Introduction

Low-end PCs have a reputation for being sub-standard, underpowered, and barely better than off-the-shelf PCs. However, low-end merely refers to the price, and right now companies like AMD, Intel, and NVIDIA are throwing out quality components for prices that traditionally belong with outdated or inadequate hardware. You just have to know what to look for. In this guide we will be taking a look at both the entry-level and budget gaming offerings, with comments and suggestions specifically on stability, quality of components, and - with the budget gaming systems - balancing budget and quality with overclocking and stability.

In the time since our last Budget Guide in April, we have witnessed some major changes to the hardware market that have affected our decisions. Both AMD and Intel refreshed their CPU lineups with die shrinks, simultaneously increasing performance while reducing power consumption. This of course also allowed for further price cuts in the ongoing CPU price war. Both companies are facing imminent product launches, Intel with their Penryn refresh of the Core 2 architecture and AMD with the much-delayed Phenom processor family - including the native quad-core Barcelona/K10.

NVIDIA just recently launched their second generation of DX10 hardware in the 8800 GT 512MB - or should we say, they released a refresh of the first generation that appeared a year ago. The 8800 GT 512MB is a tweaked version of the high-end 8800 GTS/GTX series built on a smaller 65nm manufacturing process. Because of the ability to produce more GPU chips on each wafer, the card comes with a lower price tag and a move to the midrange sector. Especially exciting is that this card is being priced between $200 and $250, cheaper than the 8800 GTS (320MB and 640MB) and GTX (768MB) but with performance almost on par with the $500 8800 GTX. The best part is, at this price, we've managed to create a powerhouse of a budget gaming rig for just a tad over $1000.

With Vista now approaching its first birthday, driver issues are (for the most part) no longer a problem. That means it's finally time to justify the purchase of DX10 hardware if you haven't already, right? Well, yes and no. There are still issues with Vista, ranging from SLI incompatibilities to missing soundcard drivers and the oft-rumored slowdown of performance in Vista vs. XP machines. Indeed, many users chose to revert to Windows XP after encountering stability or performance issues under Vista, while others are arguing that current DX10 titles don't justify the cost of an upgrade. However, is XP still an alternative? Although our inclination is to believe performance is still better in XP - the OS memory footprint is certainly much smaller - we are in no doubt as to the future of Windows, and our choices reflect that.

AMD Entry-level PC
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  • crimson117 - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    I think the gaming config should include windows, but the basic non-gaming one with integrated motherboard graphics is definitely not meant for gamers. Reply
  • stapuft - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    AMD 5000+ Black does not include Heatsink/Fan, price goes up! Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    Text edited for purposes of addressing this. I actually didn't even realize the Black had no HSF. Then again, I have about a dozen extra retail HSFs floating around.... Reply
  • foofoo - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    Thank you. Article came at just the right time. A few nit picks,
    Wrong heat sink and too many SATA ports (including RAID)
    Probably the P35-DS3R or a P965 series.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    Fixed. :) Reply
  • Spacecomber - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    Is 2GB of memory realistic on a Vista based gaming machine, especially with a 512MB video card and 20" LCD monitor? Reply
  • Parhel - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    I'm running Vista 64-bit with 2GB, and RAM hasn't been a limiting factor for my system. 2GB is enough for now - even more so for a budget machine.

    If I were building a new system I might go with 4GB only because the prices are so low, but I wouldn't expect a big performance boost from that.
    Reply
  • Spacecomber - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    Even though this is listed as a Budget Game System, it comes with a 8800GT and a 1680x1050 resolution LCD, and I would assume that these items will dictate the resolution and quality levels being used in the game's settings. My concern is whether the memory requirements for Vista and a high-end game might cause page file hits in order to keep up at these demanding settings.

    I'm sure the system will run as it is listed (especially with MS fix to deal with crashes previously seen on systems with lots of video card memory, while running memory hungry games and Vista); however, the stuttering caused when the swap file has to be used to supplement physical memory would be intolerable for most people when they are in the middle of playing computer games, especially online.

    These are the circumstances that I'm wondering about, since I think that most gamers would quickly find themselves going back to buy more memory, if this is what they ran into.
    Reply
  • Sunrise089 - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    Yes, it's 100% fine in a budget build. Reply
  • mostlyprudent - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    Please fix the tables and page titles! I may have missed it in all the mixedup tables and titles, but I found no discussion about any of the case/psu choices. Reply

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