System Builder Marathon, Dec. 2011: $600 Gaming PC

Can Core i5-2400 Justify Its Higher Cost?

We’ll summarize performance and efficiency using September’s stock $500 system as a base.

Performance Summary

Upgrading to a Core i5-2400 paid off with a clean sweep in performance. That’s right: the current PC won in every single gaming, encoding, and productivity test from our System Builder Marathon suite.

Efficiency

Of course, the current PC dominates in efficiency by delivering greater performance throughout the entire test suite as it draws far less power at both idle and load.

Value

We would hope that the extra money spent on a higher-end CPU would justify itself with performance to match. However, an extra $70 expense is significant enough to warrant a comparison based on bang for the buck. We’ll handicap the current rig by using overall system cost, meaning that, in order to win, the December PC needs to make up for mark-ups on the hard drive and video card, as well as the additional cost of a more feature-rich motherboard.

Based on average performance, our best overclocking efforts back in September are only able to match the value of this quarter's $600 machine at its stock settings. Once we factor in the added performance attributable to overclocking its graphics card and lower memory latency, the current PC has a clear value lead.

Conclusion

Intel's Core-i5 2400 really is that good. Despite our H61 motherboard pairing, which completely neuters overclocking, the December $600 Gaming PC is able to address the major compromises we were forced to make with the past two $500 machines. Beating the prior system in every single performance test, offering outstanding efficiency, and even delivering more overall value at a higher cost is a pretty impressive list of accomplishments we credit to the pricier processor.

Conversely, the December rig isn't the right choice for everyone. After all, it costs quite a bit more than our previous effort. When it comes to cranking up the eye candy at the highest quality settings, a single mid-range graphics card is the biggest performance inhibitor, not the CPU. For many folks, the best native 1920x1080 gaming experience may be all that matters. Stepping down to a more affordable Sandy Bridge-based Pentium or Core i3-2100 would  facilitate a GeForce GTX 560 Ti or Radeon HD 6950 at the same budget level. And once we step back down to sub-$125 processors, the AMD FX-4100 and older Athlon/Phenom II offerings are also viable options.

This thread is closed for comments
67 comments
    Your comment
  • Probably the best bang for buck build compared to the $2400 and $1200 PC. I remember seeing Anandtech using the A8 series with integrated gpu for their $500/600 build. This looks much better for gaming.
  • compton
    The 2500K is really worth the extra cash over the 2400, but only if you purchase a Z68 or P67. For gaming, you might be better off with an i3 and putting the remainder towards a faster GPU as suggested in the conclusion.

    For the price, the 2500K + a P67 or Z68 is unbeatable and certainly worth breaking the budget over. But for SBM, I can see why going the 2400 plus H61 route makes sense.

    Personally, I would have preferred to see a cheaper motherboard and CPU config with an SSD (instead of the mechanical storage). It wouldn't have scored as well, but I can't get by without an SSD as easily as I could a slower processor.

    I wanted the $500 build to get bumped up to $600, but that was to add a SSD so that each SBM machine could have some solid state action.
  • slicedtoad
    i might be missing something but on the just cause 2 chart:
    Quote:
    Enabling 8xAA at the highest detail levels pushes our graphics hardware, and this quarter's machine is unable to beat the former rig running at 3.8 GHz, even at our lowest resolution.

    The chart seems to indicate that the current machine did beat the former... though perhaps not by alot.
  • nice all around build
  • joytech22
    I was waiting for this to come out. :)
  • slicedtoad
    Quote:
    Stepping down to a more affordable Sandy Bridge-based Pentium or Core i3-2100 would facilitate a GeForce GTX 560 Ti or Radeon HD 6950 at the same budget level.

    So would a 6950 + i3 give better performance in games @ 1080x1920 than this build?
  • hmp_goose
    Would a duel-core Celeron hurt gaming that much?
  • lancelot123
    I must be lucky that I can get 2500K for $180 around here. Cheaper than the 2400 they have in this.
  • mortsmi7
    I wonder how this compares to the $1200 fail rig?
  • doron
    Quote:
    in order to win, the December PC needs to make up for mark-ups on the hard drive and video card, as well as the additional cost of a more feature-rich motherboard.


