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System Builder Marathon, Dec. 2009: $700 Gaming PC

System Builder Marathon, Dec. 2009: $700 Gaming PC
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System Builder Marathon, December 2009: The Articles

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

Day 1: The $2,500 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1,300 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $700 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected

In the September 2009 System Builder Marathon (SBM),  the goal for the cheapest configuration was to build the most powerful budget gaming machine the series has yet seen, both at stock speeds and when overclocked. The $650 Gaming PC easily accomplished these goals by pairing an AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition processor with two Radeon HD 4850 graphics cards. 

Gaming performance was in check, but this system often fell short compared to previous budget builds in our media encoding and productivity suite. Upon completing the series, a lingering question remained: would a cheaper processor and aftermarket cooler have delivered at least the same level of gaming performance, while also increasing applications performance?

With that in mind, the plan for this December 2009 SBM was to revisit the Intel Pentium E5x00 series one last time, finally pairing this dandy little overclocking CPU with the potent graphics solution it deserves. 

While we could easily have built such a configuration for less than $650 back in September, numerous availability issues and price increases now put a serious damper on these plans. For starters, DDR2 prices have skyrocketed, as production continues to shift toward DDR3. The cheapest 4GB kit of CL5 DDR2-1066, which cost $50 for the September system, is now $90 and no longer a savings compared to DDR3. In fact, even the cheapest 4GB kit of basic DDR2-800 is $74. 

As you may likely know, another recent blow to the thrifty PC gamer is the vanishing bargains we had grown to expect for 3D graphics. The Radeon HD 4800-series graphics cards have been rapidly disappearing and remaining stock has subsequently shot up in price. Our Sapphire cards were $95 each last round, but now the cheapest available pair of Radeon HD 4850s was $240. We already had our eye on a nice $85 Intel P45-based motherboard with CrossFireX capabilities and a solid overclocking feature set, but system memory and the graphics cards presented a dilemma.

Opting for a single $180 Radeon HD 4890 was certainly an option, but it would have dashed any hopes of equaling the performance put out by the previous pair of Radeon HD 4850s. Priced at $125 each (and bundled with CrossFire bridge connectors), a pair of XFX Radeon HD 4870 512MB cards were the obvious choice for offering the best bang for the buck while delivering the desired level of 3D performance. Unfortunately, we were likely among the last folks lucky enough to grab such a deal, as current in-stock models are now $175 and up. 

Veteran readers of the SBM series may recall that the $500 gaming budget was increased to a flexible $625 to jump up to a new level of performance. But to deal with rising prices while still hitting the graphics sweet spot, we needed to further stretch our budget to $700 for this round. Still, this was still about $50 less than what it would cost to re-build the previous $650 AMD system from September. 

The biggest sacrifice we made this month with the $700 gaming PC was to grab the cheapest available 4GB kit of DDR2-800. After the author’s $701 wish list was submitted, the instant discount on the DFI motherboard expired, raising the final cost at order time.

$700 Gaming PC System Components

Component
Model
Price
CPU
Intel Pentium E5300
$70
CPU Cooler
Xigmatek HDT-SD964
$22
Motherboard
DFI BI P45-T2RS
$105
RAM
Corsair 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Model VS4GBKIT800D2 G
$74
Graphics
2 XFX HD-487A-YWFC Radeon HD 4870 512MB
$250
Hard Drive
Samsung Spinpoint F3 HD502HJ 500GB 7,200 RPM SATA 3.0 Gb/s
$55
Sound
Integrated
0
Network
Integrated
0
Case
Antec Two Hundred
$45
Power
Antec EarthWatts EA650 650W
$75
Optical
Samsung Black 22X DVD Burner SATA Model SH-S223C
$26
Total

$722
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  • 13 Hide
    rdawise , December 24, 2009 6:12 AM
    noob2222Wish there was an included SBM September in the charts, or at least a link to it. http://www.tomshardware.com/review [...] ,2424.html If the numbers are consistent, and seeing how W7 is slightly faster, the september build is a tad faster with less graphic power and $50 less in the build. With the exception of max resolution, and thats the graphics card difference doing the work.Add in the new AMD options, http://www.tomshardware.com/review [...] ,2452.html, wich takes the lead for the most part over the Phenom II x2 550, I am suprised you opted for the intel chip. That is unless you plan on doing SBMs alternating wich manufacturer is used.Athlon II 435 with 2 4870s would kill this build at the same price.



    You beat me to this.

