System Builder Marathon: $625 Gaming PC

System Builder Marathon, November 2008 : The Articles

Here are links to each of the three articles in this month’s System Builder Marathon (we’ll update them as each story is published).

Ed.—You’ll notice that we have once again paired up with NewEgg to deliver this month’s System Builder Marathon. It’s an arrangement that gives us access to the latest retail components, ideally delivering an experience more representative of what our readers would go through, and eliminating the uncertainty that goes along with engineering/cherry-picked samples.

It’s also the reason we don’t have an ultra high-end build this month. Knowing that Core i7 would be out by the time we published, we couldn’t recommend another Core 2 Extreme-based machine. And retail availability of i7s and X58-components was too close this time around. You can expect next month’s series to pick up with the more expensive build, though.


In October, we squeezed an impressive amount of performance out of $500, but also felt a number of key potential upgrades were just out of reach. This month, the budget for the entry-level system has been raised from $500 to $625, which allows for all those previously mentioned upgrades—and even a few additional ones. Was this extra amount enough to build a noticeably better and more powerful system ?

Once again, to squeeze the most performance out of our limited budget, we did not choose components for their out-of-the-box performance, but rather for their reliability and potential to reach a high, stable overclock. The overall level of performance achieved this way would be untouchable in a stock-clocked system of equal price, and in some applications, almost any price, as we’ll see from the benchmarks. AMD fans may once again not be happy with the choices, but be sure to check the overclocking details before deciding if we made the right choices or not. With that said, let’s take a look at the components selected for this month’s entry-level system.

$625 Gaming PC System Components
ComponentModelPrice (USD)
CPU Intel Pentium E5200 2.5 GHz 84
CPU Cooler Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro 27
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3L 105
RAM PNY XLR8 4GB (2 x 2 GB) DDR2-800 (PC2 6400) 60
Graphics Sapphire 100245L Radeon HD 4850 512 MB 160
Hard Drives Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST3500320AS 500 GB 7200 RPM 32 MB 70
Sound Integrated HD Audio 0
Network Integrated Gigabit Networking 0
Case Antec Three Hundred 50
Power Antec NeoPower 650 650 W ATX12V 75
Optical LITE-ON 20X DVD±R SATA Model iHAS120-04 23
Total Price $654

The first thing you may notice is that the system looks to be over budget. The explanation is that we did not include the $30 Antec Case/PSU combo savings in the above chart, as it has since expired for this particular PSU. The actual system cost as it sat in the NewEgg cart on order day was $624. And while we do not factor in mail-in rebates into our pricing, many readers have commented that they do just that, so we’ll mention that the above system had $55 in rebates at the time, which adds up to a $569 system after all rebate checks are received.

We originally planned to rely on combo deals to meet the budget, but that idea quickly changed for this system as many selections went out of stock before the total System Builder Marathon order was placed. As bargain hunters know, the best deals often sell out, which is exactly what happened in this case. Our original Radeon HD 4850 was the reference design HIS for $155, with a $30 rebate on top of that, making it by far the cheapest HD4850 at the time. NewEgg customers noticed this and grabbed theirs before we could snag it.

The original power supply we selected was the Antec EarthWatts 500 W, which was an outstanding value at $50, or $30 after combo savings, and again this bargain sold out. An EarthWatts 430 W would have been enough to power this system, but priced at $60, it would still have pushed us over budget without making another sacrifice elsewhere. Rather than cheap-out on the power supply, we went with the NeoPower 650 W, which was an absolute steal at $45 with the case combo.

As a matter of fact, this writer couldn’t pass up paying only $85 shipped for a quality case and a PSU capable of running an SLI/CrossFire system or the mighty HD 4870 X2, and I ordered the same NewEgg combo just a couple days earlier.

A memory price increase on order day foiled our last attempt to hit budget, but luckily the PNY XLR8 high-performance memory that was originally picked came back in stock that same morning. In the end, the final outcome was getting the original desired system with an even better PSU and a dual-slot HD4850, but to meet budget it became a necessity to factor in the actual order-day cost, which includes the combo savings for the case and power supply.

Keep in mind that by the time you read this, pricing and availability will likely have changed once again. As this article was written, many of these components dropped in price, including the Sapphire dual-slot HD 4850 that is now $150, or $130 after rebate. On the other hand, our power supply not only disappeared from the combo deals, but also went up in price to $120. But the same case with the NeoPower 500 W is now a $90 bundle, making the cost of this exact system with just the new power supply $602, or $567 after rebates. It’s now time to take a closer look at each of the components used in the November $625 PC.

