Introduction

Prices are always dropping on computer components and what was once Mid-Range or High-End will eventually become a budget part. The temptation to upgrade a component here and there is always strong, but we try to balance that with a goal of keeping the price close to $500. As usual, we’ll offer an upgraded version for a bit more money.

An important consideration for any computer system is the intended use. If it will be used primarily for office tasks, such amenities as speakers and graphics cards take a back seat to RAM and processor choice. Generally speaking, though, it’s better to build a well balanced system rather than one with a few high end parts complemented by a bunch of older components. Most of us have encountered a system at one time or another that appears to have reasonable specs only to find that it feels incredibly slow. A fast processor with inadequate RAM and a slow hard drive is a common problem with the OEM systems that we see offered for incredible prices. By the time you tweak such a system to improve performance, you often end up paying as much as the setups that we offer. That’s not to say that OEM systems are all bad, but as with all things, there are compromises made, and some may or may not be acceptable.

Of course, the battle between Intel and AMD rages on with no sign of letting up. AMD systems typically offer better performance and a slightly lower price, and many of the Intel configurations seem to be a case of paying extra for the “name brand” more than anything else. $500 isn’t going to get you a super computer by any stretch of the imagination, though, and for most budget buyers, the actual difference in performance between the various setups won’t be noticed. It’s interesting to look back at our Mid-Range setup from a year ago and compare it to the current market; it’s a little more than half the cost for about the same level of performance.

Now, let’s get to the recommendations.

AMD Recommendations
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  • wilburpan - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    Regarding Dell: before I read the comments I went over to the Dell website and looked over their current offerings. There are cost cutting measures on the part of Dell to bring the price down on their budget systems: PATA instead of SATA, questionable memory, lack of PCIe, their Celeron based systems come with a maximum of 512 MB RAM, and probaby a bunch more that I don't know about.

    About this buying guide: some of the recommendations take into account future upgradability. I'm not sure that this should be a real priority for a budget system. One thing that has been made clear to me over the past few years is that building a computer is an exercise in balancing all the components. As a result, once a computer gets very old, it is more cost effective to replace the whole thing rather than upgrading a component at a time. Being that this is a budget system, the lifetime of the components would be less than average, as these components have already been on the market for a while.
    Reply
  • bob661 - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    Jarred,
    In the article you mention that you can do 222 with the OCZ Gold at 2.8V but on OCZ's website it says 3.2V. Can you clarify this?
    Reply
  • Zoomer - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    What about motherboards based on the RS482?

    They offer decent integrated graphics at a good price.

    http://www.msi.com.tw/program/products/mainboard/m...
    Reply
  • xsilver - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    #12
    gigabyte makes a fanless 6600GT
    costs a few dollars more but if you need it
    Reply
  • bupkus - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    I just built a system with an OEM 3000+ Venice for $115, Epox 9NPA+ Ultra for #105 and a Gigabyte X300 for about $70 and now I hear the X700 is the way to go for just a little more. I like to play Ut2004 and that's it. Hmm.. time to rma the X300 and get that X700 before it's too late.
    I'd consider the 6600GT but I dont' want noisy and I get that impression.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    Bah - I caved and listed an optional PSU. I still feel like I keep repeating myself from Guide to Guide, but maybe you readers don't notice it as much? :)

    10 - PATA is going to be a bit slower and we don't really like the cables. The newer Intel motherboards often come with a single PATA connection (supporting two drives), making it a very poor choice for such motherboards. It *is* an option, but there's a reason PATA drives are getting large mail-in rebates. The same reason such drives often end up in OEM systems: the manufacturers are clearing out old inventory.

    Anyway, I don't generally worry much about the mail-in rebate opportunities, as it's basically loaning a company your money at 0% interest for several months. If you can find a good rebate on an SATA drive, I'd prefer that personally, but PATA drives are still okay for some people.
    Reply
  • Hacp - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    One question I had was why SATAII? Why not a 40 dollar 80GB PATA100 HD from circuit city or best buy after rebates? I know that those two stores are good for their rebates, and with the 15 dollars you save, you can defenetly upgrade the processor, which is a better bang for your buck in terms of performance. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    Regarding case and PSU: yes, I realize the PSU is suspect, and I always put better PSUs in computers I build. However, I've also used generic PSUs in budget PCs, and provided the systems aren't overloaded you rarely have problems. At full load, I would guess that the two budget setups will draw 150W or less. If you add in a second hard drive and a more powerful graphics card, you're asking for trouble, but as built they should be fine. Feel free to buy a Fotron Source, Antec, Enermax, etc. - I've suggested it many times and hopefully have made it clear that a nice PSU is never a bad idea.

    I've got some Dell systems that I use regularly that include Pentium 4 2.8 GHz processors and 1GB of RAM, and they're paired with a (generic) 200W PSU. If Dell thinks a 200W is sufficient for that setup, I'm comfortable with slightly better PSUs for these budget setups.
    ----------------
    As for buying a Dell, that last comment of mine ought to give you something to think about. Dell/HP/etc. often take a good processor like a Pentium 520 and pair it with the cheapest remaining parts that they can find. You'll also get 256MB DIMMs, because no one else wants them these days - upgrading a Dell to 2x512 instead of 4x256 often costs as much as buying 2x512 on your own.

    They're still okay, and you can often get a decent LCD with them as well. Upgrading them can often be a frustrating experience, and rarely do they make something an enthusiast would be happy with. If you're okay with that, they're decent systems. I'm not going to do buyers guides picking out OEM systems, though. ;-)
    ----------------
    Finally, I wasn't aware that the low-end Semprons don't support Cool 'n Quiet, but it doesn't matter much to me. They're 90nm parts with 1/2 or 1/4 the L2 cache of the Venice core, so they should run relatively cool already.

    I once calculated the cost of running a 60W lightbulb 24/7 for a year and it was only about $37 - 526 kWHrs at 7 cents per kWHr. Cool 'n Quiet on a Sempron isn't likely to save 60W, more like 20W, so the yearly savings would only be around $12. That's enough to upgrade to the next higher Sempron, of course, but if you're looking at the yearly costs it becomes easy to justify buying a much faster PC - at least for me.
    Reply
  • Hacp - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    Why not buy a dell? Because Dell offers less performance, few overclocking features, a huge premium for upgrades(ram and dvd rewritable for example), and even crappier graphics than the integrated/turbocached stuff that anandtech is reccomending. Some of the choices are questionable in the article though. The power supply is a major concern. Reply
  • xsilver - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    really #6?
    didnt know that!
    wont it be benefitial to upgrade then as in the long run the cost of a lower power bill will make the cpu pay for itself?
    Reply

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