The $500 PC Challenge.

In response to the Conference Call a few weeks back I took the challenge to see just how effective at modern gaming a "$500" PC really is. I looked at a few options and came up with this build which I believe would give the overall best performance at a $500 cap. Note I cheated a bit in not including an OS in this build so in reality this would really create havoc on this build as the $90 Microsoft charges for an OS license would all but cripple this build.

http://pcpartpicker.com/p/Nby7pg

As it stands I'm still about $17 over $500 but as prices fluctuate I believe its doable to find very similar online at this price as well you could really "cheap" out on the case and save $20. I put the parts together on Sunday and started installing OS and downloading the sample of games I would play and test.

IMAGE(http://imagizer.imageshack.us/v2/1024x768q90/840/tnj9.jpg)
IMAGE(http://imagizer.imageshack.us/v2/1024x768q90/829/puit.jpg)
IMAGE(http://imagizer.imageshack.us/v2/1024x768q90/840/ixu9.jpg)

As you can see I substituted some parts with what I had laying around rather than buying the parts listed in the build. I did this only where it would be "non-performance" impacting. So the PSU and CPU cooler as well as some case fans.

Things to note from day 1.

"Cheap" cases really suck! I cut myself 2 times on this cases working inside it. I'm so used to more expensive cases that have everything rounded and clean. Additionally the layout of this case made it impossible to route the 8 Pin ATX Power cable behind the case and above the mobo so I had to run it along the top (awful). Spacing is really tight everywhere so cable management will be a challenge once I think it through.. The HD Audio header was bizarrely placed near the CPU on this motherboard so that cable was routed underneath the GPU.

HD's are painful once you get used to SSD's everywhere.

Wow this PC is whisper quiet! I guess having a 260x instead of 3 monster GPU's makes a huge difference in noise levels.

More to come.

I'm looking forward to the results of this. I'm hoping to build out a new PC within the year, and I'd love to be able to keep it under $750. Actually, I'd be fine keeping it under ~$1100, but my wife would prefer $750.

Can't wait to hear how this ends up! I've thought about throwing ~$800 at a new PC, but I might learn some things here to bring that down a bit.

only thing I would change in that build would be the processor, the http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc... from intel is a real st eal at 75 and is unlocked and very overclockable.

I'm also very keen to see how this goes -- I'm hoping to build a new HTPC soon, and the specs will look a lot like this. My build is going to cost a little more, because I want a small mini-ITX case (almost certainly a Node 304) and a GTX 750Ti card (for its better Linux support), but performance-wise it's going to be very similar I'm sure.

I know it won't be a powerhouse, but I'm hoping it'll more than handle the kinds of (mostly indie) games I've been playing lately, some emulators (particularly Dolphin) and a few AAA titles (or at least, whichever ones make the jump to Linux!).

Blotto The Clown wrote:

only thing I would change in that build would be the processor, the http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc... from intel is a real st eal at 75 and is unlocked and very overclockable.

I thought about it.. but it ended up only $45 cheaper than the i3-4150 which for the purposes of this build made more sense (faster without OC has 4 threads vs 2 and especially important with a budget for no extra CPU cooling). If the savings were enough to buy the AMD 270x it would have made perfect sense.

As it is I have a 4GB 270X as well that I will be also using to see how much difference going from the 260X to 270X makes. (Faster GPU as well as 4GB vs 2GB, I also have a second 260X I will crossfire to test that)

That's the cost without operating system right? So we're talking $600 system unless you game on linux.

Here's Tom's Hardware $500 budget gaming system ($600 with Windows 8):
http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/...

It would be neat to check what you're benching in FPS compared to their quarter finalist.

I usually build around the $1500 mark every couple years and transfer over another $1500 worth of reusable parts (1.2Kw PSU, Custom Copper Blocks, Radiators, Blu-Ray burner, Vertex SSDs, Misc Peripherals). I have an outlet though to resell my old systems, so they only end up costing about $300/year to own.

The problem I have is with the overclocking I got on the 2700k (4.5Ghz) and 6950 (6970 unlocked BIOS) crossfire, there's isn't a reasonably better system yet (FPS is still 60+ without shadows at 2560x1600) and I am going on 4 years on the same build. My typical average is 2-3 year rebuild.

I also dred moving the water loop every time, but I've gone to server tower cases for the space. I find scrapped server cases from businesses switching to racks for the cheap and these things are built like brick houses. If you don't plan on moving your system and it sits on the floor, I highly recommend old steel used server cases. Plenty of room to mount a 3 fan radiator and a 2 fan radiator (Thermochill 120.3 and 120.2 PA). You also get all the room in the world for cable management and enough drive bays for mass storage.

