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Performance Summary, Efficiency, And Conclusion

System Builder Marathon, December 2010: $500 PC
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Performance Summary

We’ll summarize performance using September’s stock $400 PC as a baseline.

Frame rates roughly doubled this month by fitting in a more powerful graphics card, but these average percentages are actually capped by the CPU-limited resolutions and settings. For instance, Ultra settings are now playable in S.T.A.L.K.E.R., averaging 319% and 376% gains, respectively, for the stock and overclocked $500 system.

The 100 MHz processor bump allowed the December rig to edge out its predecessor in the encoding and productivity suites. Better CPU cooling and higher overclocking could not overcome unsuccessful unlocking though, as the test suite is well-enough threaded to favor the overclocked quad-core-enabled machine.

Efficiency

Enabling power saving benefits the stock $500 PC's efficiency story. But efficiency drops a bit once that same machine is overclocked, due to increased power demands that overtake performance gains.

Conclusion

One hundred dollars may not sound like a lot, but boosting a hardware budget by 25% at these value-oriented levels can make a substantial difference in a modern computer. While our December $500 gaming PC isn’t perfect, it certainly earns its name as a build capable of playable frame rates, delivering a solid 1080p gaming experience. This box breezed through CoD and delivered acceptable gaming at our highest settings in both DirectX 11 titles. The only faltering took place in Crysis; work around that by either dropping your resolution or shifting down to high quality settings.

As we’ve stated many times in the past, core unlocking is based on luck of the draw, and shouldn’t be assumed when it comes time to buy. If you really need that fourth core, spring for the X4 model. In our SBM series, we're batting just a 50% success rate with AMD’s Athlon II.

In order for this to remain a worthy 1080p gaming machine (and also a better competitor in the applications suite), next time, we’ll need to set our sights on a quad-core Phenom II paired with either GeForce GTX 460 or Radeon HD 6850 graphics. But put those thoughts on hold for a while. First, we need to finish this round and see how well the $500 PC competes against the other builders' efforts.

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  • 5 Hide
    LuckyDucky7 , December 17, 2010 4:25 AM
    And this is really the only PC build that will stay relevant come January- it will remain the only budget platform that can be overclocked, after all.

    Incidentally, this would be the only PC you'd want to contemplate building right now (since the new Core i3s don't come out immediately like the i5s and i7s do- and the Pentium G8XX series doesn't allow overclocking of its platform.)
  • 5 Hide
    Tamz_msc , December 17, 2010 4:27 AM
    Ah, much better than the previous build!
  • 2 Hide
    Proximon , December 17, 2010 4:55 AM
    Great job squeezing everything into a very small budget.
  • 2 Hide
    adbat , December 17, 2010 4:59 AM
    Good build - but again it would be good to see old spec on test system page.
  • 2 Hide
    rohitbaran , December 17, 2010 4:59 AM
    That is a great combination for that budget. Balanced.
  • -1 Hide
    yyk71200 , December 17, 2010 5:04 AM
    I wouldn't be very comfortable using a 380 watt PSU for a long time for GTX 460 even if it is good quality. Perhaps, I would put in something of 450 watt or higher.
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , December 17, 2010 5:48 AM
    LuckyDucky7And this is really the only PC build that will stay relevant come January- it will remain the only budget platform that can be overclocked, after all.Incidentally, this would be the only PC you'd want to contemplate building right now (since the new Core i3s don't come out immediately like the i5s and i7s do- and the Pentium G8XX series doesn't allow overclocking of its platform.)
    So you think there's going to be a replacement platform for the $2000 PC in January? That's not going to happen for a while. Or are you suggesting the next $2000 PC should be downgraded to P67?
  • 1 Hide
    dragoon190 , December 17, 2010 6:21 AM
    I haven't been keeping up with the system marathon much, but what's the reasoning for choosing nVidia card over AMD's? Just wondering since I'm thinking about upgrading my computer soon.
  • 0 Hide
    jj463rd , December 17, 2010 6:44 AM
    A really nice build this time.However the price of the case and power supply has gone up in price over at newegg.I haven't checked the prices of the other components though.This build seems to perform quite well especially in the gaming benchmarks.Good job!
  • 0 Hide
    tstng , December 17, 2010 6:45 AM
    I would've gone with a 6850 instead of the 460. It's a tad cheaper, not at all slower if you don't start cranckin' up the tesselation, and should fit the 380W psu a lot better. But a solid build by all means.
  • 1 Hide
    tstng , December 17, 2010 6:49 AM
    I just noticed you guys used a 768mb 460. Oops. So it's a very good build, the 6850 would go over buget I guess. My bad.
  • 1 Hide
    pauldh , December 17, 2010 6:53 AM
    adbatGood build - but again it would be good to see old spec on test system page.

