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Performance Summary, Efficiency, And Conclusion

System Builder Marathon, June 2011: $500 Gaming PC
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We're summarizing this quarter's performance and efficiency levels by using last quarter's stock $500 configuration as our baseline.

Strictly going by the averages, our stock June 2011 PC takes an easy victory in both the gaming and A/V suites. It even ekes out a narrow victory in the productivity testing. Averages are a little deceiving though, as huge victories in WinZip and WinRAR mask some sizable losses in other workloads. In most of our productivity-oriented applications, the Core i3-2100’s two logical cores are simply no match for the Phenom II’s four physical cores.

The March PC's sell gets even more compelling when you consider that machine was overclockable and this one isn't. Additional clock rate effectively erases most of that system's gaming and encoding deficit.

Had we seen the same overclock from last quarter’s Radeon HD 6850, increasing high-resolution gaming performance by a little bit, we would probably need to call overall system performance a wash.

Efficiency

More impressive than a victory in performance is the June PC’s super-low power consumption and decisively increased efficiency.

Conclusion

This current PC has a lot of pluses. At or near $500, it offers the best stock performance, the best gaming performance, and by far the best efficiency of any of our value builds in the SBM series to date. Yet, it is still somewhat hard to justify Intel's Sandy Bridge architecture at this price point knowing how the company handicapped its entry-level parts, especially for a System Builder Marathon machine aimed at more than just gaming. We can’t help but envy the motherboard selection, PCI Express connectivity, and unlocked “K-series” chips available to slightly higher budgets.

While skimping on motherboard features was necessary to accomplish our goals, that isn't as large of a strike against this system as it might seem. We had zero issues with our board; it was stable as a rock. But while an extra $20 was too rich at the time of our order, anyone looking into building a rig like ours might want to consider the now similarly-priced ASRock H61M/U3S3 as a far more feature-rich alternative.

The June 2011 $500 Gaming PC is right for some, but not for all, and I’m expecting the comments section to reflect this. If you are purely a gamer, do not overclock, or are just drawn towards a high level of efficiency, then this build is just your ticket. But the real deal-breaker in my eyes is aggressive pricing on AMD's Phenom II X4 955 BE processor that has cropped up since our order date. Available for a measly $113, it’s just too attractive to ignore. And the fact that the entry-level Sandy Bridge-based chips are so limited in their flexibility doesn't help.

The Phenom II is still a capable gaming CPU. It’s cheaper, quicker at completing most of our threaded productivity workloads, and it also provides the friendliness towards overclocking that enthusiasts seem to want, regardless of stock performance.

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