System Builder Marathon, Sept. 2010: $400 Gaming PC

Assembly

Assembling this simple PC was a breeze compared to high-end boxes featuring exotic cooling, multiple graphics cards, and RAID arrays. Our modest selection of hardware easily fits inside the Blackbone’s roomy interior, with gobs of space left for expansion or inexperienced hands. The case’s glossy front bezel is easily removed with just a tug. This makes it easier to prep the external drive bays and clean the foam filter linings when they get dirty.

The stock heatsink requires no special attention, and the pad of pre-applied thermal paste allows for a quick, easy installation. While a handy access hole in the Blackbone’s tray would aid in bolt-on aftermarket cooler installations, given this system’s design and initial cost, any future upgrade would probably use the built-in socket clips anyway.

The Blackbone can accommodate up to 11.5” graphics cards, although anything in the 9 to 9.5” range requires you to leave adjacent hard drive bays vacant. At 7.25”, our single Radeon HD 5670 leaves all of those bays available for more storage in the future.

The drive bays themselves are not as snug as they are on Cooler Master's Elite 330. But the twist and lock mounting clips still provide an acceptably-secure solution. Once again, we’d revert back to conventional screws if we shipped this system to the winner fully-configured. In order to make shipping a safer proposition, though, we'll box everything up first. Rosewill populates the visible left side of the enclosure with a full deck of these drive clips, but it only includes a few extras for the reverse side of the cage.

ASRock’s sensible motherboard layout, coupled with Rosewill’s routing holes, allows for tidy cable management. The low-RPM case fans use 3-pin header connectors, but Rosewill also includes Molex adapters.

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  • AMW1011
    I'll be honest, I think a $450 budget is a little more reasonable than a $400 budget. At that price a 5750 or even a 5770 can be had, which would have worked fine with all of the other parts and likely would have matched the $550 June build.

    Even this $400 build packs a punch, you can get one HELL of a rig for the money any more. It really is insane, and that's not even considering the used or refurb market!

    Awesome article, probably one of my favorite SBM, atleast the best I've seen in a long time.
    15
  • SpadeM
    Quote:
    Given the motherboard’s basic passive cooling measures, though, there was really no point in putting more time into lowering the CPU multiplier, pushing a high reference clock, and attempting to maximize northbridge and memory frequencies.


    +1 for making this statement, glad someone considered it at least. All in all decent build for the money.
    12
  • Proximon
    The Cooler Master Elite 460 is a falsely labeled piece of crap. You can find the review (with proper testing) here: http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/1005/1

    You'll have to spend a little bit more there. Rosewill has a 430W (RG430 S12) unit or the Antec Neo 400W is almost the same price as the CM after a discount and rebate.
    11
  • Other Comments
  • SpadeM
    Quote:
    Given the motherboard’s basic passive cooling measures, though, there was really no point in putting more time into lowering the CPU multiplier, pushing a high reference clock, and attempting to maximize northbridge and memory frequencies.


    +1 for making this statement, glad someone considered it at least. All in all decent build for the money.
    12
  • AMW1011
    I'll be honest, I think a $450 budget is a little more reasonable than a $400 budget. At that price a 5750 or even a 5770 can be had, which would have worked fine with all of the other parts and likely would have matched the $550 June build.

    Even this $400 build packs a punch, you can get one HELL of a rig for the money any more. It really is insane, and that's not even considering the used or refurb market!

    Awesome article, probably one of my favorite SBM, atleast the best I've seen in a long time.
    15
  • micr0be
    very nice build, interesting to see how much performance can be squeezed out of the budget. i was expecting worse results.
    5
  • nevertell
    Conclusion ?

    150$ buys you a lot better gaming capabilities, and nothing else.
    -8
  • Gamer-girl
    Quote:
    It went $1 over-budget if we substituted in a GeForce 9800 GT.


    I doubt someone spending $400 can't afford to add an extra dollar. although i realize that the point in these articles is to stay under the budget, it would have been interesting to see the price/perforamce difference.
    9
  • haplo602
    nice case, looks very good ... pity that rosewill does not have a downloadable manual for it ...
    2
  • HibyPrime
    I'd be interested to know how much more overclocking headroom you could pull out of it if you left it at 3 cores - and would that net you more performance in most of the benchmarks?