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  • slomo4sho
    Very nice write up. I like the new price point :)
  • slomo4sho
    I forgot to mention that I still would like to see power consumption charts and possibly a AMD based build at this price point.
  • nerrawg
    Impressive results! Who says a system price has to adhere to budget figures of 500, 1500 and 4500 dollars, you guys really showed how much added value can be had when the right OC parts are purchased and assembled into a nice package. Well done!
  • cloudbase
    Hiya. Can you guys give a bit more detail about the 'further upgrades' you were inferring in the text of this article? So: Which P45 crossfire motherboard would have been nice; which RAM was out of stock; what would have been the benefiot of the more expensive CPU?

    Im looking to spend a similar amount, but as I already have the case, PSU etc it makes sense to explore those options.

    Presumably a 4870 would be better again?
  • radguy
    Thats a pretty awesome build thanks for the article. Although I am sorry but I have to ask. Do we have our real 4ghz dual core for $84 now?
  • jaragon13
    Sorry? What's with the comment box? I can't see what I'm typing.
    Anyways,my GTX 260 suffers on Crysis,so it's nothing new.
  • Pei-chen
    Great choice, let the AMD fan boys whiny; I would have picked the same setup if I am to build a cheap gaming PC.
  • matt2k
    Nice build for the money, though i personally would have sprung for a crossfire ready motherboard, the MSI P45 Neo2-FR for example.
    The only problem i have with this though is the operating system. surely that should be quite a major factor when creating a whole new system? and it would be nice to have the different vista's compared for gamers. i.e. is ultimate worth the bump in price for the extra's or is xp professional still the best option.
    just my thoughts.
  • zodiacfml
    Nicest article, not only you did not stick to any budget but also the parts chosen could not have been any better. This is a build i'm planning except i could have chosen a less performing 9800GT since its only in Crysis where a 4850 has a usable advantage over it.
    I am an AMD user for years but this pentium dual core overclocks so far over an athlon x2.
  • wh3resmycar
    someone from the forums was asking me months back where i can find a 4ghz e5200.. i guess this is it.
  • zcubed
    great article. and great choices for the parts. though the gigabyte ultra durable 3 p45's have been out for awhile for 10 bucks more. but this is a proper gaming machine for the budget conscious.
  • JeanLuc
    Good old Arctic Freezer Pro 7, it just can't be beaten for value for money, I just hope Arctic make one for the LGA1366 socket.
  • Anonymous
    My suggestion, or two cents as it were, is that an additional section be added. Something along the lines of suggested upgrades. Or .."If you had a little extra money". In this final section, list any possible changes, or huge increases you could see getting by upgrading a part or two. Also it would be potentialy good for adding suggested steps for the next future upgrade with said system. Personaly I'd love to know your thoughts on basicly the same system, just with e7200 myself.
  • GlItCh017
    I think this would be very cool in the future:

    Since you are making these system builder marathons through Newegg Paul; if you could make a link that would dump all the parts used into the Newegg shopping cart so you could order a system that you guys reviewed. This would be the ideal if you're looking for a system/price/performance and TH created a PC setup that fit all those needs. I would most certainly buy my next system this way if it were possible, because you guys really do your homework with the price points you're given. If nothing else it would be a really nice feature I think.
  • dirtmountain
    Great article, great overclock on that E5200 and the HD4850. Good info on the noise of that Sapphire GPU, something a buyer could do with those rebate checks as they trickle in is pick up a VGA cooler. A very sensible build at that budget price. Good job!
  • pauldh
    Thanks for the comments everyone.

    @ Slomo4sh0,nerrawg,zodiacfml - Glad you like the flexible price range. Many parts were just out of reach for a firm $500 and reader comments showed great interest in the 600-650 range and $1200-1300 range.

    @ cloudbase, matt2k, xZabx - We do try to mention upgrades just out of reach within the article, but not in a specific section. As a gamer, first place I would have put additional money would not be toward the E7200 but into a P45 Crossfire mobo like matt2k commented on, especially considering we have a PSU easily capable of running dual cards. My personal choice would be the GA-EP45-UD3P for $35 more(UD3 as zcubed mentioned).
  • theblade
    Nice article, I would be great to have a direct comparation between the build from this SBM to the ones in the previous SBM, I'm looking forward to the other articles in this series.
  • fongraccoon
    Hey great article, and fine work for squeezing out that much performance, what a bang for the buck. What was the price for the Window's Vista OS you used? OEM or Retail? From newegg? Thanks
  • philosofool
    Why spend all this money to have parts congenial to OCing the e5200 when the premium paid for those parts could have gotten you an e8400?

    You could have a better machine for the same price: ditch the cooler, the pricey memory, the pricey case, and get a good 450W PSU instead of a 650W overkill--now you can have an e8400 in this rig and OC with the stock cooler to 3.6GHz. That will beat the e5200 @4.3 GHz in all but the most clock speed intensive tasks. Indeed, I bet you could have gotten a decent enough cooler to get the e8400 to 4GHz on this budget.
  • Dasher
    theirs no OS which almost every system needs