Paying The Price For Ambition
System Builder Marathon, June 2012: The Articles
Here are links to each of the four articles in this quarter’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 fill out this SurveyGizmo form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!
For most of us, PC building, like life itself, is full of compromises. We need to balance limited resources, whether it's time, money, or energy. When we fail, we suffer the consequences of poor management. Our goals and desires often cause us to push up to and beyond our limits. As it turns out, this life lesson directly relates to the planning, design, and outcome of today’s gaming system.
The plan of attack for last quarter's $650 Gaming PC ignored the CPU-heavy leaning of our overall performance score to focus on one specific purpose: a better native resolution gaming experience. While the machine’s Core i3 processor fell flat in our productivity and content creation apps, its higher-end graphics card delivered better gaming performance at 1920x1080 in five of our six games. More importantly, a couple of specific quality settings became playable for the first time.
Here's our warning upfront: this quarter's system makes no attempt to earn favor as the most balanced platform, nor does it represent a gaming configuration Tom’s Hardware recommends. This time, we went far more extreme. Despite the 23% budget reduction, we made an experimental, all-out effort to maintain playable performance using the native 1920x1080 screens that many value-oriented enthusiasts still want to use.
|$500 Gaming PC System Components|
|CPU||Intel Celeron G530 (Sandy Bridge): 2.4 GHz, 2 MB Shared L3 Cache||$50|
|CPU Cooler||Intel boxed heat sink/fan||0|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte GA-H61MA-D3V: LGA 1155, Intel H61 Express||$60|
|RAM||Pareema 4 GB (2 x 2 GB) DDR3-1333 MD313C80809L2||$20|
|Graphics||ECS NGT560TI-1GPI-F1 GeForce GTX 560 Ti||$210|
|Hard Drive||Western Digital WD3200AAKX: 320 GB 7200 RPM Hard Drive||$75|
|Case||Rosewill R101-P-BK MicroATX Mid Tower||$30|
|Power||Antec VP-450 450 W||$38|
|Optical||LG 22x DVD Burner SATA Model GH22NS90B-OEM||$17|
Shaving $150 off an already-modest budget is bound to hurt performance, particularly since we're spending half of our funds just to cover necessary supporting components (before we're even able to consider the processor and graphics card we want). A slight reduction in storage capacity left us with $260 to split between these two important components.
We had a number of attractive options on the table, some of them more tempting than the one we eventually chose. For starters, we could have paired a capable Core i3-2100 with modest Radeon HD 6850 or GeForce GTX 460 graphics. Either one of those cards could have driven an overclockable AMD FX-4100 platform, leaving us an extra $10 to throw at a beefier motherboard, memory kit, or cooler. Or, we could have mated the well-priced Radeon HD 6870 to the proven Pentium G850. That last option struck me, personally, as the one with the most potential for smooth gaming performance.
But I already knew that, from last December’s system, even a potent Sandy Bridge-based Core i5 isn't enough for the Radeon HD 6870 to shine in all of our tests at 1920x1080. So, I threw caution to the wind and sought maximum 3D might, ending up with a GeForce GTX 560 Ti in what could otherwise be considered a $290 general-purpose machine.