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System Builder Marathon, March 2011: $500 Gaming PC

Breaking The Bank

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

Introduction

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

ComponentModelPrice
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$527

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.

  • tacoslave
    i think orange looks spiffy
    Reply
  • abswindows7
    worst case in the world.
    Reply
  • LuckyDucky7
    "I’ll certainly entertain the possibility of Intel’s newly-available Core i3-2100 for the next SBM."

    Have fun overclocking that rig!

    I'd choose my O/C'd i3-530 @ 3.75 GHz (stock, air-cooled) over any of the new Sandy Bridge offerings any day.
    The 2100 just cannot compete with that- it's marginally better than a first-gen i3, and it cannot be pushed harder.

    *Hopes Bulldozer will be ready by that time*
    Reply
  • wolfram23
    Pretty darn good for $500!
    Reply
  • Judguh
    Good Build!
    Reply
  • hmp_goose
    Need the optical drive?
    Reply
  • haplo602
    now finaly a low SBM build I like.

    ++ on the PSU (finaly not a 500W+ waste)
    + on the case (looks decent)
    Reply
  • lunyone
    Pretty good build for the $. I would've gone with the Athlon x4 or x3 to keep things under budget, but that is just me. There are plenty of GPU options in the ~$170 price range. I think you might've got one of "those" GPU's that you read about. This is why "expecting" OC'ing abilities with whatever part you buy, shouldn't be taken for granted. Buy what you can afford and if you get a good OC on your parts, feel blessed:)
    Reply
  • lunyone
    I would've taken the savings on the CPU and bought better RAM or maybe even a different case, but that is just nit picking a bit :)
    Reply
  • one-shot
    Would someone please explain the point of comparing the old SBM to the new one if there isn't a list of the parts from the SBM done in the past? These have always been annoying when the reader is forced to look back to December for a detailed list of parts. This has been practiced for years here. It makes no sense comparing to something the reader has no idea as to the parts being used in the past. Seriously....

    Edit: Why Did I get a Minus one the second after my post was submitted?
    Reply