    Definitely a kick-ass machine, but imo this line is simply wrong and misleading.
    If you factor out today's and September's cpu and motherboard, the difference between the rest of the parts is a mere 8$. Furthermore, with only 2 dimms and no overclocking capability whatsoever I really can't see how you can call this MSI board a more "feature-rich" than September's ASRock.

    The way I see it, today's and September's machines are in two different price segments, and at this low budget, pouring an extra ~90$ can actually give you a lot. For example, given today's system, if we take out the cpu, motherboard and gpu, we will be able to fit inside a Phenom II x4 960T (125$), some 60$-70$ motheboard, an hd6950 1gb gpu, and probably still have room for a 20$ HSF. Talk about value.

    I'm not trying to defend amd here or anything, It's just that a lot of times people come to me asking for advice on what computer to get, and I can fairly confidently say that when someone wants a 4 core sandy bridge at this budget, I'll say to him that I won't help and tell him to go find a deal somewhere because in my eyes, getting a cpu that's 1/3 of your budget only to be able to get an extra minute or two in every benchmark or getting high fps in low resolutions, is too much of a compromise in every other component.
  • theuniquegamer
    I don't understand why use i5 2400 with a h61 ? They can build by a simple i3 + h61 or phenom ii x4 + amd am3+ budget MB and save the money for a better gpu like 6950 or 560 ti
  • If only Intel had unlocked i3!
  • doron
    ashven23If only Intel had unlocked i3!


    ... Then less people would buy i5, so why should they?
    If AMD had offered a similarly compelling alternative to i5 then Intel might have done so.
  • JonnyDough
    What I don't get is why you went with an mATX board at all last time. You could have easily gone with a slightly slower processor or some cheaper RAM or something and had a full board. Last I checked, AMD boards were still cheaper than the Intel counterparts.
  • emad_ramlawi
    why not the AMD Phenom II X4 960T Zosma , a true quad core , and amd haven't cancel it yet like other phenoms and its 125 $ , when a core is near 200 $ even if its good its not value and budget any more
  • emad_ramlawi
    and sorry whats the point of 6870 if its gonna be bottle necked abit by the cpu i think the 6850 would be more balanced and cheaper and no extra power pin so more efficient , and balanced = stable , tom hardware forget that this is a budget build
  • emad_ramlawi
    yh 1 more thing i gave every one i dont like a thumb down
  • Zeh
    Emad, your first comment actually made sense, I'm not sure if that was intended.
  • Crashman
    JonnyDoughWhat I don't get is why you went with an mATX board at all last time. You could have easily gone with a slightly slower processor or some cheaper RAM or something and had a full board. Last I checked, AMD boards were still cheaper than the Intel counterparts.
    I wouldn't cross-off Micro ATX. Take a look at the $2400 PC, then the Micro ATX build that came before it. For slightly less money, Micro ATX was better.
  • pauldh
    slicedtoadi might be missing something but on the just cause 2 chart:The chart seems to indicate that the current machine did beat the former... though perhaps not by alot.

    That should have read, (unlike Crysis or JC2 @ low settings), the current STOCK pc, was unable to beat the OVERCLOCKED September PC because of the GPU demands at 8xAA + Max. But you are right, both stock or both overclocked the current PC was a bit ahead.
  • pauldh
    doronDefinitely a kick-ass machine, but imo this line is simply wrong and misleading.If you factor out today's and September's cpu and motherboard, the difference between the rest of the parts is a mere 8$. Furthermore, with only 2 dimms and no overclocking capability whatsoever I really can't see how you can call this MSI board a more "feature-rich" than September's ASRock.

    The two rigs share HDD (up $10) and video card (up $5 since we did not subtract the $10 promo code), which would have added $15 to the price of the Septemeber rig as built. Yes, the September PC had $6 more into the case that could be subtracted.

