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System Builder Marathon, June 2011: $500 Gaming PC

System Builder Marathon, June 2011: $500 Gaming PC
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System Builder Marathon, June 2011: The Articles

Here are links to each of the five 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 fill out this Google form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!

Day 1: The $2000 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1000 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $500 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected
Day 5: Tom's Hand-Picked SuperCombo

Introduction

In the first quarter of this year, we went a bit over budget on our $500 Gaming PC, squeezing in both a quad-core AMD Phenom II processor and Radeon HD 6850 graphics. The resulting build, which did leave some room for improvements, still packed serious punch for the money we spent.

Additional price drops over the past three months mean we could have taken that same configuration and jumped up to an even more attractive Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition (BE). The 955 BE would have not only given us a nice frequency increase across its four physical cores, but also the flexibility of a fully unlocked CPU multiplier, and even a better cooling solution for overclocking. Of course, overclockability plays heavily into component selection for our System Builder Marathons (SBMs), typically providing the benchmark data set we value the most.

And here's the point where some folks are going to be disappointed, because this lead-up depicts what we need to compete against, and not what we actually built. This month’s $500 gaming rig departs from the norm by centering on a budget-oriented Intel Sandy Bridge-based platform that cannot be overclocked at all, really. It'll either stand or fall based on its out-of-box performance.

Component  Model  Price (in dollars)
CPUIntel Core i3-2100$125
CPU CoolerIntel boxed heatsink/fan$0
MotherboardASRock H61M-VS$60
RAMCrucial 4 GB (2 x 2 GB) DDR3-1333 CT2KIT25664BA1339$40
GraphicsSapphire 100315L Radeon HD 6850 1 GB$170
Hard DriveSeagate Barracuda ST3500413AS 500 GB, SATA 6Gb/s $40
CaseXigmatek Asgard II B/S CPC-T45UE-U01$30
PowerAntec EarthWatts Green EA380D 380 W$40
OpticalAsus 24X DVD Burner SATA Model DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS$21
Total Price
$526


Attempting a Sandy Bridge-based gaming PC was contingent on two self-set stipulations. First, I already broke the bank last round, and had to draw a line somewhere on spending. So, it was imperative to avoid outspending last quarter's PC. Second, an even more demanding suite of 3D titles meant that graphics horsepower couldn't be sacrificed.

The only way to achieve both goals was starting with the cheapest available platform possible, a feature-stripped ASRock H61M-VS microATX motherboard and Core i3-2100 processor. Apart from a couple of insignificant difference, we ended with component prices almost exactly the same as this machine's predecessor. Higher-capacity storage was three dollars cheaper than our previous 320 GB drive, but securing a DVD burner ate up a couple of those bills.

Now, we already know from stories like Don Woligroski’s Who's Got Game? Twelve Sub-$200 CPUs compared that the stock Core i3-2100 is a capable gaming processor. In fact, by avoiding some low-resolution CPU limitations, we should easily be able to set a new bar for the $500 SBM build in terms of frame rates at stock settings. But with 70% of the overall performance evaluation weighted outside of games, will a lack of overclocking become a deal-breaker for this machine, preventing us from reusing Intel's severely-limited entry-level parts in future Marathons?

Display 138 Comments.
Top Comments
  • 14 Hide
    striker410 , June 23, 2011 4:50 AM
    spotminerSeagate Barracuda ST3500413AS 500 GB, SATA 6Gb/s yet the motherboard has only 4 x SATA2 3.0 Gb/s connectors.How would you utilize the maximum potential of the hard disk then?

    Because HDD's cannot saturate even the Sata 3.0Gb/s line. They run at around 120MB/s, but sata II can handle up to 280MB/s or so. It's a cash grab. Means nothing for HDD's.
  • 13 Hide
    Zero_ , June 23, 2011 4:23 AM
    Is it just me or does anyone get a feeling that the SBM rigs are being sold for advertising? :kaola: 

    The X4 955 costs $15 less like you said, and allows overclocking even with stock, and $60 would buy a much better equipped AMD board. Also, $185 gets you a HD6870 these days.

    Result? Better FPS per $ for the same price. TBH, that's what I was expecting. I am disappoint.
  • 13 Hide
    Nnymrod , June 23, 2011 6:10 AM
    Meh, this build almost seems to be a wash with the March build. and with the price drops on the 955BE, AMD still seems to make more sense than Intel at this price point. Another thing I don't understand is why he chooses to pay more for his parts than is necessary.
Other Comments
  • 13 Hide
    Zero_ , June 23, 2011 4:23 AM
    Is it just me or does anyone get a feeling that the SBM rigs are being sold for advertising? :kaola: 

    The X4 955 costs $15 less like you said, and allows overclocking even with stock, and $60 would buy a much better equipped AMD board. Also, $185 gets you a HD6870 these days.

