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System Builder Marathon, June 2010: $550 Gaming PC

Performance Summary, Efficiency, And Conclusion

Performance Summary

DiRT 2 results were not taken into account when comparing the June and March systems to each other. This title’s ability to utilize four cores would have further increased the gaming lead for the overclocked $750 PC, though.

Higher memory frequency likely aided the stock $750 March PC in edging out the June system in applications testing, but it’s the more powerful pair of graphics cards that account for a 16% lead in games. While the $550 build picked up an overall 17% performance increase from overclocking, the budget build’s unlocking misfortune kept it from competing with the value PC from March.

Efficiency

No, the $550 gaming machine’s single Radeon HD 5770 cannot keep pace with a rig sporting a pair of Radeon HD 4850s, but the budget build scores an easy victory in terms of efficiency.

Conclusion

Here’s the deal folks: buy enough AMD Phenom II or Athlon II X3 processors and you’ll find some will have fully functioning dormant cores. But rest assured, many will not, which is exactly why we suggest never banking on unlocking when purchasing a processor. Thankfully, the AMD Athlon II X3s already offers tremendous value right out of the box. Unlocking may be hit or miss, but given the right component combinations, it is reasonable to expect at least some success in terms of overclocking, making a triple-core Athlon II a stellar processor for any value-oriented gaming rig.

Overall, this June PC is a step backwards in terms of outright gaming performance, but at $550, we couldn’t possibly set a goal of increasing performance over the more expensive gaming box from the March SBM. Rather, here we just set out to build a potent $500 gaming rig and then chose to stretch the budget for higher frame rates and DirectX 11 support. At 1,080p, two overclocked Radeon HD 4850s delivered playable frame rates in Crysis with very high details, where the single Radeon HD 5770 now struggles at 1280x1024. This is exactly why many of our recent value builds have relied on a pair of bargain-priced graphics cards rather than a single mainstream card.

Now, make no mistake, the Radeon HD 5770 is still a decent gaming card, representing good value and a justifiable reason for stretching our budget $50 this month. It maxed out half of our gaming tests and offered decent 1,080p performance in the other games once settings were reduced. The $550 gaming PC won’t push high resolutions or the highest level of details in the most graphically-intensive titles, but it still delivers a super-enjoyable gaming experience, while being fairly easy on the wallet. Next up, we’ll see how well this budget build competes with the more expensive rigs from our other system builders.

  • gkay09
    ^ I dont like the idea of using the CM eXtreme power PSUs...
    You could get a EA 430W for about $49 @newegg...
    Just a thought - you could save money on the mobo by going with TOM's favorite brand ASRock board with the 770 Chipset...So with the money saved, getting a better PSU would have been a good idea...
    Reply
  • adbat
    I plan to build a similar machine so it's nice to see the numbers :-)
    Again unlocking was successful the 50-50 chance do not apply to your tests.
    But no surprise this is a just enough machine.
    Reply
  • archange
    Buying the same components here, online, gets me to ~800 USD. That, including my 3% Diamond Customer discount at my favorite e-tailer. Granted, the Power Color was out of stock, which led me to Sapphire and i also had to exchange the RAM for Kingston HyperX CL7.

    People in the States have way to much... fun :P
    Reply
  • Crashman
    gkay09you could save money on the mobo by going with TOM's favorite brand ASRock board with the 770 Chipset...Wait, Tom's has a favorite brand? I've heard rumors in the past that Asus got all of Tom's Hardware's attention...and Gigabyte has been getting a lot of awards so maybe them...where does ASRock come into all of this favoritism, from its use in previous low-cost SBM machines?
    Reply
  • zooted
    I like this build much better than the $1000 one
    Reply
  • noob2222
    This one and the $1000 show some pretty impressive efficiency and power savings over the previous, more expensive builds. Save some dough now and in the long haul. Imo thats pretty important on a tight budget build, you don't want it costing more over its lifetime than what you saved in building it.
    Reply
  • skora
    and liked the idea of incorporating a $100 Cooler Master trio in the build.CrashmanWait, Tom's has a favorite brand? I've heard rumors in the past that Asus got all of Tom's Hardware's attention...and Gigabyte has been getting a lot of awards so maybe them...where does ASRock come into all of this favoritism, from its use in previous low-cost SBM machines?
    No, this month its Coolermaster.

    "and liked the idea of incorporating a $100 Cooler Master trio in the build."

    No shame, we all have bills.

    Very well balanced system. Very helpful to see a working system with just 2 gigs ram and break the stereo type that 4 is required.
    Reply
  • tacoslave
    ah i miss the days when you could buy 4 gigs of ram for $20. But now that only buys you about 1gig.
    Reply
  • cangelini
    skoraand liked the idea of incorporating a $100 Cooler Master trio in the build.No, this month its Coolermaster. No shame, we all have bills.Very well balanced system. Very helpful to see a working system with just 2 gigs ram and break the stereo type that 4 is required.
    You're reading that completely out of context.
    Reply
  • ta152h
    At this price range, I think an Athlon II x2 or Pentium E6500 system would probably do better for pure gaming.

    Both have more cache, the Pentium dramatically so. The Athlon II x2 would almost certainly over clock better, since stock speed is much higher, and most sites show them generally able to get to 3.8 GHz at roughly 1.4v or lower with a stock heat sink. On top of this, they use less power. So, more cache, 250 MHz more with stock heat sink (maybe more with a better one), and more cache against an extra core. Probably for games it would be better, but not always.

    The Pentium E6500 is probably better still. Getting it to around 4 GHz wouldn't be too hard, especially with an upgraded heat sink, and is generally faster clock per clock compared to an Athlon II x2. Power use is significantly lower too.

    Neither are clearly better though. I would rather have a faster two core than a slower three core, but the latter certainly have advantages too.
    Reply