While I don’t usually backtrack on my recommendations, it bears mentioning that the guys in the Tom’s Hardware lab seem to have found some kind of half-way point in their recommendations for a PC with a budget of $500. While it is an interesting setup, I still think my solution is the better one for gamers and productivity-orientated users in particular. If you’re interested, hit the jump to see how far apart out philosophies are.

If you haven’t yet checked it out, my June R4000 to R6000 guide took the Intel road and based the rigs off two processors, the Core i3-2125 and the Pentium G630. Tom’s decided to essentially take my R6000 build and chop off the strong-arming Core i3, replacing it instead with the Pentium G530. What they found in multiple games was that the performance of the GTX560 was mostly held back by the processor. Granted, it wasn’t a total smash and performance was adequate, but it wasn’t that good, either.

For the most part, their build excels at 720p gaming with Ultra settings. Everything from Battlefield 3 to Skyrim and DiRT3 ran well on 1080p and you’d generally hear no complaints from gamers. But when faced with games that rely on CPU horsepower to complement things, like Just Cause 2, they found that the G530 was heavily impacting games that needed more than a skinny Sandy Bridge chip to perform – Starcraft 2 included. They also chose the worst possible chassis to house their components – the Cooler Master Elite 311 Plus in my builds would have fared much better, especially where upgrades are concerned. So how would I have gone about compromising on price for better mid-range performance? By chopping out the Core i3, the hard drive and the motherboard and substituting the ones below:

AMD AthlonII X3 435 @ R715

Asus M5A78L-M LX @ R756

Seagate Barracuda 250GB @ R598

Lets face it, Llano’s performance on the desktop segment isn’t as strong as Sandy Bridge, even when crippled to save money and power. AMD’s Athlon X3, then, would arguably give you better performance and a stronger upgrade path than any socket FM1 solution, no matter how cheap. The triple cores do allow for more headroom for improvement and overclocking and that would help with games like Just Cause 2, which enjoy having multiple cores/threads more than they do faster processors (although the line between the two is so fine to games like these anyway). I have the X3 445 paired to a Radeon HD6870 and I can confirm that it is miles and away from what Tom’s pairing achieves. So if you’re in the market for a build that straddles the two recommendations I made, only AMD’s Athlon makes sense at that price point.

Strangely enough, that’s no longer a option for most system builders anyway, what with AMD pulling out of the performance race.

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