    Result? Better FPS per $ for the same price. TBH, that's what I was expecting. I am disappoint.
  • -9 Hide
    spotminer , June 23, 2011 4:47 AM
    Seagate Barracuda ST3500413AS 500 GB, SATA 6Gb/s

    yet the motherboard has only 4 x SATA2 3.0 Gb/s connectors.

    How would you utilize the maximum potential of the hard disk then?
  • 14 Hide
    striker410 , June 23, 2011 4:50 AM
    spotminerSeagate Barracuda ST3500413AS 500 GB, SATA 6Gb/s yet the motherboard has only 4 x SATA2 3.0 Gb/s connectors.How would you utilize the maximum potential of the hard disk then?

    Because HDD's cannot saturate even the Sata 3.0Gb/s line. They run at around 120MB/s, but sata II can handle up to 280MB/s or so. It's a cash grab. Means nothing for HDD's.
  • 8 Hide
    spotminer , June 23, 2011 4:52 AM
    striker410Because HDD's cannot saturate even the Sata 3.0Gb/s line. They run at around 120MB/s, but sata II can handle up to 280MB/s or so. It's a cash grab. Means nothing for HDD's.


    I see thanks.
  • 6 Hide
    compton , June 23, 2011 5:09 AM
    I can only hope that the rumor that Intel is currently prepping a K series i3 is true. I'm using a 2500k now, but I think an i3-k would kick ass in the spare 1155 board I've got laying around.

    As far as the June budget build goes, it's really just an alternated Intel flavored version of the March build. As such, some hopeful budget builders may find reasons to go either route. Maybe the best argument against going AMD for the $500 build is the impending release of Llano and Bulldozer. It doesn't make much sense to put together an AMD system at this time -- even if you're looking at the budget area. The Phenom II will continue to be a good value especially if you're updating an older AMD system. It's not that the Phenom/Athlon is so slow as much as Intel's SB is just plain fast and efficient.

    I want an unlocked i3 Intel... please make it happen.
  • 2 Hide
    buzznut , June 23, 2011 5:18 AM
    An unlocked i3, that would be cool. I might even buy one, AMD fan that I am!
  • 4 Hide
    Zero_ , June 23, 2011 5:23 AM
    An i3 k model coming out about now would effectively kill AMD at this price point. If you get a good OC'able processor now, odds are you wont be changing platforms in a couple of months.
  • 1 Hide
    mightymaxio , June 23, 2011 5:29 AM
    lott11It looks like someone was doing a all Intel promo.What software can utilize hyper threaded cores.Not on any gamers PC'S much less on MS 64 bit at an entry level.Granted at high end, they do make a great deal of difference but not at entry level.And since when is power conservation a consideration for a gamer.


    Um lets see, unreal 3 can use hyperthreading, battlefield bad company 2 and battlefield 3 take advantage of hyperthreading, many games such as wow now take advantage of it. Need i go on.
  • 5 Hide
    dragonsqrrl , June 23, 2011 5:46 AM
    zero_Is it just me or does anyone get a feeling that the SBM rigs are being sold for advertising? The X4 955 costs $15 less like you said, and allows overclocking even with stock, and $60 would buy a much better equipped AMD board. Also, $185 gets you a HD6870 these days.Result? Better FPS per $ for the same price. TBH, that's what I was expecting. I am disappoint.

    I still think the i3-2100 was the right choice...

    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/best-gaming-cpu-core-i3-2100-phenom-ii-x6-1075t,2859-10.html

    For a gaming oriented build at this price point, these lower end Sandy Bridge processors can't be beat. Even when you factor in the overclocking potential of similarly priced AMD processors (Phenom II X4 955 or 965) I don't think it's enough to defeat the i3-2100 in the games where it matters most. Even when it comes to multitasking and and multithreaded workloads, the dual-core Sandy Bridge is still very performance competitive, which is kind of sad from an architectural standpoint (quad-thread i3 vs quad-core Phenom II).

    If this build were targeted at workstation applications however, I think you could definitely make the argument that AMD offers a viable alternative with the additional cores. But again, this is a gaming oriented build.
  • 5 Hide
    tajisi , June 23, 2011 5:57 AM
    AMD needs to hurry up on the Bulldozer release if a dual core Intel chip, one that can't be overclocked, is giving their quads a run for their money. If this is an base i3, what does the i5 do when pushed to 4 or 4.5 GHZ on a full set of 4 cores?

