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System Builder Marathon: $500 Gaming PC

Overclocking

As mentioned, the $500 PC was built around the idea of overclocking and squeezing as much performance possible out of each dollar spent. Before we see just what speeds this system is capable of reaching, let’s look at the stock settings.

Our GA-EP35-DS3L motherboard shipped with the F4 BIOS and no matter how high VCore was set in the BIOS, we were unable to get any voltage setting to take above 1.296 V. Limited to the normal VCore, the E2180 topped out at just 2.66 GHz (10*266), which wasn’t going to cut it for our System Builder Marathon. The solution was to flash the BIOS to version F5, which then made it possible to bump up the VCore and see just what this chip could do.

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At 1.504 V, our E2180 was passing any synthetic or gaming tests attempted at 3.33 GHz (10*333), but was unable to pass our stress testing. Rather than bump the voltage up beyond 1.5 V, we lowered our goals. Dropping the CPU clock ratio (multiplier) to eight and raising the host frequency to 400 MHz, we reached a stable 3.2 GHz at 1.456 V and a +0.1 V bump in the FSB voltage. At these settings, memory is kept at 800 MHz (1:1) and no attempts were made to add more voltage to the Wintec RAM and tighten the rather relaxed SPD timings.

Having found our maximum stable CPU speed, we turned our attention to getting more performance from the PNY 8800GT. Even with its single-slot cooler, we found stability at 741 MHz core and 1,890 MHz shaders. That is quite a boost from the factory speeds of a 600 MHz core and 1,512 MHz shaders. For testing, we backed both down one notch to a 738 MHz core and 1,836 MHz shaders.

On the memory side, the sky was the limit and we had no problems at our highest tested speed of 1,065 MHz (2,130 MHz effective). Choosing a speed to run the memory at for our testing presented a problem, since although we had not reached a limit on the RAM chips themselves, many people feel that the 8800 GT itself can’t handle these memory speeds for long periods of time and it’s safer for the card to keep the gaming speeds of the memory well below 2.0 GHz. We still wanted to squeeze as much performance as we felt comfortable running, so we knocked the memory down a few notches and decided on 1,053 MHz (2,106 MHz effective) for testing.

It’s worth noting that the extra boost in memory data rate speeds from 1,980 MHz to 2,106 MHz provided less than 300 extra 3DMarks and just a fraction of one frame per second (FPS) in our Crysis testing. Not all games may respond the same as Crysis did, but with such minimal gains seen here, it indeed doesn’t appear to be worth pushing the 8800 GT’s RAM to these speeds for daily gaming.

  • radguy
    Thanks for the article. I always enjoy these sbm builds you guys do. I guessed wrong again but actually think you guys picked a better choice. Nice to know build quality is still taken into consideration even at the 500 dollar range. Also just to mention this again next time noise and power consumption charts please.
    Reply
  • "The silicon hard drive grommets"

    That wouldn't dampen much noise.

    Try silicone hard drive grommets
    (They are usually silicon-oxygen based polymers)
    Reply
  • slomo4sho
    I wish you used the E5200 CPU for this build, current prices reflect a difference of $14 only.

    Also, in the future, would it be possible for you to have two builds for the $500 budget build. One based on Intel AND the other on AMD?
    Reply
  • xx12amanxx
    I would have spent maybe 30$ on a cheapo case and put the 50$ toward's a hd4850! Most people building a 500$ pc are going to want maximun performance and not care what the case looks like.
    Reply
  • cangelini
    xX12amanXxI would have spent maybe 30$ on a cheapo case and put the 50$ toward's a hd4850! Most people building a 500$ pc are going to want maximun performance and not care what the case looks like.
    $30 for a case and PSU? Sounds like a build asking for trouble. I personally don't think $80 for a nice chassis and power supply is bad.
    Reply
  • cangelini
    Slomo4shOI wish you used the E5200 CPU for this build, current prices reflect a difference of $14 only. Also, in the future, would it be possible for you to have two builds for the $500 budget build. One based on Intel AND the other on AMD?
    Heya Slo! We're actually weighing the possibility of simply switching off each month on the $500 system since AMD has some very compelling hardware in that range.
    Reply
  • slomo4sho
    cangeliniHeya Slo! We're actually weighing the possibility of simply switching off each month on the $500 system since AMD has some very compelling hardware in that range.
    Well in this case, an AMD build might have allowed for a 4850. I look forward to seeing what you decide upon but I still think a monthly build of each platform at the $500 build is definitely something worthwhile.

    Transitioning month to month between the two usually does not allow for comparative annalist in your "Performance And Value, Dissected" write-ups
    Reply
  • cangelini
    Slomo4shO
    Gotcha. We'll discuss that as a possibility, then.
    Reply
  • lounge lizard
    I love the article and second the notion that it would be a great idea to run it every month. I for one am a firm believer of upgrading more consistently at a reasonable cost per component rather then just throwing $1500 at new machine.

    At some point it would be interesting if you guys could run an Upgrade Edition of the $500 system builder. Most people that have the courage and knowledge to overclock their new parts by over 50% (wow the E2180 rocks!)would almost definitely have components that they could and would want to swap between rigs.

    Again, great article.
    Reply
  • reasonablevoice
    king_edgar"The silicon hard drive grommets" That wouldn't dampen much noise.Try silicone hard drive grommets(They are usually silicon-oxygen based polymers)
    What the hell are you saying?
    Reply