System Builder Marathon, Q3 2013: $650 Gaming PC

System Builder Marathon, Q3 2013: The Articles

Here are links to each of the five 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 $650 Gaming PC
Day 2: The $1300 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $2550 Performance PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected
Day 5: The $350 Bonus Entry-Level PC

Introduction

If you follow our System Builder Marathon series closely, then you know that the ultimate goal is securing the best all-around performance and value given limited budgets, out of the box and after our best tweaking efforts. Of course, lacking the funds to do all things well, I tend to vary the specific goals for each gaming PC I build. We want to improve, after all, and we can't do that unless we also experiment. Switching things up lets me cover more hardware and learn from the impact each change makes on performance.

Sometimes my goals involve a machine that better competes across a broad range of workloads, matching the previous quarter's performance at lower cost. Other times I gun for the best purely-gaming machine at my price point. Assuming I get somewhere between $500 and $650 for hardware, the Tom's Hardware audience expects my machine to game well, while my colleagues ultimately judge it based on how well it competes in overall value. 


When I specifically target 1920x1080 gaming, I often assemble a configuration that sports big graphics and a dual-core processor. Quite frankly, it usually falls flat in our productivity and content creation workloads. And when I’ve attempted to win the overall competition by sourcing a more potent processor, the graphics budget takes a hit, taking our high-resolution gaming potential with it. Ultimately I want an inexpensive processor able to excel in work and play. That's a pretty tall order. Among the contenders, AMD’s FX-6300 appears to pack the most promise. Ever since it dropped to $120, I've been itching to incorporate it into one of my gaming boxes.

We already know from AMD's Piledriver and K10 CPU Architectures Face Off and Is This Even Fair? Budget Ivy Bridge Takes On Core 2 Duo And Quad that Vishera in its three-module, six-core form is quite a force in threaded applications. Outfitted with an enthusiast-friendly unlocked CPU multiplier, it also has the potential to scale way ahead of similarly-priced (but frequency-locked) Core i3 in many games, too. All this suggests to me that the FX-6300 is the crème de la crème of affordable SBM processors.

Officially, I was given the same $650 hardware budget as last quarter. But freed of that round's mini-ITX theme restrictions, I could re-build something comparable for far less money. Thirty bucks could be shed on the B75-based motherboard alone. So, I wasn’t looking to stack today's AMD-based system with performance parts. Instead, I sought to spend less than $200 on the processor, cooler, and motherboard, just as I would do if I was building a machine using Core i3. The savings would address compromises I made last time around (namely, securing 8 GB of RAM and adding back an internal DVD burner).

I have another ace up my sleeve, though. The $250 graphics allotment from last quarter now gives me the freedom to step up from a Tahiti LE-based Radeon HD 7870 to the newer GeForce GTX 760. Even the Radeon HD 7950 Boost is selling for less than $250 these days!

Component  Model  Purchase Price 
CPUAMD FX-6300$120
CPU CoolerAMD boxed heatsink/fan0
MotherboardMSI 970A-G43 ATX$70
RAMKingston HyperX XMP Blu Red Series KHX16C9B1RK2/8X 8 GB (2 x 4 GB) DDR3-1600
$57
GraphicsEVGA GeForce GTX 760 2 GB 02G-P4-2760-KR $250
Hard DriveWD Blue WD10EZEX 1 TB$57
CaseNZXT Tempest 210 CA-TP210-01$40
PowerAntec VP-450 450 W ATX12V v2.3$40
OpticalSamsung 24x DVD Burner SATA Model SH-224DB/RSBS$16

Total Price$650

Keeping a six-core FX processor and the surrounding motherboard components cool was a primary concern for me. I couldn’t afford a decent aftermarket cooler without cheating on my budget. Instead, I wanted to tackle the entrance fee by testing AMD's bundled cooler. To help bring temperatures down, I chose a roomy and heavily-ventilated enclosure with two exhaust fans, plus a blower-style graphics cooler that removes GPU heat from the rear I/O bracket. A 12 V power adapter bundled with the card meant we could lean on Antec’s value-oriented VP-450 power supply, and a few remaining dollars let us spring for a WD 1 TB disk drive, landing us exactly on our budget ceiling back when the parts were ordered.

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    Top Comments
  • bemused_fred
    Why is everyone saying "go with the HD 7950" when they clearly said in the article that it only became cheaper after they finished the build?
    "AMD's Radeon HD 7950 now sells for even less. But at the time we picked our parts, the GeForce GTX 760 was more affordable."