    Have to wonder why the author used a dead socket with no upgrade path.
  • 12 Hide
    darthfett , December 24, 2009 6:06 AM
    It seems to me that in a budget computer, you are not going to be paying huge amounts for a large monitor. Why use 2 graphics cards when one will do for a smaller monitor. Games these days are still pretty CPU heavy.
  • 12 Hide
    noob2222 , December 24, 2009 5:45 AM
    Wish there was an included SBM September in the charts, or at least a link to it. http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/amd-gaming-pc,2424.html If the numbers are consistent, and seeing how W7 is slightly faster, the september build is a tad faster with less graphic power and $50 less in the build. With the exception of max resolution, and thats the graphics card difference doing the work.

    Add in the new AMD options, http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/athlon-ii-x3,2452.html, wich takes the lead for the most part over the Phenom II x2 550, I am suprised you opted for the intel chip.

    That is unless you plan on doing SBMs alternating wich manufacturer is used.

    Athlon II 435 with 2 4870s would kill this build at the same price.
Other Comments
  • 0 Hide
    shadowryche , December 24, 2009 5:09 AM
    Must be something wrong with my ThermalTake Toughpower 750watt, because even that had trouble running a pair of Radeon 4870 512mb cards in crossfire under heavy load. And I only had two hard drives and one optical drive. The only other expansion card I ran was a Wireless N card.
  • 12 Hide
    noob2222 , December 24, 2009 5:45 AM
    Wish there was an included SBM September in the charts, or at least a link to it. http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/amd-gaming-pc,2424.html If the numbers are consistent, and seeing how W7 is slightly faster, the september build is a tad faster with less graphic power and $50 less in the build. With the exception of max resolution, and thats the graphics card difference doing the work.

    Add in the new AMD options, http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/athlon-ii-x3,2452.html, wich takes the lead for the most part over the Phenom II x2 550, I am suprised you opted for the intel chip.

    That is unless you plan on doing SBMs alternating wich manufacturer is used.

    Athlon II 435 with 2 4870s would kill this build at the same price.
  • 6 Hide
    qwertymac93 , December 24, 2009 5:48 AM
    So we are back to an intel only marathon again. i guess it was silly of me to expect at least ONE system to have an amd cpu in it. it would have been interesting to see the athlon 620+ddr3 be put in the $700 pc, it would have been a nice "are 4 better then 2?" comparison with Septembers build. would have been nice to see dual 5750s in the $700 pc too, but availability and bla bla, i know. with all those modifications though, it would have been closer to a $800pc :( . On a side note, any thoughts on nzxt beta evo vs antec two hundred?
  • 7 Hide
    benzjie , December 24, 2009 5:59 AM
    looks like intel owns not only the OEM market.
  • 12 Hide
    darthfett , December 24, 2009 6:06 AM
    It seems to me that in a budget computer, you are not going to be paying huge amounts for a large monitor. Why use 2 graphics cards when one will do for a smaller monitor. Games these days are still pretty CPU heavy.
  • 13 Hide
    rdawise , December 24, 2009 6:12 AM
    noob2222Wish there was an included SBM September in the charts, or at least a link to it. http://www.tomshardware.com/review [...] ,2424.html If the numbers are consistent, and seeing how W7 is slightly faster, the september build is a tad faster with less graphic power and $50 less in the build. With the exception of max resolution, and thats the graphics card difference doing the work.Add in the new AMD options, http://www.tomshardware.com/review [...] ,2452.html, wich takes the lead for the most part over the Phenom II x2 550, I am suprised you opted for the intel chip. That is unless you plan on doing SBMs alternating wich manufacturer is used.Athlon II 435 with 2 4870s would kill this build at the same price.



    You beat me to this.

    Have to wonder why the author used a dead socket with no upgrade path.
  • 10 Hide
    dangerous_23 , December 24, 2009 7:14 AM
    where are the photos of the actual build?
  • 0 Hide
    snorojr , December 24, 2009 9:12 AM
    5750 availability problem ???? you gottas be joking, i had no problem having my hd 5770 while the 5850 where nowhere findable. They could seriously have took the 57xx serie route and the 5750 and 5770 are doing very good in crossfire setup. Sometime with the big overclock margin they have, a pair 5770 can beat a pair of 4890 in crossfire.
  • 3 Hide
    pauldh , December 24, 2009 9:19 AM
    noob2222Wish there was an included SBM September in the charts, or at least a link to it. http://www.tomshardware.com/review [...] ,2424.html

    Last round’s data was left out of the charts because of the migration to Windows 7 and updated benchmark versions. However, a link to the September $650 PC was provided in the opening paragraph of the intro, and comparisons made throughout the data analysis.
    noob2222
    If the numbers are consistent, and seeing how W7 is slightly faster, the september build is a tad faster with less graphic power and $50 less in the build. With the exception of max resolution, and thats the graphics card difference doing the work.

