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Budget Gaming System Guide: The Right Mix Makes All the Difference
George Ross, January 25, 2009

In 2008 AMD released the 4800 series of GPU's this simultaneously drove video card prices down and reestablished AMD as a serious contender in the GPU market against NVIDIA. At the same time Intel has continued its dominance in the realm of CPU's and is now starting to see its older batch of CPU's becoming a competitor against its newest line of CPU's. This has taken processor prices down for the older generation of chips just to get them off the market so Intel can move on. This all adds up to a rare point in history were building a computer system for gaming doesn't break the bank.

The CPU Intel's Core 2 Duo E7300
The Core 2 line of CPU's has been a wonderful product for Intel. So much in fact Intel is now seeing hard to deliver newer technologies to the masses. The Core 2 Duo E7300 is priced right at $120, and features a clock speed of 2.66GHz with 3MB of cache. This is plenty of computational power to play the latest titles. What's more is that the Core 2 line of CPU's are well known for there overclocking potential. The Core 2 E7300 that was used in this guide overclocked to 3.2GHz without an increase in voltage.

The CPU Cooler Zalman's CNPS9500
Most retail boxed processors come with a CPU cooler so why would you want to buy a third party solution? The answer is overclocking. If you plan to overclock your CPU make sure that you have adequate cooling or risk harming your CPU. There are a wide range of CPU coolers out there so there is a little room here to save money buy purchasing a CPU cooler that costs a little less than the $50 required for the CNPS9500. Just be sure that it can handle the access heat involved with overclcoking if you plan to do so.

The Motherboard Foxconn's P45A-S
The big thing you want to look out for when purchasing a motherboard is the chipset. Intel's P45 chipset has proven to be the way to go when building overclocked or gaming systems. The Foxconn P45A-S is a superb $120 motherboard with some good features such as external S-ATA, plenty of USB headers, IEEE 1394, and CrossFireX support (2 slots running x8). Here again there is a little wiggle room to save some cash as a P45 motherboard can be picked up for a little as $80. Just don't expect all the bells and whistles.

The Memory GeIL Evo One 4GB DDR2 1066
DDR2 memory is very cheap right now. While you do not have to use this specific type of memory it is a good idea not to buy the dirt cheapest memory you can find. As that memory will most likely have higher latencies and higher voltages. The Geil Evo One 4GB DDR2 1066 memory that was used in this guide sports 5-5-5-15 latencies at 2.1-2.3V. Not bad for $98 memory.

The Video Card AMD's Radeon HD 4850
When building a gaming system the one component that influences overall gaming performance is the video card. The HD 4850 is a great video card and can be had for $150 with a quality GPU cooler already installed. The HD 4850 that was used in this guide was cooled by Arctic Cooling's Accelero S1 rev. 2 and overclocked to 710MHz core and 1100MHz (2200 DDR) memory. The HD 4850 allows you to play all the latest tiles at reasonable settings.

The Hard Dive Seagate's ST3500320AS 500GB 32MB cache 7200 RPM
This hard drive is getting hard to find because of its low price and stellar performance. In fact I used the $75 price tag of a similar hard drive from Western Digital as Newegg no longer sells the ST3500320AS. The main thing you should be concerned about when selecting a hard drive is capacity. Make sure you have enough room to store all the stuff you have acquired over the years.

The Optical Drive Pioneer's DVR-215DBK
Today your basic DVD burner can be had for cheap allowing $30 can get you a great DVD burner. If you want Blue-ray you are looking at a price premium of at least $50 over the $30 for a fast DVD burner. So the main question here is to Blue-ray or not to Blue-ray.

The Floppy Drive/Memory Card Reader Nippon Labs ICR-EE
The floppy drive is fast going the way of the dodo and many are using the more traditional external 3.5' drive bay for a more useful memory card reader. I say you can have the best of both worlds for the sum of $25.

The Power Supply FSP Group's FSP400-60GLN
The FSP400-60GLN is getting hard to find nowadays and is being replaced buy the SAGA+ 400R. This power supply can be had for a little as $40. Something you may want to pay attention to is future upgrading. Are you going to add another HD 4850 for CrssFireX or go with a beefier GPU in the foreseeable future? If so you may want to put a little bit more money into your power supply selection.

The Case Cooler Master's Centurion 590
I have gone over the Centurion 590 in more detail here. For $60 it is hard to pass up this case. The Centurion 590 allows for a good amount of air to flow over those hot components like the CPU, GPU, and chipset. It is also a well designed case that allows for easy component installation. Here again is a good place to shave a few dollars of the price of a new gaming system. Be aware that cheaper cases are often times cheap for a reason.

Test Hardware with Prices
The budget gaming system was compared to a more powerful and more expensive 3.6GHz quad core gaming rig. Here are the particulars.

Processor Intel Core 2 Duo E7300 @ 2.66GHz
Intel Core 2 Duo E7300 @ 3.2GHz
Intel Core 2 Quad Q6700 @ 3.6GHz
Processor Cooler Zalman CNPS9500
Zalman CNPS9700 LED
Motherboard Foxconn P45A-S
Memory GeIL Evo One 4GB DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500) @ 400MHz (800 DDR) 5-5-5-15 Dual Channel Mode
GeIL Evo One 4GB DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500) @ 481MHz (962 DDR) 5-5-5-15 Dual Channel Mode
OCZ 4GB DDR3 1600 (PC2 12800) @ 720 MHz (DDR 1440) 7-7-7-28 Dual Channel Mode
Hard Drive Seagate ST3500320AS 500GB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s
Seagate Seagate Barracuda ES.2 ST3250310NS 250GB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s
Video Cards SAPPHIRE Radeon HD 4850 @ 625MHz core and 900MHz (1800 DDR) memory
Catalyst 8.12
SAPPHIRE Radeon HD 4850 @ 710MHz core and 1100MHz (2200 DDR) memory
Catalyst 8.12
POWERCOLOR Radeon HD 4870 @ 750MHz core and 900MHz (1800 DDR) memory
Catalyst 8.12
Optical Disk Drive Pioneer DVR-215DBK
Floppy Drive Nippon Labs ICR-EE
Power Supply FSP Group 400W
Rosewill RX750-S-B 750W
Case Cooler Master Centurion 590
Operating System Windows Vista Ultimate x64
Shipping $40 $43
Total Price $988 $1,281

Gaming Benchmarks

Of course the 3.6GHz quad core system bests both the budget setups. The 3.6GHz quad core setup has a 41% lead in overall average FPS over the budget setup at stock speeds. Things look a lot better when the budget system is overclocked it manages to shorten the gap between it and the 3.6GHz quad core setup by 20% leaving only a 21% lead in overall average FPS for the 3.6GHz quad core setup.

Power Consumption
And of course the more performance you have the more power consumption you have.


If you are in the market for a new gaming system than you are in luck as current market conditions favor you the consumer. Here is something else to consider. Using the 3.6GHz quad core numbers as a reference you get 82% of the performance (when overclocked) of the 3.6GHz quad core setup with only 77% of the cost. Hopefully this guide has helped you if you are in the market for such things.

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