System Builder Marathon, Sept. 2011: $500 Gaming PC

Test System Configuration And Benchmarks

Current $500 Gaming PC System Test Configuration
Component Base Settings Overclock Setting
CPUAMD Phenom II X4 955 BE (Deneb), 3.2 GHz, 1.40 V
2000 MT/s HyperTransport Link, 2000 MT/s CPU-NB,
6 MB L3 Cache
3.800 GHz (19 x 200 MHz), 1.3375 V
2000 MT/s HT Link, 2200 MT/s CPU-NB
CPU CoolerAMD boxed heatsink/fan, 60-100% target  RPM70-100% target RPM
MotherboardASRock M3A770DE
AMD 770 / SB710, BIOS P1.70 (09/17/10)
Unchanged
RAM4 GB Crucial Ballistix PC3-10600 kit
2 x 2 GB, DDR3-1333, CL 9-9-9-24 1T at 1.53 V
DDR3-1333, CL 8-8-8-22 1T at 1.65 V
GraphicsSapphire 100314-3L Radeon HD 6870 1 GB
900 MHz GPU, 1050 MHz (4200 MT/s) Memory
960 MHz GPU, 1180 MHz (4720 MT/s) GDDR5 Memory
Hard DriveSeagate Barracuda ST500DM002
500 GB, 7200 RPM, 16 MB Cache
Unchanged
SoundIntegrated 7.1-Channel HD AudioUnchanged
NetworkIntegrated Gigabit NetworkingUnchanged
PowerAntec EarthWatts Green 430 W Unchanged
OpticalSamsung 22x DVD Burner SATA Model SH-222ABUnchanged
 Software and Drivers
Operating SystemWindows 7 Ultimate Edition x64Unchanged
Graphics DriverAMD Catalyst 11.8Unchanged
Platform DriverAMD All-in-1 Ver. 8.631_W7_logoUnchanged
June 2011 $500 PC System Test Configuration
Component Base Settings Overclock Setting
CPUIntel Core i3-2100 (Sandy Bridge), 3.1 GHz (31 * 100 MHz), LGA 1155, 3 MB Shared L3, Hyper-Threading enabled, power savings enabledUnchanged
CPU CoolerIntel retail boxed heatsink & fanUnchanged
MotherboardASRock H61M-VS
Intel H61, BIOS P1.00 (03-04-11)
Unchanged
RAM4 GB Crucial PC3-10600 kit
2 x 2 GB, DDR3-1333, CL 9-9-9-24 1T at 1.5 V
DDR3-1333, CL 8-8-8-24 1T at 1.60 V
GraphicsSapphire 100315L Radeon HD 6850 1 GB
775 MHz GPU, 1000 MHz (4000 MT/s) Memory
850 MHz GPU, 1150 MHz (4600 MT/s) GDDR5 Memory
Hard DriveSeagate Barracuda ST3500413AS
500 GB, 7200 RPM, 16 MB Cache
Unchanged
SoundIntegrated 6-Channel HD AudioUnchanged
NetworkIntegrated Gigabit NetworkingUnchanged
PowerAntec EarthWatts Green 380 W
Unchanged
OpticalAsus 24x DVD Burner SATA DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/ASUnchanged
 Software and Drivers
Operating SystemWindows 7 Ultimate Edition x64Unchanged
Graphics DriverAMD Catalyst 11.5Unchanged
Platform DriverIntel 6-series Inf v. 9.2.0.1021Unchanged
Benchmark Configuration
3D Games
CrysisPatch 1.2.1, DirectX 10, 64-bit executable, benchmark tool
Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA
Test Set 2: Very High Quality, No AA
F1 2010V.1.01, Direct X 11, -benchmark example_benchmark.xml
Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA
Test Set 2: Ultra Quality, 8x AA
Just Cause 2Steam Version, Built-in Benchmark "Concrete Jungle"
Test Set 1: Custom Medium Details, No AA, 8x AF
Test Set 2: Highest Settings, 8x AA, 16x AF
Metro 2033Steam Version, Built-In Benchmark
Test Set 1: High, DX11, AAA, 4x AF, No DoF, No PhysX
Test Set 2: Very High, DX11, 4x MSAA, 16x AF, DoF, No PhysX
Audio/Video Encoding
Handbrake CLIVersion 0.94: "Big Buck Bunny" (720x480, 23.972 FPS) 5 Min., Audio: Dolby Digital, 48 000 Hz, Six-Channel, English, to Video: AVC Audio: AC3 Audio2: AAC (High Profile)
iTunesVersion 9.0.3.15 x64: Audio CD (Terminator II SE), 53 minutes, default AAC format 
Lame MP3Version 3.98.3: Audio CD "Terminator II SE", 53 min, convert WAV to MP3 audio format, Command: -b 160 --nores (160 Kb/s)
Mainconcept ReferenceVersion: 2.0.0.1555: MPEG-2 to H.264, MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG-2), Audio: MPEG-2 (44.1 kHz, 2 Channel, 16-Bit, 224 Kb/s), Codec: H.264 Pro, Mode: PAL 50i (25 FPS), Profile: H.264 BD HDMV
Productivity
ABBYY FineReaderVersion 10.0.102.82: Read PDF save to Doc, Source: Political Economy (J. Broadhurst 1842) 111 Pages
Adobe Photoshop CS5Version 12.0 x64: Filter 15.7 MB TIF Image: Radial Blur, Shape Blur, Median, Polar Coordinates
Autodesk 3ds Max 2010Version 12.0 x64: Space Flyby Mentalray, 248 Frames, 1440x1080
7-ZipVersion 9.2: THG-Workload (464 MB) to .7z, command line switches "a -t7z -r -m0=LZMA2 -mx=5"
WinRARVersion 4.0 Beta 4: THG-Workload (464 MB) to RAR, command line switches "winrar a -r -m3"
WinZipVersion 14.0 Pro: THG-Workload (464 MB) to ZIP, command line switches "-a -ez -p -r"
Sythetic Benchmarks and Settings
3DMark 11Version: 1.0.1, Entry, Performance, Extreme Suite
PCMark 7Version: 1.0.4, System, Productivity, Hard Disk Drive benchmarks
SiSoftware Sandra 2011Version 2011.2.17.36, CPU Test = CPU Arithmetic / MultiMedia, Memory Test = Bandwidth Benchmark
This thread is closed for comments
84 comments
    Your comment
  • alchemy69
    Time to bring on the usual motley crew of fanboys and everyone who just knows that they could do better.
  • Ugly case! I know I am stating the obvious, but seriously...
  • Outlander_04
    The i3 2100 is a remarkable cpu , but it just cant beat 4 physical cores and a bit of overclocking .
  • slicedtoad
    very nice article, i was wondering how the 955 oced would do against the i3.

