System Builder Marathon Q3 2014: Budget Gaming PC

System Builder Marathon, Q3 2014: The Articles

Here are links to each of the four articles in this quarter’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 SurveyGizmo form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!

Day 1: The Budget Gaming PC
Day 2: Our Mainstream Enthusiast System
Day 3: The $1600 High-End Build
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected

If you are new to our System Builder Marathon series, take a quick look at last quarter's introduction. In it, we give you a refresher course on what we're trying to achieve here, as well as explaining our newly revamped pricing structure. To summarize, we now budget for the performance-oriented parts, giving Thomas, Don, and I a bit more freedom when it comes to the subjective choices like cases and optical drives. Of course, those costs remain transparent also, in addition to a final tally that now includes the Windows operating system.

Once again, I'm getting the same $450 to spend on performance, and the direction I chose for this low-cost gaming box could not have been any simpler. Last quarter’s configuration was built and tested before Intel launched its Pentium G3258. Overclocked dual-core Pentium processors once dominated in value during our System Builder Marathon stories. But as Intel locked its inexpensive parts down at low frequencies, and our workloads became more threading-optimized, performance started falling short. But now I can exploit the G3258’s unlocked multiplier to compete more aggressively against the AMD Trinity-based platform I've used before.

This new CPU sparked talks amongst the team that we should do an overclocking theme this quarter, shooting for maximum clock rates. The idea sounded fun. But what would I have to give up in the process? To compete, I’d need a Z-series motherboard and an aftermarket cooler. And then it'd all come down to luck of the draw, since not all chips have the same amount of headroom. As Chris Angelini demonstrated in The Pentium G3258 Cheap Overclocking Experiment, I could start in the basement with a $45 motherboard and Intel's bundled heat sink, potentially hitting 4.4 GHz or beyond with a decent sample. But even if I could bolster clock rates by 1000 MHz for free, does it really make sense to tack on another $80 just to eke out 200 or 300 MHz more? I’m building a gaming PC on a budget in a series that champions maximum value. So I set my sights elsewhere. AMD's Radeon R9 270 graphics dropped $20 since our last round of purchases. How could I step down to a sub-$100 graphics card? Unless I got far luckier than the other guys, I’d have to bow out of the clock rate race and instead shoot for maximum overclocked system value.

To take a different approach than Chris already highlighted, I wanted to go with ASRock's H81M-HDS. It too supports unofficial, non-Z-series overclocking of Intel's Pentium G3258, but benefits from a slightly beefier power phase and the addition of a USB 3.0 front-panel header. However, outfitting 8 GB of DDR3 memory would set me back $8 more this quarter, and I could only make up $3 with a well-priced power supply. The Pentium G3258 itself saved $10 compared to last quarter’s Athlon X4 750K, so I came up about $12 shy of making this a reality. Instead, the cheap MSI H81M-P33 was just my ticket for augmenting the Pentium's clock rates, while still securing beefier graphics for 1080p gaming.

Budget System Components
Purchase Price 
CPUIntel Pentium G3258 (Haswell)$70
CPU CoolerIntel Boxed Heat Sink and Fan-
MotherboardMSI H81M-P33, LGA1150, Intel H81 Express$45
RAMTeam Dark Series 8 GB (2 x 4 GB) DDR3-1600 TDBD38G1600HC9DC01$73
GraphicsSapphire Dual-X Radeon R9 270 100365L$170
Hard DriveWestern Digital Blue WD10EZEX 1 TB$60
PowerAntec VP-450 450 W$37
Price of Performance Hardware
CaseRosewill Challenger ATX Mid-Tower $50
OpticalLG 24x SATA DVD Burner Model GH24NSB0B $18
Total Hardware Cost$523
Operating SystemMicrosoft Windows 8.1 64-bit (OEM)$100
Price As Tested$623

My build sat in Newegg's shopping cart just a few cents under the $450 budget. However, like last quarter, I just couldn’t pass up doubling my storage capacity for $5 extra. A 1 TB drive isn’t going to give you a performance boost, and when it's all said and done, we give these systems away at the end of the Marathon to someone who will use them.

I completed the build with a DVD burner and Rosewill’s Challenger gaming case. Its trio of bundled fans could almost be considered an exploit of our new pricing structure, given the current overclocking theme. However, last quarter’s build also came with three fans, and our final build of materials was only $3.50 more. Plus, back when we ordered, bargain hunters could have capitalized on the three $10 rebates accompanying the parts I picked.

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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.