System Builder Marathon, Sept. 2011: $500 Gaming PC

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Onus

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I'm with lunyone on this one. This is the budget PC I would have recommended last year. Today, the only thing I'd really try to convince someone to change is to get an AM3+ board.
Adding a game like Starcraft might expose weaknesses in the CPU, but in general, a limited budget is better spent on the GPU. The thorough comparison to June's i3 build really showed this.
 

vishalaestro

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amd radeon cards may be powerful than nvidia ..but their drivers are a crap amd has still to work on the drivers..focussing on intel and amd with their processors amd cannot come near to intel.. but i bet u that the bulldozer cpu will beat the core i5's and i3's ..as amd is manufaturing 32nm processors they will beat intel 32nm processors but again intel building their ivy bridge which is 22nm processors will again beat the bulldozers because amd are slower in their development procesors they will take more time to build a 22nm processors ..
 

salgado18

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[citation][nom]Outlander_04[/nom]Its a good $500 build .except it cost $520 and the motherboard is a dead end part .For another $30 you can include an AM3+ board with the latest 970 series chip set that is fully compatible with Bulldozer.As it is this build is a dead end , and its out of date in 3 weeks But its still a better computer than the previous intel build[/citation]
Agreed. This is a full system, designed to be a great machine from the start, but if I would build it, I'd save on processor to get an AM3+ mobo, just so when Bulldozer comes the option to upgrade would be a lot cheaper.
 

AppleBlowsDonkeyBalls

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Great job, guys. Looks like you took my and others' recommendations to heart. :)

This has been the best $500 SBM build ever, from the CPU to the GPU to the motherboard.

The Phenom II X4 955 was overall the same speed as the Core i3-2100 stock, but overclocked it gained a good advantage. A 3.8GHz OC with a stock cooler is impressive, and the 2200MHz CPU-NB gave it a good boost in gaming and file compression.

At the target 1680x1050 and 1920x1080 gaming resolutions, much of the CPU limitations were eliminated and the Radeon HD 6870 shined through, especially when overclocked. All games were playable at both resolutions, though for titles like Metro 2033 you'd need to step down the settings a bit.

The motherboard is a much better choice than the one in the previous SBM, as it has a lot more features and expansion, not to mention a great price. The only negative thing I can say about it is that it won't support Bulldozer, while the other one would probably have support for Ivy Bridge.

The Power Supply is a great choice for only $45 and has much more headroom given the build, even though it had a lot less efficiency than the last, only consumed 317W at the wall for full system load.

I still find it impressive that you can get Memory for so cheap now. 4GB DDR3 is available for the price you could get 2GB earlier, and provides a good boost in multitasking and gaming. Overclocking the Memory doesn't provide a noticeable speed boost in anything other than synthetics, so I think it not going to DDR3-1600 speeds is not much to worry about.

The Hard Drive is standard fare and provides decent capacity, so not much to mention there. 500GB should be enough for a lot of games and media, and down the road an SSD could be bought to improve system responsiveness while having the Hard Drive for storage needs.

The Optical Drive is good, but I recommend for the next build you take a look at the Sony Optiarc as well. It has better read/write speeds as well as lower noise than the Samsung thanks mostly to its NEC chipset.

About the only thing I'd say was bad was the case, though I do understand that you're trying it out to see if it'd be better than the last one. The Xigmatek Asgard II is overall a better choice, and the HEC Blitz seems like a better choice than it though it costs $5 more. It comes with an intake and exhaust fan, and has many features.

Overall, I would have no qualms recommending a very similar system to a friend or family member looking for a cheap PC that can handle almost anything you can throw at it. Thanks for the great article.
 