    I'd bet if you could pull ~200 mhz more out of it, it would begin to match up with the missing core, and maybe start to pull away around 400mhz.
    3
  • Proximon
    The Cooler Master Elite 460 is a falsely labeled piece of crap. You can find the review (with proper testing) here: http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/1005/1

    You'll have to spend a little bit more there. Rosewill has a 430W (RG430 S12) unit or the Antec Neo 400W is almost the same price as the CM after a discount and rebate.
    11
  • Proximon
    Clicked once but got a double post somehow.
    -6
  • Anonymous
    What do the best price/performance we can have?
    -6
  • cmcghee358
    Really good job. I also like the fact you pointed out that it doesn't include combo discounts, shell shockers or MIR.

    That tells me that it could of been an even better system for the same price. I understand that you couldn't, but it's a real eye opener for us folks in the System forum.

    I consider this to be a perfect benchmark system for the low budget build requests there.
    11
  • Onus
    While I agree with Proximon on the PSU, I also think this was an outstanding benchmark build. It's also clear where the next $50-$100 could go to improve it. Very nicely done.
    3
  • Gulli
    There really are cheaper cases and motherboards out there that would work just fine with this setup. The extra money could go to where it's really need: the graphics.
    3
  • elbert
    LunarianI am building a computer with this motherboard and processor also, well the X3 445 anyway. I want to install windows XP on to the operating system, but all my recent CD's were upgrades only. Can I start off with the Win95 CD and install that to the HDD, then upgrade to Win98 followed by Win XP?If anyone can answer this, thanks a lot.

    I installed an upgrade disk XP once and I think its asks you to insert the disk of the OS you want to upgrade. XP then checks the disk I guess to see if its an allowed upgrade.

    This was a great review. I would have when for a $450 range build with a 5770 and an X3 and got the mobo in the review. I would have gotten the $20 Gigabyte gz-ph1a3 and Antec 430W for $40. May have exceeded the price but would have been a great system.
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811233061
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817371023
    -1
  • pauldh
    SpadeM+1 for making this statement, glad someone considered it at least. All in all decent build for the money.

    Thanks, yes felt it was worth mentioning this one wasn’t as tuned as other recent SBM budget builds. The 2140 MHz CPU-NB Frequency for this $400 OC is quite low versus 2540 MHz for the June $550 PC, and 2620 MHz for the March $750 build. I aim for 2400-2600 MHz CPU-NB, although realize many overclockers utilizing better cooling are willing to push this far higher.

    This lil’ box had a few strikes against it that (I felt) didn’t warrant the additional tuning time. The mobo’s design & tame passive cooling, the lack of CPU-NB Voltage control in BIOS, and the fact the boxed cooler’s abilities were already being taxed without increasing the memory controller and L3 cache frequency.
    3
  • sublifer
    I'd have rather seen a $500 system. ~$100 more into gfx would have been well spent. Maybe a better HSF too.
    -5
  • jonpaul37
    Agreed, kudos to the community for asking for this and kudos to Paul for making it happen, $400.00 seems to pack a decent punch!
    8
  • maydaynomore
    Blah.... If all you have is $400 then you should consider buying a gaming console. Flame all you want, but the reason for owning a gaming pc is for eye-candy I can't get with a console. This build will be similar to a console (eye-candy wise).
    -13
  • pauldh
    AMW1011I'll be honest, I think a $450 budget is a little more reasonable than a $400 budget. At that price a 5750 or even a 5770 can be had, which would have worked fine with all of the other parts and likely would have matched the $550 June build.Even this $400 build packs a punch, you can get one HELL of a rig for the money any more. It really is insane, and that's not even considering the used or refurb market!Awesome article, probably one of my favorite SBM, atleast the best I've seen in a long time.


    Agreed, every little bit helps. $411 alone added an HD 4850, so $450 would have been good for 1GB HD 5750 or maybe even a 5770. $500 then adds an aftermarket cooler, higher quality PSU, and doubles the storage capacity.
    0
  • pauldh
    HibyPrimeI'd be interested to know how much more overclocking headroom you could pull out of it if you left it at 3 cores - and would that net you more performance in most of the benchmarks?I'd bet if you could pull ~200 mhz more out of it, it would begin to match up with the missing core, and maybe start to pull away around 400mhz.

    The $550 overclocked June PC had a 350 MHz advantage plus further performance tuning, and it still fell shy of the $400 build in threaded-apps performance. Gaming, the system needs more GPU, so additional CPU frequency would not have a meaningful impact.

    FYI, we get curious too, just need to get the work done first. ;) I pushed 3.5 GHz at 3-cores, but wouldn't stability test because of insufficeint cooling. Didn't take the time to push the ref. clock any higher than 235 MHz. 3.45 GHz required a voltage bump from 3.4 GHz for stability, and temps were a bit high even before CPU-NB frequency overclocking. SO, had unlocking failed, benchmarks would likely have been run with 3-cores @ 3.4 GHz.
    0