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Build Or Buy? Five Sub-$500 Store-Bought Systems Compared

Final Words

When you buy a system for $500, you're going to get a mixed experience. On one hand, it's always nice to pay for a solution and have it delivered, just as you expected. On the other, don't be surprised when the convenience of having someone else do the job results in a relatively modest performer.

Ideally, we could take a nicely-packaged system and dress it up with our own components after getting tired of its idiosyncrasies. However, it's clear that most of these low-dollar configurations aren't really meant to be manhandled at all. Even a graphics upgrade is out of the question on most of them.

If gaming is on your priority list, there's no doubt that building a machine like Paul Henningsen's most recent $500 gaming build is the way to go.

ComponentMarch $500 Gaming PCDell i560-565NBK with graphics upgrade
CPUAMD Phenom II X4 925Intel Pentium E5800
CPU CoolerAMD boxed heatsink/fan-
MotherboardASRock M3A770DE-
RAMG.Skill 4 GB (2 x 2 GB) DDR3-1333 (PC3 10600) Model F3-10666CL9D-4GBNS3 GB DDR3-1333
GraphicsSapphire 100315L Radeon HD 6850 1 GBAMD Radeon HD 6670
Hard DriveSamsung Spinpoint F4 HD322GJ/U 320 GB SATA 3Gb/s500 GB 7200 RPM
CaseXigmatek Asgard II B/O CPC-T45UE-U01-
PowerAntec EarthWatts Green EA380D 380 W300 W
OpticalLite-On 24x DVD Burner SATA iHAS 124-048x DVD+R DVD Burner
3DMark11 Performance Preset4670 3DMarks (Overclocked: 5015 3DMarks)1615 3DMarks
Just Cause 28xAF/16xAA1280x72040.6 FPS (Overclocked: 45.1 FPS)25.5 FPS
Total Price$527$505

Now, we're leaving out a couple of very important variables here. The systems we bought include a mouse and keyboard. Those are relatively inexpensive items though, and we won't make a big deal about them in the line item chart above. The glaring omission in our itemized list is the cost of an operating system, which our SBM config doesn't include. A copy of Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit runs about $70.

That's roughly the difference between upgrading a pre-built system with an entry-level graphics card and building a new machine from scratch. If you consider that a more apples-to-apples comparison, the conclusion here is pretty obvious. Though it uses more power, Paul's AMD-based configuration is so much faster than any of the five store-bought units that there's no way we'd orphan a quintet of Benjamins on an inflexible, manufactured system.

We've all seen how much more scalable higher-end boutique builds can be. But if you're operating on a limited budget, "doing it" yourself simply cannot be beat.

  • jeff77789
    the first paragraph got me........
    Reply
  • jeff77789
    Also, on another note, the money that you have to pay just to get an operating system like Windows simply takes too much out of your budget if you are going for $500 as your max. i wouldn't suggest building unless your budget is >$550
    Reply
  • JohnnyLucky
    Grandma's idea of gaming is a few rounds of Solitaire. The pre-builts will do for her.
    Reply
  • cknobman
    hmmm what is up with the crappy big vendor choices only? If you ordered these online why not go with a "boutique" vendor.

    I just configured an iBuyPower rig for $489. It has Athlon X2 250, 4gb Ram, 500GB HDD, 500w Power Supply, Liquid cooling, Radeon 6570. For $24 more bucks I could get a 6670.

    I know its not a killer machine but it puts these big box vendors to shame.
    Reply
  • sinfulpotato
    On a real budget I wouldn't get a 6850. Even more so if you are staying below 500 clams. There are power house GPUs that can be had for less then 100 dollars. My 4850 still runs strong and as shown by Tom's very own review a Athlon x4 will compete with the Phenom x4.

    Also if you already have windows OEM you can get it reactivated on a new PC if you get the right Microsoft rep, also lie about motherboard dieing and not replaceable... Some will choke up a code.
    Reply
  • lordravage
    I have a real problem with this article. It isn't comparing a $500 prebuilt system to a $500 home build at all. It compares 5 computers from Best Buy that range from $299 to $409, versus a $500 machine that lacks an OS, mouse and keyboard. Factor everything in and the home build costs almost TWICE as much as the cheapest competitor.

    I know you mentioned the discrepancies in the article, but if you aren't going to try a little harder to make a good comparison you shouldn't even make the article. Shop around online at better retailers than Best Buy, find the very best systems you can that cost about $550, THEN compare those to your own system.

    I still expect the prebuilt systems to fall behind, but the article we have here isn't even a real comparison.
    Reply
  • deadcold94
    constructive criticism but on i think its page 5 your adobe photoshop graph has a 1 instead of an 11. thanks for fixing it; when and if your do.

    sincerely,

    Mackenzie
    Reply
  • JOSHSKORN
    If you're a serious FPS gamer, don't waste your money on a pre-build. Do the research and have a computer built for you or build it yourself. You'll spend the same price most likely and come out with a much better machine. The difference is the cost of the name brand.
    Reply
  • vaughn2k
    I can build a better system for U$450.00
    Reply
  • cmcghee358
    Why wasn't the $500 Homebuilt PC placed on the chart to show comparison?

    All you did was compared the systems performance and then list the Custom-built specs at the end without any benchmark comparison.

    I was going to use this article for ALL of my friends to understand why they should build their own. But, since you guys compared the rainbow of feces available at Best Buy without showing the splendor that is home build, it's useless.

    Come on...
    Reply