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System Builder Marathon, December 2010: $500 PC

Performance Summary, Efficiency, And Conclusion

Performance Summary

We’ll summarize performance using September’s stock $400 PC as a baseline.

Frame rates roughly doubled this month by fitting in a more powerful graphics card, but these average percentages are actually capped by the CPU-limited resolutions and settings. For instance, Ultra settings are now playable in S.T.A.L.K.E.R., averaging 319% and 376% gains, respectively, for the stock and overclocked $500 system.

The 100 MHz processor bump allowed the December rig to edge out its predecessor in the encoding and productivity suites. Better CPU cooling and higher overclocking could not overcome unsuccessful unlocking though, as the test suite is well-enough threaded to favor the overclocked quad-core-enabled machine.

Efficiency

Enabling power saving benefits the stock $500 PC's efficiency story. But efficiency drops a bit once that same machine is overclocked, due to increased power demands that overtake performance gains.

Conclusion

One hundred dollars may not sound like a lot, but boosting a hardware budget by 25% at these value-oriented levels can make a substantial difference in a modern computer. While our December $500 gaming PC isn’t perfect, it certainly earns its name as a build capable of playable frame rates, delivering a solid 1080p gaming experience. This box breezed through CoD and delivered acceptable gaming at our highest settings in both DirectX 11 titles. The only faltering took place in Crysis; work around that by either dropping your resolution or shifting down to high quality settings.

As we’ve stated many times in the past, core unlocking is based on luck of the draw, and shouldn’t be assumed when it comes time to buy. If you really need that fourth core, spring for the X4 model. In our SBM series, we're batting just a 50% success rate with AMD’s Athlon II.

In order for this to remain a worthy 1080p gaming machine (and also a better competitor in the applications suite), next time, we’ll need to set our sights on a quad-core Phenom II paired with either GeForce GTX 460 or Radeon HD 6850 graphics. But put those thoughts on hold for a while. First, we need to finish this round and see how well the $500 PC competes against the other builders' efforts.

  • LuckyDucky7
    And this is really the only PC build that will stay relevant come January- it will remain the only budget platform that can be overclocked, after all.

    Incidentally, this would be the only PC you'd want to contemplate building right now (since the new Core i3s don't come out immediately like the i5s and i7s do- and the Pentium G8XX series doesn't allow overclocking of its platform.)
    Reply
  • Tamz_msc
    Ah, much better than the previous build!
    Reply
  • Proximon
    Great job squeezing everything into a very small budget.
    Reply
  • adbat
    Good build - but again it would be good to see old spec on test system page.
    Reply
  • rohitbaran
    That is a great combination for that budget. Balanced.
    Reply
  • yyk71200
    I wouldn't be very comfortable using a 380 watt PSU for a long time for GTX 460 even if it is good quality. Perhaps, I would put in something of 450 watt or higher.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    LuckyDucky7And this is really the only PC build that will stay relevant come January- it will remain the only budget platform that can be overclocked, after all.Incidentally, this would be the only PC you'd want to contemplate building right now (since the new Core i3s don't come out immediately like the i5s and i7s do- and the Pentium G8XX series doesn't allow overclocking of its platform.)So you think there's going to be a replacement platform for the $2000 PC in January? That's not going to happen for a while. Or are you suggesting the next $2000 PC should be downgraded to P67?
    Reply
  • dragoon190
    I haven't been keeping up with the system marathon much, but what's the reasoning for choosing nVidia card over AMD's? Just wondering since I'm thinking about upgrading my computer soon.
    Reply
  • jj463rd
    A really nice build this time.However the price of the case and power supply has gone up in price over at newegg.I haven't checked the prices of the other components though.This build seems to perform quite well especially in the gaming benchmarks.Good job!
    Reply
  • tstng
    I would've gone with a 6850 instead of the 460. It's a tad cheaper, not at all slower if you don't start cranckin' up the tesselation, and should fit the 380W psu a lot better. But a solid build by all means.
    Reply