System Builder Marathon Q3 2014: Budget Gaming PC

Did We Build a Better Machine?


I honestly didn’t expect my new Pentium-based gaming PC to fare as well as it did in stock form. It not only out-works last quarter’s build, but even out-games my previous overclocked efforts by remaining playable at higher settings. Once its Pentium G3258 and Radeon R9 270 graphics card are fully optimized, it stands toe-to-toe in almost every threaded workload, while its victories became far more pronounced.

The real beauty of this rig is easy to gloss over when we summarize average frame rates: think about the best playable settings. In all four games, this quarter’s stock configuration can be tweaked to handle higher resolutions and details than last’s quarter’s overclocked PC. I fully expected that the Pentium would require overclocking to exploit this build’s increased graphics muscle. However, it only failed to cope with the demands of Ultra quality in Far Cry 3. Instead, our new PC allowed 2x MSAA with Very High details in Full HD, and remained playable at 4800x900 at High details. Last quarter’s PC couldn’t survive those settings, even overclocked.

And of course, higher average frame rates mean little if the gaming experience isn’t smooth. I’m happy to report that today's machine exhibits no noticeable lag, micro-stutter, or frame time variance issues in the four games we tested. If anything, it sustains higher minimum frame rates. Marginal benchmark results actually feel smoother in-game than last quarter’s hardware.


There are no surprises; more performance, while consuming less power, equals greater efficiency.


Charting value would be redundant, since only fifty cents separate our two hardware budgets. The system cost, including the case, DVD burner, and Windows 8.1, jumped by only three dollars. Once we factor in the eight-dollar spike we absorbed by securing 8 GB of RAM, it’s fair to just look at the performance charts and forget minor price fluctuations. Apart from a few threaded application workloads, our new PC simply delivers more performance and value in stock and overclocked trim.

This success story can’t be credited to the unlocked Pentium alone. In fact, at 4.1 GHz, we didn’t even get a particularly good sample. Chris was able to squeeze a stable 4.4 GHz from his using the same H81-based motherboard and cooler. We are certainly happy to have more options to consider for budget-oriented gaming. But the biggest prize in this comparison comes from bowing out of the megahertz war and embarking on milder “free overclocking” instead. By leveraging the relatively potent capabilities of a $45 MSI motherboard and bundled Intel cooler, we lowered the platform costs enough to outfit a Radeon R9 270 graphics card. The price drop on this beefier AMD offering was a key factor in making that a reality.

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  • Memnarchon
    Wow! Pentium G3258 becoming a monster for that price, once it goes over 4Ghz...
  • g-unit1111
    I would personally love to get a Pentium G3258 for my HTPC, it's only like $50 at Micro Center and the motherboard is $70 at Newegg. Hmm... decisions, decisions. :lol:
  • ScienceGuy3
    What about the Frame Times? Isn't this processor notorious for bad frame times in heavily threaded games like BF4?
  • elbert
    serves up to 30 A across its +12 V rails.

    Its rated to serve up to 30 Amps but can do far more. Tests on this little gem shows it can output 22amps on each rail and maxes out around 38~39 Amps on both. Im paraphrasing a popular power supply testing site. Max wattage is about 553ish which is a good deal more than rated. This power supply can't be certified due to it lacks a circuit required but exceeds 80 percent efficiency.
  • de5_Roy
    a lot of things went right for this build: amd introduced the full pitcairn/curacao gpu based r9 270 under 150w, needing single 6 pin pcie power connector, cryptocurrency craze was over and gfx card prices came down, hdd prices came down to sane levels, cpu-overhead-reducing gfx card drivers came out, intel released an unlocked dual core cpu and allowed o.c. bioses....
  • jdwii
    I'm just not sure for one they didn't show latency times. I'm pretty sure this build will suck for future gaming to such as GTA5.,3849-5.html
    When toms reviewed this CPU it was shown to have poor latency
    For a 500$ build i would probably do a 6300+265 build. 600$ i would probably jump the build up to a I5+265 or 8320+270X.
  • Onus
    No stuttering? Very interesting; looks like more testing might be needed, but perhaps settings can also be adjusted.
  • akula2
    Since this CPU is super performer on various fronts (single core), so why not this config?

    Pentium G3258 - $69.97
    NZXT Kraken X31 - $73.98
    Asus MAXIMUS VII HERO - $203.99
    G.Skill Trident X Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3-2133 - $184.99
    Crucial M550 1TB 2.5" SSD - $447.98
    Asus GeForce GTX 970 4GB STRIX - $349.99

    NZXT Phantom 530 (White) - $121.98
    EVGA 650W ATX12V - $64.99 (not sure about its power good signal value?)
    Asus DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS DVD/CD Writer - $16.99

    Asus VG248QE Monitor - $264.99

    D-Link DWA-171 802.11a/b/g/n/ac USB 2.0 - $29.27
    Logitech MK550 w/Laser Mouse - $49.99
    Corsair Vengeance 2100 - $79.99
    Logitech Z506 155W 5.1ch - $69.99

    Microsoft Windows 8.1 Professional (32/64-bit) - $170.99

    Total: $2200

    What you guys think? Usage? Racing Games at homes, audio/video encoding etc. I don't need K CPUs because I'm not in a hurry in this case.