    The gaming benchmarks are especially comparable, and yes as we note, this rig was behind the Sep PII at the lower settings/resolution and had a graphics advantage taking over at the higher settings. But note, the September build was MORE expensive when this system was ordered, not $50 cheaper. Had we opted to use up this whole “price adjustment” budget and build a $750 machine, a kit of CAS 5 DDR2 (like the AMD build) would have done this one wonders, even more so than expected.
    noob2222
    I am suprised you opted for the intel chip. That is unless you plan on doing SBMs alternating wich manufacturer is used.
    Bingo; Notice all AMD last round even at the high end, and all Intel this round, even at the low end. Something we wanted to try, but will not be continuing.
    noob2222
    Athlon II 435 with 2 4870s would kill this build at the same price.

    That is exactly the plan for next round, although getting a pair of 4870s will likely not be an option. At $87, pairing with an aftermarket cooler will then raise the CPU+cooler budget a bit over the $102 from Sep, or the $92 from December. One of the goals set for this Intel rig back in September was to keep an equal CPU budget to last round, and if possible put the extra money into a graphics step up, although more along the lines of 4850 1GB not 4870’s. There was nothing exciting to challenge the PII at stock clocks, instead the focus was on an aftermarket cooler and better OC. Unfortunately this E5300 was a bit of a dud compared to previous E5200’s.

    I wouldn’t say the 435 would kill these past two rigs though. I suspect it will trade blows in the apps, and likely take a few nice wins(at low res) in the games.
  • -8 Hide
    saeedxfx , December 24, 2009 9:23 AM
    hi
    price per hd4870 is 230$

    and for 2 hd4870=460$
    but in your table is 250$
    how?
  • 2 Hide
    pauldh , December 24, 2009 9:27 AM
    snorojr5750 availability problem ???? you gottas be joking, i had no problem having my hd 5770 while the 5850 where nowhere findable. They could seriously have took the 57xx serie route and the 5750 and 5770 are doing very good in crossfire setup. Sometime with the big overclock margin they have, a pair 5770 can beat a pair of 4890 in crossfire.

    Nothing available around $125 could come close to this 4870, or a pair for $250. 5700's were available, but overpriced and out of budget. Why pay significantly more for 5750's and get less performance? Where would you have shaved an extra $40-50 from this budget to even pay for 4750's?
  • -7 Hide
    nikaan , December 24, 2009 9:35 AM
    clearly amd is the best choice for this price & i dont understand why they choosed intel platform

    i gusse they love intel or ...
  • 1 Hide
    pauldh , December 24, 2009 9:37 AM
    saeedxfxhiprice per hd4870 is 230$and for 2 hd4870=460$but in your table is 250$how?

    As the text spells out, the system was configured at $701, and purchased at $722. Those who paid attention to Newegg GPU pricing will these 4870's were in and out of stock at $125.

    But you are right, 4870's are about gone now. $175 each (before rebate)buys you an IceQ 1GB: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814161292&cm_re=hd_4870-_-14-161-292-_-Product

    A $220 pair of 4770's are a step down in performance, but offer good value and keep the system within budget. http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814150369&cm_re=HD_4770-_-14-150-369-_-Product

    Or take advantage of falling 5750 prices.
  • 3 Hide
    pauldh , December 24, 2009 9:41 AM
    nikaanclearly amd is the best choice for this price & i dont understand why they choosed intel platformi gusse they love intel or ...

    No love for either, but we decided to give both a shot at each price point during these past two rounds. Read the conclusion and clearly you should see you assumption on love is wrong.
  • 5 Hide
    pauldh , December 24, 2009 10:12 AM
    qwertymac93So we are back to an intel only marathon again. i guess it was silly of me to expect at least ONE system to have an amd cpu in it. it would have been interesting to see the athlon 620+ddr3 be put in the $700 pc, it would have been a nice "are 4 better then 2?" comparison with Septembers build. would have been nice to see dual 5750s in the $700 pc too, but availability and bla bla, i know. with all those modifications though, it would have been closer to a $800pc . On a side note, any thoughts on nzxt beta evo vs antec two hundred?

    Were you equally upset to see three AMD builds last round? Let's keep things in perspective please.

    There's potential to get either the X3 735 or X4 620, and a pair of 5750s into the next round, this will likely call for an $800 PC.