AppleBlowsDonkeyBalls

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For the next one, since you've been doing $500 systems for quite a while now, I think $650 is a good price point. You'd be able to step up to a significantly faster Core i5-2400, and that CPU can be overclocked using Turbo to 3.8GHz on all cores/4GHz on a single core. To enable this you'd have to get a Z68 or P67 motherboard, and for ~$105 there's great choices like the AsRock Z68 PRO3 and the Gigabyte GA-P67A-D3-B3. They're also ATX and have many more modern features like SATA 6Gbps and USB 3.0 in comparison to budget H61 choices. Price would be $115 more in total than Phenom II X4 and AsRock M3A770DE, but you'd get much higher performance, efficiency, and features; it could end up being much better in bang-for-buck. The graphics card I think should be left the same. The GeForce GTX 560 Ti is a bit of a step up from the Radeon HD 6870, but the HD 6950 1GB is notably faster than the GTX 560 Ti and is only $10 more. At $240, though, it costs too much to be included. The remainder of the budget should be used to get a higher capacity Hard Drive like the Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB, a case that's a bit better, and perhaps 8GB DDR3 RAM if it fits the budget.
 

Onus

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I'd like to see the budget stay at $500. Since many people will still need to buy the OS and peripherals, you're probably looking at a $750-$800 overall budget, mostly depending on the size of the monitor; that's fairly steep in a tight economy. You might suggest where another $50-$100 could go, but otherwise I'd keep the hardware budget as low as possible.
 
Just stupid. The i3-2100/H61 makes much more sense for less moeny. Also gives Ivy Bridge upgrade path later down the road.

Instead they pick a non upgradeable motherboard. To make ANY sense at all this build would have to be on a AM3+ motherboard, which they could have found at the same price and give the platform an upgrade ability.
 
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I like this discussion (so far). I do think many of us would be well served by including two extra pages of suggestions from the builder.

First, a discussion of plausible performance upgrades in the +$150 range, that might be incorporated in the original build.

The second, a discussion of likely future upgrade options, as budget or developments permitted.

The difference between the two pages would be what you could likely accomplish with an extra $150 right now, vs what one might likely accomplish down the road, before, say, the MB with its registered OS became hopelessly dated.

Some of this is already being done by the author, and in discussion, but a more considered exploration of these options would be helpful.
 
I like the choice of a 6870 by going to a 955. I'm jealous you got 3.8Ghz with the stock cooler when I'm at 3.6 with a riffle cooler on my older C2 chip :p. It's a good value proposition for gaming as its generally a step up from an i3 with a 6850.

Even so, when you think about it AMDs Phenom IIs can really only compete with an i3 and pretty much leave he i5s and i7s untouched. This isn't going to change till Bulldozer comes out. Despite the fact that AMD integrated the memory controller onto the CPU die before Intel, it's disappointing to keep seeing them be behind in that area. I do hope that's one of the things improved in Bulldozer.
 
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How is this build better than the June build? It does better in some tests, worse others, and about the same in most (stock, not overclocked). BUT, it uses almost twice the power.
 

feeddagoat

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This just solved a question someone asked me =D they're looking for a new gaming rig and are trying to decide between a laptop and desktop. The biggest problem is convincing them what's better for their need, ie. intel i5 quads, aren't necessary for 1080p gaming and 2gb ram on the GPU isn't important at that res compared to the product number (core and shader count). I specced him a sandybridge pentium since I donno if he'll want over clocking and it strikes a nice balance, but thanks to this, switching to AMD and upping the GPU would be better if gaming is his primary concern is still a valid option especially if overclocked
 

iceveiled

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Interesting that a $500 PC can finally play Crysis maxed out at respectable gamer resolutions. Next up: Metro 2033. In 2 years.
 

zilnicra

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This 500 build is very similar to the build i put together last year. It was about 780 usd Shipped with win7. differences was i added a cpu cooler, a seasonic s12II 520 psu, and 880g mobo, a caviar black, a 5770 gpu, and (thankfully) a rosewill blackbone case. my mobo (ASUS) also oc'd the cpu to 3.85 automatically, and installed windows oc'd (there is an OC switch that I had apparantly left in the o/c position). Either way, its a solid build, quiet (near silent operation is important to everyone, regardless of what they "say") efficient and cool. plays every game i've thrown at it at 1080p and works just fine. BF3 might be a problem... time shop for a 6950 :)
 

hmp_goose

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[citation][nom]JustPlainJef[/nom]Personally, I'd really like to see multiple builds around a price point. I understand the budget, but if I can get 50% more performance out of another 25% on the cost, it's a worthy investment. What about having three people on staff pick different builds that all cost within $100 or $150 of each other. Comparing a $500 build to a $2000 build isn't very helpful. Three builds between $500 and $625 would be more helpful.[/citation]
How where the price points picked, again?

