Skip to main content

System Builder Marathon, Q3 2013: $350 Bonus Entry-Level PC

General-Purpose Computing On The Cheap

System Builder Marathon, Q3 2013: The Articles

Here are links to each of the five 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 $650 Gaming PC
Day 2: The $1300 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $2550 Performance PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected
Day 5: The $350 Bonus Entry-Level PC

Introduction 

Packing a six-core AMD FX-6300 and beefy GeForce GTX 760 graphics card, my gaming-oriented PC on day one of the System Builder Marathon was a potent, no-compromise machine that delivered big value. However, we were still concerned that all three of this quarter’s hardware budgets would simply be too pricey for some folks, or even overpowered for a second entertainment machine out in the den.

So, we wondered, is it still possible to build a competent system if we chopped the least-expensive build's budget in half again? That's just too little money, right? Actually, how does a quad-core processor, 8 GB of RAM, and a 1 TB hard drive sound? 

To do this correctly, we had to "cheat" a little bit and capitalize on Newegg's discounts, including a $20 promotional code on AMD’s top A10-series Trinity-based APU. For our Socket FM2-equipped motherboard, we chose an inexpensive platform from MSI with the A75 FCH. A few days earlier, it was available as a combo deal add-on.

When you construct a cheap PC, the basic necessities chew up a good chunk of the budget. Each dollar had to be spent smartly. I knew that, in the end, vanishing promo codes wouldn't count in my favor and my setup would tip the scales. So, I spent an extra $16 on three upgrades that vastly boost this build's appeal for $350.

At this price, I'd typically be thinking about 4 GB of RAM, and it'd be most natural to find a dual-channel kit rather than cripple Trinity's graphics performance with one module. At a much better price-per-gigabyte ratio, I doubled the system memory for $10 by grabbing a low-cost 8 GB Team Vulcan DDR3-1600 kit. Rated at 1.5 V, I thought I could overclock to 1866 MT/s with a slight voltage boost and save $20 off the cheapest higher-speed offerings. Then I started at the least-expensive 3.5" hard drives and found WD's Blue-series 1 TB model selling for cheap. Quadrupling storage for an extra $2 was a no-brainer! Lastly, I knew this rig would sip power. A reliable 300 W supply from Sparkle would be adequate. However, spending $4 more on Antec's VP-450 gives us reserves for a future mid-range graphics upgrade. 

ComponentModelPurchase Price
CPUAMD A10-5800K APU$130
CPU CoolerAMD boxed heatsink/fan-
MotherboardMSI FM2-A75MA-E35, A75 FCH$55
RAMTeam Vulcan 8 GB (2 x 4 GB) DDR3-1600 TLAD38G1600HC9DC01$48
GraphicsRadeon HD 7660D (Integrated)-
Hard DriveWD Blue WD10EZEX 1 TB$57
CaseDIYPC FM08-W Black ATX MidTower$22
PowerAntec VP-450 450 W ATX12V v2.3$40
Total Price$352

When it comes to a limited budget, sacrifices have to be made. I had to choose from the cheapest enclosures on Newegg to house this system's components. The roomy DIYPC FM08-W stood out because it included two cooling fans for $22. Other competing options had no blowers or a single 80 mm exhaust fan.

Today I'm pitting this $350 general-purpose machine against last quarter’s $400 Spirit Of Mini-ITX PC, a console-sized machine built specifically to play games. Staying consistent, I again omit the expense of an optical drive, although a Newegg combo could have given up this functionality for $11 more. While the final tally sat at $352 in our shopping cart, without discounts, the hard drive and memory kit are now a bit pricier.

  • slomo4sho
    Nice choice in parts (unlike their mid/high end counterparts, the low end MSI boards continue to disappoint. Maybe consider Biostar, ECS, or ASRock in future low end builds) . However, those wanting to cheat can pickup a 750K with 7770 within $20-30 of the price of the APU for overall improved gaming performance. It is interesting what $40-50 can accomplish in these low budget builds :)
    Reply
  • internetlad
    Have to admit, I like where this went. This is a little higher than a similarly priced build I was looking at for my brother in law about a year ago
    Reply
  • rolli59
    Well throw in a HD7750 (can be had for $50 after MIR) and it will keep up with the $400 system in gaming. Since MIR do not count reduce the ram to 2x2GB (Q2 $400build) to offset the cost.
    Reply
  • pauldh
    The promo is now back, so the A10-5800K was (for us) and is once again $110 from Newegg no rebates. We can't match that price too easy with HD7750/7770. Although as rolli said $50 after $30 mail-in rebate + a Pentium gets close (AR).


