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System Builder Marathon, June 2012: $500 Gaming PC

System Builder Marathon, June 2012: $500 Gaming PC
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System Builder Marathon, June 2012: The Articles

Here are links to each of the four articles in this quarter’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 SurveyGizmo 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

Introduction

For most of us, PC building, like life itself, is full of compromises. We need to balance limited resources, whether it's time, money, or energy. When we fail, we suffer the consequences of poor management. Our goals and desires often cause us to push up to and beyond our limits. As it turns out, this life lesson directly relates to the planning, design, and outcome of today’s gaming system.

The plan of attack for last quarter's $650 Gaming PC ignored the CPU-heavy leaning of our overall performance score to focus on one specific purpose: a better native resolution gaming experience. While the machine’s Core i3 processor fell flat in our productivity and content creation apps, its higher-end graphics card delivered better gaming performance at 1920x1080 in five of our six games. More importantly, a couple of specific quality settings became playable for the first time.

Here's our warning upfront: this quarter's system makes no attempt to earn favor as the most balanced platform, nor does it represent a gaming configuration Tom’s Hardware recommends. This time, we went far more extreme. Despite the 23% budget reduction, we made an experimental, all-out effort to maintain playable performance using the native 1920x1080 screens that many value-oriented enthusiasts still want to use.

$500 Gaming PC System Components
CPUIntel Celeron G530 (Sandy Bridge): 2.4 GHz, 2 MB Shared L3 Cache
$50
CPU CoolerIntel boxed heat sink/fan0
MotherboardGigabyte GA-H61MA-D3V: LGA 1155, Intel H61 Express
$60
RAMPareema 4 GB (2 x 2 GB) DDR3-1333 MD313C80809L2$20
GraphicsECS NGT560TI-1GPI-F1 GeForce GTX 560 Ti$210
Hard DriveWestern Digital WD3200AAKX: 320 GB 7200 RPM Hard Drive
$75
CaseRosewill R101-P-BK MicroATX Mid Tower$30
PowerAntec VP-450 450 W$38
OpticalLG 22x DVD Burner SATA Model GH22NS90B-OEM$17

Total Cost
$500


Shaving $150 off an already-modest budget is bound to hurt performance, particularly since we're spending half of our funds just to cover necessary supporting components (before we're even able to consider the processor and graphics card we want). A slight reduction in storage capacity left us with $260 to split between these two important components.

We had a number of attractive options on the table, some of them more tempting than the one we eventually chose. For starters, we could have paired a capable Core i3-2100 with modest Radeon HD 6850 or GeForce GTX 460 graphics. Either one of those cards could have driven an overclockable AMD FX-4100 platform, leaving us an extra $10 to throw at a beefier motherboard, memory kit, or cooler. Or, we could have mated the well-priced Radeon HD 6870 to the proven Pentium G850. That last option struck me, personally, as the one with the most potential for smooth gaming performance.

But I already knew that, from last December’s system, even a potent Sandy Bridge-based Core i5 isn't enough for the Radeon HD 6870 to shine in all of our tests at 1920x1080. So, I threw caution to the wind and sought maximum 3D might, ending up with a GeForce GTX 560 Ti in what could otherwise be considered a $290 general-purpose machine.

Display all 216 comments.
Top Comments
  • 19 Hide
    PCgamer81 , June 7, 2012 7:29 AM
    Wow.

    To think, for $500, one can experience most of what PC gaming has to offer.

    In this day and age, an Xbox 360/PS3 is absolutely inexcusable.
  • 10 Hide
    slomo4sho , June 7, 2012 4:52 AM
    Would have liked to see Diablo 3 and SC 2 benchmarks for this build.
  • 10 Hide
    cloakster , June 7, 2012 4:30 AM
    It is just incredible how well the G530 performs in gaming.
Other Comments
  • 10 Hide
    cloakster , June 7, 2012 4:30 AM
    It is just incredible how well the G530 performs in gaming.
  • 10 Hide
    slomo4sho , June 7, 2012 4:52 AM
    Would have liked to see Diablo 3 and SC 2 benchmarks for this build.
  • -6 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , June 7, 2012 5:02 AM
    why are you not increasing the voltages on the GPU to get more clocks ?
    any enthusiast with limited budget would want to maximize his core clocks with higher voltages.. the card can keep cool by increasing the fan speed.
    More noise for a gaming session is acceptable.
  • 4 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , June 7, 2012 5:04 AM
    Quote:
    Dumping the bulk of our funding into graphics is sure to spell disaster throughout the media encoding and productivity benchmarks. But it's time to face the music.


    pun intended ? ;) 
  • 6 Hide
    s3anister , June 7, 2012 5:20 AM
    Celeron G530 is what I'm rocking in my gaming rig. It is definitely a capable processor, surprising given the legacy behind anything labeled Celeron.
  • 0 Hide
    s3anister , June 7, 2012 5:27 AM
    Slomo4shOWould have liked to see Diablo 3 and SC 2 benchmarks for this build.

    I can't give you exact fps rates, but my machine is very similar to this one (only difference is the GPU: 6950+Z68) and I get similar frame rates in all the tested games. So I'll infer to you what this rig would probably get close to.

    Diablo 3 maxes out at 60fps with occasional dips down to ~30fps when getting mobbed on hell. As for SC2, frame rates for me tended to be around 35fps on average with everything maxed out at 1920x1080 for both games.
  • 1 Hide
    pauldh , June 7, 2012 6:33 AM
    s3anisterCeleron G530 is what I'm rocking in my gaming rig. It is definitely a capable processor, surprising given the legacy behind anything labeled Celeron.

