What Makes A Good Budget Build?
Editor's Note: On the first day of our overclocking marathon, we tried overclocking Dell's factory-overclocked XPS H2C with very modest success. Yesterday, based on requests from many of you, we overclocked our high-end build from May's System Builders Marathon; it did very well indeed. Today we build a brand new low-cost PC designed for optimal overclocking and see how far we can push it to maximize its performance. Tomorrow we'll sum up the performance of the three PCs in our overclocking experiments and show you which of the three is the best from a price performance perspective.
As we mentioned in our original system builder marathon, the budget specification we first came up with didn't cover overclocking. But we decided that to take on a high-end Core 2 Extreme in the overclocking department, we would have to take a hard look at what we wanted to include in this budget build. Here is a list of the components we used for this article - if you think we're off base on anything, an explanation of our choices follows.
|System Builder Marathon High-End PC Component Cost|
|CPU||Intel Core 2 Duo e4300||$120|
|CPU Cooler||Thermalright XP-90 & 120mm fan||$55|
|RAM||Wintec Ampo DDR2 PC2-6400 - 2 GB||$81|
|Hard Drive||Western Digital Caviar 250 GB||$63|
|Power||Aerocool Zerodba 620w||$125|
|DVD-RW||Sony NEC Optiarc 7170 SATA||$35|
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E4300
Our main change from the marathon budget build is the platform of course - we've chosen the Core 2 Duo e4300 Compare Prices on Core 2 Duo e4300 over the Athlon X2 3200+ used in our budget marathon. The reason for this is simple: the Athlon 64 architecture simply doesn't measure up to the Core 2 Duo when overclocking is introduced to the equation.
While that is almost indisputable, many will disagree with the member of the Core 2 Duo family that we've chosen to overclock. The e4300 CPU only has 2 MB of cache and low a stock clock speed of 1.8 GHz, but it does have a very nice 9x multiplier and an ultra-low price of $120. The e4300 has proven to be a cheap, safe bet to get to 3 GHz with a decent motherboard.
But why didn't we choose the e6600 processor instead? For $100 more the e6600 also has the sweet 9x multiplier, double the cache for extra performance, and a reputation for high overclocking. In addition, the e6600 has been known to reach speeds of more than 3.5 GHz. In truth, the e6600 is also an excellent choice for a budget overclocker's system, and is probably even a better choice than the e4300 we used. Frankly, there is a bit of male hubris involved in our choice as we had an e4300 on hand and wanted to show that it could run with the big boys. The only other thing we'll mention is that if you're running an e6600 at 3.5 GHz or more you'd probably want to consider some high-end water or TEC cooling, which would have added a bit more to the cost of the build.
When all was said and done, even though our e4300 was no record breaker, we're very happy with the results from a cost/performance standpoint. But if you're putting together an overclocking rig, you should definitely give the e6600 some serious consideration as well if you can afford the extra $100.
CPU Cooler: Thermalright XP-90- And 120 mm Fan
When overclocking is the goal, the stock CPU cooler isn't going to cut it. Thermalright offers some excellent high-end air coolers for a good price, the only downside being you have to purchase the 120 mm fan separately. But $40 for the XP-90 and $15 for a 120 mm fan is well worth the huge cooling performance increase over the weak bundled cooler which, in the case of the e4300, was only designed to keep the CPU cool at 1.8 GHz.
If you manage to bring your overclocked CPU to even higher heights and find that a high-end air cooler isn't doing the job, it's probably time to consider water or TEC cooling. But for speeds less than 3.5 GHz at regular voltages on the Core 2 Duo, a high-end air cooler will probably do the job.
We should note that the XP-90 is an older cooler and may be difficult to source. The newer Thermalright SI-128 should do a similar, if not better, job for about $5 more.