    EDIT: My mistake! Actually this is a different promo. A $20 gift card. When we chose this part, the savings instantly removed $20 from the shopping cart total.
    Reply
  • sicom
    So a $350 PC has better performance than an Xbox 360, and a $400 PC blows it clear out of the water. Cost of operating system not withstanding. I realize this console generation is nearly ancient history by now, but I still find that interesting, and perhaps because it's not ancient history yet.

    Note of reference: BF3 plays at 720p @ 30 FPS at about medium'ish settings on 360/PS3.
    Reply
  • pauldh
    11609414 said:
    Nice choice in parts. However, those wanting to cheat can pickup a 750K with 7770 within $20-30 of the price of the APU for overall improved gaming performance. It is interesting what $40-50 can accomplish in these low budget builds :)

    That must be a pretty big cheat. ;) But that pairing sure stymies the 6800K's appeal doesn't it.

    You are so right, $40-50 more does wonders. We could make a fun poor man's marathon out of exploring that alone.$400/450/500 gaming faceoff? :D
    Reply
  • aggroboy
    11609551 said:
    So a $350 PC has better performance than an Xbox 360, and a $400 PC blows it clear out of the water. Cost of operating system not withstanding. I realize this console generation is nearly ancient history by now, but I still find that interesting, and perhaps because it's not ancient history yet.

    Note of reference: BF3 plays at 720p @ 30 FPS at about medium'ish settings on 360/PS3.
    You're using 2012-2013 components to compare against a 2005 console.
    Reply
  • itzsnypah
    750K HD7750 4GB RAM and you have much better computer (overall and gaming) for the same price.

    750K vs A10-5800K (CPU wise)
    The same (except 750K no graphics to cool)

    7750 vs 7660D
    512 vs 384 shaders
    GDDR5 vs DDR3
    800Mhz vs 800Mhz

    Did you even consider this or did you go into this budget with your heart set on an APU?
    Reply
  • pauldh
    11609701 said:
    750K HD7750 4GB RAM and you have much better computer (overall and gaming) for the same price.

    750K vs A10-5800K (CPU wise)
    The same (except 750K no graphics to cool)

    7750 vs 7660D
    512 vs 384 shaders
    GDDR5 vs DDR3
    800Mhz vs 800Mhz

    Did you even consider this or did you go into this budget with your heart set on an APU?

    That's an easy answer. The math simply didn't (and still doesn't) add up.

    The cheapest 7750 was $85, the 750K was also $85. That's $170 when the 5800K was $110 with a promo code anyone buying one would have used to save instantly before checking out. The goal was $325 factoring that promotional instant savings.

    And as mentioned in the text on page one, a 4GB mem kit saved only $10, meaning 750K+7750 was still $50 over, which is huge on a $325 budget.

    Although, I knew before order time playing by the rules we'd call this a $350 PC. Hope that all makes sense.
    Reply
  • Memnarchon
    The current APU costs $130. And the memory costs $50. Total: $180.
    Now if you place an Athlon&rel=ugc]http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819113328]Athlon X4 750K 3,4Ghz for $80 or an Ivybridge&rel=ugc]http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819116777]Ivybridge Pentium G2120 3,1Ghz $70, using a HD&rel=ugc]http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814161433]HD 7770 for $90 and for memory 4GB&rel=ugc]http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820313102]4GB (2 x 2GB) for $35 it will be total: Intel: $195 ($15 more) and AMD:$205 ($25 more).

    Now for $15/$25 you can have double or more performance on games. Why to go with an APU???

    edit: I actually read the article and didn't read all the comments.
    But even if you choose not to go with 7750, according to Tom's hierrarchy chart the 6670 (even the DDR3 version) is still two tiers faster. And I can't remember even prvious month the 6670DDR3 to cost more than $60 (maybe less with some AR) So a 750K or a G2120 (or a bit lower) will still offer better performance at almost same price (the pentium will be the same price) with 4GB RAM.
    Reply