System Buyers Guide: PCs for Under $1000by Wesley Fink on December 29, 2008 3:00 AM EST
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In the last few weeks we've looked at almost all the components you would need to build your new PC. This includes motherboards, memory, cases and power supplies, video cards, displays, and storage. Now it is time to put all these parts together into a couple of systems buyers' guides.
Since we have already covered component classes and individual items in detail in the recent component guides, you will find those a useful reference to the components chosen in these system guides. This guide will take a closer look at several complete systems you can build for $500 to $1000 these days. Next week, we will look more closely at midrange systems in the price range of $1000 to $2000.
Low-end PCs have a reputation for being substandard, underpowered, and barely better than off-the-shelf PCs. That certainly has been true in the past, but with the continuing drop in component prices, you can get a lot of PC for your $500 to $1000. About a year ago it would cost about $700 to $750 to put together a decent "entry" system. Today you can build a similar but more powerful system, for about $200 less.
The fierce competition between Intel and AMD on the CPU front, and between AMD/ATI and NVIDIA in the GPU market, have made it possible to buy quality components for prices that used to be reserved for outdated hardware. You just have to know what to look for. The closeouts and "gotchas" are still out there, but armed with a little knowledge you can navigate the components offered and end up with a really powerful computer for the money you spend.
In this guide we will be looking at three common categories of systems you can now buy for under $1000. This includes the Entry-level PC, which is the best value for a complete system costing around $500. The bar is then raised to the upper end of our budget price range with Budget PCs that feature the most bang for the buck closer to the $1000 price point. It was a bit of surprise to find you could build very capable AMD and Intel machines, complete with keyboard, mouse, operating system, video card, 4GB of memory, and 19" wide-screen monitor for less than $850, leaving room for a monitor or graphics upgrade while still remaining under $1000.
Finally, we put together basic HTPC computers to deliver video content to your Home Theater. HTPC builders have normally already selected a display/TV for video and have a sound system, so we did not include either the display or speakers in the basic HTPC component selections. That is a subject for another article.
In the "Under $1000" PC market it really does not matter if you select AMD or Intel for your CPU. Performance across both lines is very competitive at the same price points in this category. That is why both AMD and Intel systems are presented at each price point. If we were choosing a high-end system at this moment the only real choice would be Intel, but with Phenom II around the corner that may soon change.
While the Intel i7 is a recent introduction and Phenom II is coming in about two weeks, both new processors will have the greatest impact at the upper middle to the top-end CPU offerings. The impact on the sub-$1000 category should be very small, consisting mostly of minor price cuts on "outdated" hardware and platforms. PCs in the "under $1000" category also frequently utilize onboard graphics, and there is no expectation for a new blockbuster IGP chipset on the horizon. While change is a constant in the computer industry, you can build PCs for less than $1000 today with some confidence that the system will continue to provide competitive performance for a reasonable period of time.
All of our recommendations are also upgradable, so you can add the latest video card and turn the system into a reasonable gaming or graphics processing system if you choose (provided your PSU is up to snuff, of course). GPUs deliver exceptional performance at the lowest price points seen in many years. The storage recommendations may seem overkill to some, but there is little reason to choose a smaller hard drive when you can buy 500GB of hard drive storage for $59 and a 1000GB (1TB) drive for just $110. Now let's get to the recommendations.