    Ah, but think way back.... slot 1, 440BX, and the Celeron 300A? I had a 266@412MHz, a 300A@464MHz, a 300A@450MHz, and a 333(that topped out down at an 83 MHz FSB).

    While not the first chips I had overclocked, those slot 1 Celeron's gave me the incurable OC bug! *dreams of G530K*
  • 0 Hide
    jestersage , June 7, 2012 6:34 AM
    Amazing! I never thought an SBM machine would ever come this close to my own rig. And confirm for me that my drooling over $200+ graphics cards is not an impractical fantasy for my current rig. I've been dreaming of retiring my old GT240 for a newer card and had the HD7850 (or comparable Nvidia counterpart when it comes out) in mind, or even an HD7770. I now feel justified and my wife will go nuts over the pc part purchase, again.

    I did notice one thing when I compared this build with my system - mine idles at 48-52 watts, too, and I use a 500W S12II. I think right-sizing the PSU will add to the efficiency. A 350w PSU is my bet for bringing the idle power draw closer to the 20% mark of the PSU rating where efficiency starts to pick up (as per 80plus requirements). I say 350w because whoever gets this will likely want to upgrade the CPU to something beefier sooner or later. Nah, sooner!

    Thanks, Paul! for tackling love and system-building with reckless abandon.
  • 0 Hide
    bustapr , June 7, 2012 6:40 AM
    i got a question. if I were to use a phenom 2x4 965 BE(3.4ghz) for a gaming rig on a similar budget to this, would it bottleneck me in gaming and other applications?
  • 0 Hide
    pauldh , June 7, 2012 6:45 AM
    mayankleoboy1why are you not increasing the voltages on the GPU to get more clocks ?any enthusiast with limited budget would want to maximize his core clocks with higher voltages.. the card can keep cool by increasing the fan speed.More noise for a gaming session is acceptable.

    As mentioned, it was maiinly a matter of consistency with the past few builds. Dealing with fixed CPU clocks and memory frequency, I just haven't been too aggresive with previous efforts with Radeons, and thus didn't want to boost voltage here with the GTX. Trying to play it fair, that's all. Maybe once we revisit overclockable platforms, and are already dealing with increaded noise, I'll get itchy to max-out the GPU.

    Thanks for the feedback though. I'm actually surprised given the balance of the system, that people would desire to see aggressive GPU overclocking.
  • 0 Hide
    hardcore_gamer , June 7, 2012 6:45 AM
    If the rumored specs of xbox 720 and PS4 are correct, a $500 gaming PC like this will beat both consoles in graphics.

    PC gaming FTW!!
  • 1 Hide
    amdfangirl , June 7, 2012 7:01 AM
    bustapri got a question. if I were to use a phenom 2x4 965 BE(3.4ghz) for a gaming rig on a similar budget to this, would it bottleneck me in gaming and other applications?


    If you read the gaming CPUs hieracy chart, PhIIX4 965 roughly equals Core i3 2100t (power saving) http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/gaming-cpu-review-overclock,3106-5.html and is better than a Celeron. Simply put, Core i3 2100 (not power saving) is better. PhII 965 can only match it with a ~almost 4GHz OC.

    It's nice to know that my Ph II X3 isn't going to need to b replaced anytime soon :) . Just a new graphics card.
  • 5 Hide
    bartholomew , June 7, 2012 7:01 AM
    Impressive budget rig!
  • 6 Hide
    Darkerson , June 7, 2012 7:25 AM
    Not bad at all, considering the compromises.
  • 19 Hide
    PCgamer81 , June 7, 2012 7:29 AM
    Wow.

    To think, for $500, one can experience most of what PC gaming has to offer.

    In this day and age, an Xbox 360/PS3 is absolutely inexcusable.
  • -6 Hide
    assafbt , June 7, 2012 7:51 AM
    Ok, my apologies for saying this, but this build had no point. The 500$ and 1000$ price limits in June's builds were unreasonable, as for so little more you could have delivered much more. The limits need reason. The highest end build, may have been reasonable at the 1750$-ish where you not to choose the GTX680. Once you have chosen it, the limit should have gone up by a couple of hundreds.
    So we're left with 3 systems. One just short of high-end, one just short of enthusiast, and one just short of budget gamer.

    Once you've seen the market, you should have put more reason into the price limits.
  • 1 Hide
    ojas , June 7, 2012 8:23 AM
    Somehow, i think a Pentium G850 ($88) + a EVGA/MSI GTX 560 ($190) would be a better choice. You'd cross the budget by about $8, but you could have seen much better performance overall, especially after an OC, seeing that those cards can hit 900 MHz+ easy enough.
  • -4 Hide
    truegenius , June 7, 2012 9:19 AM
    :o 
    pentium g530 can't handle a 560Ti, its too weak.
    it is almost equal to or less than phenom 2 x3
  • 3 Hide
    Crashman , June 7, 2012 9:32 AM
    assafbtOk, my apologies for saying this, but this build had no point. The 500$ and 1000$ price limits in June's builds were unreasonable, as for so little more you could have delivered much more. The limits need reason. The highest end build, may have been reasonable at the 1750$-ish where you not to choose the GTX680. Once you have chosen it, the limit should have gone up by a couple of hundreds.So we're left with 3 systems. One just short of high-end, one just short of enthusiast, and one just short of budget gamer.Once you've seen the market, you should have put more reason into the price limits.
    The sub-$2000 build was high-end and will remain high-end until you can prove otherwise. And don't even bother picking on its case, because we could go back and forth on that one forever.
  • 8 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , June 7, 2012 9:33 AM
    as a budget rig, this build is admirable.
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