    It'd be worth it for me, at least, to spend the $100 or so difference and get something with a bit extra oomph. I'm prepared for the standard "It's more than that 11!!1!!!" and "Intel doesn't have a chip for less than $999!11!1oneone!!!" whining that will follow, but cost-wise it's not that bad anymore. Bulldozer, AMD, or I'm not impressed. Give me something that won't choke my GPU to death.
  • 7 Hide
    Outlander_04 , June 23, 2011 6:00 AM
    Looks to me the Phenom 955 owns the $500 spot . Its cheaper , you get a better motherboard that your friends wont laugh at .

    Can we have this article updated with both rigs graphics cards set at the same clocks ? That would be a telling comparison .
  • 13 Hide
    Nnymrod , June 23, 2011 6:10 AM
    Meh, this build almost seems to be a wash with the March build. and with the price drops on the 955BE, AMD still seems to make more sense than Intel at this price point. Another thing I don't understand is why he chooses to pay more for his parts than is necessary.
  • 1 Hide
    crisan_tiberiu , June 23, 2011 6:18 AM
    well, this month: Intel CPU and AMD Graphics so everyone is pleased. But wait, where is nVidia?
  • 2 Hide
    cobra5000 , June 23, 2011 6:27 AM
    Its the, "NEW, ALL SANDY BRIDGE SMB LINEUP", folks who cares if a 955 system is better or not! Thank goodness they at least mentioned it existed.
  • 5 Hide
    Fokissed , June 23, 2011 6:36 AM
    lott11It looks like someone was doing a all Intel promo.What software can utilize hyper threaded cores.Not on any gamers PC'S much less on MS 64 bit at an entry level.Granted at high end, they do make a great deal of difference but not at entry level.And since when is power conservation a consideration for a gamer.

    This post is so full of fail...
  • 12 Hide
    Outlander_04 , June 23, 2011 6:44 AM
    I think it was worth building a sandybridge at this price point to compare the two systems .

    The article has proved conclusively that sb isnt the phenom killer at this price point. Once you take in to account the relative prices of a 955 and the 2100 , and the 955 being clocked so much higher than the 925 they used then AMD looks better than it did in March .

    Im sure a few intel fanboys just had a very bad day
  • 6 Hide
    cobra5000 , June 23, 2011 6:46 AM
    All you dorks drooling over this i3 right now, almost all the charts here were neck-and-neck, too close to really notice the difference. If you take a real world pc with anti-virus and programs running in the background, you will feel the difference between dual-core and quad-core cpu's. Plus if you take a 955-965 they will oc to 3.7-3.9 Ghz SO easy ANYONE can do it, no voltage changes needed. Can you believe the Mobo they used? Sparse is generous! Not even a single pci slot. You could get an AMD board with eveerything, including USB 3.0 front ports. Where are those? Any one of the great readers here at Toms could hop over to the egg, take 20 min. and build a 955 based rig that could stomp this i3 brainwash event down where it belongs.
  • 5 Hide
    cobra5000 , June 23, 2011 6:54 AM
    Remember, Intel dosent just pay the developers to stay ahead.
  • 5 Hide
    Crashman , June 23, 2011 7:41 AM
    crisan_tiberiuwell, this month: Intel CPU and AMD Graphics so everyone is pleased. But wait, where is nVidia?

    Every once in a while one of the builders does use Nvidia and get this, about a dozen guys cry that it's anti-AMD bias and that THG is a group of Nvidia fanboys.
    cobra5000All you dorks drooling over this i3 right now, almost all the charts here were neck-and-neck, too close to really notice the difference. If you take a real world pc with anti-virus and programs running in the background, you will feel the difference between dual-core and quad-core cpu's. Plus if you take a 955-965 they will oc to 3.7-3.9 Ghz SO easy ANYONE can do it, no voltage changes needed. Can you believe the Mobo they used? Sparse is generous! Not even a single pci slot. You could get an AMD board with eveerything, including USB 3.0 front ports. Where are those? Any one of the great readers here at Toms could hop over to the egg, take 20 min. and build a 955 based rig that could stomp this i3 brainwash event down where it belongs.
    Both of the other editors disagreed with Paul on the Core i3 placement, one more than the other. I even told him something to the effect that "the i3 isn't better, and even if it were better you'd still need to use AMD just to keep guys like cobra5000 from ruining the follow-up thread". OK, I took a little "artistic license" in that quote, but it's true to the concept I voiced.
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