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System Builder Marathon, June 2010: $550 Gaming PC

System Builder Marathon, June 2010: $550 Gaming PC
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System Builder Marathon, June 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 $550 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected

Introduction

The $500 gaming rig has a long history here at Tom's Hardware. But, through a desire for more performance, plus combating a trend of price increases, we allowed our low System Builder Marathon (SBM) budget to creep up 50% above the one from a couple years ago. Most readers appreciated the performance and value squeezed from our March 2010 $750 SBM gaming PC, but many of you expressed an interest in once again seeing a true budget-oriented gaming build.

Given the shaky state of the economy, $500 was the starting point for this month’s budget gaming rig, and we knew right away that the resulting configuration would no doubt offer excellent bang for the buck, even while coming in $5 under budget. It features a three-core processor, after-market CPU cooler, a 500GB hard drive, and a trusty ol’ Radeon HD 4850 512MB graphics card. The value of the Radeon HD 4850 is and remains undeniable, earning it repeated appearances in our SBMs, as well as Don Woligroski’s monthly Best Graphics Card For The Money articles.

Of course, swapping in a Radeon HD 5750 would have matched (or even beaten) this performance level, while adding features and DirectX 11 support for our updated gaming suite. Unfortunately, available models were still priced relatively high in comparison. However, for roughly $10 more than a 1GB Radeon HD 5750, the PowerColor Radeon HD 5770 with 1GB of GDDR5 could have offered the performance and features we desired, at a budget “stretching” we could justify. Through hefty sacrifices in storage space, stock cooling, processing cores, and enclosure design, each netting just a small savings, it would have been possible to squeeze this card into a true $500 build. But exercising flexibility within our budget allowed for an all-around much better machine.

$550 Gaming PC System Components

Component
Model
Price (USD)
CPU
AMD Athlon II X3 435
$75
CPU Cooler
Cooler Master Hyper TX3
$20
Motherboard
Asus M4A77TD
$85
RAM
Crucial 2GB (2 x 1GB) DDR3-1333 (PC3 10600) Model CTKIT12864BA1339
$58
Graphics
PowerColor AX5770 1GBD5-H Radeon HD 5770 1GB
$150
Hard Drive
Samsung Spinpoint F3 HD502HJ 500GB 7,200 RPM SATA 3.0 Gb/s
$55
Sound
Integrated
$0
Network
Integrated
$0
Case
Cooler Master Elite 330 RC-330-KKN1-GP Black
$40
Power
Cooler Master eXtreme Power Plus RS-500-PCAR-A3 500W
$40
Optical
Samsung Black 22X DVD Burner SATA Model SH-S223C
$22
Total

$545


The above $545 total reflects the pricing of components we chose and purchased for this build. The processor is now cheaper, while the price of the CPU cooler, power supply, and graphics card has increased, making the total cost $13 higher if purchased today.

Display 99 Comments.
Top Comments
  • 17 Hide
    zooted , June 17, 2010 7:15 AM
    I like this build much better than the $1000 one
  • 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 
  • 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.
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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