System Builder Marathon, June 2011: $500 Gaming PC

Assembly And Overclocking


Similar to last quarter, there is very little to note when it comes to putting this machine together. Basically, the same Asgard II enclosure-related notations from March also apply to this build. Prepping the case consists of breaking out the rear slot covers to make room for our Radeon HD 6850 and snapping off the removable front bezel to aid in mounting the DVD burner. Once again, a 5 mm nut driver is required to thread some of the black standoffs into the painted motherboard tray.

Look closely; yes, there is a motherboard in there somewhere. Fellow system builder Thomas Soderstrom may get to play with all the expensive toys, but he could only dream of having this much extra working space in his $2000 rigs. Admittedly, the winner of this system will want to show off the machine’s gaming abilities and not its (lack of) internal congestion.

The microATX motherboard and efficient Sandy Bridge-based processor gave us the opportunity to revisit a portable gaming rig (at least on paper), but a $30 price tag and ample ventilation steered us back to the mid-tower Xigmatek enclosure.


There's not a ton to discuss here, due to a fixed CPU multiplier and no base clock adjustment. A maximum memory frequency of 1333 MT/s meant that all we could tweak in ASRock's BIOS was higher voltages to push lower latencies. While 7-8-7-20 timings were successful though multiple passes of Memtest 86+, a bump up to 1.65 V was needed for complete stability in Windows. It just isn’t worth getting crazy on system memory voltage, so we dropped back to 1.6 V and settled for the same 8-8-8-24 timings we used in March. 

Last quarter's Radeon HD 6850 from Sapphire topped out at disappointing 820 MHz core and 1130 MHz (4520 MT/s) memory clock rates, and was dialed back to 800 MHz and 1100 MHz for testing purposes. Today's sample fares much better, soaring to AMD Overdrive’s maximum 850 MHz core clock speed, and a respectable 1170 MHz memory frequency. There's a good chance we could have gone further using a utility like MSI's Afterburner. However, seeing that we already topped the previous card in a big way, we retained the 850 MHz core speed and backed the memory down to 1150 MHz (4600 MT/s).

Before heading into our gaming benchmarks we’ll take a look at the test system and benchmark configurations. Make note that this current system not only benefits from more aggressive GPU overclocking, but it also utilizes newer Catalyst graphics drivers.

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  • veroxious
    I think all the choices made were correct in the overall context of budget. There is only 1 component choice that puzzled me. Why a 6850 and not a gtx460 which arguably has more overclocking headroom?

    That being said I cannot emphasise enough how much more bang for the buck can be had by spending up to $150 more. This is ofcourse for the readers as you have a strict budget to follow.