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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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