Introduction

You are probably wondering about the strange dollar amount of $825 as the high mark for our Entry Buyers' Guide. If so we have a very pleasant surprise for you. To this point our under $800 systems have centered on some great motherboards with on-board graphics. That $800 budget just couldn't support a graphics card - let alone a truly decent graphics card - and stay under $800 with an LCD monitor, speakers, input devices, and OS.

Things have changed a lot in the two months since we published our last Entry Buyers' Guide. We can now accomplish what seemed impossible just two months ago at the $800 price point and include a dedicated GPU in the Budget AMD and Intel systems. This is not just any GPU either, as it made little sense to include a cheap video card that was hardly better than on-board graphics. Both budget builds now include the exciting new ATI 4770 graphics card we reviewed just a couple of weeks ago.

Our graphics and motherboard editors have been raving about the value the 4770 brings to the video card table, so our quest was to build balanced, full-featured, complete systems that include an HD 4770 and an HD LCD monitor for $800. It was not OK merely to squeak by; we wanted to build a balanced and powerful $800 general purpose and gaming system that would blow away anything you could buy from an OEM at a similar price. To do that we went over our budget just a little bit - to $813 and $819 - but we were unwilling to further compromise the components in the systems to drop the price. If all you need is a basic box, the price for an ATI HD 4770 system is even more enticing at around $530. To see what $825 can buy you in the new high-value builds, turn to our new budget AMD and Intel systems on pages 4 and 5.

For those of you looking for a basic but competent system for your kid, parents, grandma, or yourself, if you're really on a tight budget, look at our Entry Intel and AMD systems. For the first time the basic box actually broke through the $300 barrier in one of the builds. The rest of the components are also better than ever in this category including the latest motherboards with Intel G43 and AMD 780G/SB710 chipsets. They also include a larger, more capable LCD monitor, better speakers, and Microsoft Vista Home Premium, for a complete system price of under $550.

These aren't stripped entry systems or the lowest CPU power we could find; they are capable complete systems based on the best bang for the buck we could put together. We could definitely put together even cheaper systems, but these systems represent a nice blend of performance, flexibility, and expandability that we would actually build for our own kids or relatives, budget-minded friends, or ourselves.

This guide takes a closer look at the complete systems you can build for less than $825 these days. Each component table for the complete system includes a subtotal for the basic system without speakers, keyboard/mouse, monitor, or OS. With a quick glance, you can see the cost to build a basic box that 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 system.

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 $299 to $825. 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 $250 less. The worldwide economic slowdown isn't the sole cause of the increased value. It is also the fierce competition between Intel and AMD on the CPU front, and AMD/ATI and NVIDIA in the GPU market. These price, performance, and value wars have made it possible to buy quality components for prices that previously belonged to outdated hardware. You just have to know what to look for.

The Entry System Buyers' Guide is always one of the most read and referred to articles on AnandTech, and it is easy to understand why. Whether it's your first system build or number 1000, the hardest choices are where every penny counts. Value is never about the cheapest price, but about getting the most for the money you do spend. We hope you agree that this Buyers' Guide details some of the greatest value computers we have ever presented in our System Buyers' Guides.

AMD Entry-level PC
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  • pirspilane - Wednesday, May 27, 2009 - link

    Yes, the range is a problem. The EX110 is better suited for desktop use.

    I put the RF receiver on the top rear of my armoire, since the cord wouldn't reach to the front. Reception was erratic from only 6 feet away.

    It works OK now that I moved the receiver to the front of the armoire on top of the TV shelf.
    Reply
  • Zak - Friday, May 15, 2009 - link

    I've built a $350 (tower only) AMD PC with on-board graphics using that HEC case. It's really nice looking for the price. The front panel looks grea, well finished. And the steel is sturdy and everything inside is nicely finished. This is really a great value case.

    Z.
    Reply
  • pirspilane - Thursday, May 14, 2009 - link

    I installed both the NVIDIA HD Audio driver and the Realtek HD Audio driver. Do I need both? What's the difference?