    While there are many unthinkable things in this build, the low price of $500 is also unthinkable. That's less than an ipad....
  • Why have the charts reduced to an unreadable size for this article?
  • Zero_
    Nice. Finally someone who knows how to get value for money. I approve :P
  • zooted
    This is my favorite build this sbm. I just love the fact that you can have a true 1080p gaming experience for $500 bucks.
  • mayankleoboy1
    whats with the fuzzy and unreadable charts?
  • bobfrys
    This is a tad bit better then the one I built off of the earlier build i used from toms. (Built it soon after school ended).
  • lunyone
    This is probably the ONLY $500 build (except for the very 1st one) that I've agreed on mostly (not liking the case too much, but it works in this budget).

    The last $500 build just was crap generally (micro-ATX and not many options on the mobo, IMHO).

    This budget gaming rig is really close to what I'd build for a friend/family member that wanted to have a gaming rig. I'd change a few things, of coarse, but the overall direction (and selection of parts) is SPOT ON, IMHO!! Good job guys at TH!!!
  • hmp_goose
    What's that? The Surprise Fourth Build will not be the $2k version? Someone's going to poke around in the grey area between the i3-2100 and the i5-2500? How much extra cash will be allowed?

    Why do posts like this "sound" like the something from the '60s Batman TV show?

    Tune in tomorrow! :-P
  • Tijok
    First off, great build, the balance of parts is great, and almost exactly what I would recommend to someone in this budget area.

