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System Builder Marathon, March 2010: $750 Gaming PC

System Builder Marathon, March 2010: $750 Gaming PC
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System Builder Marathon, March 2010: 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 $3,000 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1,500 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $750 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected

Introduction

The $700 PC in last December's System Builder Marathon  was an attempt to get the highest overclocked performance we’ve seen from our value-priced system. Using just $92 dollars of our budget for a dual-core Intel processor and 92mm cooler meant $250 could be allocated towards a powerful pair of Radeon HD 4870 graphics cards. Skyrocketing DDR2 memory prices meant increasing the budget, dropping to 2GB of system RAM, or utilizing the cheapest 4GB kit of CL5 DDR2-800 available. While the final result was a successful boost to application performance and high-resolution gaming, there was still plenty of room left for improvement.

The former PC was, honestly, a bit out of balance, with too little of our budget going towards the processor and system RAM. In this round, we aim to improve the situation by utilizing a triple-core AMD Athlon II X3 435 and 4GB of high-speed DDR3 memory.

Gaming is still top priority for this system, so a single GeForce GTS 250, Radeon HD 5750, or even Radeon HD 5770 would offer nowhere near the level of performance we seek. Remaining Radeon HD 4870s are far too expensive for us to consider a pair again this month. But thankfully we have seen a reemergence of Radeon HD 4850s. Newegg carried six models for us to choose from, two of them priced at just $100.

While we have been criticized for going with dual GPUs in a value-oriented gaming machine, the fact remains that two Radeon HD 4850s offer far better performance than any single $200 GPU. To get this level of performance from a single graphics card with one GPU, you would need to spend about $100 more for a Radeon HD 5850. A well-designed $500-$600 gaming PC will more than likely sport just a single GPU, but an extra $100 or so can go a long way in terms of boosting gaming performance.

Component
  $750 Gaming PC Component Prices
 Price
CPU
AMD Athlon II X3 435
$84
CPU Cooler
Xigmatek HDT-SD964
$22
Motherboard
Gigabyte GA-MA790GPT-UD3H
$105
RAM
G.Skill Ripjaws 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1600 Model F3-12800CL9D-4GBRL
$94
Graphics
2 x Sapphire 100245HDMI Radeon HD 4850 512MB
$200
Hard Drive
Western Digital Caviar Black WD6401AALS, 640GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0 Gb/s
$75
Sound
Integrated
0
Network
Integrated
0
Case
Antec Three Hundred Illusion
$60
Power
Antec EarthWatts EA650 650W
$85
Optical
LG Black 22X DVD Burner SATA Model GH22NS50
$24
Total Price

$749


The budget for this round had been set to $750 to combat the escalating cost of memory and graphics cards. Rather than solely focus on a price/performance ratio, we chose to use up the remaining funds and bump storage to the 640GB Western Digital Black hard drive. While some of these components have gone up in price, others are available for less, allowing this PC to be currently built for a few dollars cheaper.

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Top Comments
  • 14 Hide
    skora , March 18, 2010 9:07 AM
    Are the STALKER numbers a result of it just being a 512mb GPU? I know the powercolor is single slot, but the 1gb is just $115. Worth it in your opinion?

    I've thrown this out there before for a SBM, but a progressive upgrade SBM would be cool. Instead of 3 systems head to head, you start with one with the entry level budget. Bench it, then add $200 or so worth of upgrades, bench it. Rinse and repeat. Your first system might have a single GPU and need to spend a little more on a mobo for a dual ready mobo, but that's not really a deal breaker. Then add the second GPU and better cooling or whatever the article rules end up being.

    You could also do something like they do on Top Gear (UK) and inherited some old systems and have to do the best you can to get them current.

    Of all the SBMs, this entry model is by far my favorite.
  • 11 Hide
    jsowoc , March 18, 2010 7:00 AM
    I find the value comparisons are usually (always?) that the least expensive computer has the most "value", followed closely by the middle computer, trailed by the most expensive setup.

