System Builder Marathon: $625 Gaming PC


This month we set our sights on a more powerful graphics card in hopes of achieving better playable gaming frame rates at maximum details. However, the 16% overall increase in frame rates achieved at stock speeds is, in the end, a bit misleading.

The E5200 failed to keep up with the HD 4870 in two of our games, and in World in Conflict, the frame rates made the title unplayable. In Crysis and Supreme Commander, performance jumped quite a bit, but it still took overclocking to approach playable frame rates. Once both systems were overclocked, we had near-equal CPU power and raising the resolution or enabling AA brought out the benefits of the Radeon HD 4870. Of course, our two most demanding games should still be tweaked down a bit to find the best blend of performance and visual quality to maximize the system’s capabilities.

With the slower CPU, this month's PC lost in all nine of the encoding and applications tests, but with its 100 MHz higher overclock, it managed to surpass the overclocked December PC in eight of those tests. Overall, the two stock systems come out about even while the January/February PC takes the performance crown once overclocked. Those willing to overclock will probably agree that the E5200 provides more bang for the buck than the E7300 does, and the current $43 difference could be put to use in other components.

But performance is only part of the story this month, as pricing and availability led to a sacrifice in our case quality to achieve higher gaming frame rates. The better system will depend on personal preference and typical use. While gamers playing at high resolutions may prefer this month’s system, they will also want a better cooled enclosure if pushing high clock speeds. It is this author’s opinion that the case used this month is better suited for a $400-$500 PC or one that will at most see mild overclocking. While at current prices our $625 PC would be in a case such as the Antec Three Hundred if purchased today, some readers may instead prefer to pocket the money saved or use it to buy a new game, more storage space, or higher-end components.

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  • xx12amanxx
    Yeah Games are definatly more GPU bound than CPU bound at this time.But what about the user who decodes? Next month might be a good time to intro the new am3 triple core seeing as its being sodl for around 150$ and has been seen Oced up to 1ghz over stock.
  • Anonymous
    As I read this review I wonder, why this is only server I know that provides such a throughout testing and evaluation of OC benefit...
  • nerrawg
    Nice article guys, like how you seem squeeze the value out of the builds, definitely a good choice of build! My only question is one of personal interest, I wonder if disregarding the set price of $625, a crossfire set up of 2 4830s would give more bang for the buck in gaming then 1 4870? Of course as you have shown it would depend on the cpu, I was thinking around 4 Ghz on a dual core and 4 gigs ram. I am wondering because 2 x 4830 can be had for as little as $170-180 now, and thats pretty awesome.
  • nerrawg
    Looking at the "Radeon HD 4830: High-Speed, Cheap CrossFire" article the results look fairly similar to that seen from this build, with maybe some very small gains in Supreme commander and crysis, while World in Conflict appears to due better on this newer january build. However the 4830 CF was on a test bed without an OC'ed cpu and without overclocking the 4830's, hence my curiosity to know if doing this would significantly increase performance and value over the single 4870?
  • StupidRabbit
    great article as always.. but what happened to the international builder marathon?
  • jv_acabal
    $43 difference bang for the buck. How about in the long run? Sure you'll be paying more than 43 bucks for the electricity bill. I think January's build is better. It might be slower than this month's build but is still very playable at most games.
  • maxwellsmart_80
    Why do you keep building the same system (practically) over and over again?

    It would have been awesome to see a system based on the Phenom II X3 "700 Series" at this price point....especially paired w/ the ATI 4830 or 4850. Dont'cha think a 4870 is a tad much for a "$625 system?" - you would have had a "Dragon Platform" - very doable at your price range. You wouldn't have had to do DDR3 either - DDR2 would have worked quite nicely.
  • cangelini
    StupidRabbitgreat article as always.. but what happened to the international builder marathon?

    International competition is in edits--almost ready to go live! Interesting results there, too.
  • Onus
    Excellent article. I think this was a good build.
    That Rosewill case (and all their cheap ones like it) will take a front mounted 120mm fan. You had $6 left over, so it would have fit in your budget.
  • jcknouse
    THG Staff note:Here are links to each of the four articles in this month’s System Builder Marathon...

    I hate being picky...but...

    The links aren't imbedded in those 4 article designations at the top of the article, as of the writing of this note.
  • jcknouse
    My bad...this negative to me...*this* month lol

  • cangelini
    jcknouseI hate being picky...but...The links aren't imbedded in those 4 article designations at the top of the article, as of the writing of this note.

    Because they haven't been published yet ;-)
  • Tedders
    I agree with some of the other posters. I would like to see the SBMs with the new Phenom II. Maybe even some of the new AM3 systems. From what I have read, it can be a little tricky to setup a new AM3 system with the correct processor, motherboard and memory configuration.
  • caamsa
    Ahhh yet another "Intell System Builder Marathon" please call it what it is.
  • Onus
    My present challenge is to come up with a $600 gaming build for a friend, AND the OS must be included in that price (so really a
  • Onus
    caamsaAhhh yet another "Intell System Builder Marathon" please call it what it is.

    Couldn't edit my comment; trying again... really a sub-$500 build). I was going to go AMD, but discovered that an Intel 5200 is actually going to be cheaper, unless I give up a lot of performance. So, Caamsa, I expect the SBM articles will continue to use Intel chips at this price point.
  • Tindytim
    jtt283My present challenge is to come up with a $600 gaming build for a friend, AND the OS must be included in that price (so really a

    Just cut $100 off for the OS, or go with Ubuntu.
  • allthatjazz
    I still don't see how you can call it a 'System Build' without factoring in the OS! Just call it a $725 build and throw Vista on there, or specify that you're doing an open OS.
  • billiardicus
    Nice Build. A few thoughts for anyone on a budget build:
    1. Don't buy a crappy case. A good case can be used over and over again. You'll upgrade the cpu, gpu, mobo, etc...but you can keep using a case. There's plenty of great $50 cases (Centurion CAC5, Antec 300, etc). Pony up another $25, and get a solid case.

    2. The same applies to the powersupply (Tom's picked a good one).
  • dirtmountain
    Another very good SBM article. Shows what a builder has to do to reach a budget in real life pricing by going with a cheaper case, HSF, CPU to get a higher performance GPU to fit in a build. Good addition with the power consumption charts, i'd have no problem running a quality 430w PSU with this build. I'm interested in seeing an AMD build, perhaps they'll be available for the Feb/Mar SBM articles. Good job and thanks for this great writeup.