Affordable Gaming To Go
System Builder Marathon, May 2009: The Articles
Here are links to each of the four articles in this month’s System Builder Marathon (which we'll update as each story is published).
- Day 1: The $2,500 Performance PC
- Day 2: The $1,300 Enthusiast PC
- Day 3: The $600 Gaming PC
- Day 4: Performance and Value Dissected
The SBM contest is live! Enter to win one of our three systems right here.
As you've likely already read, the System Builder Marathon (SBM) series has returned this month with an added emphasis on portability. The idea here was to build machines that would be easier to cart around than the big boxes assembled in previous SBMs. Let’s take a look at the components that make up this month’s budget-gaming system.
$600 PC System Components
The process of choosing components given this Micro-ATX theme was very different since the performance impacting components is typically the first priority. But this month, since readers have expressed an interest in a “cube” system, searching for such an enclosure was the first order of business. Luckily, timing was right as there was a sale on a couple of Silverstone’s Sugo shoe-box style cases. Originally the $60 SG02-F was chosen, but the instant discount disappeared, bringing it within $10 of the SG01-F's retail price. Considering that the SG01-F has an additional exhaust fan, stepping up was an easy decision. We can’t factor this into the price, but there was a $20 rebate available making it an even better value at the time.
|Component||Model||Price (U.S Dollar)|
|CPU||Intel Pentium E5200 2.5 GHz||$70|
|CPU Cooler||Intel Boxed Heatsink/Fan||$0|
|Ram||G.Skill HK 4 GB DDR2 800 (PC2 6400)||$41|
|Graphics||XFX GX260XADJF GeForce GTX 260 Core Edition Core 216 896 MB||$170|
|Hard Drives||Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 ST3500418AS 500 GB||$60|
|Case||SilverStone Sugo SG01-BF||$90|
|Power||OCZ Fatal1ty OCZ550FTY 550 W Modular||$75|
|Optical||LITE-ON 22X DVD Burner SATA Model iHAS322-08 retail||$25|
Since this is supposed to be a gaming box first and foremost, a main goal this month was to increase graphics muscle by taking advantage of lower GeForce GTX 260 prices. Space wasn’t much of a concern as both of these Silverstone cases can house up to a 12” graphics card, but the GeForce GTX 260 did send us looking for a name-brand power supply unit (PSU) with +12 V and at least 32 A of power. Extra power cables would clog up the already limited space, so a modular PSU is a must for this system.
These were lofty goals, as meeting the above requirements already used up well over half the total $625 system budget. At this point, it looked likely that the budget would need to be raised to avoid sacrifices in 3D graphics power. There isn’t much room to save money on drives, and setting aside cash for a hard drive and optical drive left a little over $200 remaining for the motherboard, processor, cooler, and memory. There definitely was not going to be an opportunity to step up in CPU power this month, but going below the stellar $70 Pentium E5200 would be too huge a sacrifice to make. Lastly, we wanted the system to have 4 GB of high-performance RAM.
While selecting the graphics cards, CPU, and memory was easy enough, finding a Micro-ATX motherboard with solid overclocking capabilities was challenging and quite time consuming. The single Micro-ATX enthusiast Socket 775 motherboard that initially caught our attention was the DFI LP JR P45, based on the P45 chipset we know and love. But its $150 price tag at the time left us looking for a mainstream board instead. The problem was finding reviews of G43 or G45 chipset motherboards that would shine any light on overclocking capabilities. Even after searching enthusiast forums, we still had mixed feelings about the performance and value of G45 motherboards that retailed for $100 or more.
Fortunately, a fellow member of the SBM team had heard good things about ASRock’s offerings. While I’ve had many good experiences with unique ASRock boards, such as the 939 Dual Sata II, I hadn’t considered the brand during this search. But a little research into the $62 ASRock G41M-LE left the impression that nothing short of the aforementioned DFI JR P45 stood out as truly superior for overclocking features and capabilities. The price was too good to be true, and allowed for a 500 GB hard drive, high-performance PC2-6400 memory, and even enough left over within our $625 budget to look at aftermarket CPU coolers.
A downside of a small enclosure is the limitations it puts on cooling the components within. None of the air coolers used in previous SBMs would come close to fitting in this small enclosure. Silverstone’s own NT06 Evolution was far too pricey and the search for a $25 low-profile cooler left much to be desired. The quiet $21 Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 LP was chosen because of its copper base and heatpipes, but a stocking issue at order time forced a change. While many readers may cringe at the thought, we instead opted for a sub-$600 build and gave the Intel boxed cooler a try this month. It’s now time to take a closer look at each of the components that make up the May 2009 $600 Gaming PC.