    Would it be possible to make a 3-way comparison of systems at the same price (for example, $1000)? One could be an AMD-based system, another an Intel-based, and a third maybe a graphics-heavy monster, or a MicroATX system (to see how much performance you sacrifice to stay in $1000 and fit a small form factor).
  • 10 Hide
    Hothr , March 18, 2010 12:12 PM
    It would be nice to make these a wishlist on newegg and link to it (this is sponsored by newegg, right?). That would give us an easy way to have the parts all listed together and click on each to quickly get full specs / reviews, then tweak to our personal tastes.
Other Comments
  • 9 Hide
    erdinger , March 18, 2010 6:22 AM
    This system seams to be really potent. Good job!
  • 6 Hide
    erdinger , March 18, 2010 6:31 AM
    Good job. I Really like the system and I agree in nearly every decision.

    unlocking the forth core and still overclocking to 3.6Ghz is just great! I'm getting jealous because my 4th core is broken.

    I'm looking forward to the value comparison.
  • 3 Hide
    cruiseoveride , March 18, 2010 6:53 AM
    This is almost identical to my build. But I used 2nd hand parts, dual HD4870s and it worked out just less than $600.

    4 cores, 3.2Ghz, 13,000 3dmark points.

    Great bang-for-buck system.
  • 4 Hide
    stray_gator , March 18, 2010 6:58 AM
    Apart from a SBM entry, this article also provides reality check regarding the benefits of a fourth core. quite useful.
  • 11 Hide
    jsowoc , March 18, 2010 7:00 AM
    I find the value comparisons are usually (always?) that the least expensive computer has the most "value", followed closely by the middle computer, trailed by the most expensive setup.

    Would it be possible to make a 3-way comparison of systems at the same price (for example, $1000)? One could be an AMD-based system, another an Intel-based, and a third maybe a graphics-heavy monster, or a MicroATX system (to see how much performance you sacrifice to stay in $1000 and fit a small form factor).
  • 2 Hide
    Otus , March 18, 2010 7:07 AM
    What would by interesting is a round of "upgrade" builds. Set specific budgets for ungrades and add them on top of the hardware from a previous round. That would allow commentary on upgrade paths and also help builders of new rigs.
  • 6 Hide
    shubham1401 , March 18, 2010 7:18 AM
    Wow!
    This processor is a beast for the price...Really Impressed
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , March 18, 2010 7:19 AM
    jsowocI find the value comparisons are usually (always?) that the least expensive computer has the most "value", followed closely by the middle computer, trailed by the most expensive setup.Would it be possible to make a 3-way comparison of systems at the same price (for example, $1000)? One could be an AMD-based system, another an Intel-based, and a third maybe a graphics-heavy monster, or a MicroATX system (to see how much performance you sacrifice to stay in $1000 and fit a small form factor).


    Except for the CPU cooler, you usually sacrifice nothing to go Micro ATX. Tom's Hardware even did a micro-ATX SBM...where the Core i7 system sucked because it had to use the stock cooler. You can find semi-small micro-ATX cases that fit mid-sized coolers.

    Antec also makes a MICRO ATX MID TOWER which REALLY sux since it misses the point of Micro ATX completely, so I don't want to hear about that one.

    And of course there's Micro ATX mini-towers with the same layout as full-ATX. You get all the performance of ATX and the big cooler, with a case that's around 14-15" tall.
  • 3 Hide
    jsowoc , March 18, 2010 7:48 AM
    CrashmanExcept for the CPU cooler, you usually sacrifice nothing to go Micro ATX. Tom's Hardware even did a micro-ATX SBM...where the Core i7 system sucked because it had to use the stock cooler. (...)


    My argument was not that they should do a $500-$1000-$2000 comparison of uATX builds - they did this. I was suggesting doing a $1000intel - $1000amd - $1000uATX comparison.
  • -1 Hide
    tigerwraith , March 18, 2010 7:48 AM
    I still dont understand why they went with 2 gfx cards. Ive seen in a lot of reviews that even the newest games dont always work right off the bat when using Crossfire or SLi, So why not spend the money on a 5770 for this. You get DX 11, Dual to Triple moniters, and passthrough. So say you wanted to build a budget HTPC that could game Id have went with the 5770 or 5830 not only would that be a great cpu to watch on a HDTV but you would only need the HDMI cable to run everything.
  • -4 Hide
    curnel_D , March 18, 2010 8:04 AM
    Going out of your way to mention that you had to lead the 4/8 pin CPU power cable across the video cards is a little ridiculous, considering that anyone who has put together more than one of these systems knows they can rout it under the video cards instead. And doing so probably would have provided more wriggle room for the cable as well.