    We had H61 mobo options in the $55-60 range that would have performed on par, but chose a $70 board for the added features. Nothing against the Asrock M3A770DE (I've used it in numerous builds for it's price, stability, and overclocking) but it is shy on features (this H61 has) such as USB 3.0, SATA 6 Gb/s, UEFI, number of fan headers, solid caps throughout. Check out the cost of adding those features to an AM3 or AM3+ board and you see why I retained the Asrockk 770DE last time.
  • pauldh
    480561 said:
    Quote:
    Stepping down to a more affordable Sandy Bridge-based Pentium or Core i3-2100 would facilitate a GeForce GTX 560 Ti or Radeon HD 6950 at the same budget level.
    So would a 6950 + i3 give better performance in games @ 1080x1920 than this build?

    If you game at 1920x1080 and tweak your graphical settings to the max playable for your hardware, then yes I’d say very often this would be a more potent combo (depending on the game). Although, it would lose in our average gaming performance, which factors two settings and all resolutions.

    561010 said:
    I don't understand why use i5 2400 with a h61 ? They can build by a simple i3 + h61 or phenom ii x4 + amd am3+ budget MB and save the money for a better gpu like 6950 or 560 ti
    A great idea for a pure gaming system, which is why I ended the article with this very same suggestion.

    217800 said:
    The way I see it, today's and September's machines are in two different price segments, and at this low budget, pouring an extra ~90$ can actually give you a lot. For example, given today's system, if we take out the cpu, motherboard and gpu, we will be able to fit inside a Phenom II x4 960T (125$), some 60$-70$ motheboard, an hd6950 1gb gpu, and probably still have room for a 20$ HSF. Talk about value.

    Again, mentioned in the conclusion, see above. The point of this article was to stop making sacrifices on the CPU, which paid off huge in overall performance. What I’d most want to see next, if possible within budget, is a $100-125 CPU paired with beefed up graphics hardware. But considering HDD prices we’d need $650. How high can we go in this economy and still remain a budget-oriented build?

    The problem is, the lower-CPU powered machine you and I both suggest, will give up large numbers through most of our SBM performance weighting (encoding, productivity, and low res gaming), so it’s going to lose overall. But at the core I see the budget gaming system as just that, a Gaming Rig, and I value its 1920x1080 abilities the most.

    352059 said:
    I wonder how this compares to the $1200 fail rig?
    Stay tuned… the three machines are pitted against each other tomorrow.
  • aldaia
    Great build, and the most useful article for me ever. It just confirmed I'm on the right track. This is almost the rig I'm thinking of: i5-2400 + H61 + HD 6870. I'll save a few components that I will reuse form the old one (Hard disk, optical drive & case). Money that I plan to spend on extra memory (8GB) and a SSD (probably 120GB crucial m4)
  • twstd1
    It pains me to see the performance difference between the two CPU's here. Especially at the 1280 X 720 resolution. I just recently (like yesterday) ordered a similar build. The difference being that I went with an AMD phenom II X4 960T (with hopes for unlocking it to the hexa core) and an ASRock 870 Extreme3 R2.0 AM3+ MoBo. This build is for my cousin to play skyrim and will be his first gaming PC build. The main difference with my build is that he can drop in another 6870 with ease because of the MoBo Choice. He had a budget of 750 and my build is almost exactly the same except for the CPU, MoBo, and Case. We choose the Cooler Master HAF 912 (which is on sale right now for 50 bucks) and the XFX 6870. Well the hard drive is a different version also we got the Seagate Barracuda ST500DM002 500GB. I'm not sure what the difference is between the two but I'm thinking it's the SATA III interface. Anyway, I'm really hoping that this build will not be bottlenecked this badly by our CPU choice. I tried to check the CPU charts for the 960t(zosma) and could not find any data on it. I'm wondering where it will stand performance wise? Is it a faster CPU than the 955 BE or about the same? Do you have a review or anything (not that it really matters now but, just curious) comparing the 960T to any other CPUs? I really wanted him to wait for this article before making his purchase but he was so excited he just didn't want to wait. I can say that newegg is awesome because we just ordered (well early yesterday morning) and the PC is already shipped and on it's way so it should be here for christmas which will probably make my little cousin completely forget about performance per dollar and all that anyway.... lol. I'm sure he'll be happy with the build and I just couldn't get the i5 in the budget and keep the CF possibility in too so out went the thought of the i5. This article is really making me kick myself right now though I'm starting to think I should have guided in this direction instead. Oh well shoulda, coulda, woulda I guess.