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System Builder Marathon, Dec. 2009: $700 Gaming PC

Conclusion

If you have read our Balanced Gaming PC series thus far, it should come as no surprise that the stock E5300 was limiting the gaming performance of today’s system. To be clear, this is not a configuration we would recommend for non-overclockers, as the platform is severely out of balance and in need of a more powerful CPU.

If you do not overclock, your money would be better spent utilizing the bundled cooler to free up funds for a more capable Pentium E6500, AMD Athlon II, or AMD Phenom II processor.

Of course, today’s system was specifically built to be overclocked, resulting in a respectable 33% increase in performance with just a 17% increase in average power consumption. 

The question remains: did the overclocked system accomplish the goals we set out to reach? Win after win throughout the media encoding and productivity applications would certainly indicate it accomplished that goal, but a change to Windows 7 and updates to the benchmark suite prevent us from declaring it a clean sweep. And if application performance is truly what we seek, a processor capable of more simultaneous threads would often far outclass this highly overclocked dual-core CPU.

So how about games? After all, this is primarily a PC built for gaming. Thanks to a powerful pair of Radeon HD 4870 graphics cards, the overclocked December PC certainly provides the best high-resolution gameplay to date for a sub-$1,000 SBM machine. Priced at $250 for the pair, this graphics solution was the obvious choice to maximize our gaming dollar. But their inclusion presents an unfair advantage when comparing today's build to the September PC running Radeon HD 4850s in CrossFire. While both systems were easily playable, the previous AMD rig did offer the higher performance at lower settings and resolutions where we typically judge how CPUs measure up to one another. 

Additional tests were run to verify and shine light on these somewhat surprising results. We found that swapping the RAM for high-performance DDR2-1066 offered a significant performance increase of 6% to 14% in each game. In the numbers generated, it seems our system limitation, most obvious at the lower settings, was more of a memory bottleneck than a CPU bottleneck. The gains from this RAM swap brought performance at least on par with the September PC at lower settings, while slightly increasing the lead it already held at the higher settings. Had we been able or had the time to maximize memory speed and timings, we may have been able to claim this overclocked system a total success.

But the fact still remains that the September PC, with its Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition and bundled cooler, flat out destroyed this system at stock speeds while also putting up the higher low-resolution numbers in four out of five games once overclocking came into play. If games are calling for more memory bandwidth than this relaxed DDR2-800 could deliver, then AMD’s on-die memory controller certainly looks to be an attractive route to take. We certainly aren’t discounting the incredible overclocking value we’ve enjoyed from the Pentium E5200 and E5300, but it’s likely that the budget-gaming PC in our next SBM will sport an affordable triple- or quad-core Socket AM3-based processor.

  • shadowryche
    Must be something wrong with my ThermalTake Toughpower 750watt, because even that had trouble running a pair of Radeon 4870 512mb cards in crossfire under heavy load. And I only had two hard drives and one optical drive. The only other expansion card I ran was a Wireless N card.
    Reply
  • noob2222
    Wish there was an included SBM September in the charts, or at least a link to it. http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/amd-gaming-pc,2424.html If the numbers are consistent, and seeing how W7 is slightly faster, the september build is a tad faster with less graphic power and $50 less in the build. With the exception of max resolution, and thats the graphics card difference doing the work.

    Add in the new AMD options, http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/athlon-ii-x3,2452.html, wich takes the lead for the most part over the Phenom II x2 550, I am suprised you opted for the intel chip.

    That is unless you plan on doing SBMs alternating wich manufacturer is used.

    Athlon II 435 with 2 4870s would kill this build at the same price.
    Reply
  • qwertymac93
    So we are back to an intel only marathon again. i guess it was silly of me to expect at least ONE system to have an amd cpu in it. it would have been interesting to see the athlon 620+ddr3 be put in the $700 pc, it would have been a nice "are 4 better then 2?" comparison with Septembers build. would have been nice to see dual 5750s in the $700 pc too, but availability and bla bla, i know. with all those modifications though, it would have been closer to a $800pc :(. On a side note, any thoughts on nzxt beta evo vs antec two hundred?
    Reply
  • benzjie
    looks like intel owns not only the OEM market.
    Reply
  • darthfett
    It seems to me that in a budget computer, you are not going to be paying huge amounts for a large monitor. Why use 2 graphics cards when one will do for a smaller monitor. Games these days are still pretty CPU heavy.
    Reply
  • rdawise
    noob2222Wish there was an included SBM September in the charts, or at least a link to it. http://www.tomshardware.com/review ,2424.html If the numbers are consistent, and seeing how W7 is slightly faster, the september build is a tad faster with less graphic power and $50 less in the build. With the exception of max resolution, and thats the graphics card difference doing the work.Add in the new AMD options, http://www.tomshardware.com/review ,2452.html, wich takes the lead for the most part over the Phenom II x2 550, I am suprised you opted for the intel chip. That is unless you plan on doing SBMs alternating wich manufacturer is used.Athlon II 435 with 2 4870s would kill this build at the same price.

    You beat me to this.

    Have to wonder why the author used a dead socket with no upgrade path.
    Reply
  • dangerous_23
    where are the photos of the actual build?
    Reply
  • snorojr
    5750 availability problem ???? you gottas be joking, i had no problem having my hd 5770 while the 5850 where nowhere findable. They could seriously have took the 57xx serie route and the 5750 and 5770 are doing very good in crossfire setup. Sometime with the big overclock margin they have, a pair 5770 can beat a pair of 4890 in crossfire.
    Reply
  • pauldh
    noob2222Wish there was an included SBM September in the charts, or at least a link to it. http://www.tomshardware.com/review ,2424.html Last round’s data was left out of the charts because of the migration to Windows 7 and updated benchmark versions. However, a link to the September $650 PC was provided in the opening paragraph of the intro, and comparisons made throughout the data analysis.
    noob2222If the numbers are consistent, and seeing how W7 is slightly faster, the september build is a tad faster with less graphic power and $50 less in the build. With the exception of max resolution, and thats the graphics card difference doing the work. The gaming benchmarks are especially comparable, and yes as we note, this rig was behind the Sep PII at the lower settings/resolution and had a graphics advantage taking over at the higher settings. But note, the September build was MORE expensive when this system was ordered, not $50 cheaper. Had we opted to use up this whole “price adjustment” budget and build a $750 machine, a kit of CAS 5 DDR2 (like the AMD build) would have done this one wonders, even more so than expected.
    noob2222I am suprised you opted for the intel chip. That is unless you plan on doing SBMs alternating wich manufacturer is used. Bingo; Notice all AMD last round even at the high end, and all Intel this round, even at the low end. Something we wanted to try, but will not be continuing.
    noob2222Athlon II 435 with 2 4870s would kill this build at the same price. That is exactly the plan for next round, although getting a pair of 4870s will likely not be an option. At $87, pairing with an aftermarket cooler will then raise the CPU+cooler budget a bit over the $102 from Sep, or the $92 from December. One of the goals set for this Intel rig back in September was to keep an equal CPU budget to last round, and if possible put the extra money into a graphics step up, although more along the lines of 4850 1GB not 4870’s. There was nothing exciting to challenge the PII at stock clocks, instead the focus was on an aftermarket cooler and better OC. Unfortunately this E5300 was a bit of a dud compared to previous E5200’s.

    I wouldn’t say the 435 would kill these past two rigs though. I suspect it will trade blows in the apps, and likely take a few nice wins(at low res) in the games.
    Reply
  • saeedxfx
    hi
    price per hd4870 is 230$

    and for 2 hd4870=460$
    but in your table is 250$
    how?
    Reply