    But seriously, what is going on with the small/ low res charts?
  • _Pez_
    This Rig Rocks ! I would only change the case :) maybe a cooler master storm.
  • Rizlla
    The first of this months builds that are great and you can see there is a budget that was thought of.
  • Outlander_04
    Its a good $500 build .except it cost $520 and the motherboard is a dead end part .
    For another $30 you can include an AM3+ board with the latest 970 series chip set that is fully compatible with Bulldozer.
    As it is this build is a dead end , and its out of date in 3 weeks

    But its still a better computer than the previous intel build
  • Proximon
    It was a good comparison, and the right build to do, because we got an honest look at the differences and advantages to each platform.
    That said, I would have to say that it's not the right $500 system for most gamers. The P II X2 555BE would perhaps let you get a better board, making it a smarter buy at $520, and of course some excellent Rosewill combo deals (that are always on) would help out with the case and PSU.
  • cobra5000
    Nice to see the 955 finally get to stick it to the i-3. That and the old boy is what, two years old? Way to go AMD! Its a shame Tom's could'nt point that out. Not really surprising though, with the tiny charts hiding how the 955, DOMINATED, the i-3 at high resolution.
  • cmcghee358
    Nicely done. I can atest to the volume of that freaking stock fan too. I had mine up to 7000 RPM on my HTPC. I HAD to replace it, it sounded like an old ventalation fan in a bathroom
  • Martell77
    @Cobra5000 - Are you really that happy that a stock SB I3 is beaten by a P-II x4 OC'd just past the AMD X4 top end proc? Ya, its 2 years old but the I3 isn't exactly a high end part. If the P-II had kept up or beaten a I5, then you should be cheering. I think you meant "the tiny charts hiding how the 6780, DOMINATED, the 6850 at high resolutions." The wins the 955 got were in productivity apps due to its 4 physical cores.

    I'm hoping that bulldozer will finally give Intel something to worry about. Some pricing wars would be really nice. But I'm not holding my breath.

    I think it would be interesting if they changed the video card to a 6850 and show how much the processor change actually made a difference.
  • cypeq
    mayankleoboy1whats with the fuzzy and unreadable charts?


    Toms is saving up bandwidth by annoying readers.
  • lunyone
    Quote:
    Are you really that happy that a stock SB I3 is beaten by a P-II x4 OC'd just past the AMD X4 top end proc? Ya, its 2 years old but the I3 isn't exactly a high end part. If the P-II had kept up or beaten a I5, then you should be cheering. I think you meant "the tiny charts hiding how the 6780, DOMINATED, the 6850 at high resolutions." The wins the 955 got were in productivity apps due to its 4 physical cores.


    I think the overall options that the AMD build for the $ is a much better build. Yes the PII x4 is older and doesn't dominate that much, but it's a smarter build for the $, IMHO. Yes the mobo is dated too, but it has much better options than the Intel based build last time. The 6870 does make a difference overall for gaming, so that should be no surprise. This is the main reason for going with a more economical and budget friendly AMD based build. The whole point of sticking to the budget (which this build went over the limit by $20) is what this build is about. I would GLADLY recommend the $20 more for a better GPU, than to give a customer a slightly gimped mobo (as the Intel build had). I don't know if it's just me, but this build is in line with what I think most people would build for a $500 build price (minus any OS prices/issues). I would probably get a AM3+ based mobo for possible upgrades later, but it all depends on the customer that would be getting this build.
  • koogco
    Ever since core 2 duo, AMD has only been able to compete on gang for the buck rather than raw performance, but they have been doing so quite well.
    And this is another example of that. It is a bit sad about the upgradeability going forwards however, I tend to prioritize a motherboard that will fit a much better CPU than what i am getting, that way one can easily upgrade CPU and GPU as appropriate.
    But this is a good build overall, definatly worth a think by anyone that is buying a system in this pricerange.
  • DSpider
    ~20% performance increase (overclocked) for close to double the power... Lets not forget that the CPU was released back in 2009.
  • JustPlainJef
    Quote:
    Jumping back up to the old $625 pricing point would allow us to explore many new performance options and features, though. We certainly appreciate reader feedback concerning this current build, and would value input in what direction you’d like us to take next time around.

    Personally, I'd really like to see multiple builds around a price point. I understand the budget, but if I can get 50% more performance out of another 25% on the cost, it's a worthy investment.

    What about having three people on staff pick different builds that all cost within $100 or $150 of each other. Comparing a $500 build to a $2000 build isn't very helpful. Three builds between $500 and $625 would be more helpful. Then, maybe 3 builds in the neighborhood of $1000, and three builds around $2000.

    Finally, I’d like to somehow factor in the longevity of these builds. How will the $500 build compare to the $1000 build in a year. Is it better to buy a new $500 PC every year, or get two years out of the $1000 PC? Maybe it’s best to dump $2000 into a new rig every 4 years!