Introduction

Budget computing is about two things: reliability and cost. Most people looking for a budget computer don't have a lot of money, and the last thing that they want is to have to go out and replace parts (or buy additional parts) because of some issue that comes up. Performance would be nice to have as well, of course, but that's a distant concern. We've looked at gaming and office configurations in the past, and while much of what has been said still applies, new technologies are always appearing. They may provide a better option in the long run than some of our previous recommendations.

One of the biggest concerns that we have right now with the budget sector is the platform. AMD currently has socket A parts and Intel has socket 478 parts, and these are often cheaper than the more recent platforms, but longevity is something of a concern. If you think that you'll want to upgrade some of the parts in the future - especially if you plan on getting a faster processor after a while - we would strongly suggest that you avoid the older platforms. AMD plans to discontinue production of socket A parts in the next couple of months and Intel has similar plans for socket 478. They are still decent platforms in terms of performance, though, so we will not totally discount them as a budget option.

Since we've covered budget gaming several times recently, it will not be a concern in this Guide. Adding in a decent graphics card is the major difference between gaming and non-gaming setups, but there are other considerations as well. What we're going to be looking at are some good picks for a reliable system that won't cost a lot of money. We'll shoot for a price of around $500 as the "base model", but we'll also include some reasonable upgrade selections for those who want a bit more power.

CPU and Motherboard - AMD
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  • justly - Monday, January 10, 2005 - link

    Jarred, Thanks for the responce, and I can certainly understand why you would dislike writing a budget guide.

    If what you say is true "In a single review with high-end components (which is how we generally handle reviews), a lot of motherboards work very well. When you start dropping down to cheaper RAM, however, it's amazing how frequently system instabilities seem to end up being caused by the motherboard choice." then maybe what is really bothering me is not so much your review but the way motherboard reviews are conducted.

    One other thing (just thinking out loud here), how does VIA and SiS chipset affect memory compatibility on a A64 system when the memory controller is part of the CPU??? Do the motherboard manufactures pay more attention to the memory trace lines on Nforce based motherboards (even budget ones) than SiS or VIA based boards??? ... I really think I need an answer to these before I can fully believe you, no offence but I will remain skeptical about your comment to not use VIA or SiS (at least on a A64) untill these are answered.

    Maybe you could make a recommendation on how motherboard reviews are conducted, that way Anandtech readers can be informed about these problems that are hidden from us by reviews that only use high-end components.

    Thanks again for the reply.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 10, 2005 - link

    Good point, PrinceGaz. Of course, my take is that the ability to run the "full" Aero Glass experience mode of Longhorn is essentially a requirement for most people. At the very least, a PC should be upgradeable to that level (with AGP/PCIe cards, not with PCI).

    18 - I don't actually recommend the FX 5200 as a card for any of the systems. I mentioned it only as the "fastest" PCI graphics card currently available. The 9550 might also be available in PCI version, in which case it would be something of a toss up, but I haven't heard of any ATI DX9 parts for PCI.

    #17 - Of course you can get a cheaper system that what I listed. What you've specced out is pretty much the cheapest "modern" system that could be put together. I personally wouldn't recommend that sort of configuration to a friend (or anyone else) without some serious reservations. Basically, it would be a case of "you can get this if you want, but I will not be held responsible for any shortcomings." You basically hit the point of diminishing returns, where $5 to $10 saved ends up costing you 10% of your overall performance (i.e. going from a Sempron 2400+ to a Sempron 2200+), or else you lose certain features that I consider desirable (DVD+RW support).

    It's a personal preference, really, so people can go either way. My feeling is that any *new* system should include at bare minimum the following:

    512 MB of RAM
    80GB Hard Drive w/8MB cache
    Sempron 2400+/Celeron D 320
    17" monitor
    DVD+RW support

    You certainly don't *need* any of those features for standard PC use, but I would definitely recommend spending the extra $50 or so to get them.
    Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Monday, January 10, 2005 - link

    Excellent article, I couldn't really fault any of the choices, and good explanations were given of why they were selected.

    One minor point worth mentioning maybe related to Longhorn's graphics requirements, specifically where you say that for the "next version of Windows (codenamed Longhorn), 3D graphics support will actually be required in order to run it properly. Specifically, the word is that Pixel Shader 2.0 support will be required".It will run fine on DX7 hardware in 'Classic' mode (similar to how Windows 2000 looks). Only the 'Aero' and 'Aero Glass' modes require DX9 hardware. Full details on the likely requirements for the three modes can be found here-

    http://www.microsoft.com/whdc/device/display/graph...
    Reply
  • delldell - Monday, January 10, 2005 - link

    Good article; however, the radeon 9550 graphics card is faster than the nvidia FX 5200 while also being cheaper :) At only $60 the 9550 clearly represents the best bang in the the low end video card market. Check out the review from techreport.com


    http://techreport.com/etc/2005q1/bestof2004/index....
    Reply
  • ChineseDemocracyGNR - Monday, January 10, 2005 - link

    I have a different idea of what a budget computer is.

