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System Builder Marathon: $625 Gaming PC

This month we set our sights on a more powerful graphics card in hopes of achieving better playable gaming frame rates at maximum details. However, the 16% overall increase in frame rates achieved at stock speeds is, in the end, a bit misleading.

The E5200 failed to keep up with the HD 4870 in two of our games, and in World in Conflict, the frame rates made the title unplayable. In Crysis and Supreme Commander, performance jumped quite a bit, but it still took overclocking to approach playable frame rates. Once both systems were overclocked, we had near-equal CPU power and raising the resolution or enabling AA brought out the benefits of the Radeon HD 4870. Of course, our two most demanding games should still be tweaked down a bit to find the best blend of performance and visual quality to maximize the system’s capabilities.

With the slower CPU, this month's PC lost in all nine of the encoding and applications tests, but with its 100 MHz higher overclock, it managed to surpass the overclocked December PC in eight of those tests. Overall, the two stock systems come out about even while the January/February PC takes the performance crown once overclocked. Those willing to overclock will probably agree that the E5200 provides more bang for the buck than the E7300 does, and the current $43 difference could be put to use in other components.

But performance is only part of the story this month, as pricing and availability led to a sacrifice in our case quality to achieve higher gaming frame rates. The better system will depend on personal preference and typical use. While gamers playing at high resolutions may prefer this month’s system, they will also want a better cooled enclosure if pushing high clock speeds. It is this author’s opinion that the case used this month is better suited for a $400-$500 PC or one that will at most see mild overclocking. While at current prices our $625 PC would be in a case such as the Antec Three Hundred if purchased today, some readers may instead prefer to pocket the money saved or use it to buy a new game, more storage space, or higher-end components.

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