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System Builder Marathon Q1 2015: Budget Gaming PC

Benchmark Performance

Synthetic Benchmarks

3DMark Fire Strike appears to rank our trio of machines by cost, which of course directly relates to the level of graphics hardware we could afford. The Physics test is heavily-threaded, so Intel’s Hyper-Threading Technology puts distance between the two Core i3–based machines and last quarter’s conventional dual-core Pentium.

However, PCMark 8 paints a different picture. The cheap machine falls behind in stock form, but eventually rises to the top once its Pentium processor and Radeon R9 270X graphics card are overclocked. In the end, there is nothing profound to report; the scores pretty much fall within the benchmark’s 3% margin of error.

Sandra highlights the differences between the Core i3 and Pentium processors. Higher frequency helps the overclocked Pentium earn a victory in Dhrystone Arithmetic, but it trails Core i3 in the Whetstone tests.

We also see features enabled in Intel’s Core i3 (and up) processors like AES-NI and DDR3-1600 support translate to greater cryptographic and memory performance.

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3D Games

These gaming boxes start off CPU-limited at Arma 3’s Standard quality preset. But rendering to three panels or tackling the Ultra setting shifts the bottleneck to graphics hardware.

Unlike Arma 3, our other titles favor the resources made available through Hyper-Threaded cores. What’s perhaps even more interesting is how well our oldest machine’s GeForce graphics card provides additional breathing room in benchmarks that otherwise appear CPU-bound.

Demanding ultra-quality settings invariably hammer graphics hardware, though. The machines all survive Battlefield 4 in Full HD, and GRID 2 through 4800x900. However, in Far Cry 3, this quarter's overclocked Radeon R9 280 is as low as you'll want to go before turning on 2x MSAA.

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Non-Gaming Tasks

Relying on a pair of physical execution cores, none of these gaming boxes are built to be productivity workhorses. Because each one employs the Haswell architecture, completion times in single-threaded workloads like iTunes, LAME and Acrobat, rank according to clock rate. Meanwhile, the more parallel tasks highlight the effectiveness of Intel’s Hyper-Threading technology, as well as overall platform performance.

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  • cmi86
    Over all I like it. I am glad to see that you went with the superior R9 280 over the thoroughly underwhelming GTX 960, which I thought you may have felt obligated to include in the budget build. Only minor gripe I have is that I am sure you could have saved five dollars somewhere to get that SSD in there, case maybe ?
    Reply
  • TNT27
    ehh, id rather drop down to a regular 210 case, and get a better psu
    Reply
  • damric
    Should have used Windows 10 Preview instead of paying $100 for OS. It's an obvious choice for a cheap build.
    Reply
  • TechyInAZ
    15365194 said:
    Should have used Windows 10 Preview instead of paying $100 for OS. It's an obvious choice for a cheap build.

    I disagree, eventually windows 10 preview will stop working when windows 10 is officially out. And for people viewing and building a duplicate rig off this post half to a year later, they would be out of luck.

    Nice computer! I personally would have chosen a gigabyte mobo instead.
    Reply
  • Onus
    I didn't like it. I can't help but think I'll get lots of downvotes, but it looks like a hodgepodge of throwaway parts. By that I mean every choice was an example of "settling" for less than what was probably wanted. On a tight budget, with limited or no future upgrade possibilities, maybe it is the best that can be done. Throw in some possible future upgrades though, and I would have made some sacrifices for the benefit of future growth. For example, I'd rather see a more competent mobo (e.g. to allow a data RAID1), PSU, and storage (i.e. including a SSD), and would have lowered the CPU and/or graphics card (depending on benchmarks) in order to get there. As good as most modern games look even on a mix of "high" and "medium" settings, this would create a system with much longer-lasting core components, and snappier "home-user" performance (because of the SSD). Future GPU and/or CPU upgrades in a year or so would keep the whole system humming right along.
    Reply
  • envy14tpe
    This is the best Budget Gaming PC I've seen on this site. Love the choices. Did not skimp and no overkill on one component while weak other components. For a build under $600 you could not have done better. This will max out 1080p gaming!
    Reply
  • MerryLane
    Why not buy an AIO cooler with these 100 dollars and overclock the hell out of the pentium?
    After all the i3 has only two cores too ... and no overclocking possible.

    I'm pretty sure that 50% overclocking is greater than 2 extra threads that give at best 30%.

    There are also great bundles everywhere, G3258 + motherboard for cheaper.

    The GTX 960 also seem more future proof than a 280 and barely more expansive.
    Reply
  • TNT27
    15366289 said:
    Why not buy an AIO cooler with these 100 dollars and overclock the hell out of the pentium?
    After all the i3 has only two cores too ... and no overclocking possible.

    I'm pretty sure that 50% overclocking is greater than 2 extra threads that give at best 30%.

    There are also great bundles everywhere, G3258 + motherboard for cheaper.

    The GTX 960 also seem more future proof than a 280 and barely more expansive.

    Are you serious in saying that you belive a gtx 960 is more future proof? The r9 280 is on par or better than the 960, and its cheaper. When overclocked the 280 can reach into gtx 770 territory. Its also go a wider bus, and a extra gig of vram= much better performance in higher resolutions, and newer games that are starting to use that gig of vram.
    Reply
  • dstarr3
    I've built with that case before, and it is really surprisingly good for it's cost. But I got it for $35 at my local computer parts store. Regular price. If you're paying $50 for it, you're mad.
    Reply
  • turkey3_scratch
    I don't see why SSDs are being considered a necessity. With Windows 8 and the fast startup you don't even need to worry about waiting a minute, and on a budget I don't see why it's worth the extra money just to calm one's impatience for 10 seconds of loading.
    Reply