System Builder Marathon, March 2011: $500 Gaming PC

System Builder Marathon, March 2011: The Articles

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

Day 1: The $2,000 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1,000 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $500 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected
Day 5: Tom's Hand-Picked SuperCombo


The conclusion of our December 2010 $500 PC story hinted exactly where I hoped to take this month’s gaming rig. Specifically, I was interested in an AMD Phenom II X4 quad-core processor paired with Radeon HD 6850 or GeForce GTX 460 (1 GB) graphics. However, I anticipated that pulling this off would likely mean building a $600 gaming machine, a move that would throw off our clean $500/$1000/$2000 dollar brackets. So, what sacrifices would be needed to keep this build on target?

$500 Gaming PC System Components

Component Model Price
CPUAMD Phenom II X4 925$125
CPU CoolerAMD boxed heatsink/fan$0
MotherboardASRock M3A770DE $60
RAMG.Skill 4 GB (2 x 2 GB) DDR3-1333 (PC3 10600) Model F3-10666CL9D-4GBNS$40
GraphicsSapphire 100315L Radeon HD 6850 1 GB$170
Hard DriveSamsung Spinpoint F4 HD322GJ/U 320 GB SATA 3Gb/s $43
CaseXigmatek Asgard II B/O CPC-T45UE-U01$30
PowerAntec EarthWatts Green EA380D 380 W$40
OpticalLite-On 24x DVD Burner SATA iHAS 124-04$19
Total Price

Many of you enjoy quad-core computing on the cheap thanks to unlocked dormant cores on AMD’s X2 and X3 processors. But, since we’re only batting 60% on the unlocking front (with full system stability) in our System Builder Marathons, I wasn’t going to risk competing in a well-threaded application suite with anything less than four cores.

AMD has a few attractive quad-core offerings within range of this system’s budgetary constraints, and buying into one means setting aside at least $100 for an Athlon II X4 640. Fortunately, DDR3 is now super-cheap. Utilizing 4 GB, along with a familiar $60 Socket AM3 motherboard, leaves $300 for other components, paving the way for unprecedented graphics muscle at this price point without sacrificing PSU quality.

The Athlon II X4 640 is the perfect choice for assembling a true $500 Gaming PC. At the other end of the spectrum, the $145 Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition is even more appealing to enthusiasts like us who love to overclock without constraints. It offers a 3.2 GHz clock rate, an unlocked multiplier, 6 MB of shared L3 cache, and a fairly decent heatpipe-based boxed cooler.

While it's not worth sacrificing graphics muscle or bumping us all the way up to another $550 build, I was willing to break the bank and get my hands on the cheapest quad-core Phenom II with abundant L3 cache: the X4 925.