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Performance Summary, Efficiency, And Conclusion

System Builder Marathon, June 2010: $550 Gaming PC
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Performance Summary

DiRT 2 results were not taken into account when comparing the June and March systems to each other. This title’s ability to utilize four cores would have further increased the gaming lead for the overclocked $750 PC, though.

Higher memory frequency likely aided the stock $750 March PC in edging out the June system in applications testing, but it’s the more powerful pair of graphics cards that account for a 16% lead in games. While the $550 build picked up an overall 17% performance increase from overclocking, the budget build’s unlocking misfortune kept it from competing with the value PC from March.

Efficiency

No, the $550 gaming machine’s single Radeon HD 5770 cannot keep pace with a rig sporting a pair of Radeon HD 4850s, but the budget build scores an easy victory in terms of efficiency.

Conclusion

Here’s the deal folks: buy enough AMD Phenom II or Athlon II X3 processors and you’ll find some will have fully functioning dormant cores. But rest assured, many will not, which is exactly why we suggest never banking on unlocking when purchasing a processor. Thankfully, the AMD Athlon II X3s already offers tremendous value right out of the box. Unlocking may be hit or miss, but given the right component combinations, it is reasonable to expect at least some success in terms of overclocking, making a triple-core Athlon II a stellar processor for any value-oriented gaming rig.

Overall, this June PC is a step backwards in terms of outright gaming performance, but at $550, we couldn’t possibly set a goal of increasing performance over the more expensive gaming box from the March SBM. Rather, here we just set out to build a potent $500 gaming rig and then chose to stretch the budget for higher frame rates and DirectX 11 support. At 1,080p, two overclocked Radeon HD 4850s delivered playable frame rates in Crysis with very high details, where the single Radeon HD 5770 now struggles at 1280x1024. This is exactly why many of our recent value builds have relied on a pair of bargain-priced graphics cards rather than a single mainstream card.

Now, make no mistake, the Radeon HD 5770 is still a decent gaming card, representing good value and a justifiable reason for stretching our budget $50 this month. It maxed out half of our gaming tests and offered decent 1,080p performance in the other games once settings were reduced. The $550 gaming PC won’t push high resolutions or the highest level of details in the most graphically-intensive titles, but it still delivers a super-enjoyable gaming experience, while being fairly easy on the wallet. Next up, we’ll see how well this budget build competes with the more expensive rigs from our other system builders.

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Top Comments
  • 17 Hide
    zooted , June 17, 2010 7:15 AM
    I like this build much better than the $1000 one
  • 10 Hide
    tacoslave , June 17, 2010 8:05 AM
    ah i miss the days when you could buy 4 gigs of ram for $20. But now that only buys you about 1gig.
  • 10 Hide
    archange , June 17, 2010 6:47 AM
    Buying the same components here, online, gets me to ~800 USD. That, including my 3% Diamond Customer discount at my favorite e-tailer. Granted, the Power Color was out of stock, which led me to Sapphire and i also had to exchange the RAM for Kingston HyperX CL7.

    People in the States have way to much... fun :p 
Other Comments
  • -2 Hide
    gkay09 , June 17, 2010 6:28 AM
    ^ I dont like the idea of using the CM eXtreme power PSUs...
    You could get a EA 430W for about $49 @newegg...
    Just a thought - you could save money on the mobo by going with TOM's favorite brand ASRock board with the 770 Chipset...So with the money saved, getting a better PSU would have been a good idea...
  • 6 Hide
    adbat , June 17, 2010 6:31 AM
    I plan to build a similar machine so it's nice to see the numbers :-)
    Again unlocking was successful the 50-50 chance do not apply to your tests.
    But no surprise this is a just enough machine.
  • 10 Hide
    archange , June 17, 2010 6:47 AM
    Buying the same components here, online, gets me to ~800 USD. That, including my 3% Diamond Customer discount at my favorite e-tailer. Granted, the Power Color was out of stock, which led me to Sapphire and i also had to exchange the RAM for Kingston HyperX CL7.

