System Configurations

AMD Sempron 754 System
Hardware Component Price
Processor Sempron 64 3100+ (256KB Cache 1.80 GHz) $84.00
Motherboard DFI nForce4 Infinity 4X $75.00
Memory 2x512MB Patriot DDR-400 Extreme Performance XBL (2-2-2-10-2T) $139.00
Video Card XFX GeForce 7600GT XXX 256MB (590/1600) $192.00
Hard Drive Western Digital SATA3.0Gbps 250GB 7200RPM 16MB Caviar SE16 $83.00
Optical Drive NEC 3550A 16X DVD+/-RW $35.00
Case and PSU Generic case with iCute 400W PSU (Purchased Locally) $50.00
Bottom Line $658.00


AMD Sempron AM2 System
Hardware Component Price
Processor Sempron 64 3400+ (256KB Cache 1.80 GHz) $95.00
Motherboard Biostar TForce 550 $85.00
Memory 2x512MB OCZ PC-6400 EL Gold $111.00
Video Card XFX GeForce 7600GT XXX 256MB (590/1600) $192.00
Hard Drive Western Digital SATA3.0Gbps 250GB 7200RPM 16MB Caviar SE16 $83.00
Optical Drive NEC 3550A 16X DVD+/-RW $35.00
Case and PSU Generic case with iCute 400W PSU (Purchased Locally) $50.00
Bottom Line $651.00


Intel Budget System
Hardware Component Price
Processor Pentium D 805 (2x1MB Cache 2.66 GHz 533FSB) $108.00
Motherboard Biostar TForce4U-775 $85.00
Memory 2x512MB OCZ PC-6400 EL Gold $111.00
Video Card XFX GeForce 7600GT XXX 256MB (590/1600) $192.00
Hard Drive Western Digital SATA3.0Gbps 250GB 7200RPM 16MB Caviar SE16 $83.00
Optical Drive NEC 3550A 16X DVD+/-RW $35.00
Case and PSU Generic case with iCute 400W PSU (Purchased Locally) $50.00
Bottom Line $664.00


Other Tested Components
Processor Athlon X2 3800+ AM2 (2x512KB Cache 2.0 GHz) $302.00
Motherboard Foxconn C51XEM2AA $199.00
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-M59SLI-S5 $209.00


First things first, you can see that prices are essentially equivalent, but that is due in part to the components we selected. The Pentium D platform costs a bit more than the AM2 platform, as does the Sempron 754 system. We could always spend more money to add additional performance, but we're trying to stick to the upper end of the budget price range. We could have upgraded the AM2 processors slightly, for example by switching to an Athlon 64 3000+, but the difference in performance really isn't that substantial. We're not intentionally trying to handicap AM2, but the simple fact of the matter is that Intel has much better prices on lower end components. The Pentium D chips are all priced much lower than the equivalent Athlon X2 chips, to the point where we simply wouldn't consider getting anything but a dual core processor if we were to buy an Intel system. That said, the price cuts on the Athlon X2 3800+ will drop that to the point where you can actually consider it as an upgrade. It will still cost more than the Pentium D 805, but it will simply reverse the situation from now where our "Budget Pentium D" costs more than the "Budget Sempron AM2" configuration. (And for another $30 or so, you could then upgrade from the X2 3800+ to the Core 2 Duo E6300, and before you know it you're spending well over $1000 on your "budget" computer....)

You can see that most of the other areas are equivalent. All of the motherboards are reasonable budget offerings that still offer a decent amount of overclocking capability. The socket 754 motherboard is clearly cheaper, but it's also older and has fewer features than some of the newer boards. Looking at the motherboards, the Biostar TForce 550 is clearly superior to the other two. Gigabit Ethernet, support for all AM2 processors, high definition audio and a nice, clean layout make the price of $85 more than reasonable. The other two motherboards only include 100Mb Ethernet, but unless you have a gigabit switch it won't matter. They also include lower quality AC'97 audio solutions, but the onboard audio is still sufficient in most cases for people on a budget. If you're interested in getting better quality audio, simply adding a Chaintech AV-710 for $23.00 or a Creative Labs Audigy SE for $28.00 is a definite improvement over AC'97 audio, though when you're talking about budget PCs there are many $20 upgrades that can improve various aspects of the system, so for this article we're sticking with the integrated audio options.

