The $500 Gaming Machine, 2007 Edition


Both $500 Gaming Rig system suggestions based on AMD or Intel platforms are powerful enough run the vast majority of software and games at mainstream resolutions. You shouldn't expect wonders at resolutions above 1280x1024, or at maximum quality settings, but the power of an Athlon X2 BE-2350 or a Pentium Dual Core E2160 together with a Radeon HD 2600 Pro graphics board is at least sufficient for most computing tasks, including gaming. And once again, we are only talking about a $500 price tag for the entire system.

The prices we listed for our components amount to slightly more than $500. However, it's definitely possible to build these rigs for $500 or even slightly below that amount.

The processors are fast enough to take on most of today's applications. Have a look at our Interactive Desktop CPU Charts to compare the Athlon X2 BE-2350 to the Pentium Dual Core E2160. You'll notice that both CPUs overtake older Pentium 4 and Pentium D processors at 3 GHz and beyond in some applications despite their relatively low clock speeds of 2.1 GHz (AMD) and 1.8 GHz (Intel). Should you need more performance, you can upgrade the AMD system by adding a 3.2 GHz Athlon 64 X2 6400+ and the Intel system with a 2.66 GHz Core 2 Quad Q6700. Even faster processors will be soon be available, of course.

The 320 GB 7,200 RPM SATA/300 hard drive from Seagate should suffice for most users. You can get 400 GB for only a little extra, but 500 GB still cost more than a $100 price point. Hard drives faster than 7,200 RPM are considerably more expensive and are thus out of range for our $500 Gaming Rig project. We recommend against selecting a cheap power supply, because its efficiency has the largest impact on overall system power consumption. You can kiss your power savings hopes goodbye if you pair energy-efficient components with a PSU that will waste energy. Our choice, the Silverstone ST50-EF Plus, is rather expensive at $99, but it's one of the best products in the 500 W range.

The remaining components are the graphics card and the main memory. We went for 2x 512 MB RAM for cost reasons. Investing in two 1 GB DIMMs makes a lot of sense, particularly if you want to run Windows Vista. You can even add another pair of DIMMs to the Intel system. The graphics card we selected is rather affordable at less than $90. It's passively cooled, which works well in the Coolermaster Centurion 5 CAC-T05 case we selected since ventilation is adequate. Any faster graphics card will clearly be more expensive, but be aware that any of the two processors will bottleneck a decent graphics card. Going for a Radeon HD 2900 or a GeForce 8800 card really makes sense if you switch to a fast Core 2 Duo processor.

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