    AMD budget:
    AMD Sempron 2200+ Retail $54
    ASRock K7S41 $49
    Corsair Value Select 256MB DDR400 $41
    Seagate 40GB 7200RPM 2MB PATA $56
    LG 52X32X52 CD-RW Drive $29
    same floppy, Case & PSU, Display, Speakers, Keyboard and Mouse as your AMD Budget. $251
    Total: $480

    AMD Performance Budget:
    AMD Sempron 2600+ Retail $86
    ASRock K7Upgrade-880 $47
    Corsair Value Select 2x256MB DDR400 $68
    Gigabyte ATI Radeon 9550 128MB DDR 128-bit $71
    Seagate 80 GB 7200 RPM 8MB SATA $69
    LG 52X32X52 CD-RW Drive $29
    same floppy, Case & PSU, Display, Speakers, Keyboard and Mouse as your AMD Budget. $251
    total = $621

    Intel Budget:
    Intel Celeron D 315 (2.26GHz) Retail $69
    ASUS P4S800-MX $60
    Corsair Value Select 256MB DDR400 $41
    Seagate 40GB 7200RPM 2MB PATA $56
    LG 52X32X52 CD-RW Drive $29
    same floppy, Case & PSU, Display, Speakers, Keyboard and Mouse as your AMD Budget. $251
    Total: $506

    Intel Performance Budget:
    Intel Celeron D 325J (2.53GHz) Retail $89
    ASRock 775V88 $58
    Corsair Value Select 2x256MB DDR400 $68
    Gigabyte ATI Radeon 9550 128MB DDR 128-bit $71
    Seagate 80 GB 7200 RPM 8MB SATA $69
    LG 52X32X52 CD-RW Drive $29
    same floppy, Case & PSU, Display, Speakers, Keyboard and Mouse as your AMD Budget. $251
    total = $635
    Reply
  • qquizz - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    Just to clarify:
    Of course ddr400 memory can run at 333 speed. My point is that the memory must be run at 333 to be supported by the motherboard using onboard graphics. This is the case with all NF2 boards with onboard graphics that I've seen.
    Reply
  • Jep4444 - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    its mainly old Via boards with issues(i mean original K8T800) and for the purpouse of this article an NF3 can be had cheaper than a K8T800pro on 754 so it is a justified move but to say Via chipsets have problems is just not right

    When it comes to 939 boards, the K8T800Pros(specifically from Abit and Asus) have been the best boards out
    Reply
  • erinlegault - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    The one thing I think was missing from the graphics section is overclocking options. Overclocking is a great way to gain extra performance from a product. Besides what ATI and others do to turn a Radeon 9600 into a Pro or XT is overclock it and provide adequate cooling and provide faster memory. Why should a user pay a company to overclock a product when they can do it themselves.

    I personally like Abit's options. They have a line of products based on the Radeon 9550, just an underclocked 9600. But, they have two products, the R9550-Guru and the R9550XTurbo-Guru, which supports their V-Guru overclocking utility. With adequate cooling these products could posibly be overclocked to the 600 MHz of the 9600XT. On the memory, side the Guru has 3.6ns memory that is comparable to the 3.3ns memory of Abit's 9600XT product and probably can't be overclocked much above the stock 400 MHz. But, the interesting part about the XTurbo-Guru is that the memory is 2.5ns and can be easily overclocked. And if you look at the product images, I think adequate cooling is already provided for overclocking.
    Reply
  • qquizz - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    It should be noted that for the budget motherboard: http://www.msicomputer.com/product/p_spec.asp?mode...

    "Supports DDR266/333 with internal graphic core, DDR266/333/400 with external add-on card."

    In other words, if you wanna use ddr400, it is only supported if you use a discrete video card. If you use the onboard video, only ddr266/333 is supported.

    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    Justly - The memory compatibility issues with Nforce3 250 are pretty much confined to the EPoX boards as far as I've heard. All other NF3250 boards will run two DS DIMMs at DDR400. VIA chipsets in general still have some issues. The motherboard is such a critical component that I really don't like to cut any corners, even in the budget sector.

    In a single review with high-end components (which is how we generally handle reviews), a lot of motherboards work very well. When you start dropping down to cheaper RAM, however, it's amazing how frequently system instabilities seem to end up being caused by the motherboard choice.

    Honestly, I dislike writing the budget guide selections, just because there are so many questionable parts. I always try to push customers to spend an extra $30 or so on the motherboard if nothing else. Maybe I'm just superstitious, but I've had several "cheap" systems fail after a year or so due to the motherboard.
    Reply

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