System Builder Marathon, December 2010: $500 PC

Overclocking

When the time came to tinker outside of spec, our first order of business was to determine if the dormant processing core could be successfully unlocked. We had a stable fourth core in September, but this time our system refused to even boot as an Athlon II X4. The motherboard’s design, unfortunately, made resetting the system a bit tedious, as accessing the clear CMOS jumper requires removal of the graphics card.

While unlocking was a failure, our Athlon II had a good deal of headroom for increasing core speed. The chip’s VID (Voltage ID) was 1.3 V, as opposed to the September machine's 1.4 V. Once again, the motherboard overvolted a bit beyond that. At stock voltage, stability was found beyond 3.4 GHz.

We only took the CPU up to 1.4 V in the BIOS, which CPU-Z reported as 1.432 V at idle and 1.464 V during load, finally settling for a respectable 3.875 GHz (250 * 15.5). This Mushkin RAM was found to have little headroom, so the 250 MHz reference clock worked out for keeping our RAM within spec (at DDR3-1333). Maximum available CPU-NB frequency was 2500 MHz, but we settled for 2250 MHz due to the motherboard's cooling and lack of adjustable CPU-NB voltage.

The Sparkle GeForce GTX 460 also had a decent amount of headroom for increased frequencies, and the quiet cooler was effective for overclocking without overriding the auto fan settings. Starting at a reference 675 MHz core and 1350 MHz shaders, our card topped out at 835/1670 MHz, respectively. We didn’t push the GDDR5 memory all the way to its breaking point, calling it quits after raising it from 900 MHz (3600 MT/s effective) up to 1060 MHz (4240 MT/s). These frequencies were then dialed back to 823/1640/1050 (4200) during our overclocked set of benchmarks.

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  • LuckyDucky7
    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.)
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  • Tamz_msc
    Ah, much better than the previous build!
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  • Proximon
    Great job squeezing everything into a very small budget.
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  • adbat
    Good build - but again it would be good to see old spec on test system page.
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  • rohitbaran
    That is a great combination for that budget. Balanced.
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  • yyk71200
    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.
    -1
  • Crashman
    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?
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  • dragoon190
    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.
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  • jj463rd
    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!
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  • tstng
    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.
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  • tstng
    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.
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  • pauldh
    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
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  • pauldh
    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.
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  • karma831
    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?
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  • pauldh
    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.
    -1
  • pauldh
    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.
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  • Anonymous
    What about GTS 450? Is it a good choice for this CPU? As it seems that GTX460 is an overkill for lower resolutions :)
    -1
  • pauldh
    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.
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  • dEAne
    Thank you - Now I have something to compare and recommend - It helps a lot.
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  • pauldh
    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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