    Honestly, read the article before commenting!
    24
  • Darkerson
    Not a bad little entry system. Im sure it will get picked apart here in the comments soon, but for the price, its not that bad at all.
    18
  • Other Comments
  • Darkerson
    Not a bad little entry system. Im sure it will get picked apart here in the comments soon, but for the price, its not that bad at all.
    18
  • iam2thecrowe
    I think this time you chose the perfect balance of cpu and gpu at this price point. The Athlon 750k is far too weak, please don't use it next month, even an fx41xx or 43xx would be a better choice. The Haswell i3 would be interesting as we might be able to get some overclocking wby increasing base clock strap settings
    0
  • Onus
    It looked great until I saw the mobo, then I thought "oops..."
    Based on http://www.overclock.net/a/about-vrms-mosfets-motherboard-safety-with-high-tdp-processors and https://spreadsheets.google.com/spreadsheet/pub?key=0AgN1D79Joo7tdE9xMUFlMEVWeFhuckJEVF9aMmtpUFE&gid=0 I would have gone with http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813138372 instead; it has a heatsink on its VRMs, and it currently offers free shipping and is $2 less (it's been that way for a while now; I've had my eye on it for recommendations). I'm concerned that the cheap MSI will pop in the middle of a long gaming session. Did you by chance point an IR thermometer at its VRMs during your testing?
    Otherwise, it's nice to see the FX-6300 get a workout in which it performs in the same ballpark as its competition, maybe a little less "raw," but with higher bang/buck.
    2
  • noob2222
    its crazy how fast memory prices change, that kingston kit is now $84 and the team vulcan 2133 and 2400 are <60.
    3
  • designasaurus
    I'd be interested in seeing an FX 8-core more than the FM2 Athlons. In general though, it would be nice to see an AMD processor in these quarterly builds more regularly. I know you guys treat it as a competition, but, for readers like me, it's more informative to see how the competition shapes up rather than seeing 5% boosts from the latest Ivy-to-Haswell iteration. The higher budget guys are pretty much exclusively using Intel these days (I'll get my Haswell comparisons there), so your lower budget builds are the only place to reasonably see how a good AMD build stacks up. FX-6300 is definitely the best value AMD processor though, so it's going to be tough for you to beat this if you go up or down in cpu budget to get the Athlon or octocore.
    4
  • Novuake
    Yeah, I would not touch that board...
    4
  • m32
    I would have to put an fan over the VRMs to feel safe. That is just me. designasaurus, nice read and I agree.
    0
  • ingtar33
    nice build. though i probably would have went with a 7950, and took the $50 saved to get a cpu cooler like the hyper evo 212, and a better overclocking motherboard like the m5a97 R2.0... you probably would have been able to give that fx a bit better of a chance to hit mid to high 4s on the overclock then. if you can get a 6300 up around 4.7-4.9 (obviously not all of them can get there) you can pace an i5 pretty easily... so spending a little on the board and cpu cooler is a good option.

    the 8 core 8320 is getting pretty cheap. the problem is in order to unleash that type of power you're probably going to NEED to go with a hefty cpu cooler and hefty overclocking board. so for the future i suggest you keep with the fx 6300 unless the prices on the 8320 come down a little more.
    2
  • Lee Yong Quan
    would love to see how well does the $350 pc compare with the Q2 $400 PC! then i would know how well my pc would perform when gta 5 is out!
    -3
  • bemused_fred
    Why is everyone saying "go with the HD 7950" when they clearly said in the article that it only became cheaper after they finished the build?
    "AMD's Radeon HD 7950 now sells for even less. But at the time we picked our parts, the GeForce GTX 760 was more affordable."

    Honestly, read the article before commenting!
    24
  • Novuake
    Anonymous said:
    I'd be interested in seeing an FX 8-core more than the FM2 Athlons. In general though, it would be nice to see an AMD processor in these quarterly builds more regularly. I know you guys treat it as a competition, but, for readers like me, it's more informative to see how the competition shapes up rather than seeing 5% boosts from the latest Ivy-to-Haswell iteration. The higher budget guys are pretty much exclusively using Intel these days (I'll get my Haswell comparisons there), so your lower budget builds are the only place to reasonably see how a good AMD build stacks up. FX-6300 is definitely the best value AMD processor though, so it's going to be tough for you to beat this if you go up or down in cpu budget to get the Athlon or octocore.


    Anonymous said:
    Why is everyone saying "go with the HD 7950" when they clearly said in the article that it only became cheaper after they finished the build?
    "AMD's Radeon HD 7950 now sells for even less. But at the time we picked our parts, the GeForce GTX 760 was more affordable."

    Honestly, read the article before commenting!