    People in the States have way to much... fun :p 
  • 5 Hide
    Crashman , June 17, 2010 7:05 AM
    gkay09you could save money on the mobo by going with TOM's favorite brand ASRock board with the 770 Chipset...
    Wait, Tom's has a favorite brand? I've heard rumors in the past that Asus got all of Tom's Hardware's attention...and Gigabyte has been getting a lot of awards so maybe them...where does ASRock come into all of this favoritism, from its use in previous low-cost SBM machines?
  • 17 Hide
    zooted , June 17, 2010 7:15 AM
    I like this build much better than the $1000 one
  • 3 Hide
    noob2222 , June 17, 2010 7:15 AM
    This one and the $1000 show some pretty impressive efficiency and power savings over the previous, more expensive builds. Save some dough now and in the long haul. Imo thats pretty important on a tight budget build, you don't want it costing more over its lifetime than what you saved in building it.
  • 1 Hide
    skora , June 17, 2010 7:43 AM
    and liked the idea of incorporating a $100 Cooler Master trio in the build.
    CrashmanWait, Tom's has a favorite brand? I've heard rumors in the past that Asus got all of Tom's Hardware's attention...and Gigabyte has been getting a lot of awards so maybe them...where does ASRock come into all of this favoritism, from its use in previous low-cost SBM machines?


    No, this month its Coolermaster.

    Quote:
    "and liked the idea of incorporating a $100 Cooler Master trio in the build."


    No shame, we all have bills.

    Very well balanced system. Very helpful to see a working system with just 2 gigs ram and break the stereo type that 4 is required.
  • 10 Hide
    tacoslave , June 17, 2010 8:05 AM
    ah i miss the days when you could buy 4 gigs of ram for $20. But now that only buys you about 1gig.
  • 2 Hide
    cangelini , June 17, 2010 9:13 AM
    skoraand liked the idea of incorporating a $100 Cooler Master trio in the build.No, this month its Coolermaster. No shame, we all have bills.Very well balanced system. Very helpful to see a working system with just 2 gigs ram and break the stereo type that 4 is required.


    You're reading that completely out of context.
  • -5 Hide
    ta152h , June 17, 2010 9:25 AM
    At this price range, I think an Athlon II x2 or Pentium E6500 system would probably do better for pure gaming.

    Both have more cache, the Pentium dramatically so. The Athlon II x2 would almost certainly over clock better, since stock speed is much higher, and most sites show them generally able to get to 3.8 GHz at roughly 1.4v or lower with a stock heat sink. On top of this, they use less power. So, more cache, 250 MHz more with stock heat sink (maybe more with a better one), and more cache against an extra core. Probably for games it would be better, but not always.

    The Pentium E6500 is probably better still. Getting it to around 4 GHz wouldn't be too hard, especially with an upgraded heat sink, and is generally faster clock per clock compared to an Athlon II x2. Power use is significantly lower too.

    Neither are clearly better though. I would rather have a faster two core than a slower three core, but the latter certainly have advantages too.
  • 0 Hide
    wildeast , June 17, 2010 9:58 AM
    if i changed the 5770 with 5870 in this build, will it be bottlenecked?
  • -6 Hide
    demonhorde665 , June 17, 2010 10:23 AM
    wildeastif i changed the 5770 with 5870 in this build, will it be bottlenecked?


    most likely
    an example:

    my curent pc i run a amd athy 64 X2 500+ blacked OC'ed to 3 ghz
    and i have 3 gigs of ddr 2 pc 800 ram in it

    I've gone trhough 3 video card upgrades since i built this rig

    my first video card was a Gf 9600 GT i saw avaerage frames in Fallout 3 around 40-45 fps , my lowest frames (in are moments) were around 18 fps that's at a resolution of 1280x1024 with 4x aa and 8 samples on AF (i know low resolution but eh what the heck older monitor i ahd at the time i got newer monitor now)

    then i got a GF 9800 GT , becasue my bro inlaw couldn't use it at the time , its averaged around 48-53 fps with lowerst frames beign at 19-20 on teh same settings as listed above


    lastly i bought a readeon 5770 since it was amuch newer card I'll try to get win 7 soon , on the same old monitor and same settings i see frames avaerage around 55-70 however the rare moemtns of lows stil occur from time to time with the lowerst frames being 22 fps , now i know i ahve seen this card do better here at toms , on a new cpu and i highly douvbt anotehr video card upgrade with out a processor upgrade woudl give me any boost at this point. given that i can say it'ssafe bet that yeah a 5870 would be bottle necked by the cpu in this rig.


