$599 Gaming PC Built and Tested

We check out this budget orientated "Gaming" PC and see what we can do with under 600 Dollars.

Manufacturer: TweakTown
12 minutes & 8 seconds read time

Introduction and Package


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When NVIDIA launched the GTX 550 Ti, it was interesting to see in their slides that they made mention of how it was the perfect model to build a $599 US gaming PC. As someone who has more power than I need in video and just about every other component of my system, I really found myself wondering, could we build a $599 US PC?

The answer to that was "Yes!" of course, because you can build a PC on most budgets these days. But what we really wanted to know was just how loosely, if at all, was NVIDIA throwing the "Gaming" term around.

So I thought I'd get some parts together and see exactly what we could achieve. Unfortunately by the time we got everything together and I got around to testing the PC the price had jumped around a little bit, and while the system came in originally around the $620 US mark, it blew out a little more. The good news is some of the items we've added are more so an optional extra.

We'll get into all this on the next page when we talk about exactly what we're dealing with as far as parts go. Then when that's done, we'll get into the performance side of things and see what the system is capable of.

A Closer look at the $599 PC

It doesn't matter if you're building a $4,000 US PC or a $600 US PC; when it all comes down to it, you're really using all the same kind of components, just different speed versions. What we mean by that is that you still need stuff like a CPU, RAM and Video Card, but in a $4,000 PC you're using a HD 6990, where today we're using a GTX 550 Ti.

So with that said, it was time to sort out what the heart of our system would be. When it came to building it, I had my eye on the P67 platform. I'm just in love with this platform as it offers awesome speed and just a great feature set overall. The current lineup of CPUs and Motherboards are extremely strong and really do cater for many budgets.

While the $364.99 Maximum IV Extreme from ASUS was out of the question, the $189.99 P8P67 Pro wasn't. Well, it was maybe a little out of budget and the $35 cheaper P8P67 may have been a better option. But like they say, "Behind every good man is a better woman". Well, "Behind every good CPU is a better Motherboard". And really, ASUS is killing it lately, so we wanted to use something that we knew would do well.

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The motherboard gives us loads of expansion options, though, and over the months or years you could turn your $599 PC into a more expensive and faster one thanks to the options that are available here. If you want to drop the ATX form, the P8P67-M Pro in mATX can also be a really nice option for $149.99.

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Next it was onto the CPU and with our small budget an i3 1155 socket CPU was all we could afford. I haven't actually used the i3 CPU yet and was a little concerned about what a $124.99 i3 2100 could bring to the table. It's a long stretch from the 4.2GHz 980X and 4.8GHz 2600k setups I have here, but with a default clock speed of 3.1GHz it was going to be really interesting to see what we could get from the CPU.

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The video card was an easy option because the whole system was based around the GTX 550 Ti. All it really came down to was which GTX 550 Ti we would be using. Considering we're on an ASUS motherboard and we were so happy with the ASUS GTX 550 Ti DirectCU that was reviewed here, we figured it to be the perfect choice.

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With the main three components out of the way, there were really only a few more things needed to get the system up and running. For power we used the Corsair CX500 PSU which comes in at $59.99. It's a great little unit and perfect for this kind of a build. On the Hard Drive front we used a $61.99 Western Digital Green 1TB drive which while not being the fastest, does offer us plenty of storage room. On the RAM front we opted for a kit of the new Kingston HyperX Grey Series modules. These come in 4GB form and will set you back $49.99 at the time of writing.

At the moment that comes in at $636 US. A little over the $599 price tag we were aiming for, but what has probably tipped us over is the fact we opted for a good quality power supply over some cheap $20 case + PSU combo. The ASUS GTX 550 Ti Direct CU is also one of the more expensive GTX 550 Ti cards on the market.

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Really, though, you're not going to squabble over $30 and if you play the cards right when it comes to rebates, you'd probably be able to save that little bit extra. Originally when we priced the system up we were under the $599 price tag and it's that reason why we opted to throw a $31.24 Corsair A70 cooler also into the mix. Not so much for the overclocking, but just so we knew our CPU would run nice and cool at low noise levels. With that, our PC comes in at $668, but it's an optional extra along with other little things like moving to the PRO version of the P8P67 motherboard from ASUS.

Test System Setup and AIDA64

Since I don't really do systems, when it came to comparing our new budget PC there wasn't a lot of options. Since I had just tested our new Commander PC, though, I thought I'd throw that into the mix in both stock and overclocked form. The component side of our Commander PC comes in at $1405 US, so it's really a good chunk more expensive and it will be really interesting to see how it compares to our more budget orientated system.

We also took the time to overclock our new $599 PC, but of course because we don't have the luxury of changing the multiplier like we do on our 2600k, nor do we have the luxury of a large BCLK range like the X58 platform, our OC was limited to pushing our BCLK to only 103.