    Power source: 100% green aka Solar energy.
  • Janemba
    Will 400 watt enough for R7 265 ?? tell me ??
    i use i3-4130 btw.
  • alchemy69
    Very similar to the system I just put together for myself except that I felt a 260X was more than enough power for the GPU and put the savings towards a small SSD for the boot drive.
  • Tzn
    Nice but if you really want a cheap one that will drop your jaw you should consider G1820+GTX 750Ti from Evga(display port) and 2X4 gb ddr3 1600mhz ram. Give it a try, you might run naked on streets when you will see how it runs Battlefield 4, not to consider the the low price :)
  • InvalidError
    45049 said:
    serves up to 30 A across its +12 V rails.
    Its rated to serve up to 30 Amps but can do far more. Tests on this little gem shows it can output 22amps on each rail and maxes out around 38~39 Amps on both. This power supply can't be certified due to it lacks a circuit required but exceeds 80 percent efficiency.

    To be more specific, the VP450 lacks PFC circuitry and as you said, this is required for 80+ certification. If the VP450 had it, it might manage 80+ Bronze.

    I bought one last month to replace an old PSU (Antec SmartPower SL350) that got damaged by a power surge. At a glance, it looks like a nice little unit... and it is tier-2b too, which means close to as-good-as-it-gets.
  • gallovfc
    Hey Paul ! How's it going !? It would be MUCH better if you, Thomas and Don posted the links to the three machines' 3DMark and PcMark 8 results, so we could be able to compare them to ours. Hope you gyus are still able to post it at "Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected".
  • Amdlova
    pentium g3258 IS THE KING!
  • Rafy93
    Athlon 860k...
  • Rafy93
    The Athlon 860k is more future-proof , waiting for a review...
  • milkod2001

    you could possibly get mobo for half of your estimated price and put this money towards better CPU(that's necessary for video/audio encoding).

    Also Crucial M550 1TB 2.5" SSD - $447.98 is overkill, you'll be better off with 256GB SSD & 3 TB regular HDD = more capacity and your saved money could be spent on better PSU(Seasonic, Corsair, whatever).
  • elbert

    You may want to put Antec at the first place in that list. Look them up as they are oldest and second to none in power supply companys. Seasonic was once their main manufacturer and many of their units are designed off Antecs leading power supply designs. Look up on newegg for example the highest rated power supply and you will see the Antec earthwatt 380. At the 650 Watt they again are the highest rated with Seasonic in about a second place. Their 750 hcg is about a tight with Corsairs much higher priced HX 750i.

    Trust me that PSU is the best part of that build. While it doesn't have a second PCI-e power plug you could use a molex to PCI-e connecter and run a R9 285. Again this power supply is highly under rated in both watts and Amps output.
  • Onus
    Although I agree that Antec is one of the better PSU companies out there today, they did release a few stinkers maybe 10-12 years ago (Smartpower, iirc). They were not built by Seasonic, and used inferior capacitors, that failed. Back then when I was building PCs I wouldn't touch an Antec PSU; now it is one of my preferred choices. I haven't used a VP-450 yet, but have put numerous EA-380D's out there, with no failures yet.
    This is what Corsair is doing now, with their CX (and I believe GS) lines; CWT builds them with Samxon capacitors that can't take heat. If you're interested, you can read more about these over on the forum.
  • pauldh
    Yep Onus, Antec has come a long way since those days. I had numerous (originally bundled) SmartPower and SmartPower 2.0's fail and come back within the 3-5 year time frame. The move to EarthWatts was a huge plus for their cases w/power supplies.

    @ elbert, Just to clarify, There was no intent to discount the familiar VP-450 in any way, and my original "30 Amp combined +12V rating" got toned down a bit in edits, for the sake of a better read. When discounted/priced competitively it has become my go-to PSU for budget builds requiring auxiliary power.
  • ABagOfFritos
    Classic Tom's

    Look at the top of the image*
  • bmyton
    I am very curious if these builds were purchased after availability of the GTX-970's and 980's. At a minimum the Mid-Range build could swap a $330 970 for the $400 r9-290 they used last quarter and use the savings to boost its system value. The Q2 $1600 build could save $100 by cutting back from the i7-4770k to the i5-4670k and use that savings to convert the $530 r9-290x to an SLI pair of $330 GTX 970's.
  • Onus
    588164 said:
    I am very curious if these builds were purchased after availability of the GTX-970's and 980's...

    Assuredly not. There are weeks of lead time in the SBM builds, from selecting parts and ordering, through all the testing, writeup, and schedule for publication.
  • Onus
    I wonder if there will be a bonus build this quarter. Sometimes, they answer questions raised in past builds, or address specific community interests or requests.

    For my part, I'd like a question answered, which is "Can the AM1 platform with its 25W CPUs and x4 PCIe lane limitation be taken seriously for modern gaming on "good" settings on a single 1920x1080 monitor? used a GTX750Ti with one and it looked promising... TH has yet to address it though.