    P.S. my old montior got repalced reccently i now finally have a newer widescreen monitor it's 20 inches with a max resolution of 1600x900 and better yet my radeon 5770 pushes this resolution just as smoothly as it pushed my odler montior's max res ... however it shoudlb e noted that this monitor has amax refresh rate of 60 hz whiel teh older one could do 120 so now in FO 3 (and other games ) my technicall higehst frame rate is 60 (unless i turn off v-sync which really only induces tearing)
    and you don't actually see a higher frame rate since teh monitor only refreshed at 60
  • -1 Hide
    gkay09 , June 17, 2010 10:25 AM
    CrashmanWait, Tom's has a favorite brand? I've heard rumors in the past that Asus got all of Tom's Hardware's attention...and Gigabyte has been getting a lot of awards so maybe them...where does ASRock come into all of this favoritism, from its use in previous low-cost SBM machines?


    Well I dint literally mean the ASRock is THE FAVORITE brand of TOMs, but with boards from ASRock based on the X58 chipset being one of their recommended, why not have tried their AMD chipset mobo too?
  • 7 Hide
    pauldh , June 17, 2010 10:31 AM
    adbatI plan to build a similar machine so it's nice to see the numbers :-)Again unlocking was successful the 50-50 chance do not apply to your tests.But no surprise this is a just enough machine.

    Wait... Some stability issues (even at stock clocks) with this one, so the unlock was not a success. Overclocked data is for 3-cores at 3.556 GHz.

    We are 2/3 if you just count SBM's. This one joins a few other unsuccessful PII and Athlon II unlocks I've encountered so 50/50 is closer to my own findings.

    Our repeated advice: Spend a few bucks more on an X4 if you desire a quad.
  • 8 Hide
    pauldh , June 17, 2010 11:00 AM
    killerclickPlus keyboard, mouse, OS...By the way I love it how Tom's makes it sound that you can unlock cores in almost every AMD CPU. I tried with 3, 2 wouldn't unlock and the 3rd didn't make it even 20 minutes through Prime95.

    Plus a display too, if you need one. For us, that's $1400 alone and skews the value results a bit right?

    The SBM series has never included peripherals or software. Hardware and pricing are clearly spelled out. We have complete faith our readers can add these other costs if need be.

    Oh contraire regarding the unlocking. This one successfully ran many 1+ hour stents through Prime 95, but was not fully stable nor considered successful. You are completely ignoring our repeated advice of not relying on unlocking when making a processor decision.
  • 3 Hide
    zodiacfml , June 17, 2010 11:03 AM
    @TA152H
    I was also a fan of dual cores back then but most games and applications able to utilize a third core now.

    I only find the 2gig memory quite uncomfortable since I'm using a 2gig 64bit system right now which maxes the ram occasionally so I have enabled virtual memory which sucks.
    The budget could have been $600 or could use the stock heatsink to get the system to 4GB RAM.
  • 6 Hide
    pauldh , June 17, 2010 11:22 AM
    ddragoonssThe "Network:Integrated" and "Sound:Integrated" in the chart was really necessary?

    Does it really hurt either? It's a standard component table used month after month for every SBM I've been part of. All SBM price tables included the same at one point but the other authers have since chosen to remove those rows when integrated. I still prefer they stay, but no it is not necesary. If those are the biggest complaints, I'm satified. :) 
  • 2 Hide
    Userremoved , June 17, 2010 11:24 AM
    Great! The fact that it's only a little behind the 750$ from March is great!
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