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!
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
|CPU||Intel Pentium E5300||$70|
|CPU Cooler||Xigmatek HDT-SD964||$22|
|Motherboard||DFI BI P45-T2RS||$105|
|RAM||Corsair 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Model VS4GBKIT800D2 G||$74|
|Graphics||2 XFX HD-487A-YWFC Radeon HD 4870 512MB||$250|
|Hard Drive||Samsung Spinpoint F3 HD502HJ 500GB 7,200 RPM SATA 3.0 Gb/s||$55|
|Case||Antec Two Hundred||$45|
|Power||Antec EarthWatts EA650 650W||$75|
|Optical||Samsung Black 22X DVD Burner SATA Model SH-S223C||$26|