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This resulted in our CPU going from 3.1GHz to almost 3.2GHz. Since we didn't get much of an OC on that, we also took the time to overclock the ASUS GTX 550 Ti DirectCU and that went well, ending up at 1050MHz on the core, while the 1GB of GDDR5 came in at 4300MHz QDR. Overall, the OC isn't anything really major, but it will be interesting to see what the extra MHz on both the GPU and CPU bring to the table.

Let's get started!


Version and / or Patch Used: 1.00.1035BETA
Developer Homepage: http://www.aida64.com
Product Homepage: http://www.AIDA64.com
Buy It Here

Replacing Everest in our labs is AIDA64. This new testing suite is from the core development team from Lavalys and continues that tradition. The guys have thrown in better support for multithreaded CPUs as well as full 64 bit support. We use this to test memory and HDDs for now, but may find ourselves opening this up to other areas of the motherboard.

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Firing up AIDA64, I was really surprised to see the performance that was on offer from the i3 2100. At stock and overclocked it doesn't sit all that far behind the 2600k in our Commander PC. Where you see the two systems really separate, though, is when the Commander PC gets a 1.6GHz jump on our budget PC.

AIDA64 Continued


Version and / or Patch Used: 1.00.1035BETA
Developer Homepage: http://www.aida64.com
Product Homepage: http://www.AIDA64.com
Buy It Here

Replacing Everest in our labs is AIDA64. This new testing suite is from the core development team from Lavalys and continues that tradition. The guys have thrown in better support for multithreaded CPUs as well as full 64 bit support. We use this to test memory and HDDs for now, but may find ourselves opening this up to other areas of the motherboard.

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It's so funny to see the kind of performance difference between our single Green drive and our RAID 0 SSD setup that's on offer from the Commander PC. With the CPU performance being quite similar when it comes to the Synthetic testing side of things, the main difference between our two systems is the snappiness that's offered just going around Windows. You just don't get that instant access on a mechanical drive.

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Memory performance is good, but of course being only a 1600MHz one verse the 2133MHz one seen in our Commander PC, it does indeed lag behind the more expensive setup. None the less, its performance is still strong.

3DMark 11

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.3dmark.com/3dmark11/
Buy It Here

3DMark 11 is the latest version of the world's most popular benchmark. Designed to measure your PC's gaming performance 3DMark 11 makes extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to consistently and reliably test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.

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Here we see the main difference between our two systems and that's thanks to the HD 6950 that's in the Commander PC. While not included, what I found really interesting was comparing the score of our GTX 550 Ti ASUS card here against our 980X testbed.

Here we can see that the GTX 550 Ti Direct CU managed to score P2778 when we had our system overclocked. On our 980X testbed the same card clocked 13MHz QDR higher on the memory, but with the same core speed and scored P2881. That's such a small difference and it shows that when dealing with these mid-range cards you don't need to have a massive CPU on hand.

Unigine Heaven Benchmark

Version and / or Patch Used: 2
Developer Homepage: http://www.unigine.com
Product Homepage: http://unigine.com/press-releases/091022-heaven_benchmark//

New benchmark grants the power to unleash the DirectX 11 potential in the gift wrapping of impressively towering graphics capabilities. It reveals the enchanting magic of floating islands with a tiny village hidden in the cloudy skies. With the interactive mode emerging experience of exploring the intricate world is ensured within reach. Through its advanced renderer, Unigine is one of the first to set precedence in showcasing the art assets with tessellation, bringing compelling visual finesse, utilizing the technology to the full extend and exhibiting the possibilities of enriching 3D gaming.

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Under Heaven we can see that the $599 PC manages to perform very well again. Sure, it's a good chunk behind the HD 6950, but it's a good chunk cheaper, too.

Benchmarks - Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.2

Version and / or Patch Used: Benchmark Demo
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage: http://www.ubi.com/UK/default.aspx
Product Homepage: http://www.hawxgame.com/

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2 is an arcade-style flight action game developed by Ubisoft Romania and published by Ubisoft. The game is the sequel to Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X., released in 2009.

The game begins with Colonel David Crenshaw participating in a routine patrol mission in the Middle East. After halting an insurgent attack, a volley of missiles is fired at the Air Force base that Crenshaw was stationed at, with one of the missiles disabling Crenshaw's aircraft, resulting Crenshaw being in enemy captivity. A joint strike force composed of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and a Ghost Recon squad executes an operation to rescue Crenshaw. In Scotland, Royal Navy Pilot Colin Munro encounters an unidentified passenger aircraft that explodes from an on-board bomb when undergoing training exercise. In Russia, an air force squadron led by Colonel Denisov and Captain Dmitri Sokov engages separatist aircraft but is ordered to retreat from the region after numerous Russian military installations have been attacked.

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HAWX 2 really favors NVIDIA and you can see that the much cheaper GTX 550 Ti on our $599 PC actually performs better than the HD 6950. It just goes to show the power of optimization.

