System Builder Marathon, Sept. 2010: $400 Gaming PC

Case, Power Supply, And Optical Drive

Case: Rosewill Blackbone

With so much of our budget focused on performance, the aim here was to spend little as possible on the enclosure. However, Rosewill's Blackbone offers an undeniable value at $35. Anything less seemed like a huge sacrifice.

Ventilation is particularly attractive in this price range. The case includes two 120 mm fans, a front mesh panel, and room for two or three additional fans. Contrast that to the bulk of $25 cases, most of which rely on a single 80 mm exhaust fan. Not cool.

Read Customer Reviews of Rosewill's Blackbone

Build quality is impressive for the price we paid, and many builders will appreciate the fancy screw-free drive clips and all-black interior finish.

The I/O panel located at the top of the front bezel is easily accessible, and it provides four USB 2.0 ports, one eSATA port, and two audio ports.

Power Supply: Cooler Master Elite RS-460-PSAR-J3

Read Customer Reviews of Cooler Master's Elite RS-460-PSAR-J3

Considering that the $550 PC we built back in June drew about 240 W at full load with a Radeon HD 5770, we knew this system would need even less power.

This knowledge, coupled with a very tight budget, set us searching through a sea of inexpensive power supplies (not a place we're used to looking) Skimping on the power supply is one of those novice mistakes that you make once, but never again, leading to stability issues, data corruption, and even premature hardware failure. In general, choose quality over marketing-drive wattage ratings or flashy bling.

Perhaps you're wondering why we picked Cooler Master's Elite 460 W unit here. Unlike the company’s well-regarded high-end offerings, its entry-level Extreme and Elite lines are notorious for outputting less power than they're rated for (a trait not all too uncommon among “cheap” PSUs).

Quite simply, we chose to ignore both the unit’s rating and potential rating discrepancy. Instead, we focused on what we could get for the near-impossible $30 price we could afford to pay. Although this unit is adequate for our needs, understand that its limitations affect future upgrades, too.

Load test data found in this review reveals that the Elite RS-430’s 12 V and overall output levels  are weak for the claimed 460 W rating. But the data also depicts a fairly decent sub-400 W PSU with “outstanding” voltage regulation, acceptable ripple and noise, and even 80+ efficiency between 150-300 W.

For our power-sipping gaming system, we think it's far better to use a thoroughly-reviewed unit than take our chances on other $30 options of unknown quality.

Optical Drive: Samsung Black 22x DVD Burner SATA Model SH-S223C

Read Customer Reviews of Samsung's SH-S223C

This OEM 22x SATA DVD burner has served our optical needs well in the past and came in at just the (low) price we needed.

  • SpadeM
    Given the motherboard’s basic passive cooling measures, though, there was really no point in putting more time into lowering the CPU multiplier, pushing a high reference clock, and attempting to maximize northbridge and memory frequencies.

    +1 for making this statement, glad someone considered it at least. All in all decent build for the money.
  • AMW1011
    I'll be honest, I think a $450 budget is a little more reasonable than a $400 budget. At that price a 5750 or even a 5770 can be had, which would have worked fine with all of the other parts and likely would have matched the $550 June build.

    Even this $400 build packs a punch, you can get one HELL of a rig for the money any more. It really is insane, and that's not even considering the used or refurb market!

    Awesome article, probably one of my favorite SBM, atleast the best I've seen in a long time.
  • micr0be
    very nice build, interesting to see how much performance can be squeezed out of the budget. i was expecting worse results.
  • nevertell
    Conclusion ?

    150$ buys you a lot better gaming capabilities, and nothing else.
  • Gamer-girl
    It went $1 over-budget if we substituted in a GeForce 9800 GT.

    I doubt someone spending $400 can't afford to add an extra dollar. although i realize that the point in these articles is to stay under the budget, it would have been interesting to see the price/perforamce difference.
  • haplo602
    nice case, looks very good ... pity that rosewill does not have a downloadable manual for it ...
  • HibyPrime
    I'd be interested to know how much more overclocking headroom you could pull out of it if you left it at 3 cores - and would that net you more performance in most of the benchmarks?

    I'd bet if you could pull ~200 mhz more out of it, it would begin to match up with the missing core, and maybe start to pull away around 400mhz.
  • Proximon
    The Cooler Master Elite 460 is a falsely labeled piece of crap. You can find the review (with proper testing) here:

    You'll have to spend a little bit more there. Rosewill has a 430W (RG430 S12) unit or the Antec Neo 400W is almost the same price as the CM after a discount and rebate.
  • Proximon
    Clicked once but got a double post somehow.
  • What do the best price/performance we can have?