 2011 4:18 AM
    i think orange looks spiffy
  • -5 Hide
    abswindows7 , March 25, 2011 4:20 AM
    worst case in the world.
  • 1 Hide
    LuckyDucky7 , March 25, 2011 4:51 AM
    "I’ll certainly entertain the possibility of Intel’s newly-available Core i3-2100 for the next SBM."

    Have fun overclocking that rig!

    I'd choose my O/C'd i3-530 @ 3.75 GHz (stock, air-cooled) over any of the new Sandy Bridge offerings any day.
    The 2100 just cannot compete with that- it's marginally better than a first-gen i3, and it cannot be pushed harder.

    *Hopes Bulldozer will be ready by that time*
  • 4 Hide
    wolfram23 , March 25, 2011 4:55 AM
    Pretty darn good for $500!
  • 2 Hide
    Judguh , March 25, 2011 4:59 AM
    Good Build!
  • 4 Hide
    hmp_goose , March 25, 2011 4:59 AM
    Need the optical drive?
  • 3 Hide
    haplo602 , March 25, 2011 5:06 AM
    now finaly a low SBM build I like.

    ++ on the PSU (finaly not a 500W+ waste)
    + on the case (looks decent)
  • 2 Hide
    lunyone , March 25, 2011 5:49 AM
    Pretty good build for the $. I would've gone with the Athlon x4 or x3 to keep things under budget, but that is just me. There are plenty of GPU options in the ~$170 price range. I think you might've got one of "those" GPU's that you read about. This is why "expecting" OC'ing abilities with whatever part you buy, shouldn't be taken for granted. Buy what you can afford and if you get a good OC on your parts, feel blessed:) 
  • 1 Hide
    lunyone , March 25, 2011 5:51 AM
    I would've taken the savings on the CPU and bought better RAM or maybe even a different case, but that is just nit picking a bit :) 
  • 1 Hide
    Marcus52 , March 25, 2011 6:34 AM
    Very nice build for the price. However, I simply can't help but think for another hundred or so dollars a Sandy Bridge build would be worth saving up another couple of months for by the person who had a very tight budget. It's what I'd recommend to a friend, unless he/she had an immediate need that couldn't wait.

    ;) 
  • 7 Hide
    cangelini , March 25, 2011 6:37 AM
    one-shotWould someone please explain the point of comparing the old SBM to the new one if there isn't a list of the parts from the SBM done in the past? These have always been annoying when the reader is forced to look back to December for a detailed list of parts. This has been practiced for years here. It makes no sense comparing to something the reader has no idea as to the parts being used in the past. Seriously....Edit: Why Did I get a Minus one the second after my post was submitted?


    There is a list, but it requires reading the story through page eight, at least =)
  • 1 Hide
    mraltoid19 , March 25, 2011 6:53 AM
    Nice system! I don't know if a SB cpu will be much better. Bear in mind that the SB would have to be the i3 due to price. And as a Dual-Core with no ability to overclock what-so-ever, it may have a heck of a time going up against a true quad-core. On this config, I would have dropped down from the X4 925 to the X4 640. Then used the saved $25 towards a 6870 ( http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Description=Radeon+6870&Submit=ENE&DEPA=0&Order=BESTMATCH&sourceid=mozilla-search) Cheapest at Newegg is $190 (not to mention a $20 rebate, that brings it down to $170).
  • 1 Hide
    SpadeM , March 25, 2011 7:09 AM
    Actually there is a new review .. sort of ... for the 2100 in which it shows some pretty interesting numbers, and it's available here:
    http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=article&item=intel_corei3_2100&num=1

    Numbers aside, looking forward to the next SBM.
  • 0 Hide
    Marcus52 , March 25, 2011 7:09 AM
    one-shotWould someone please explain the point of comparing the old SBM to the new one if there isn't a list of the parts from the SBM done in the past? These have always been annoying when the reader is forced to look back to December for a detailed list of parts. This has been practiced for years here. It makes no sense comparing to something the reader has no idea as to the parts being used in the past. Seriously....Edit: Why Did I get a Minus one the second after my post was submitted?


    I hope Tomshardware editors never stoop to writing reviews geared to people that won't make the effort to look up past articles.








  • 4 Hide
    dco , March 25, 2011 7:41 AM
    Quote:
    I hope Tomshardware editors never stoop to writing reviews geared to people that won't make the effort to look up past articles.


    yeah because who would want to live in a world that's convenient......
  • -2 Hide
    one-shot , March 25, 2011 7:42 AM
    delete please!
  • 5 Hide
    one-shot , March 25, 2011 7:46 AM
    cangeliniThere is a list, but it requires reading the story through page eight, at least =)


    Sorry, can't read with my foot in my mouth. :) 
  • 2 Hide
    Marcus52 , March 25, 2011 7:52 AM
    mraltoid19Nice system! I don't know if a SB cpu will be much better. Bear in mind that the SB would have to be the i3 due to price. And as a Dual-Core with no ability to overclock what-so-ever, it may have a heck of a time going up against a true quad-core. On this config, I would have dropped down from the X4 925 to the X4 640. Then used the saved $25 towards a 6870 ( http://www.newegg.com/Product/Prod [...] la-search) Cheapest at Newegg is $190 (not to mention a $20 rebate, that brings it down to $170).


    I was thinking it would be more in my first post, but a quad-core SB can be had for $60 more, a mainboard can be had for $5 more, so now that I've actually looked it up, you can get into an i5 Sandy Bridge with a decent Asrock mainboard for a total of another $65. Overclocking on the stock cooler? My guess is results would be similar.

    That would be a 13% increase in price, and I'd be willing to bet the overall performance difference would be more than that.

    The better you know your software needs, the better you can tailor your system. I think a lot of gamers would shift as you would for the better graphics card, but that would actually hurt some games that need the stronger CPU. World of Warcraft is an example - while Cataclysm brought changes that make the video card much more important, the CPU is still a major player and when player populations get high the most critical element. It's something I think FPS multiplayer gamers might think about as well.

    ;) 
  • 4 Hide
    cangelini , March 25, 2011 8:00 AM
    one-shotI have lots of respect for the editors at Toms, don't get me wrong. I'm sure many other readers would also prefer a list of the previous SMB, as well. Searching through an article for components to compare the two is very inconvenient.Please take this into consideration on the next SBM.-Thanks!


    Thanks one-shot, but I'm not sure how else I can help you here. The complete list of comparison hardware is right there on the page called Test System Configuration And Benchmarks. You have this quarter's hardware and last quarter's hardware in successive tables. I'm not sure how much more convenient we can make it. If you have any suggestions, please suggest away!
    Best,
    Chris
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