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

A Return To Overclocking

System Builder Marathon, September 2011: The Articles

Here are links to each of the four articles in this month’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 Google form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!

Day 1: The $2000 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1000 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $500 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected


Our $500 System Builder Marathon gaming PC from June 2011 departed from the norm by centering on a budget-oriented Intel Sandy Bridge-based platform that could not be overclocked. At all. It had to stand or fall based on its out-of-box processing power.

The machine actually achieved its goals by providing the best stock performance, the best gaming performance, and, by far, the best efficiency to date for any build under $600 of our series. That's pretty incredible for a processor that couldn't be overclocked.

But there was also a bit of controversy surrounding the build, sparked by the author himself. You see, for the same cost, I could have taken the AMD configuration from the quarter prior and jumped up to an even more attractive Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition CPU.

Furthermore, price drops that went into effect by the time our last series went live meant the higher-end Phenom was available for just $113, which nearly covered the cost of even more powerful graphics hardware.

So, for those of you who read last quarter's series or participated in the discussion, it should come as no surprise to find a Black Edition Phenom II X4 and Radeon HD 6870 listed in the component table below.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
$500 Gaming PC System Components
CPUAMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition$120
CPU CoolerAMD boxed heatsink/fan0
MotherboardASRock M3A770DE$60
RAMCrucial Ballistix sport 4 GB (2 x 2 GB) DDR3-1333 BL2KIT25664BA1339$25
GraphicsSapphire 100314-3L Radeon HD 6870 1 GB$175
Hard DriveSeagate Barracuda ST500DM002 500 GB SATA 6.0Gb/s$40
CaseNZXT Gamma Classic Series GAMA-001BK$36
PowerAntec EarthWatts Green EA430D 430 W$44
OpticalSamsung 22x DVD Burner SATA Model SH-222AB$19
Total PriceRow 10 - Cell 1 $519

The Phenom II X4 955 BE gives us a nice frequency increase across its four physical cores and the flexibility of an unlocked CPU multiplier. The bundled cooler that comes with the Black Edition chips is a step above the all-aluminum versions bundled with AMD’s more mainstream quad-core offerings, so we expect more potential when it comes time to overclock.

While financial constraints kept us from stepping up to a fancier motherboard compared to past budget-oriented builds, at least we weren't forced to use a stripped-down microATX model, as we had to last quarter. Once again, then, the goal was to spend as close to $500 as possible and still beat the previous build. Although our Phenom II X4 of choice had settled back in at $120, we were still able to buy a nicer graphics card thanks to steep drops in memory prices (our 4 GB memory kit sold for just $25).

And while we're on the subject of money, let's take an opportunity to refresh you on some of our practices here. If you're familiar with our System Builder Marathon, then you know that the budget is dedicated to hardware components alone. It doesn't include software or peripherals. Also, we don't factor in Newegg's combo deals or manufacturer mail-in rebates, since they're often not available when it comes time for you to replicate our builds. Lastly, shipping costs and taxes don't get considered. In case you're interested, there was a $20 rebate available on our chosen graphics card, which could get our price down to $499. But we still would have had to pay $11 for shipping.

  • 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!!!