System Builder Marathon, Dec. 2011: $600 Gaming PC

Motherboard And Memory

Motherboard: MSI PH61A-P35

One of the perceived weaknesses suffered by our June 2011 Sandy Bridge-based gaming rig was its stripped-down microATX motherboard. That was a deal-breaker for many readers, though necessary to meet our budget requirements. Though our system was stable, and it performed well, features and scalability just weren't there.

Thankfully, for just a little bit extra, we are now able to grab a far more appealing PH61A-P35. MSI packs a number of features onto this H61-based ATX motherboard, including three PCI slots, SATA 6Gb/s, USB 3.0, UEFI, and solid capacitors throughout the design.

Also notable (particularly on a budget motherboard) is a wealth of on-board system fan headers totaling four in all. This was an extra $10 well-spent!

Read Customer Reviews of MSI's PH61A-P35

Memory: 4 GB Wintec AMPO DDR3-1333 3AMD31333-4G2K-NHR

Avid readers of the series may notice that I jump around amongst the very cheapest 4 GB memory kits, rarely using the same one twice. I do this hoping to find bargain-priced RAM that will stand out in an otherwise fairly boring crowd.

This basic 4 GB dual-channel kit of DDR3-1333 modules goes back to a double-sided design and is rated at CL9 timings at 1.5 V.

 Read Customer Reviews of Wintec 4 GB DDR3-1333 Memory Kit

  • Probably the best bang for buck build compared to the $2400 and $1200 PC. I remember seeing Anandtech using the A8 series with integrated gpu for their $500/600 build. This looks much better for gaming.
  • compton
    The 2500K is really worth the extra cash over the 2400, but only if you purchase a Z68 or P67. For gaming, you might be better off with an i3 and putting the remainder towards a faster GPU as suggested in the conclusion.

    For the price, the 2500K + a P67 or Z68 is unbeatable and certainly worth breaking the budget over. But for SBM, I can see why going the 2400 plus H61 route makes sense.

    Personally, I would have preferred to see a cheaper motherboard and CPU config with an SSD (instead of the mechanical storage). It wouldn't have scored as well, but I can't get by without an SSD as easily as I could a slower processor.

    I wanted the $500 build to get bumped up to $600, but that was to add a SSD so that each SBM machine could have some solid state action.
  • slicedtoad
    i might be missing something but on the just cause 2 chart:
    Enabling 8xAA at the highest detail levels pushes our graphics hardware, and this quarter's machine is unable to beat the former rig running at 3.8 GHz, even at our lowest resolution.
    The chart seems to indicate that the current machine did beat the former... though perhaps not by alot.
  • nice all around build
  • joytech22
    I was waiting for this to come out. :)
  • slicedtoad
    Stepping down to a more affordable Sandy Bridge-based Pentium or Core i3-2100 would facilitate a GeForce GTX 560 Ti or Radeon HD 6950 at the same budget level.
    So would a 6950 + i3 give better performance in games @ 1080x1920 than this build?
  • hmp_goose
    Would a duel-core Celeron hurt gaming that much?
  • lancelot123
    I must be lucky that I can get 2500K for $180 around here. Cheaper than the 2400 they have in this.
  • mortsmi7
    I wonder how this compares to the $1200 fail rig?
  • doron
    in order to win, the December PC needs to make up for mark-ups on the hard drive and video card, as well as the additional cost of a more feature-rich motherboard.

    Definitely a kick-ass machine, but imo this line is simply wrong and misleading.
    If you factor out today's and September's cpu and motherboard, the difference between the rest of the parts is a mere 8$. Furthermore, with only 2 dimms and no overclocking capability whatsoever I really can't see how you can call this MSI board a more "feature-rich" than September's ASRock.

    The way I see it, today's and September's machines are in two different price segments, and at this low budget, pouring an extra ~90$ can actually give you a lot. For example, given today's system, if we take out the cpu, motherboard and gpu, we will be able to fit inside a Phenom II x4 960T (125$), some 60$-70$ motheboard, an hd6950 1gb gpu, and probably still have room for a 20$ HSF. Talk about value.

    I'm not trying to defend amd here or anything, It's just that a lot of times people come to me asking for advice on what computer to get, and I can fairly confidently say that when someone wants a 4 core sandy bridge at this budget, I'll say to him that I won't help and tell him to go find a deal somewhere because in my eyes, getting a cpu that's 1/3 of your budget only to be able to get an extra minute or two in every benchmark or getting high fps in low resolutions, is too much of a compromise in every other component.