    Also, does the LG Blu-ray drive include software for playing Blu-ray, or do I need to buy a separate app. If so, what would you recommend?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, May 14, 2009 - link

    I believe that the NVIDIA audio drivers are for the HDMI output. I know that's the case on ATI cards that support HDMI. So, if you want HDMI with audio you would need to install both drivers.

    (Feel free to make fun of me if I'm wrong, though!)
    Reply
  • pirspilane - Wednesday, May 20, 2009 - link

    You're absolutely right.

    A few other learning experiences I had:
    - Although the M3N78 PRO has a 3-pin connector for the "PWR" fan, there doesn't seem to be any way to control the speed on that fan. It DOES control the speed on "CHA" fan.
    - BIOS settings - TLB fix should be disabled; Q-fan must be enabled for the CPU fan to use the Cool n Quiet software, even if you're not using AISuite (which has the Q-fan utility). In fact, you can't use both the Cool n Quiet and AISuite utilities, so I didn't install AISuite.
    Reply
  • nubie - Thursday, May 14, 2009 - link

    I love you guys, you just built a decent Intel entry-level for $301!!

    If you happen to have a case/psu/HDD/optical/OS/RAM from an older build you can upgrade with the 4770 for under $300.

    (for most people that is what I would recommend, you can buy an older Gateway/eMachines, with a real mATX case, for $100, thus taking care of all of the base requirements, then add the CPU/Mobo/RAM and 4770 and get a decent system out of it for under or around $500)

    If you are scrounging for the money you can start with a Celeron chip for $30 and then move up as the budget allows, same with RAM, start with a single 2GB stick if you are really strapped, or a 2x1GB kit.

    It is freaking insane how much is available for so little, more so than ever before. (for less than a new current-gen video game console you could upgrade your rig to play current games).
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Friday, May 15, 2009 - link

    Would you really trust the PSU in an old emachines/gateway? Esp. if adding a 4770, which likely means using a 4pin to PCI-E power adaptor? Reply
  • nubie - Friday, May 15, 2009 - link

    Actually, now that you mention it I have upgraded and/or built several systems with the eMachines/Gateway power supplies and have been very pleased. I have had the Celeron 430/420/440 overclocked past 3ghz on these supplies, with a voltmodded 7900GS @650mhz core clock and no issues at all, no lockups with 3Dmark runs, no issues with Prime95 stress testing.

    They are rated accurately, are quiet, and inexpensive.

    Also, look at what you are asking of them: 1 hard drive, 1 optical drive, 1 35 watt processor. According to: http://extreme.outervision.com/PSUEngine">http://extreme.outervision.com/PSUEngine that is only 215 watts for an e5200 system with a 4830, whereas the Gateway supplies are rated to 250 watt.

    If you are using a Celeron 440 with a 4770 it should be just fine, the PSU calculator says 158watts for the 440 with a 4670 (4770 is not yet a choice).

    On my regular system I run a PC Power Silencer 470, and I highly recommend it if you plan to add to the system with overclocked Duals or Quads. But I wouldn't hesitate to recommend a cheap system to start with on the lower TDP processors and lighter video cards.

    I figure that these older systems came with a P4 or Athlon 90nm in the first place, so a low-power single or quad on 45nm isn't going to be a problem as long as you aren't using a power hungry video card or a rack of hard drives.
    Reply
  • barnierubble - Thursday, May 14, 2009 - link

    Hi,

    All the links in the component lists in the latest Under $825 buyers guide have a poor rating in Web of Trust so I would not buy anything from them.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Thursday, May 14, 2009 - link

    The problem is with Circle of Trust and not our links. Our link engine tries to analyze what you are seeking and route it to the lowest priced vendor it knows about. Often that is Newegg.

    Circle of trust misreads the forwarding as not completely trustworthy, which is not correct. Our buying links are as reliable as any you will find. They are just analyzed and routed and not direct.
    Reply

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