If there were builds every $200 from $400 to $1k, what would we learn?
 

decembermouse

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Thank you for undervolting. There really needs to be more focus on this in general; we could save so much on our electric bills, as well as lower our CPU temps (and thus the need for fans to spin so much), but I just don't see a large fraction of builders focusing on it these days. You really thought this build out, and I like the options you put forth.

[citation][nom]Martell77[/nom]@Cobra5000 - Are you really that happy that a stock SB I3 is beaten by a P-II x4 OC'd just past the AMD X4 top end proc? Ya, its 2 years old but the I3 isn't exactly a high end part. If the P-II had kept up or beaten a I5, then you should be cheering.[/citation]
I agree with both of you. Yes, it's an older CPU, but even today the i3-2100 costs $5 more than the Phenom II 955BE. I would say that cheering for a less-expensive processor beating a more expensive competitor is reasonable. I disagree that we should be comparing the Phenom II 955BE with any i5, as the cheapest i5 available costs $50 more than the 955BE. I mean, you're right in that a $125 CPU beating a $125 (or more) CPU would be reason to get excited, but I'm just pleased that a $120 CPU can beat a $125 CPU with a newer architecture, because of the implications. It's an indicator that AMD is still relevant and competitive, albeit a small one, but still encouraging.
 

AppleBlowsDonkeyBalls

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[citation][nom]GeekApproved[/nom]Just stupid. The i3-2100/H61 makes much more sense for less moeny. Also gives Ivy Bridge upgrade path later down the road. Instead they pick a non upgradeable motherboard. To make ANY sense at all this build would have to be on a AM3+ motherboard, which they could have found at the same price and give the platform an upgrade ability.[/citation]

Completely wrong. One, it costs more money since the i3 2100 costs $5 more than the X4 955, and two, the motherboards available from Intel have almost no features. For example, the most popular option now (AsRock H61M-VS) costs $55 but you get a Micro-ATX form factor and you give up a lot in terms of features. It only has one PCIe 2.0 slot, one PCIe X1, three audio ports and no optical/coaxial, 10/100 LAN, and USB 2.0 only. With the M3A770DE you get two PCIe 2.0 (one X16, one X4), three PCI, six audio ports AND optial/coaxial, 10/100/1000 LAN, USB 2.0 and eSATA. It's easily a better motherboard.

People that only have $500 to spend on a PC are not very likely to upgrade the CPU, especially when the upgrade is for a $150+ CPU (about the price BD will start at). Ivy Bridge support is nice on LGA 1155, but in reality it'll only have 5% higher or so IPC than Sandy Bridge, not to mention clock speeds won't go up significantly.
 
WOW! The $500 budget gaming PC is almost exactly like mine.
Same CPU
Same Motherboard
Same amount of RAM
Same size hard drive

Differences
My case is an Antec 300 -Better case (if you ask me)
My Power supply is 610w PC Power and Cooling -More Power
My RAM runs at 1600MHz -Mines a little faster
My video card is a 4870 -so mine is a little slower than this one

But hey... this way I can see what my frame rates would be if I installed a 6870! :)
 

decembermouse

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The expreview site won't load, but the Athlon 631 has a lower clock speed than the PII 955BE, and it lacks the 6MB L3 cache. However, the 631 does have 4MB L2 cache, where the 955BE only has 2MB. Still, I don't think it's going to beat the PII in any of these benchmarks. I can't argue for its value as a place-holder in an FM1 mobo until better processors are released, however, but the point of the build here was to get as much performance as possible for $500. Personally I might've gone with a strategy similar to what you suggested though, elbert.
 
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On the tests that are comparable, this machine and the $2000 Sept 2010 SBM (http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/overclock-cpu-build-a-pc,2700.html)seem to be basically equivalent. Maybe the 2010 was just a horribly awful build, but I think it shows how much value is in this one.
 
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