This is a really interesting project. I haven't listened to the Conference Call in question, so did the $500 PC challenge come from a comparison with the PS4 and Xbox One?

I look forward to seeing the benchmarks!

ClockworkHouse wrote:

This is a really interesting project. I haven't listened to the Conference Call in question, so did the $500 PC challenge come from a comparison with the PS4 and Xbox One?

Basically, yeah. They were talking about a $500 PC being the wiser choice between a PC or new console because the price was about the same and the versatility and gaming catalogue for the PC left the consoles in the dust. Some disputed that a $500 PC could really run newer games on high settings as the consoles claim they can do. The magical $500 Steam box was also mentioned and some doubts were expressed that you could build a good gaming PC for $500.

Kehama wrote:
ClockworkHouse wrote:

This is a really interesting project. I haven't listened to the Conference Call in question, so did the $500 PC challenge come from a comparison with the PS4 and Xbox One?

Basically, yeah. They were talking about a $500 PC being the wiser choice between a PC or new console because the price was about the same and the versatility and gaming catalogue for the PC left the consoles in the dust. Some disputed that a $500 PC could really run newer games on high settings as the consoles claim they can do. The magical $500 Steam box was also mentioned and some doubts were expressed that you could build a good gaming PC for $500.

That makes sense. Also worth considering is how well this $500 gaming PC (which still doesn't include an OS or control method) will run new releases in five years when the launch day consoles are still going strong.

Still, there are a number of PC games I'd love to play, so I'm keenly interested in how well a $500 gaming machine would actually perform with a variety of titles. I'm really looking forward to how this project shakes down.

I'm really interested to see the results of your test comparisons on this, GG. Thanks for doing a thread to track the project!

That's the cost without operating system right? So we're talking $600 system unless you game on linux.

Here's Tom's Hardware $500 budget gaming system ($600 with Windows 8):
http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/...

It would be neat to check what you're benching in FPS compared to their quarter finalist.

I thought about the R265 its fairly newish and should sit between the R260x and the R270x at around $10-$20 more than the 260x. I will probably pick one of them up as well and throw it in the mix.

There was a guy who blogs on Forbes that built a mini gaming PC that seems pretty similar. Only difference is he went with an Nvidia card and put a core-i5 in it as it was going to be a primary gaming machine. Anyone looking for something smaller should be able to mesh these two builds together and come up with a nice steam box/HTPC.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jasoneva...

Got really excited when I heard you were going to be doing this TheGameguru. Glad to see a thread up on it now. Looking forward to the benchmarks.

His is way over $500 though...without an OS license as well... I was already cheating so his build is really just a $750 build which is a ton more flexible.

TheGameguru wrote:

His is way over $500 though...without an OS license as well... I was already cheating so his build is really just a $750 build which is a ton more flexible.

I think pricing the box without an OS is fair for the spirit of the competition. Steambox or a console will not be running windows, they will be linux based. Steam has expressed a large desire to move compatibility for a lot of titles to linux.

Windows would be an added feature/option with a real pc (a significant one at that), but not necessarily a requirement to try and push apples to apples.

GoldenDog wrote:

I think pricing the box without an OS is fair for the spirit of the competition. Steambox or a console will not be running windows, they will be linux based.

But isn't the argument that the versatility and depth of the PC greatly outclasses the consoles? By going with Linux, you're lopping a lot of that out.

ClockworkHouse wrote:

But isn't the argument that the versatility and depth of the PC greatly outclasses the consoles? By going with Linux, you're lopping a lot of that out.

That's a good question and I think it would be partial to how Steam swings things with their box. If Steam can get companies to release ToGL versions (Converting Microsoft DirectX, Direct3d to OpenGL), gaming on Linux may become competitive.

http://www.extremetech.com/gaming/17...

I certainly don't expect the Steam Box to run anything more than Steam, whereas Ubuntu or Mint come with a full productivity suite (Open Office, Firefox, VLC Media Player, File-Sharing/Storage, Printer Capability, Disc-Burning, Remote Desktop, VPN). A custom rig would also be easier to upgrade and have multi-screen support.

So my answer is... I dunno lol. Today? Yes, Windows is better. Tomorrow? Maybe not.

If Steam gets this ToGL thing to catch on (especially for DirectX 11+), I may very well have a linux gaming box myself.