    Reader input will help decide if we need more flexibility in this system's budget to build such a rig, or if we should lower the budget back to the $500-600 range and focus on lower resolutions and a single GPU. Time will tell, but we value your feedback and aim to cover the price ranges readers want to see.
  • 0 Hide
    pauldh , December 24, 2009 10:30 AM
    @ qwerty - forgot the case. Biggest drawback for me with the beta evo is the supplied cooling. There's potential for big airflow, but adding exhaust fans to complement the single (included) intake fan could be costly.
  • -5 Hide
    technuttso , December 24, 2009 10:32 AM
    Congratulatins for the effort! But.....

    U have here 2 nice articles on how to build a balanced gaming PC. All lost time, i may say after reading the last 2 marathon builds of this year.
    This last build for example a waste of money ,time and intellectual resources. What point in a building based on a clumsy Core Duo,even nicely overclocked paired with 2 quite powerful video cards if is not doing a good job at hi resolution. What for a 4870 CF? One single 4890 slightly overclocked combined with a Core Due Quad (if u stick with Intel by force ) is enough powerful to handle some good frames on hi res with the option on a later add for a CF in case of high demanding games to come next year. Or get the AMD way to build a good gaming machine on a budget. Is more common sense. And a budget machine is not meant to run games on a 2560x1600 display...is just not a budget display anymore. I hope is the last time that i see this nice CPU e 5xxx series on a gaming machine with modern games on hi res. U are specialists here with a tech magazine to run, i expect something more elaborated and realistic on your technical articles.
    If the budget don't fit anymore change the budget, is ok.

    Anyway there are some changes to do in order to remain a good credible hardware magazine. Now u are more like some gossip PChardware magazine with some rare good reviews. Even the forum is going down despite the efforts of some good guys that have like a "second job" here and they do the best to moderate and\or answer to many "crazy" questions and problems.
  • 9 Hide
    skora , December 24, 2009 11:02 AM
    I'm going say this budget needs to be backed off a bit. When the goal is to show an entry level gaming system, it should automatically limit this to a single GPU subsystem unless you're using 2 GPUs that cost significantly less just to see. If I'm trying to build a gaming rig for as little as possible, there's no way I'd consider 2xGPUs.

    Don't listen to all the conjecture about should have done this, should have done that. These articles are very useful in the sole fact that they think outside the box and challenge the perceived status quo. The only way to know if popular opinion is correct is to test the unpopular. Anyone spending enough time to doing research and some forum help can develop a safe build. These systems will find some great solutions, but more often than not, find flaws so we the readers/users, can avoid those mistakes. Thanks for saving our butts.
  • 3 Hide
    pauldh , December 24, 2009 11:19 AM
    Quote:
    Congratulatins for the effort! But.....

    U have here 2 nice articles on how to build a balanced gaming PC. All lost time, i may say after reading the last 2 marathon builds of this year.
    This last build for example a waste of money ,time and intellectual resources. What point in a building based on a clumsy Core Duo,even nicely overclocked paired with 2 quite powerful video cards if is not doing a good job at hi resolution. What for a 4870 CF? One single 4890 slightly overclocked combined with a Core Due Quad (if u stick with Intel by force ) is enough powerful to handle some good frames on hi res with the option on a later add for a CF in case of high demanding games to come next year. Or get the AMD way to build a good gaming machine on a budget. Is more common sense. And a budget machine is not meant to run games on a 2560x1600 display...is just not a budget display anymore. I hope is the last time that i see this nice CPU e 5xxx series on a gaming machine with modern games on hi res. U are specialists here with a tech magazine to run, i expect something more elaborated and realistic on your technical articles.
    If the budget don't fit anymore change the budget, is ok.

    Thanks for the feedback.

    I sure don't agree this is a waste. Keep in mind, with a $70 dual core, this December PC was designed to fail at stock clocks.... it's pure intent was to be overclocked and fit in big graphics. It put up by far the best 19x12 numbers to date for our budget gaming PC's. I think you may be a bit surprised when part 3 of the balanced pc series(overclocking) rolls around.

    Any of the Core 2 Quad's are far more expensive CPU's than we have put into the budget gaming PC leaving too little GPU budget for graphics. I wouldn't bother with a stock cooled Q8x00 and a sacrifice in GPU budget; it would not be a step up in gaming. A single 4890 is nice, but paired with an Athlon II, Phenom II or Core i5, depending on budget and system use.

    Agreed, 2560x1600 is not even a normal SBM resolution and not any concern for this budget build; One reason 512MB cards were acceptable. I do disagree with the notion some have made that budget gamers do not care about 1920x1200. 1680x1050 - 1920x1200 are the sweet spot IMO of affordability and wow factor. Look how cheap 23" 1080P monitors are now, and at the highest details with eye candy that can take a serious amount of graphics muscle.
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