    And IMO, this case just wasn't a good choice. Coolermaster has comparable cases for as much as $20 less. That 20 bucks would have landed you an x4 630 procc instead, which would be a much better choice for current and future gaming, when unlocking the 4th core in an x3 is always an uncertain affair.
  • -6 Hide
    nevertell , March 18, 2010 8:11 AM
    It sucks that you can only get a chance to win these builds if you live in the states.
  • -8 Hide
    abhilash , March 18, 2010 8:16 AM
    AT got 4ghz with 4cores+6mbL3 on PII X2 555

  • -6 Hide
    abhilash , March 18, 2010 8:17 AM
  • -6 Hide
    azs , March 18, 2010 8:21 AM
    How about a machine for running ESXi for us virtualisation nuts.
  • -4 Hide
    axekick , March 18, 2010 8:40 AM
    tigerwraithI still dont understand why they went with 2 gfx cards. Ive seen in a lot of reviews that even the newest games dont always work right off the bat when using Crossfire or SLi, So why not spend the money on a 5770 for this. You get DX 11, Dual to Triple moniters, and passthrough. So say you wanted to build a budget HTPC that could game Id have went with the 5770 or 5830 not only would that be a great cpu to watch on a HDTV but you would only need the HDMI cable to run everything.


    Agreed. I have the same motherboard, case, hard drive but different G. Skill kit and a Radeon HD 5750 that benchmarks over 15,000 on 3DMark06(overclocked), 13,378 without overclocking.

    My system also has a Phenom II BE 720 as it predates this processor I believe.
  • -4 Hide
    xizel , March 18, 2010 8:49 AM
    One question, is it mandatory or does it give more performance to use 2 crossfire bridges?
  • 14 Hide
    skora , March 18, 2010 9:07 AM
    Are the STALKER numbers a result of it just being a 512mb GPU? I know the powercolor is single slot, but the 1gb is just $115. Worth it in your opinion?

    I've thrown this out there before for a SBM, but a progressive upgrade SBM would be cool. Instead of 3 systems head to head, you start with one with the entry level budget. Bench it, then add $200 or so worth of upgrades, bench it. Rinse and repeat. Your first system might have a single GPU and need to spend a little more on a mobo for a dual ready mobo, but that's not really a deal breaker. Then add the second GPU and better cooling or whatever the article rules end up being.

    You could also do something like they do on Top Gear (UK) and inherited some old systems and have to do the best you can to get them current.

    Of all the SBMs, this entry model is by far my favorite.
  • 9 Hide
    tecmo34 , March 18, 2010 9:24 AM
    skoraInstead of 3 systems head to head, you start with one with the entry level budget. Bench it, then add $200 or so worth of upgrades, bench it. Rinse and repeat. Your first system might have a single GPU and need to spend a little more on a mobo for a dual ready mobo, but that's not really a deal breaker. Then add the second GPU and better cooling or whatever the article rules end up being. You could also do something like they do on Top Gear (UK) and inherited some old systems and have to do the best you can to get them current.Of all the SBMs, this entry model is by far my favorite.
    Interesting concept... I like that idea myself.
  • 4 Hide
    Onus , March 18, 2010 10:49 AM
    I read this even before going to work this morning, and after all this additional time to think about it, and as literate as I'd like to believe I am, my best response remains "Sweet!" However much luck may have contributed to a decent OC and the unlock, any change I might come up with would be niggling. I can't even grouse about the budget too much, as 1) prices were different, and 2) cuts in non-core items (e.g. case and HDD) would bring it down.
    I do like the idea of finding a way to add upgradability to the SBM, or simply upgrades; e.g. start with three old Dells and throw $100, $200, and $500 at them, and see how much you can improve each one. No rules other than a strict budget; specifically mobo replacement IS allowed.
    I also hope the excellent results here mean we will never again see a miserable e5x00 in another budget build.
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