    Crowds it a bit IMO, but I'd gladly include the previous test settings from here on out.
    For now, here's a direct link:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/gaming-pc-build-a-pc-overclock,2739-8.html
  • 4 Hide
    pauldh , December 17, 2010 7:04 AM
    yyk71200I wouldn't be very comfortable using a 380 watt PSU for a long time for GTX 460 even if it is good quality. Perhaps, I would put in something of 450 watt or higher.

    No fears here. Keep in mind, this 380W has a higher +12V rating than many 500W units. And, the 280W peak output draw in Prime 95+Furmark is far higher than would ever be seen during normal use.

    On the down side it could limit multiple (simultaneous)upgrades such as a hexa-core CPU + additional storage drives. But the EarthWatts 380D has plenty reserve for this system as built.
  • 0 Hide
    karma831 , December 17, 2010 7:11 AM
    There are a lot of RAM kits which do include heat spreaders, have higher frequencies, lower CL, and are can be had for less than $65. Was there any particular reason for choosing that set of Mushkin's?
  • -1 Hide
    pauldh , December 17, 2010 7:18 AM
    dragoon190I haven't been keeping up with the system marathon much, but what's the reasoning for choosing nVidia card over AMD's? Just wondering since I'm thinking about upgrading my computer
    soon.

    Basically it was the best available option within budget, trumping the cheaper/less powerful Radeon HD 5770 used back in the June $550 PC: http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/cpu-gpu-overclock,2659.html

    If you compare those past results to the current rig, you may notice less CPU limitations and higher framerates at low resolutions for the Radeon HD 5770, but more headroom to push higher resolutions (1080P) with the GeForce GTX 460. Both are fine choices, depending on budget and needs.
  • 0 Hide
    pauldh , December 17, 2010 7:35 AM
    karma831There are a lot of RAM kits which do include heat spreaders, have higher frequencies, lower CL, and are can be had for less than $65. Was there any particular reason for choosing that set of Mushkin's?

    Purely timing Karma. RAM has dropped significantly since we ordered our components. Ours was $65 at order time which was then the starting point for 4GB kits. Currently, this same kit is $42 on Newegg, and there are a slew of options under $50. Not bad considering prior to September a 4GB kit was $100 or more.

    Unlike Thomas, who sought performance for the $2000 build but was duped by receiving different RAM chips than expected, my choice here was purely based on the cheapest option and I hadn't noticed the Easter Egg in the photo. Like him, unfortunately, I received the same "nameless" chips with little headroom for higher frequency.
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , December 17, 2010 7:35 AM
    What about GTS 450? Is it a good choice for this CPU? As it seems that GTX460 is an overkill for lower resolutions :) 
  • 0 Hide
    pauldh , December 17, 2010 7:49 AM
    jj463rdA really nice build this time.However the price of the case and power supply has gone up in price over at newegg.I haven't checked the prices of the other components though.This build seems to perform quite well especially in the gaming benchmarks.Good job!

    Price fluctuations are bound to happen and for a bit the case was even cheaper yet. The current cost of this system is $512 on Newegg as the cheaper RAM helps balance out.
    The bargain shopper would seek substitutions; One option is the EA380D PSU for $45 and a different case. Ex: the Rosewill Blackbone (used in the $400 build) is $40. Alternate GTX 460's could save an additional $20 and get the cost well under $500.
  • 0 Hide
    dEAne , December 17, 2010 7:52 AM
    Thank you - Now I have something to compare and recommend - It helps a lot.
  • 0 Hide
    pauldh , December 17, 2010 7:59 AM
    tstngI just noticed you guys used a 768mb 460. Oops. So it's a very good build, the 6850 would go over buget I guess. My bad.

    Yes true, but more importantly the HD 6850 was not yet available when we ordered, so it wasn't even an option. Thanks to that release, there are now less expensive GTX 460's also than the lone option we had at $160.

    Moving forward, you bet I'll have my sights set on 6850 if possible. But it will depend on the budget and street prices vs the competition. It's not about brand, but rather the best/most bang for the buck.

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