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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  • arklab - Thursday, May 14, 2009 - link

    Wow!
    This time you guys really blew it on the Intel CPU choices, and could be giving novices who might rely on your advice a nasty surprise.

    None of the selected Intel CPUs support XT-x - which of course is REQUIRED to run the new virtual XP mode in Windows 7.

    Worst of all, you don't even warn the reader of this situation.

    The AMD CPUs are all OK, of course.

    Please change your recommendations to select "full use" CPUs.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Thursday, May 14, 2009 - link

    That is the way it is on the Intel side. We have to go up to the $169+ range to get VT on Intel and quite frankly, maybe 1% of people might ever run XP mode in Win7.

    If running the Windows Virtual PC under Windows 7 for XP Mode is important to you, then moving to the E8x00 range or the E6x00 are the best VT options. That would blow the Budget out the door, and make the Intel selections not competitive in the Budget Range.

    Do you work for AMD? This is a really minor nag for the vast majority of our readers, and as I'm sure you aware, for a Budget PC if this feature really matters to you then go for an AMD system in the budget price range.
    Reply
  • nycromes - Thursday, May 14, 2009 - link

    I think their point was/is that there is no mention of it in the article. It is nice to know what you get and what you don't get for these kind of systems. I don't think many will need the VT feature, but it could have still been presented in the article for those that might need it. I wouldn't change the recommendations, but just a small blurb about it would probably suffice.

    Of course, if they read the comments, there is plenty of mention of it so it doesn't really matter anymore.
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Thursday, May 14, 2009 - link

    We had strict budget numbers to meet for this guide. We had to select the entry level Intel processors due to cost and still provide a decent set of components around it. We added a statement about VT support to the processor descriptions. Reply
  • HelToupee - Thursday, May 14, 2009 - link

    This will be a boon to those using non-Microsoft OSes for our HTPC's XBMC, my HTPC OS of choice has supported nVidia's accelerated video playback for quite awhile now. Unfortunately, players have not been able to take advantage of AMD/ATI's Linux drivers due to AMD/ATI being slow to release specs/headers. Acelleration on nVidia is supported in most major Linux video players by default, all you have to do is have the nVidia binary driver installed. Reply
  • kleinwl - Thursday, May 14, 2009 - link

    It's probably worth mentioning that a core i7 makes a great cpu in an HTPC. While it blows the budget, if you are looking to upscale DVDs using ffdshow (or the like) to fit your 52" screen, I would suggest that you do not skimp on the cpu power. While ffdshow is a nightmare to get properly configured (thousands of options, no consistent recommendations), once you do, you can have a viewing experience close to that of an oppo. However, ffdshow can be a resource hog, and thus I recommend pushing the cpu spec as high as you can aford. Reply
  • Spoelie - Friday, May 15, 2009 - link

    1. Size of the screen is not directly related to resolution (and thus scaling power needed). There are large plasma screens with the same resolution as a 17" LCD. A modern 52" TV will 'only' have a resolution of 1920x1080, and as such BR will need no scaling, and decoding DVDs is such a light load that there's plenty left for upscaling.

    There's a reason media tanks do not use super-fast general purpose cpus. They just aren't needed for playing back stuff, even with scaling.

    The only valid reason to push cpu power is for transcoding.

    2. Ideal = low power, noise, heat, consumption. Not something one would associate with an i7.

    Nowadays, even though I have a HTPC, I'm of the opinion you're better of with a media server/transcoder somewhere in a back room and a networked media tank next to the screen instead of a single device to do both tasks.
    Reply
  • HOOfan 1 - Thursday, May 14, 2009 - link

    Just an FYI Reply
  • necrohippy - Thursday, May 14, 2009 - link

    biostar t-series motherboard amd athlon x2 3.0ghz 4gb ram 500watt moduler psu decent case nvidia gtx geforce 260 896mb video card xp pro $600 after rebate $750 in the first place changed cpu from 3ghz to 4.5ghz a great gaming rig for the money....smoken. I had keyboard,mouse,and 19inch viewsonic Reply
  • mrubermonkey - Thursday, May 14, 2009 - link

    With these Intel systems people will not be able to do hardware virtualization of Windows XP from within Windows 7, but people with AMD systems should be alright. Reply

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