    Wooooosaaaaa.... :D
    3
  • de5_Roy
    great article. really happy to finally see an fx in an sbm build. you picked a perfect time to put the fx to test. is this the first vishera based sbm pc? it's been so long that i've forgotten the last time i saw one, lol. can't criticize any of the component choices. the config really shows what a real fx6300 based $650 budget gaming pc would look like.

    debunked one of my personal myths on overclocking possibility and limits. i thought the cpu would be more oc'able with an aftermarket cooler at this price point. it clearly shows that you gotta compromise gfx budget and perf to afford better mobo and 3rd party cooling.

    i hope amd drops prices more since they're very silent about am3+ platforms upgradability. that'll make the fxes even more viable for budget builds pricewise.

    i am sure some people will start comparing current prices to old ones despite the article stating reasons in the very first page. :LOL:

    edit: just remembered that there was an fx8350 based $1k sbm pc... making this one the second one..i think..
    3
  • Larry Bob
    I'm really confused why you used the reference cooler on the 760 when there are multiple better cooling designs available such as EVGA ACX, Asus DirectCUII, etc. for around the same price. Modern cases with an adequate amount of ventilation can easily deal with the waste heat and the cooling potential is just so much greater.

    I also would have gone with a slightly higher wattage Seasonic or Super Flower designed PSU like the XFX ProSeries 550w that currently sells for only around $10-20 more and as others mentioned a motherboard with actual VRM cooling.
    -5
  • DarkSable
    Anyone else somewhat blown away by the budgets?

    Unless they're treating "performance PC" as "Workstation with graphics," methinks that there's a bit of a 'subtle' push for the more expensive Haswell, and probably 4k displays.
    -3
  • pauldh
    Hi all! Thanks for the comments! I’m tied up all day today, but real quick, just to address a few:

    As bemused_fred pointed out, the text mentions the GTX 760 was cheaper than a HD 7950 at the time we picked our parts. There was no money to save there unless stepping way down.

    Moving forward, fingers crossed I’m banking on cheap 7950 allowing more platform options next time. Should we stay at $650, we could likely net a more-overclocked FX 6300, or a rather stock FX-8320. And I agree, to do either right, they deserve better cooling, or at least a mobo upgrade anyway. So we’d have to wait and see what’s available when Q4 discussions surface. State what you’d like to see though, especially on day 4, as budgets aren’t set until later.

    I ‘m always concerned, but wasn’t alarmed about the VRMs actually, as I knew going in this would be a mild OC of a 95W part at stock voltage. Numerous IR readings at worst hit 65C under loads, with room temps between 76-80F. Not great, but acceptable IMO. But I did put thought into this, with the case selection and a VGA blower (lowering internal temps for free). The budget I wanted to attack this time really didn’t allow more money into the Mobo or CPU cooling. A rig like this deserves 8GB RAM, etc. and I wanted a direct comparison to Core i3, budget-wise, for now.

    DarkSable, same budgets as last round. That was a quick and easy decision. My concern has been $650 isn’t really budget these days, which is why I volunteered another cheap build this time also. Yes, it will be compared to the $400 Mini-ITX, though it’s a very different build.
    4
  • killerclick
    Based on this, I'd just get the i5. The Q1 system was $600, not $650, and it's 8+ months old, uses less power which means less noise... so it's better overall. Just use the leftover $50 and any price drops to get a faster GPU and you'll blow away the current $650 build.
    -2
  • Rob Z
    Something to think about for the next SBM, including a max price it would be interesting to see, (similar to the itc system) to centralize on 1 item (like all 3 builds must use a amd 8300 fx processor) and each level has XXX amount to spend around the processor. It would be interesting read on how the performance of the parts around the centralized item affect the performance of the system as a whole
    3
  • crimson87
    Great build! I would like to see how it fares in a year when more games coded with modern architectures in mind come to the market , vs a core i3.
    Don't you think it would be a good idea to dump Skyrim out of the testing suite? This is a game coded for old architectures that will hinder the performance of this processor. But this won't be the standard from now on...
    Probably including Crysis 3 , BF4 or Metro LL would be better. Besides , Skyrim ,or FY2012 are not that demanding nowadays
    -1
  • cypeq
    Anonymous said:
    would love to see how well does the $350 pc compare with the Q2 $400 PC! then i would know how well my pc would perform when gta 5 is out!


    350$ PC is a terrible idea... when you build this? double the budget or be disappointed. It may be fun for many of us to squeez out most performance you can on this much of money but c'mon... It would not be my advice to anyone to build gamming pc with this money.
    What are the exact specs ?
    If gta V will be equal quality port to GTA IV I'm afraid you are better off getting it on console.
    1
  • Cryio
    Will you please update Winrar and Winzip to their latest versions? You will see much better threading.
    2