Introduction

Since last November AnandTech has looked at most of the components in the various system configurations you might want to purchase. This included specialty guides for Core i7 Systems at the high-end and our most recent guide for the newest CPUs in the Phenom II System Guide. The one constant in the computer market is change, and generally new product introductions bring greater value to market segments affected by the new CPU - and those downstream from the announcement.

That is certainly the case with the new AMD Phenom II, which started a midrange price war. After the Phenom II launch Intel responded quickly with Core 2 price cuts, and AMD countered with price adjustments that placed the Phenom II processors at price points where they compete very well with similarly priced Intel Core 2 processors. AMD then filled out their 45nm Phenom II line with models that extended to the upper end of the entry market, which squeezed other models in both lineups and created further price adjustments.

Now that the dust has settled for a while it is time to take another look at the entry-level computer systems. Low-end PCs have a reputation for being sub-standard, underpowered, and barely better than off-the-shelf PCs. That certainly was true in the past, but with the continuing drop in component prices, you can get a lot of PC today for your $300 to $800. About a year ago it would cost you about $700 to $750 to put together an entry system. Today you can build a similar but more powerful system for about $200 to $400 less.

We last looked at entry systems in late December with our buyers' guide for PCs under $1000. At that point prices had dropped to the point that $1000 was starting to look more midrange than entry, which is why that guide focused on cost rather than "classification". Prices have continued their slide, particularly in processors, to the point that our guide now focuses on complete PC systems for under $800.

Component classes and individual items were covered in detail in the various component guides in December. You will find those a useful reference for many of the components chosen in these system guides. This guide will take a closer look at the complete systems you can build for less than $800 these days. We have also revised the component tables with a subtotal for the basic system without speakers, I/O, display, or OS as several readers have requested. With a quick glance you can now see the cost to build a basic box which many would consider in a system upgrade. You can also see the total to build a complete system with all the peripherals needed for a balanced brand new setup.

In this guide we will be taking a look three common categories of systems you can now buy for under $800. This includes the entry-Level PCs that represent the best value for a basic box costing around $300 or a complete system for around $500. The bar is then raised with budget PCs that feature the most bang for the buck closer to $500 for the basic box and the $800 price point for a complete system.

It was a bit of surprise to find you could build very capable AMD and Intel machines, complete with keyboard, mouse, operating system, and a Full HD widescreen monitor for less than $800. These all rely on integrated graphics, but it is very easy to add a capable discrete graphics card if you require more graphics power and still end up well below $1000. In reality, dedicated gaming rigs normally begin in the midrange spectrum and entry PCs are normally the realm of integrated graphics. However, CPU prices are so low today with so much power that it would be very easy to add a $100 to $150 video card and end up with powerful graphics that can easily tackle gaming.

All of our recommendations are upgradable - even the cheapest entry boxes. You never know where your computer interest might lead, so options for future upgrades are always a good idea. 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 $100. Since most will have trouble filling 500GB on an entry PC we didn't choose anything larger, but you can easily double your storage to 1TB for just $40 to $50 more.

Finally, we put together basic HTPC computers to deliver video content to your home theater. HTPC builders have normally already selected a display/TV and the sound system. For that reason we did not include either the display or speakers in the basic HTPC component selections. With the current CPU and chipset power available in the entry to lower mid-range it is amazing how much video-crunching power you can put into an HTPC at such a low price.

AMD Entry-level PC
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  • quan111000 - Wednesday, March 17, 2010 - link


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  • pirspilane - Saturday, May 09, 2009 - link

    I got the M3N78 motherboard, and the instructions recommend a max of 3 Gb of RAM using Vista 32-bit.

    Are you using Vista 64-bit?

    If you're using 32-bit Vista, does the system utilize the additional Gb of RAM?

    Or maybe dual-channel memory doubles the amount of memory Vista can address?

    Does anybody know?
    Reply
  • rokstomp - Tuesday, March 31, 2009 - link

    I am looking at doing my first ever build and was extremely pleased to stumble across this guide. Since I'm new at this I've only got a fair amount of research and no practice, so I apologize if this is a dumb question.

    I noticed that the AMD Phenom II X3 710 requires an AM3 socket, but the ASUS M3N78-EM is AM2/AM2+. Is there a compatibility issue?

    I just wanted to double-check everything before buying. Like I said, I'm a build n00b.
    Reply
  • swamytk - Monday, June 15, 2009 - link

    I too had doubt on this. Then understood that AM3 processors are compatible with AM2+ sockets, but not vice-versa.

    Then AMD clarified this with the following link.
    http://support.amd.com/us/kbarticles/Pages/CPU-6-s...">http://support.amd.com/us/kbarticles/Pa...lus-phen...

    Reply
  • yanman - Thursday, March 26, 2009 - link

    We do! Please spare a thought for your many non-US readers. Us Aussies along with our Euro brethren on DVB-T standard still rely on card or USB TV-tuners. Reply
  • eyeguy - Saturday, March 21, 2009 - link

    anyone have ideas for a windows home server box? Something low power but not as future limited by memory and slots. Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Friday, March 20, 2009 - link

    I can go on ebay and buy any old athlon X2 computer with 2 gigs of RAM and then go to newegg and buy a monitor and an ocz vertex 30GB, and have a computer that is faster than all of those computers for under $500. In fact I just bought an old P4 2.8 system for $50 and I bet its faster than all those computers once the SSD is installed. Reply
  • strikeback03 - Monday, March 23, 2009 - link

    Faster at what? Boot/application launch possibly, though I wouldn't bet too strongly on it. Obviously at anything that actually uses the CPU 3 Phenom cores at 2.8GHz or 2 Penryn cores at 2.93GHz are going to be faster than 1 P4 core at 2.8GHz. Reply
  • Proteusza - Tuesday, March 17, 2009 - link

    Everyone and their uncle has a build that they think is way better, its been 2 months and the prices have changed OH NOES redo the entire article.

    If you think really your dream machine is so great, then go build it. AT guides are just that - guides. Use them, dont use them, its up to you. I look at them as more of a "what can I get for my money" type article than "buy these exact parts" article.
    Reply
  • v12v12 - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    I agree most of these posts are the nerds-nit-pick special! I'm sorry but if you're whining about $15 here and $20, get a clue and get a REAL JOB or start saving/studying for certs/school and make some real money.

    This shoe-string budget crap, for a so-called "gamer" box is plain stupidity. If you're hurting over $600-800 MAX limit, sounds like you have your financial PRIORITIES out of whack! Nobody is "gaming" for long with a $600 box. It's a fool's investment and will have you stuck with a sub-par performing machine, rapidly. Oh and don't even think about resale, you're stuck with the low-end junk.

    While mirroring the car market: UPSCALE cars/PC builds lose a small percentage of value as soon as you buy them, BUT they hold top value over the coming months Vs this low-mid-level junk that immediately loses an chance of resale value. Have you seen how many stupid people are on Ebay that overbid even for those relic 8800s?!
    Who's going to buy your used, non-warranted (many manu's do require proof of purchase these days) 2nd rate card for ~$30 less than RETAIL? Pawning that off to ebay noobs is your only hope to recoupe your losses. Be smart people.

    If you're maxing out around $600 = STOP and rethink your finances... $800? Might as well save and get an Icore. Geesh, oh and don't forget about TAXES + initial cost of hardware lol. Not to mention if something goes wrong and you have to RMA = how you gonna afford S/H if you can barely afford a paltry $600-800?

    Flame time...
    Reply

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