System Builder Marathon, March 2010: $750 Gaming PC



Three processing cores and fairly high 2.9 GHz stock core speeds allow the Athlon II X3 435 to put up a good show for such an affordable CPU. But with stock benchmarks out of the way, we certainly wanted to see what sort of extra performance could be squeezed out of our $750 system.

As we have often stated, overclocking is luck of the draw and results vary from chip to chip. Our Athlon II came with a high 1.425V VID, meaning we wouldn’t be pushing more than about 5% (0.075V) more volts when dialing in our overclock.

This isn’t a Black Edition chip, so core speeds are raised by increasing the reference clock from the stock 200 MHz. For additional information on how to do this, refer to our guide on overclocking a locked AMD processor.

Here the fun all begins within Gigabyte’s MB Intelligent Tweaker (M.I.T.) BIOS menu. We lowered the CPU northbridge frequency, HyperTransport link frequency, CPU clock ratio multipliers (as well as the memory clock ratio), and then proceeded to find the maximum reference clock for our motherboard and CPU combo. Testing halted upon reaching a stable 300 MHz, as we knew this was beyond necessary given the high available 14.5x CPU multiplier.

Attention now turns toward finding the maximum core speed for our three-core Athlon II CPU. At stock 1.425V, we find stability at 3.5 GHz (14 x 250 MHz). A 0.075V bump in the CPU voltage control and CPU northbridge VID control (to 1.5V and 1.25V, respectively) gives us a maximum stable overclock of 3,668 MHz. It doesn't matter whether "14 x 262 MHz" or "14.5 x 253 MHz" is used, so we have both options available for memory and northbridge tweaking. While these aren’t outstanding results, they fall right in line with the majority of test samples used in launch reviews.

Despite the 1.5V rating of our G.Skill Ripjaws, the lowest available DDR voltage in Gigabyte’s F3 BIOS was 1.6V. After a boost to 1.65V, we still had no luck with stable RAM frequency above DDR3-1659, so extra performance was instead gained by running DDR3-1396 at reduced 7-8-7-15 timings, as well as jacking the northbridge frequency up to 2,620 MHz.

As mentioned above, these Sapphire Radeon HD 4850s were already slightly overclocked out of the box. But both of these cards have far more to give, and are stable all the way up to Catalyst Control Center's maximum 700 MHz GPU core and 1,200 MHz (2,400 MHz effective) memory. Considering the exact limit was unknown, the memory was knocked down 20 MHz for performance testing.

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  • pertshire
    Cool, I didn't realised athlon IIs can be unlocked. Is there a good chance for the x2 too?
  • donovands
    I'd say go for the $500 gaming machine. I'm interested in what kind of performance such a small budget can give.
  • Anonymous
    I would really like to see a $500 pc
  • 3lslaine
    I have the athlon 2 425 which i managed to unlock to a phenom x4 with 6mb of level 3 cache . i also have 2 4850s in xfire :)
  • Vort3x
    Yes go for the 500$ i agree.Still coming out of the recession budget is still an issue for the masses of gamers out there
  • megafreak
    God you americans get things cheap. The UK equivalent of newegg sells 4GB DDR3 1333 for £100 which should be about $150 thanks to recession, but before that it would be more like $170.
  • pac_71
    Hmmm depressing. Priced component for component here in AU and came to $1500 from mainstream suppliers!!!

    Admittedly they are with old RRP pricing on the 4850's so they could be replaced (say 2x5750) saving $500.

    BTW are prices in US$ or EU$ and where are the components sourced?
  • Anonymous
    MegaFreak is right. UK prices are certainly higher than that.
    I have recently discovered It lets you compare different system specs against performance and even throws in some modern games for comparison. Quite handy when you know what you are interested in.
  • Anonymous
    For any interersted here is a link to the site i mentioned
    PC-Specs. It says that my machine is getting 3.5 stars out of 5 and that I can play 95% of games released over the past 12 months. No need to upgrade yet then i reckon.
  • audiovoodoo
    BTW are prices in US$ or EU$ and where are the components sourced?

    The EU countries use the euro (€) and not the dollar. Here in the UK we still use real money (£). Unless they say otherwise (and I've never seen them do this) Toms is always in US$
  • loraline1
    For that money, I built myself a slightly different system. I have to admit, I got everything 2nd hand, but all was still fairly new and in excellent condition.

    Not sure if the states have that good a market for 2nd hand components, but here in Europe, the market is good. It took me 4 months to get all the components I wanted and all is running fine @W7.

    system :

    Chieftec Mesh Ca-01
    Amd Phenom II x3 720be
    MSI 790FX-GD70

    OCZ Gold LV 6G (OCZ3G1333LV6GK)
    +Kingston VR 1333 cl9 2G

    Coolermaster RealPower 550W
    Sapphire HD 4870 1GB GDDR5 PCI-E

    Plextor PX-760SA 18x
    WD CG 500/750GB