Buyer's Guide - Entry Level, October 2004

by Jarred Walton on 10/6/2004 12:05 AM EST


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  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 11, 2004 - link

    52 - ??? If you have such a high-end graphics card, are you actually thinking about pairing it with a budget systesm? Anyway, yes, it should work, unless it's an AGP Pro graphics card and your motherboard doesn't have a Pro slot. A 550W PSU should be sufficient, regardless. Anyway, you ought to look into getting an Opteron, Athlon 64, or Pentium 4 to go with that card. :p Reply
  • nurazlanshah - Sunday, October 10, 2004 - link

    can i use 3DLabs Wildcat Realizm 200 8x AGP 512MB G-DDR3 ($1500) with my NF2 8xagp motherboard even if i have 550w power supply? Reply
  • MasterFlash - Friday, October 08, 2004 - link

    Nice article. I like your choice of components. My comp is similar to your recommendations: Antec SLQ-3700, Biostar MN7CD Pro mobo, Athlon XP 2500+, 2x512Mb DDR400 Crucial RAM, ATI Radeon 9800 Pro, 160Gb Seagate HDD, Toshiba DVD drive, generic 19" CRT. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 08, 2004 - link

    #49 - Foxconn and CasEdge have been suggested in our past budget guides, so I wanted to branch out a bit. :) I'm not too keen on their look, either, but that's just me. Reply
  • Bulldog66209 - Friday, October 08, 2004 - link

    I've found that Foxconn/Supercase/CasEdge toolless cases offer good value, are easy to work with, and many are available with truly usable 400 watt power supplies. The local Micro-Center recently had a CasEdge TU-155 on sale for $31. The included power supply rated as capable of supplying 28 amps of 3.3V, 40 amps of 5V, and 17 amps at 12V at a nominal 400 watts. This compares favorably to the Antec which, although only rated at 350 watts, provides 28 , 35, and 16 amps. Reply
  • spartacvs - Friday, October 08, 2004 - link

    To #41
    What the hell do you put on those HD? I have a 40Gb: few games, few applications, few videos, few mp3 and some small softwares (k9, avant browser, etc). It's only 2/3 full. And when it's 3/4 full, it just mean it's time for a little cleanup. Sure you can easily overload 2 x 120 Gb but your need are certainly not what most of the peoples needs.
  • mino - Friday, October 08, 2004 - link

    #45 Nicely said.
    I completely agree,
    It just seems to me it's very important to explicitly say what you mentioned here in your post.
    It's beacause there is a HUGE amount of people who save those $20 or so, just because they have no idea what the result may be. The worst(not rare) case is, when such a person is a white-box builder...

    Other than that I forgot to mention in my previous post that this guide is MUCH better then last one(not saying that was bad).

    Keep good work Jarred.

    And one suggestion for case to consider - since I think for value machine reliability is FAR more important than look - I recommend this YeongYang Cetus YY-5601 as an alternative with PSU I mentioned before.

    We have been buying only these cases for a year now on and they ones of the best in $50-60 range.
    they're available for inastance here
  • Ivo - Friday, October 08, 2004 - link

    The review is very nice and useful but several additional aspects could be addressed too:
    1. The Video/Audio performance for 'Home entertainment' (without gaming - for older buyers :-).
    2. The Cool & Quite (Eco) features of the components and systems.
    3. The micro-ATX SFF systems (not barebones) for LAN-parties, Home-PCs etc.
    4. The LCD-displays.
    5. The long-term price (future software compatibility) of the systems.
    In that sense, possibly, only systems with Athlon64 CPUs (with good cooler) are really interesting.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, October 07, 2004 - link

    Regarding several of the case comments, that's pretty much what I had in mind. I've built quite a few PCs for friends, family, and even myself. The downsides to the cheaper cases often more than outweigh the $20 or so you might save. Heck, if it were me, I would even try to get up to the SLK-3700 or Sonata cases by Antec (although oddly enough I prefer the 3700 over the Sonata - other than the PSU, of course). They're *so* much nicer to work with than a lot of the other sub-$100 cases.

    Really, cases are a personal choice. What I often consider gawdy or ugly, some people think is "l33t". Conversely, what I think is simple and elegant others will say is boring and dull. Buy what makes you happy, but if you get a cheap, generic PSU and it fails after a few months, don't say we didn't warn you!

    Anyway, thanks to all for the kind comments. I'll look at including some other miscellaneous recommendations in the future. I do have to say that after reading Kris' MythTV articles, I've been itching to build a TiVo-esque PC. I just keep repeating to myselft, "You do NOT need another PC... you do NOT need another PC..." Heheh.
  • Neurorelay - Thursday, October 07, 2004 - link

    Whoops, I see the 6600...okay, mistook the number. :) Reply
  • Neurorelay - Thursday, October 07, 2004 - link

    When you commented on budget gaming cards, you mentiond the 6800GT in the 200 range coming out soon. I think you meant to say 6800 LE. Reply
  • mino - Thursday, October 07, 2004 - link

    #38 I STRONGLY disagree, the quality of the case and PSU will in time prove to be probably one of the most important factors(especially PSU) impeding the lifespan of PC. Also I will certainly suggest buyng some cheapo nice w/o PSU case and quite high quality Fortron 300W PSU

    Jarred: Please ,in next guide case/PSU section, mention the very important fact: in any case DO NOT BUY cases w/PSU's under $50 !!!

  • ksherman - Thursday, October 07, 2004 - link

    #40-- I agree. I have two 120GB drives and my second drive is about 90% full, and my first drive if about 70% full... I would never be able to survive on an 80 or 100GB drive. Reply
  • draazeejs - Thursday, October 07, 2004 - link

    What I do not understand, why it is never recommended to get the 200GB Seagate drive instead? It seems that the recommendations stop at 160, but if you want to store movies, some games, and still want to have a comfortable free space, why not the 200 one? Is there something wrong with the Seagates 200G drive? Reply
  • Egglick - Thursday, October 07, 2004 - link

    #21: I think you have a "Budget Office" machine confused with a Business Server. I don't know *anybody* that runs a RAID array in their home office machine, nor do any of the machines at my workplace. The huge mainframe server does, but that's something altogether different.

    RAID is more expensive, much more difficult to set up and use, and in this situation, doesn't provide any real benefit over simply backing up your data to CD, etc (which they should be doing anyway even if they DO have RAID).
  • Egglick - Thursday, October 07, 2004 - link

    Excellent article Jarred. You did a great job of explaining everything in depth and covering all the bases for those that are less knowledgable, or want to know exactly what their extra money is going towards. In addition to that, I agreed with almost everything you recommended.

    About the only thing that I might've questioned was the Case for the Budget Office computer. 75 bucks is a bit much to be spending there. It's actually the most expensive item in the list, after the Monitor. A good portion of that price might be due to shipping charges though, so if someone were to find something like that Aspire case you mentioned for around $35-40 at a local store, I'd recommend that instead. That would put the price under the $500 mark.

    For the gamer however, that case (which includes a quality powersupply) would be a great choice.
  • