System Builder Marathon: $500 Gaming PC

Overclocking

As mentioned, the $500 PC was built around the idea of overclocking and squeezing as much performance possible out of each dollar spent. Before we see just what speeds this system is capable of reaching, let’s look at the stock settings.

Our GA-EP35-DS3L motherboard shipped with the F4 BIOS and no matter how high VCore was set in the BIOS, we were unable to get any voltage setting to take above 1.296 V. Limited to the normal VCore, the E2180 topped out at just 2.66 GHz (10*266), which wasn’t going to cut it for our System Builder Marathon. The solution was to flash the BIOS to version F5, which then made it possible to bump up the VCore and see just what this chip could do.

At 1.504 V, our E2180 was passing any synthetic or gaming tests attempted at 3.33 GHz (10*333), but was unable to pass our stress testing. Rather than bump the voltage up beyond 1.5 V, we lowered our goals. Dropping the CPU clock ratio (multiplier) to eight and raising the host frequency to 400 MHz, we reached a stable 3.2 GHz at 1.456 V and a +0.1 V bump in the FSB voltage. At these settings, memory is kept at 800 MHz (1:1) and no attempts were made to add more voltage to the Wintec RAM and tighten the rather relaxed SPD timings.

Having found our maximum stable CPU speed, we turned our attention to getting more performance from the PNY 8800GT. Even with its single-slot cooler, we found stability at 741 MHz core and 1,890 MHz shaders. That is quite a boost from the factory speeds of a 600 MHz core and 1,512 MHz shaders. For testing, we backed both down one notch to a 738 MHz core and 1,836 MHz shaders.

On the memory side, the sky was the limit and we had no problems at our highest tested speed of 1,065 MHz (2,130 MHz effective). Choosing a speed to run the memory at for our testing presented a problem, since although we had not reached a limit on the RAM chips themselves, many people feel that the 8800 GT itself can’t handle these memory speeds for long periods of time and it’s safer for the card to keep the gaming speeds of the memory well below 2.0 GHz. We still wanted to squeeze as much performance as we felt comfortable running, so we knocked the memory down a few notches and decided on 1,053 MHz (2,106 MHz effective) for testing.

It’s worth noting that the extra boost in memory data rate speeds from 1,980 MHz to 2,106 MHz provided less than 300 extra 3DMarks and just a fraction of one frame per second (FPS) in our Crysis testing. Not all games may respond the same as Crysis did, but with such minimal gains seen here, it indeed doesn’t appear to be worth pushing the 8800 GT’s RAM to these speeds for daily gaming.

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  • radguy
    Thanks for the article. I always enjoy these sbm builds you guys do. I guessed wrong again but actually think you guys picked a better choice. Nice to know build quality is still taken into consideration even at the 500 dollar range. Also just to mention this again next time noise and power consumption charts please.
    4
  • Anonymous
    "The silicon hard drive grommets"

    That wouldn't dampen much noise.

    Try silicone hard drive grommets
    (They are usually silicon-oxygen based polymers)
    -3
  • slomo4sho
    I wish you used the E5200 CPU for this build, current prices reflect a difference of $14 only.

    Also, in the future, would it be possible for you to have two builds for the $500 budget build. One based on Intel AND the other on AMD?
    4
  • xx12amanxx
    I would have spent maybe 30$ on a cheapo case and put the 50$ toward's a hd4850! Most people building a 500$ pc are going to want maximun performance and not care what the case looks like.
    -5
  • cangelini
    xX12amanXxI would have spent maybe 30$ on a cheapo case and put the 50$ toward's a hd4850! Most people building a 500$ pc are going to want maximun performance and not care what the case looks like.


    $30 for a case and PSU? Sounds like a build asking for trouble. I personally don't think $80 for a nice chassis and power supply is bad.
    5
  • cangelini
    Slomo4shOI wish you used the E5200 CPU for this build, current prices reflect a difference of $14 only. Also, in the future, would it be possible for you to have two builds for the $500 budget build. One based on Intel AND the other on AMD?


    Heya Slo! We're actually weighing the possibility of simply switching off each month on the $500 system since AMD has some very compelling hardware in that range.
    2
  • slomo4sho
    cangeliniHeya Slo! We're actually weighing the possibility of simply switching off each month on the $500 system since AMD has some very compelling hardware in that range.


    Well in this case, an AMD build might have allowed for a 4850. I look forward to seeing what you decide upon but I still think a monthly build of each platform at the $500 build is definitely something worthwhile.

    Transitioning month to month between the two usually does not allow for comparative annalist in your "Performance And Value, Dissected" write-ups
    0
  • cangelini
    Slomo4shO


    Gotcha. We'll discuss that as a possibility, then.
    2
  • lounge lizard
    I love the article and second the notion that it would be a great idea to run it every month. I for one am a firm believer of upgrading more consistently at a reasonable cost per component rather then just throwing $1500 at new machine.

    At some point it would be interesting if you guys could run an Upgrade Edition of the $500 system builder. Most people that have the courage and knowledge to overclock their new parts by over 50% (wow the E2180 rocks!)would almost definitely have components that they could and would want to swap between rigs.

    Again, great article.
    1
  • reasonablevoice
    king_edgar"The silicon hard drive grommets" That wouldn't dampen much noise.Try silicone hard drive grommets(They are usually silicon-oxygen based polymers)


    What the hell are you saying?
    3
  • JustPlainJef
    Personally, I wouldn't skimp on the power supply. If that goes, you could be out most of your $500 investment.

    Seeing an AMD build would be nice, but I'm not gonna be too upset if it doesn't happen.
    1
  • V3NOM
    Slomo4shOI wish you used the E5200 CPU for this build, current prices reflect a difference of $14 only. Also, in the future, would it be possible for you to have two builds for the $500 budget build. One based on Intel AND the other on AMD?

    i know! im getting a e5200 on the 11/11 (:S bad omen?) cant wait to oc!
    0
  • Anonymous
    Good article,

    I am one of the proud owners of a very similar $500 machine. (though in my case R5000). My only key differences was that I went for a 9600 GT and got a Audigy Value.

    I overclocked it like crazy and can blissfully play Crysis on high at native resolution no problems.
    0
  • Shadow703793
    Looks good. The E2180 should OC to about 3GHz but usually less than 3.3Ghz (will only Pass P95 for 6hrs at 3.3Ghz). Also use the BETA BIOS on the EP35-DS3L for best OCing.
    0
  • Shadow703793
    one more thing: Should have gotten a E5200 and a 9800GT. There's a EVGA 9800GT for $100 after MIR on Newegg. See:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814130380
    -2
  • zak_mckraken
    Shadow703793one more thing: Should have gotten a E5200 and a 9800GT. There's a EVGA 9800GT for $100 after MIR on Newegg. See:http://www.newegg.com/Product/Prod [...] 6814130380


    You have to understand that their parts were ordered at the beginning of the month. The prices of computer parts go down almost every day. By the time the build, configure, overclock, benchmark and publish, prices are bound to go down and MIR or other promotions that wasn't there at the time of ordering may appear.
    1
  • nafhan
    If you aren't going to overclock, and are willing to go AMD... you can make the following substitutions, and get a system that will be alot faster in many games and $40 cheaper (also swapped out the HD, I love the WD6400AAKS) all straight from Newegg:

    AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+ Brisbane 2.6GHz 2 x 512KB - Retail - $60.00
    Foxconn A74MX-K AM2+/AM2 AMD 740G Micro ATX - $48.96
    OCZ Platinum (2 x 1GB) DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500) - $33.99
    ASUS EAH4850 TOP/HTDI/512M Radeon HD 4850 512MB - $139.99
    Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD6400AAKS 640GB - $74.99
    Antec NSK4480B - $80.00
    LITE-ON Black SATA 20X DVD±R DVD Burner - $23.99
    TOTAL: $461.92
    3
  • lambofgode3x
    nafhanIf you aren't going to overclock, and are willing to go AMD... you can make the following substitutions, and get a system that will be alot faster in many games and $40 cheaper (also swapped out the HD, I love the WD6400AAKS) all straight from Newegg:AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+ Brisbane 2.6GHz 2 x 512KB - Retail - $60.00Foxconn A74MX-K AM2+/AM2 AMD 740G Micro ATX - $48.96OCZ Platinum (2 x 1GB) DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500) - $33.99ASUS EAH4850 TOP/HTDI/512M Radeon HD 4850 512MB - $139.99Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD6400AAKS 640GB - $74.99Antec NSK4480B - $80.00LITE-ON Black SATA 20X DVD±R DVD Burner - $23.99TOTAL: $461.92


    since you're still about 40 bucks below the 500 mark, add a good cooler and use the left over money to upgrade that motherboard
    2
  • Pei-chen
    nafhanIf you aren't going to overclock, and are willing to go AMD... you can make the following substitutions, and get a system that will be alot faster in many games and $40 cheaper (also swapped out the HD, I love the WD6400AAKS) all straight from Newegg:AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+ Brisbane 2.6GHz 2 x 512KB - Retail - $60.00Foxconn A74MX-K AM2+/AM2 AMD 740G Micro ATX - $48.96OCZ Platinum (2 x 1GB) DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500) - $33.99ASUS EAH4850 TOP/HTDI/512M Radeon HD 4850 512MB - $139.99Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD6400AAKS 640GB - $74.99Antec NSK4480B - $80.00LITE-ON Black SATA 20X DVD±R DVD Burner - $23.99TOTAL: $461.92

    You saved nothing. You swapped a good CPU and board for an outdated chip and OEM board. Tom's could save on the CPU cooler & board and go with an E5200 + 4850 and it would whip your AMD build.

    I like AMD but unless you’re building an HTPC, Intel is the way to go. Even then, Intel has Geforce 9300.
    -2
  • Pei-chen
    It is nice to see Tom's managed to overclock the 8800GT so much. My EVGA 55nm 9800GT only managed 720 MHz core, 1,728 MHz shaders and 1,065 MHz memory. I paid $100 for the 9800GT + OCZ 2GB PC2-6400 ram so it's a great deal at about $75.
    0