The graphics card was chosen as a very reasonable budget gaming option. The GeForce 7600 GT packs a lot of bang for the buck compared to other GPUs currently being sold. X1800 GTO is also competitive in this price range, but the 7600 GT cards have much better availability. Note that while we used an XFX 7600 GT XXX, there are other 7600 GT cards that are priced a bit better, like the EVGA models; mail in rebates are also widely available, knocking off another $30 or so from the price of most 7600 GT cards. That means you can get some of the models for about $140 after rebate(s). If you're thinking that $140-$195 on a graphics card is far from being a "budget" selection, our reasoning is that you're building a budget PC, but you also want to be able to play games. We assume that most people need a PC in their home these days, so when people consider a gaming PC versus one of the consoles like an Xbox 360, they often end up concluding that the consoles cost a lot less. We figure you're already spending about $500 for a PC whether or not you have a gaming console, so really you're only spending another $150 to turn your PC into something that can play most of today's games. If you would like better video performance, of course, you could also go with a faster graphics card and spend more money. Prices on the 7900 GT cards have dropped to $265 before rebates (about $240 after rebate), so graphics performance scales almost linearly with additional money. If you don't need graphics performance at all, you can of course go with an integrated graphics solution or something cheaper.

If you're wondering about the memory choices and memory timings, there are many options available that are worth considering. The Patriot RAM used in the Sempron 754 motherboard was chosen because it was available, and because TCCD RAM remains highly regarded in the world of DDR memory. Consider it something of a handicap for the old socket 754 platform; it will also make things a lot easier when it comes to overclocking, so we're giving socket 754 every chance to maintain pace with the faster newcomers. If you opt for value DDR memory, you will need to use various memory ratios in order to be able to overclock the Sempron 754 chip, so overall performance will likely drop 5-15%. We began DDR2 benchmarks using 2x512MB G.Skill PC2-5300, but given the price discrepancy between socket 754 and the other platforms, as well as the fact that we are overclocking, we switched to the OCZ PC2-6400 as a moderate upgrade. It is certainly possible to overclock using value DDR2-667 RAM, but it is almost always less of a hassle to overclock with higher-quality memory. Depending on the memory you purchase, you may or may not be able to run the same timings we achieved, and in general we found that all three budget boards required slightly more relaxed timings than high-end enthusiast motherboards. With more time and effort we could probably improve performance slightly, but we're really only talking about minor differences anyway, and as we'll see in the benchmarks the memory subsystem isn't normally a bottleneck for the systems. The AM2 configurations are also somewhat interesting, in that the memory dividers do not provide exact memory speeds in most instances. For example, the Sempron 3400+ is really only running the memory at DDR2-720, as there is no integer divider to get DDR2-800.

There will probably be complaints about using a cheap, generic 400W power supply. This power supply was purchased for exactly that reason six months ago, and I was hoping to cause the power supply to fail by putting a constant load on it. It has been happily running the overclocked Pentium D 805 system with two instances of Folding@Home 24/7 for most of that time, without any difficulty. We'll get to the power numbers later, but basically the entire system power draw is still under 400 W (though just barely in certain stress situations), and we are only using a single hard drive and a budget processor. A better motherboard, heatsink, power supply, memory, etc. would likely improve our overclocking results, but all of those expenses would defeat the purpose of building a budget system. Yes, the power supply is a lower end model, but sometimes that's all you really need. Many OEM systems also use relatively low-quality power supplies, and while a few people might encounter difficulties, most of these PSUs will last several years. If/when it fails, you will probably be ready to replace your entire system anyway. One last comment on the power supply: we really have no problem using this power supply with the Sempron systems, but especially with the overclocked Pentium D system, getting something a bit nicer would be prudent.

Finally, you can see that we included a couple of upgraded AM2 motherboards. We used the Gigabyte board to retest the Sempron AM2 chip, as the results we achieved with the Biostar board were lower than expected. We also included a system running an "Athlon X2 3800+" (simulated) processor using a Foxconn 590 SLI motherboard. The actual CPU is a 5000+, but lowering the CPU multiplier to 10X generates performance identical to the X2 3800+. We "overclocked" this particular CPU to 2.6 GHz for now, which seems reasonable for normal X2 3800+ chips (especially considering that's what most people get out of socket 939 X2 3800+ processors). The reason for the inclusion of this CPU is that it will drop substantially in price in the near future, and we felt it was only fair to show how the cheapest AM2 dual core processor performs in comparison to the cheapest Pentium D processor. It will still cost more than the Pentium D 805 even after the price cuts, but there are certainly other advantages which we will cover throughout this article. The Foxconn motherboard was used with this processor (as opposed to the Gigabyte 590 SLI board) due to the fact that the Foxconn board properly supports CPU multipliers with the latest AMD CPU driver installed. The Gigabyte and Biostar motherboards both revert to the default CPU multiplier once Windows loads, which obviously affects our ability to overclock or to simulate a lower speed processor. The AMD driver is required in order to get correct results from PCMark05, and the performance differences between the Gigabyte board and the Foxconn motherboard are otherwise insignificant.

Update: If you'd like to see some cheaper alternatives with integrated graphics, please refer to the comments section. We have provided alternatives for all three sockets that are priced under $400, and almost at $300 for the AM2 configuration.

Index Overclocking Results
POST A COMMENT

56 Comments

View All Comments

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now