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

Vanishing Bargains

System Builder Marathon, December 2009: 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 check out this Google form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!

Day 1: The $2,500 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1,300 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $700 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected

In the September 2009 System Builder Marathon (SBM),  the goal for the cheapest configuration was to build the most powerful budget gaming machine the series has yet seen, both at stock speeds and when overclocked. The $650 Gaming PC easily accomplished these goals by pairing an AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition processor with two Radeon HD 4850 graphics cards. 

Gaming performance was in check, but this system often fell short compared to previous budget builds in our media encoding and productivity suite. Upon completing the series, a lingering question remained: would a cheaper processor and aftermarket cooler have delivered at least the same level of gaming performance, while also increasing applications performance?

With that in mind, the plan for this December 2009 SBM was to revisit the Intel Pentium E5x00 series one last time, finally pairing this dandy little overclocking CPU with the potent graphics solution it deserves. 

While we could easily have built such a configuration for less than $650 back in September, numerous availability issues and price increases now put a serious damper on these plans. For starters, DDR2 prices have skyrocketed, as production continues to shift toward DDR3. The cheapest 4GB kit of CL5 DDR2-1066, which cost $50 for the September system, is now $90 and no longer a savings compared to DDR3. In fact, even the cheapest 4GB kit of basic DDR2-800 is $74. 

As you may likely know, another recent blow to the thrifty PC gamer is the vanishing bargains we had grown to expect for 3D graphics. The Radeon HD 4800-series graphics cards have been rapidly disappearing and remaining stock has subsequently shot up in price. Our Sapphire cards were $95 each last round, but now the cheapest available pair of Radeon HD 4850s was $240. We already had our eye on a nice $85 Intel P45-based motherboard with CrossFireX capabilities and a solid overclocking feature set, but system memory and the graphics cards presented a dilemma.

Opting for a single $180 Radeon HD 4890 was certainly an option, but it would have dashed any hopes of equaling the performance put out by the previous pair of Radeon HD 4850s. Priced at $125 each (and bundled with CrossFire bridge connectors), a pair of XFX Radeon HD 4870 512MB cards were the obvious choice for offering the best bang for the buck while delivering the desired level of 3D performance. Unfortunately, we were likely among the last folks lucky enough to grab such a deal, as current in-stock models are now $175 and up. 

Veteran readers of the SBM series may recall that the $500 gaming budget was increased to a flexible $625 to jump up to a new level of performance. But to deal with rising prices while still hitting the graphics sweet spot, we needed to further stretch our budget to $700 for this round. Still, this was still about $50 less than what it would cost to re-build the previous $650 AMD system from September. 

The biggest sacrifice we made this month with the $700 gaming PC was to grab the cheapest available 4GB kit of DDR2-800. After the author’s $701 wish list was submitted, the instant discount on the DFI motherboard expired, raising the final cost at order time.

$700 Gaming PC System Components

ComponentModelPrice
CPUIntel Pentium E5300$70
CPU CoolerXigmatek HDT-SD964$22
MotherboardDFI BI P45-T2RS$105
RAMCorsair 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Model VS4GBKIT800D2 G$74
Graphics2 XFX HD-487A-YWFC Radeon HD 4870 512MB$250
Hard DriveSamsung Spinpoint F3 HD502HJ 500GB 7,200 RPM SATA 3.0 Gb/s$55
SoundIntegrated0
NetworkIntegrated0
CaseAntec Two Hundred$45
PowerAntec EarthWatts EA650 650W$75
OpticalSamsung Black 22X DVD Burner SATA Model SH-S223C$26
Total$722
  • 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