ClockworkHouse wrote:
GoldenDog wrote:

I think pricing the box without an OS is fair for the spirit of the competition. Steambox or a console will not be running windows, they will be linux based.

But isn't the argument that the versatility and depth of the PC greatly outclasses the consoles? By going with Linux, you're lopping a lot of that out.

Yes and no. While there are still plenty of games that won't play with linux nicely, the last few years have seen HUGE wins for linux gamers. A lot of it has been spurred by the more successful indie titles, but the fact that games like XCOM and Civ V got linux ports is huge. 5 years ago, linux gamers would have expected to spend days trying to make those happen in wine or some other way.

skylarhawk wrote:
ClockworkHouse wrote:
GoldenDog wrote:

I think pricing the box without an OS is fair for the spirit of the competition. Steambox or a console will not be running windows, they will be linux based.

But isn't the argument that the versatility and depth of the PC greatly outclasses the consoles? By going with Linux, you're lopping a lot of that out.

Yes and no. While there are still plenty of games that won't play with linux nicely, the last few years have seen HUGE wins for linux gamers. A lot of it has been spurred by the more successful indie titles, but the fact that games like XCOM and Civ V got linux ports is huge. 5 years ago, linux gamers would have expected to spend days trying to make those happen in wine or some other way.

I think if you are building a gaming computer to be used in place of a console you have to include the hidden costs. At this point Windows is a must, keyboard and mouse are needed (long range Wireless if used in TV room situation), and a wireless controller is highly recommended. If you take out Windows, you are taking out a majority of the Steam catalog that includes most of the AAA titles people would want to play.

EvilDead wrote:

[...]

I think if you are building a gaming computer to be used in place of a console you have to include the hidden costs. At this point Windows is a must, a long range wireless keyboard and mouse are needed, and a wireless controller is highly recommended. If you take out Windows, you are taking out a majority of the Steam catalog that includes most of the AAA titles people would want to play.

That's entirely fair. If it's a console replacement, it's hardly apples to apples without all the AAAs. But in another 5 years, it wouldn't surprise me if linux was a viable option even there.

skylarhawk wrote:

That's entirely fair. If it's a console replacement, it's hardly apples to apples without all the AAAs. But in another 5 years, it wouldn't surprise me if linux was a viable option even there.

And your $500 PC will be be obsolete...

EvilDead wrote:
skylarhawk wrote:

That's entirely fair. If it's a console replacement, it's hardly apples to apples without all the AAAs. But in another 5 years, it wouldn't surprise me if linux was a viable option even there.

And your $500 PC will be be obsolete... :D

Haha, clearly. Sorry, I'm not really contributing to the topic I guess. More just expressing how impressed I am at the how the PC gaming environment is evolving to be more inclusive.

Definitely, it is better then ever. I have been pretty impressed with Steam in big picture mode my HTPC (that I bought from Gameguru!) What I'm really hoping Valve adds next is support for multiple account logins when playing local multi-player.

Edit: If you haven't listened to the podcast, there was some discussion on the PC being a valid alternative to a console at a similar price point. This thread is in response to that.

Ah, I see... I'm a few weeks behind now, but it makes sense. I'll have to get caught back up for a little more context.

EvilDead wrote:
skylarhawk wrote:
ClockworkHouse wrote:
GoldenDog wrote:

I think pricing the box without an OS is fair for the spirit of the competition. Steambox or a console will not be running windows, they will be linux based.

But isn't the argument that the versatility and depth of the PC greatly outclasses the consoles? By going with Linux, you're lopping a lot of that out.

Yes and no. While there are still plenty of games that won't play with linux nicely, the last few years have seen HUGE wins for linux gamers. A lot of it has been spurred by the more successful indie titles, but the fact that games like XCOM and Civ V got linux ports is huge. 5 years ago, linux gamers would have expected to spend days trying to make those happen in wine or some other way.

I think if you are building a gaming computer to be used in place of a console you have to include the hidden costs. At this point Windows is a must, keyboard and mouse are needed (long range Wireless if used in TV room situation), and a wireless controller is highly recommended. If you take out Windows, you are taking out a majority of the Steam catalog that includes most of the AAA titles people would want to play.

If you factor those things in, then you might have to factor in Live and PS+ over the expected console lives...

It never ends

Is there any performance gain in going used on some compone? For instance, is someone was upgrading a last-generation i5 and 1155-socket mobo, could that compete with this i3?