Benchmarks - Mafia II

Mafia II

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest Steam Update
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark
Developer Homepage: http://www.2kczech.com/
Product Homepage: http://www.mafia2game.com/
Buy It Here

Mafia II is a third-person action-adventure video game, the sequel to Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven. It is developed by 2K Czech, previously known as Illusion Softworks, and is published by 2K Games. The game is set from 1943 to 1951 in Empire Bay (the name is a reference to New York's state nickname "The Empire State"), a fictional city based on San Francisco and New York City, with influences from Chicago and Detroit. The game features a completely open-ended game map of 10 square miles. No restrictions are included from the start of the game. There are around 50 vehicles in the game, as well as licensed music from the era.

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Looking at Mafia II, we get a good idea of how the $599 PC is going to perform on a lot of games that offer good graphics. You can see at 1680 x 1050 we managed to get that 60 FPS we aim for and when overclocked we managed to jump ahead a further 5 FPS, making sure our game would be smooth.

You could get away with gaming at 1920 x 1200 if you wanted to drop the quality, but the chances are you're going to have a lower resolution monitor if your budget is around this for a PC.

Benchmarks - Aliens vs. Predator

Aliens vs. Predator

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark
Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark
Developer Homepage: http://www.rebellion.co.uk/
Product Homepage: http://www.sega.com/games/aliens-vs-predator/

Aliens vs. Predator is a science fiction first-person shooter video game, developed by Rebellion Developments, the team behind the 1999 original PC game, and published by Sega for Microsoft Windows, the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. The game is based on the Alien vs. Predator franchise, a combination of the characters and creatures of the Alien franchise and the Predator franchise. There are three campaigns in the game, one for each race/faction (the Predators, the Aliens and the Colonial Marines), that, while separate in terms of individual plot and gameplay, form one overarching storyline.

Following the storyline of the campaign modes comes the multiplayer aspect of the game. In this Multiplayer section of the game, players face off in various different gametypes in various different ways.

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Aliens vs. Predator is a really intensive game and you can see this is where our systems are separated. Games like this, Lost Planet 2 and other super intensive ones we play will struggle on the GTX 550 Ti; we know this from when we tested the card. You're going to want to drop both detail and resolution and for some people that's going to be something they don't want to do, especially if you're moving away from your native monitor resolution.

Final Thoughts

These are some really interesting results here and we are able to get a fantastic idea of what exactly a $599 US Gaming PC can offer us. I personally don't think NVIDIA was throwing the term loosely around, because it's clear that in something like Mafia II we're able to get that 60 FPS we aim for, making sure game play is silky smooth.

From what we tested here today we know exactly how the system is going to perform in a wide range of games. You're going to see older stuff like Street Fighter IV and non-intensive games like Portal 2 run exceptionally well with higher resolutions or maybe even AA not being an issue.

At that middle of the road area with games like Mafia II, Far Cry 2 and Batman AA you're going to see strong performance at 1680 x 1050, but 1920 x 1200 being a bit of hit and miss.

Of course, when we start to get into really intensive games that are heavy on detail like Lost Planet 2 and Aliens vs. Predator, the system is going to struggle. The thing is if we remove the video card, we've got a fantastic base for our system.

Budget permitting, the way I would head from this system is to move to a faster HDD; something like a Western Digital 1TB Black. It's about $28 US more over the Green, but is overall faster and offers a 5 year warranty.

If you could stretch your budget to maybe around the $700 US mark, I'd make the move to a single 8GB kit. I would actually stay at 1600MHz DDR, though, just because the kit would be an extra $50 at $99 versus an extra $150 at $199 for a 2133MHz kit.

So if you want to spend around $700, that's where I would go. If you want to move to $800, I'd do just as we said, but replace the GTX 550 Ti with a GTX 560 Ti. And if you want to spend even more money again, you would just start to move your video card north along with your CPU.

As soon as you got to around GTX 570 / HD 6950 performance I would suggest making the move to a 2500k. More money again and you can add an SSD into the mix and as you are willing to spend more and more you can go SLI, CrossFire, RAID 0, bigger PSU, fancier motherboard etc. etc. until you get to the point you're dropping $4k on a system.

In the end, though, what it all comes down to is that for around $599 you're able to get a PC that will perform strong in games that are graphically middle to top end at 1680 x 1050. Games at the top of the graphic pyramid are going to struggle without major detail or resolution drops. If you're only a weekend gamer or just enjoy playing some Steam games with your friends, it's safe to say that $599 is really going to build you a great little box.

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Shawn takes care of all of our video card reviews. From 2009, Shawn is also taking care of our memory reviews, and from May 2011, Shawn also takes care of our CPU, chipset and motherboard reviews. As of December 2011, Shawn is based out of Taipei, Taiwan.

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