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System Builder Marathon, Q4 2012: $500 Gaming PC

Is This Our Best $500 Gamer Ever?

With a number of new benchmarks added to our suite, we have to skip the full performance comparison this quarter. Fortunately, our two platforms and their Sandy Bridge-based Pentium processors are separated by a scant 100 MHz. So, the most important data to look at comes from our games. 

We'll start by summarizing average frame rates in the two titles we used last quarter and today, Battlefield 3 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, using the older stock $500 system as a baseline.

When we average all four resolutions, and include mid-range and high-end detail settings, we end up letting a number of bottlenecks affect our results. It's pretty amazing, then, that we see a 12% frame rate boost favoring our current PC, even besting last quarter's overclocked setup. Even more impressive is when we start tuning the Radeon HD 7850. 

Now let's factor out the CPU-limited low-resolution tests and focus purely on the settings we'd actually use for gaming.

Just look at that beat-down! It’s pretty obvious why AMD's Radeon HD 7850 is our new favorite in the sub-$200 graphics card category.

It's a shame that we're only comparing two games. But when we look to the past, Battlefield 3 historically favored Nvidia's hardware. It appears safe to say that the Radeon HD 7850 and Catalyst 12.10 driver package, together, generate more bang from our $170 graphics budget than any card before.

Conclusion

Intel’s Pentium G800-series processor repeatedly prove themselves as capable foundations on which to build a gaming machine. There's a reason that, month after month, they secure the first recommendation in Don Woligrowski’s Best Gaming CPU For The Money column. But what we like most about the Pentium G850 is its $70 price tag. That allowed us to free up additional funds for a higher-end platform, more system memory, and the stellar Radeon HD 7850. Of course, prices change on a daily basis, and we're amused to see the Pentium G860 selling for even less just before publication.

We're disappointed that AMD's Athlon X4 750K is still unavailable here in the U.S. But we're thrilled to present an improved gaming PC based on Intel's Pentium family. This rig sets a new baseline for performance at our $500 price point. There's certainly room for improvement in productivity and content creation apps, but we at least have a good understanding of what we'd give up in the future if a pricier CPU draws budget away from a great graphics card.

  • killerchickens
    $501 Plus $100 for a copy of windows 7.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    killerchickens$501 Plus $100 for a copy of windows 7.Run Linux, this is a hardware shootout.
    Reply
  • willyroc
    I personally feel that they could have gone with H61 and gotten a 2GB 7850 instead.
    Reply
  • killerchickens
    CrashmanRun Linux, this is a hardware shootout.
    Linux for a gaming desktop I dont think so.
    Reply
  • willyroc
    Not to mention that the 500GB version of the HDD is only $3 more.
    Reply
  • jerm1027
    Our best alternative remained the quad-core Phenom II X4 995 Black Edition for $95. But we chose not to revisit this old favorite, figuring that adding a Radeon HD 7850 would have taxed our budget.
    What about the Phenom II 965? It's only $75 at TigerDirect.
    Reply
  • killerchickens
    Why is Windows 8 Professional being used?
    Reply
  • EzioAs
    9539399 said:
    I personally feel that they could have gone with H61 and gotten a 2GB 7850 instead.

    I think they'd be better off with a B75 motherboard, 4GB RAM and an i3-3220.
    Reply
  • mayankleoboy1
    I am not very comfortable using windows8 in these benches. Reason : Drivers have not yet matured for win8. I would have waited for the next quarter SBM before using win8.
    Reply
  • killerchickens
    Windows is free and we use Linux in are gaming Machines what are we in Soviet Russia .
    Reply