AMD Entry-level Gaming: $500
Our entry level PC is designed for the gamer on a tight budget. This system will play most modern games on high settings with 2xAA/8xAF and some at up to 4xAA/16xAF.
As always when specíing out our upgrade builds, we start with the GPU we want to go with followed closely by the CPU, and then build the rest of the system around those two core components until everything works within the intended budget.
Right from the get go we knew we wanted to opt for ATIís Radeon 4850 GPU. Launched over a year ago, the Radeon 4850 is a tremendous performer that can handle most games at high quality settings, even with antialiasing and anisotropic filtering enabled. We prefer the Radeon 4850 over the GeForce GTS 250 at this time due to its lower price tag and better performance under 8xAA. Yes, in older games you can crank the AA all the way up to 8xMSAA and the 4850 still delivers very playable performance. This is particularly feasible at the 1600x1200 (or 1680x1050) resolution our entry level PC would be gaming at. We chose the ASUS card in particular because of its low price, dual DVIs, and dual-slot cooler. If youíre willing to deal with mail-in rebates, MSIís R4850-2D512-OC would be our top choice. Itís factory OCíed, and has beefier 4+1 phase power, along with MSIís seaweed blade fan. We reviewed MSIís equivalent 4830 board back in December and loved it.
As an added bonus, itís actually slightly cheaper than the ASUS card after rebate: $89.99.
The next component, AMDís Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition was another no-brainer. As its name implies, the Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition is based on the exact same 45-nm Deneb core AMD uses in their latest Phenom II processors. The only difference is AMD activates two processing cores, leaving two cores disabled. Because itís based on the same core as AMDís other Phenom II parts, the same key architecture features carry over unchanged. The chip features 64KB of L1 cache per core for data and instructions (256KB L1 total) and 512KB of L2 cache per core for a grand total of 1MB of L2 cache active on the processor. The L3 cache carries over unchanged, with the Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition sporting 6MB of L3 cache shared amongst the processors two cores.
AMD clocks the chip at 3.1GHz, with the chip featuring a 15.5x multiplier. Keep in mind that as a Black Edition CPU, the multiplier is unlocked and can be adjusted to whatever setting you wish when OCíing.
For the motherboard, we chose the Gigabyte GA-MA770T-UD3P. We reviewed this motherboard a few weeks ago and found it delivered solid performance with a robust BIOS and good feature set.
G.SKILLís DDR3-1333 memory kit is the cheapest available on Newegg right now. G.SKILL also offers DDR3-1600 memory modules that are priced similarly, but we opted for the 1333MHz modules due to their lower latency.
NZXTís Beta case is pretty popular among enthusiasts on a budget right now. The case boasts a perfect score on Newegg and has room for up to four 120mm case fans. Itís also offered with a $10 mail-in rebate right now, bringing the total price down to $39.99 if you donít mind waiting for your rebate check to arrive.
To go alongside the Beta case, we chose a slightly less powerful PSU from Cooler Master due to its better power ratings on the 3.3V and 5V rails. Note that ATI officially recommends a minimum of a 450W PSU for the 4850, so weíre just getting by in this regard, but again, the 460W Cooler Master actually has better specs than comparably-priced 500W PSUs. We acknowledge that this is one of the key weaknesses of our system, so if you can afford to spend a little more on this component, weíd highly recommend it. A 600W PSU would be a good starting point.
In terms of the CPU and GPU, we wouldnít recommend any other alternatives at this price point. However, as we mentioned you could save a little money by opting for the MSI 4850 card if youíre willing to deal with rebates.
Another big area you could save a little money on is switching from the AM3 platform we used, and reverting down to AM2+. Gigabyteí GA-MA770-UD3 is actually $5 cheaper than the GA-MA770T. Youíd also be able to save on the DDR2 memory. G.SKILL offers 4GB DDR2-800 kits for as low as $46.99.
In exchange, you could then opt for a more powerful PSU or get a good CPU cooler.
We actually debated long and hard about making this AM2+ setup the primary $500 AMD build, but ultimately opted for the newer AM3 platform. As DDR3 prices continue to fall, the AM2+ platform will be phased out. We figured we may as well go ahead and get on the boat.