I am precisely in this $500 market as my boy has $500 he wants to spend on a PC. We can help with some stuff (e.g., OS, k+m, an older display, etc.), but I want the hardware to be his.

But it needn't be new, merely capable. I know that strays from the challenge ideal but wonder if it's a way to go.

The last few generations of Intel chips haven't improved very much. There was a huge stride forward with Sandy Bridge, the 25XX and 26XX series, and the subsequent iterations, Ivy Bridge and Haswell, haven't been especially impressive. Each generation is 10% or so faster, clock for clock, than the prior one. (so a Haswell at 4GHz will be maybe 10% faster than an Ivy Bridge at 4GHz.)

I wrote a longer explanation, but then realized that you don't really need it, just the tl;dr: if that's a Sandy or Ivy Bridge i5, it'll make a fine backbone for a gaming machine, as long as you put a good video card in it.

There was one generation of i5 that was notably slower: if your i5 has a three-digit model number (something like, say, an 840), tell us what it is, and we can check to see how good it is. If it's a 4-digit model number, you should be fine.

Actually, you know what? Either way, go ahead and tell us the model number of the chip. It'll just take a second to check it, and be certain.

MannishBoy wrote:
EvilDead wrote:
skylarhawk wrote:
ClockworkHouse wrote:
GoldenDog wrote:

I think pricing the box without an OS is fair for the spirit of the competition. Steambox or a console will not be running windows, they will be linux based.

But isn't the argument that the versatility and depth of the PC greatly outclasses the consoles? By going with Linux, you're lopping a lot of that out.

Yes and no. While there are still plenty of games that won't play with linux nicely, the last few years have seen HUGE wins for linux gamers. A lot of it has been spurred by the more successful indie titles, but the fact that games like XCOM and Civ V got linux ports is huge. 5 years ago, linux gamers would have expected to spend days trying to make those happen in wine or some other way.

I think if you are building a gaming computer to be used in place of a console you have to include the hidden costs. At this point Windows is a must, keyboard and mouse are needed (long range Wireless if used in TV room situation), and a wireless controller is highly recommended. If you take out Windows, you are taking out a majority of the Steam catalog that includes most of the AAA titles people would want to play.

If you factor those things in, then you might have to factor in Live and PS+ over the expected console lives...

It never ends :)

An operating system and any input method at all seem a bit more crucial to me than multiple years of optional multiplayer fees, but maybe I'm not being fair.

ClockworkHouse wrote:
MannishBoy wrote:
EvilDead wrote:
skylarhawk wrote:
ClockworkHouse wrote:
GoldenDog wrote:

I think pricing the box without an OS is fair for the spirit of the competition. Steambox or a console will not be running windows, they will be linux based.

But isn't the argument that the versatility and depth of the PC greatly outclasses the consoles? By going with Linux, you're lopping a lot of that out.

Yes and no. While there are still plenty of games that won't play with linux nicely, the last few years have seen HUGE wins for linux gamers. A lot of it has been spurred by the more successful indie titles, but the fact that games like XCOM and Civ V got linux ports is huge. 5 years ago, linux gamers would have expected to spend days trying to make those happen in wine or some other way.

I think if you are building a gaming computer to be used in place of a console you have to include the hidden costs. At this point Windows is a must, keyboard and mouse are needed (long range Wireless if used in TV room situation), and a wireless controller is highly recommended. If you take out Windows, you are taking out a majority of the Steam catalog that includes most of the AAA titles people would want to play.

If you factor those things in, then you might have to factor in Live and PS+ over the expected console lives...

It never ends :)

An operating system and any input method at all seem a bit more crucial to me than multiple years of optional multiplayer fees, but maybe I'm not being fair. ;)

Depends on what you plan to do. If you plan to play MP games and you're doing a fair comparison for your use case, you'd have to include them. The PC won't have those fees outside of things like MMORPGs. If you're a SP gamer only, those services don't matter, unless you feel you will get enough benefits from the "free" games.

But then if you consider that, you then have to think about price differentials between console games and sales and PC game prices. So Steam sales, GMG, Humble, etc, vs the more limited console markets.

My point was you'd never be able to say exactly which is a better buy for everybody by pure dollar amounts, because there are too many variables.

MannishBoy wrote:

If you factor those things in, then you might have to factor in Live and PS+ over the expected console lives...

Yep... I think cost without OS is a good measurement, some people will have an OS already, and even if you don't and your goal is to compare to console cost, factoring in 2-3 years of Live/PS+ balances it out.