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System Builder Marathon, December 2010: $500 PC

System Builder Marathon, December 2010: $500 PC
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System Builder Marathon, December 2010: The Articles

Here are links to each of the four 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 check 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

Introduction

In this month's System Builder Marathon $500 PC, we plan to spend every penny (and then some) to strengthen some of the subsystems our last effort left lacking when we knocked $100 off our budget.

The system we set out to build one quarter ago was a low-cost box that would excel in all areas, not just gaming. The resulting machine represented nice platform balance for casual gamers, but certainly wouldn’t live up to the expectations of the hardcore enthusiasts who originally wanted to see how low we could go.

As we were quite pleased with the motherboard and processor, we didn’t look to spend more on either of these components. We added an affordable cooler and also benefited from AMD’s recent Athlon II speed bump, which provided us with an extra 100 MHz for the same cost.

$500 Gaming PC System Components

Components
Model
Price (U.S.D)
CPU
AMD Athlon II X3 445
$75
CPU Cooler
Rosewill RCX-ZAIO-92
$16
Motherboard
ASRock M3A770DE
$60
RAM
Mushkin Enhanced Essentials 4 GB (2 x 2 GB) DDR3-1333 (PC3 10600) Model 996586
$65
Graphics
Sparkle SXX460768D5UNM GeForce GTX 460 768 MB
$160
Hard Drive
Samsung Spinpoint F4 HD322GJ/U 320GB SATA 3Gb/s
$43
Case
Antec NSK 4482B Black
$75
Power
Antec EarthWatts Green 380 W included w/ case
$0
Optical
Lite-On 24X DVD Burner SATA iHAS 124-04
$17
Total Price

$511


With the machine’s foundation established, we then looked to address the rig’s gaming prowess; specifically, the need for more graphics muscle. Rather than gamble and explore the M3A770DE’s x16/x4 CrossFire performance, we opted for the safer route of a single card. Finding Sparkle's GeForce GTX 460 768 MB in stock at $160 set the bar a bit higher than we originally anticipated.

Much-welcomed price drops brought four gigabytes of memory well under $100. The cheapest kit fit nicely within our budget, but then meant we could only afford a small bump in storage capacity.

The Antec EarthWatts 380D provided a boost in overall power supply quality, while delivering enough +12 V amperage to keep our overclocked components stable. This power supply was $45 on its own, but could be secured in the NSK 4482B chassis for a total price of $65. Our pricing chart above doesn’t reflect the available discount code, so in the end we come in a little over budget. Currently, the cost would be a bit higher, but making some parallel moves that take advantage of holiday savings could bring this machine down under $500.

Display 111 Comments.
  • 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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