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System Builder Marathon, March 2010: $750 Gaming PC

Finding Balance

System Builder Marathon, March 2010: 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 $3,000 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1,500 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $750 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected

Introduction

The $700 PC in last December's System Builder Marathon  was an attempt to get the highest overclocked performance we’ve seen from our value-priced system. Using just $92 dollars of our budget for a dual-core Intel processor and 92mm cooler meant $250 could be allocated towards a powerful pair of Radeon HD 4870 graphics cards. Skyrocketing DDR2 memory prices meant increasing the budget, dropping to 2GB of system RAM, or utilizing the cheapest 4GB kit of CL5 DDR2-800 available. While the final result was a successful boost to application performance and high-resolution gaming, there was still plenty of room left for improvement.

The former PC was, honestly, a bit out of balance, with too little of our budget going towards the processor and system RAM. In this round, we aim to improve the situation by utilizing a triple-core AMD Athlon II X3 435 and 4GB of high-speed DDR3 memory.

Gaming is still top priority for this system, so a single GeForce GTS 250, Radeon HD 5750, or even Radeon HD 5770 would offer nowhere near the level of performance we seek. Remaining Radeon HD 4870s are far too expensive for us to consider a pair again this month. But thankfully we have seen a reemergence of Radeon HD 4850s. Newegg carried six models for us to choose from, two of them priced at just $100.

While we have been criticized for going with dual GPUs in a value-oriented gaming machine, the fact remains that two Radeon HD 4850s offer far better performance than any single $200 GPU. To get this level of performance from a single graphics card with one GPU, you would need to spend about $100 more for a Radeon HD 5850. A well-designed $500-$600 gaming PC will more than likely sport just a single GPU, but an extra $100 or so can go a long way in terms of boosting gaming performance.

Component$750 Gaming PC Component PricesPrice
CPUAMD Athlon II X3 435$84
CPU CoolerXigmatek HDT-SD964$22
MotherboardGigabyte GA-MA790GPT-UD3H$105
RAMG.Skill Ripjaws 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1600 Model F3-12800CL9D-4GBRL$94
Graphics2 x Sapphire 100245HDMI Radeon HD 4850 512MB$200
Hard DriveWestern Digital Caviar Black WD6401AALS, 640GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0 Gb/s$75
SoundIntegrated0
NetworkIntegrated0
CaseAntec Three Hundred Illusion$60
PowerAntec EarthWatts EA650 650W$85
OpticalLG Black 22X DVD Burner SATA Model GH22NS50$24
Total Price$749

The budget for this round had been set to $750 to combat the escalating cost of memory and graphics cards. Rather than solely focus on a price/performance ratio, we chose to use up the remaining funds and bump storage to the 640GB Western Digital Black hard drive. While some of these components have gone up in price, others are available for less, allowing this PC to be currently built for a few dollars cheaper.

  • erdinger
    This system seams to be really potent. Good job!
    Reply
  • erdinger
    Good job. I Really like the system and I agree in nearly every decision.

    unlocking the forth core and still overclocking to 3.6Ghz is just great! I'm getting jealous because my 4th core is broken.

    I'm looking forward to the value comparison.
    Reply
  • cruiseoveride
    This is almost identical to my build. But I used 2nd hand parts, dual HD4870s and it worked out just less than $600.

    4 cores, 3.2Ghz, 13,000 3dmark points.

    Great bang-for-buck system.
    Reply
  • stray_gator
    Apart from a SBM entry, this article also provides reality check regarding the benefits of a fourth core. quite useful.
    Reply
  • jsowoc
    I find the value comparisons are usually (always?) that the least expensive computer has the most "value", followed closely by the middle computer, trailed by the most expensive setup.

    Would it be possible to make a 3-way comparison of systems at the same price (for example, $1000)? One could be an AMD-based system, another an Intel-based, and a third maybe a graphics-heavy monster, or a MicroATX system (to see how much performance you sacrifice to stay in $1000 and fit a small form factor).
    Reply
  • Otus
    What would by interesting is a round of "upgrade" builds. Set specific budgets for ungrades and add them on top of the hardware from a previous round. That would allow commentary on upgrade paths and also help builders of new rigs.
    Reply
  • shubham1401
    Wow!
    This processor is a beast for the price...Really Impressed
    Reply
  • Crashman
    jsowocI find the value comparisons are usually (always?) that the least expensive computer has the most "value", followed closely by the middle computer, trailed by the most expensive setup.Would it be possible to make a 3-way comparison of systems at the same price (for example, $1000)? One could be an AMD-based system, another an Intel-based, and a third maybe a graphics-heavy monster, or a MicroATX system (to see how much performance you sacrifice to stay in $1000 and fit a small form factor).
    Except for the CPU cooler, you usually sacrifice nothing to go Micro ATX. Tom's Hardware even did a micro-ATX SBM...where the Core i7 system sucked because it had to use the stock cooler. You can find semi-small micro-ATX cases that fit mid-sized coolers.

    Antec also makes a MICRO ATX MID TOWER which REALLY sux since it misses the point of Micro ATX completely, so I don't want to hear about that one.

    And of course there's Micro ATX mini-towers with the same layout as full-ATX. You get all the performance of ATX and the big cooler, with a case that's around 14-15" tall.
    Reply
  • jsowoc
    CrashmanExcept for the CPU cooler, you usually sacrifice nothing to go Micro ATX. Tom's Hardware even did a micro-ATX SBM...where the Core i7 system sucked because it had to use the stock cooler. (...)
    My argument was not that they should do a $500-$1000-$2000 comparison of uATX builds - they did this. I was suggesting doing a $1000intel - $1000amd - $1000uATX comparison.
    Reply
  • tigerwraith
    I still dont understand why they went with 2 gfx cards. Ive seen in a lot of reviews that even the newest games dont always work right off the bat when using Crossfire or SLi, So why not spend the money on a 5770 for this. You get DX 11, Dual to Triple moniters, and passthrough. So say you wanted to build a budget HTPC that could game Id have went with the 5770 or 5830 not only would that be a great cpu to watch on a HDTV but you would only need the HDMI cable to run everything.
    Reply