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System Builder Marathon, Q3 2013: $650 Gaming PC

Gaming Performance Summary

Let's recap how each of our inexpensive gaming systems performed in our gaming tests, specifically. Tallying average frame rates in every resolution emphasizes CPU performance, and this quarter's $650 PC is roughly on par with last’s quarter’s mini-ITX box. Once we factor overclocking into the equation, though, our latest effort triumphs.

But at the end of the day, you don't build either rig to play games at 1280x720 using low-end details and jagged edges. It makes far more sense to isolate the settings that enthusiasts are more interesting in actually using.

Maximizing eye candy at 1920x1080 obviously shifts the workload over to the graphics hardware. Not surprisingly, the six configurations fall in line based on their graphics prowess. Huge numbers in our two most CPU-limited games, Skyrim and F1 2012, propel the first quarter’s overclocked Core i5-based system up a couple of notches above both stock $650 PCs, but the victory isn't particularly meaningful. At 1920x1080, siphoning off more money for a faster CPU meant we were stuck with a less-capable GPU, necessitating lower quality settings for playable performance in Far Cry 3. On the other hand, both overclocked $650 machines delivered solid performance through all four games. And only this quarter’s effort packs enough graphics muscle to survive right out of the box, without overclocking.

How about gaming across three panels? Apart from CPU limitations in Skyrim, the current rig outperforms last quarter’s efforts with higher accumulated average frame rates. The main difference, as far as playable settings go, comes down to one game. At 4800x900, this quarter’s overclocked setup handled Battlefield 3’s Ultra preset with 4x MSAA similarly to last quarter's machine using 2x MSAA.

Before moving on, I'll address the hot debate over which of these affordable processors is best for gaming. While we don't want to draw sweeping conclusions based on just four games, we also know that the two chips will trade blows depending on the title's optimizations for threading. Rarely should either of them fall completely short in any specific game. The FX-6300 would be more limiting in Star Craft II, but then deliver better performance in Crysis 3.

Which way do your games lean? Which platform do you prefer? Do you overclock? What do you value more, efficiency or better all-around productivity? No choice is wrong, and we could make a case for either processor being the better one. For our SBM, where a "Gaming PC" is forced to compete for overall platform value, the affordable FX-6300 is close to perfect.

  • Darkerson
    Not a bad little entry system. Im sure it will get picked apart here in the comments soon, but for the price, its not that bad at all.
    Reply
  • iam2thecrowe
    I think this time you chose the perfect balance of cpu and gpu at this price point. The Athlon 750k is far too weak, please don't use it next month, even an fx41xx or 43xx would be a better choice. The Haswell i3 would be interesting as we might be able to get some overclocking wby increasing base clock strap settings
    Reply
  • Onus
    It looked great until I saw the mobo, then I thought "oops..."
    Based on http://www.overclock.net/a/about-vrms-mosfets-motherboard-safety-with-high-tdp-processors and https://spreadsheets.google.com/spreadsheet/pub?key=0AgN1D79Joo7tdE9xMUFlMEVWeFhuckJEVF9aMmtpUFE&gid=0 I would have gone with http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813138372 instead; it has a heatsink on its VRMs, and it currently offers free shipping and is $2 less (it's been that way for a while now; I've had my eye on it for recommendations). I'm concerned that the cheap MSI will pop in the middle of a long gaming session. Did you by chance point an IR thermometer at its VRMs during your testing?
    Otherwise, it's nice to see the FX-6300 get a workout in which it performs in the same ballpark as its competition, maybe a little less "raw," but with higher bang/buck.
    Reply
  • noob2222
    its crazy how fast memory prices change, that kingston kit is now $84 and the team vulcan 2133 and 2400 are <60.
    Reply
  • designasaurus
    I'd be interested in seeing an FX 8-core more than the FM2 Athlons. In general though, it would be nice to see an AMD processor in these quarterly builds more regularly. I know you guys treat it as a competition, but, for readers like me, it's more informative to see how the competition shapes up rather than seeing 5% boosts from the latest Ivy-to-Haswell iteration. The higher budget guys are pretty much exclusively using Intel these days (I'll get my Haswell comparisons there), so your lower budget builds are the only place to reasonably see how a good AMD build stacks up. FX-6300 is definitely the best value AMD processor though, so it's going to be tough for you to beat this if you go up or down in cpu budget to get the Athlon or octocore.
    Reply
  • Novuake
    Yeah, I would not touch that board...
    Reply
  • m32
    I would have to put an fan over the VRMs to feel safe. That is just me. designasaurus, nice read and I agree.
    Reply
  • ingtar33
    nice build. though i probably would have went with a 7950, and took the $50 saved to get a cpu cooler like the hyper evo 212, and a better overclocking motherboard like the m5a97 R2.0... you probably would have been able to give that fx a bit better of a chance to hit mid to high 4s on the overclock then. if you can get a 6300 up around 4.7-4.9 (obviously not all of them can get there) you can pace an i5 pretty easily... so spending a little on the board and cpu cooler is a good option.

    the 8 core 8320 is getting pretty cheap. the problem is in order to unleash that type of power you're probably going to NEED to go with a hefty cpu cooler and hefty overclocking board. so for the future i suggest you keep with the fx 6300 unless the prices on the 8320 come down a little more.
    Reply
  • Lee Yong Quan
    would love to see how well does the $350 pc compare with the Q2 $400 PC! then i would know how well my pc would perform when gta 5 is out!
    Reply
  • bemused_fred
    Why is everyone saying "go with the HD 7950" when they clearly said in the article that it only became cheaper after they finished the build?
    "AMD's Radeon HD 7950 now sells for even less. But at the time we picked our parts, the GeForce GTX 760 was more affordable."

    Honestly, read the article before commenting!
    Reply