Final thoughts

The performance of our affordable AM2 gaming system was most impressive, especially given that it was two and a half times cheaper than the Core 2 Duo system. The core components cost just $600 which include the processor, motherboard, memory, hard drive and graphics card. In order to complete the system one would need to a case/power supply, keyboard, mouse and a monitor. There are also ways in which you could configure this system to save money. For example, a slower Athlon64 or even Sempron processor will save you money, as will a smaller hard drive or a slower graphics card.

However, if you enjoy playing computer games and wish to play the latest games in all their glory, then the system we went with today is a very good option for the price. All the components complemented one another very well, as it seemed to be the perfect balance between processing power and graphics performance. Also if you consider that the native resolution of most 19” and 17” LCD monitors is 1280x1024, and this system is quite capable of 1600x1200 gaming performance, settings such as FSAA and anisotropic filtering can be turned up quite high at 1280x1024 for extreme visual quality.

The components we selected for this system were not just randomly picked, nor were they purchased based simply on price and performance. Rather, when building an affordable gaming computer we like to have a decent level of overclocking headroom available, to help maximize performance and of course, value. The AMD Athlon64 processor range is now very affordable and delivers more than adequate performance, however it also overclocks very well.

Using the cheap Abit NF-M2 nView motherboard along with two 512MB sticks of Corsair’s ValueSelect DDR2-667 memory, we were able to operate our Athlon64 3800+ at 2.6GHz without compromising stability. The Nvidia GeForce 7900GS is also another fantastic overclocking product, and the ASUS version used in this article comes overclocked from the factory. While the 7900GS is designed to run using a core clock of 450MHz, ASUS decided a 590MHz core clock would work better. The memory has also been overclocked from 1.32GHz to 1.44GHz, which goes a long way in boosting the card's available memory bandwidth.

Prior to overclocking, the performance of the Athlon64 3800+ was still very good and although maximum in-game quality settings were used at 1600x1200, the system still delivered playable performance. The real-world performance results saw the Core 2 Duo/X1950XTX system defeating the budget system by up to 80%, depending on the game. Through overclocking this margin was reduced to below 60%. So although the Core 2 Duo E6700 system was far superior in most tests, it does cost significantly more. The Athlon64 3800+ combined with the GeForce 7900GS delivered an exceptionally good “bang for your buck” factor.

The Abit NF-M2 nView motherboard is a bargain at $95 for a number of reasons. Although this is a very cheap microATX board, there are slightly cheaper AM2 options available. However, I was more impressed with what you got with this motherboard, how it performed, and the fact that it did offer some overclocking headroom. The NF-M2 nView was also able to squeeze out another 200MHz from our Athlon64 3800+ and although the 8% rise in clock frequency was nothing to write home about, the 260MHz FSB did help improve memory performance. The feature set and general layout and design of the NF-M2 nView were first class, and we really appreciated the use of heatpipe technology on this sub-$100 motherboard.

Overall, I was impressed with how these various pieces of hardware came together to create such a powerful gaming system. Within reason, there is no game too demanding for this setup and as stated earlier, most gamers will be limited to a resolution of 1280x1024 when using 17-19” LCD monitors. Those looking for an affordable upgrade solution should certainly check out the hardware components used in this article.