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System Builder Marathon, June 2010: $550 Gaming PC

The Budget Build Returns

System Builder Marathon, June 2010: The Articles

Here are links to each of the four articles in this month’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 check out this Google form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!

Day 1: The $2,000 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1,000 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $550 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected

Introduction

The $500 gaming rig has a long history here at Tom's Hardware. But, through a desire for more performance, plus combating a trend of price increases, we allowed our low System Builder Marathon (SBM) budget to creep up 50% above the one from a couple years ago. Most readers appreciated the performance and value squeezed from our March 2010 $750 SBM gaming PC, but many of you expressed an interest in once again seeing a true budget-oriented gaming build.

Given the shaky state of the economy, $500 was the starting point for this month’s budget gaming rig, and we knew right away that the resulting configuration would no doubt offer excellent bang for the buck, even while coming in $5 under budget. It features a three-core processor, after-market CPU cooler, a 500GB hard drive, and a trusty ol’ Radeon HD 4850 512MB graphics card. The value of the Radeon HD 4850 is and remains undeniable, earning it repeated appearances in our SBMs, as well as Don Woligroski’s monthly Best Graphics Card For The Money articles.

Of course, swapping in a Radeon HD 5750 would have matched (or even beaten) this performance level, while adding features and DirectX 11 support for our updated gaming suite. Unfortunately, available models were still priced relatively high in comparison. However, for roughly $10 more than a 1GB Radeon HD 5750, the PowerColor Radeon HD 5770 with 1GB of GDDR5 could have offered the performance and features we desired, at a budget “stretching” we could justify. Through hefty sacrifices in storage space, stock cooling, processing cores, and enclosure design, each netting just a small savings, it would have been possible to squeeze this card into a true $500 build. But exercising flexibility within our budget allowed for an all-around much better machine.

$550 Gaming PC System Components

ComponentModelPrice (USD)
CPUAMD Athlon II X3 435$75
CPU CoolerCooler Master Hyper TX3$20
MotherboardAsus M4A77TD$85
RAMCrucial 2GB (2 x 1GB) DDR3-1333 (PC3 10600) Model CTKIT12864BA1339$58
GraphicsPowerColor AX5770 1GBD5-H Radeon HD 5770 1GB$150
Hard DriveSamsung Spinpoint F3 HD502HJ 500GB 7,200 RPM SATA 3.0 Gb/s$55
SoundIntegrated$0
NetworkIntegrated$0
CaseCooler Master Elite 330 RC-330-KKN1-GP Black$40
PowerCooler Master eXtreme Power Plus RS-500-PCAR-A3 500W$40
OpticalSamsung Black 22X DVD Burner SATA Model SH-S223C$22
Total$545

The above $545 total reflects the pricing of components we chose and purchased for this build. The processor is now cheaper, while the price of the CPU cooler, power supply, and graphics card has increased, making the total cost $13 higher if purchased today.

  • gkay09
    ^ I dont like the idea of using the CM eXtreme power PSUs...
    You could get a EA 430W for about $49 @newegg...
    Just a thought - you could save money on the mobo by going with TOM's favorite brand ASRock board with the 770 Chipset...So with the money saved, getting a better PSU would have been a good idea...
    Reply
  • adbat
    I plan to build a similar machine so it's nice to see the numbers :-)
    Again unlocking was successful the 50-50 chance do not apply to your tests.
    But no surprise this is a just enough machine.
    Reply
  • archange
    Buying the same components here, online, gets me to ~800 USD. That, including my 3% Diamond Customer discount at my favorite e-tailer. Granted, the Power Color was out of stock, which led me to Sapphire and i also had to exchange the RAM for Kingston HyperX CL7.

    People in the States have way to much... fun :P
    Reply
  • Crashman
    gkay09you could save money on the mobo by going with TOM's favorite brand ASRock board with the 770 Chipset...Wait, Tom's has a favorite brand? I've heard rumors in the past that Asus got all of Tom's Hardware's attention...and Gigabyte has been getting a lot of awards so maybe them...where does ASRock come into all of this favoritism, from its use in previous low-cost SBM machines?
    Reply
  • zooted
    I like this build much better than the $1000 one
    Reply
  • noob2222
    This one and the $1000 show some pretty impressive efficiency and power savings over the previous, more expensive builds. Save some dough now and in the long haul. Imo thats pretty important on a tight budget build, you don't want it costing more over its lifetime than what you saved in building it.
    Reply
  • skora
    and liked the idea of incorporating a $100 Cooler Master trio in the build.CrashmanWait, Tom's has a favorite brand? I've heard rumors in the past that Asus got all of Tom's Hardware's attention...and Gigabyte has been getting a lot of awards so maybe them...where does ASRock come into all of this favoritism, from its use in previous low-cost SBM machines?
    No, this month its Coolermaster.

    "and liked the idea of incorporating a $100 Cooler Master trio in the build."

    No shame, we all have bills.

    Very well balanced system. Very helpful to see a working system with just 2 gigs ram and break the stereo type that 4 is required.
    Reply
  • tacoslave
    ah i miss the days when you could buy 4 gigs of ram for $20. But now that only buys you about 1gig.
    Reply
  • cangelini
    skoraand liked the idea of incorporating a $100 Cooler Master trio in the build.No, this month its Coolermaster. No shame, we all have bills.Very well balanced system. Very helpful to see a working system with just 2 gigs ram and break the stereo type that 4 is required.
    You're reading that completely out of context.
    Reply
  • ta152h
    At this price range, I think an Athlon II x2 or Pentium E6500 system would probably do better for pure gaming.

    Both have more cache, the Pentium dramatically so. The Athlon II x2 would almost certainly over clock better, since stock speed is much higher, and most sites show them generally able to get to 3.8 GHz at roughly 1.4v or lower with a stock heat sink. On top of this, they use less power. So, more cache, 250 MHz more with stock heat sink (maybe more with a better one), and more cache against an extra core. Probably for games it would be better, but not always.

    The Pentium E6500 is probably better still. Getting it to around 4 GHz wouldn't be too hard, especially with an upgraded heat sink, and is generally faster clock per clock compared to an Athlon II x2. Power use is significantly lower too.

    Neither are clearly better though. I would rather have a faster two core than a slower three core, but the latter certainly have advantages too.
    Reply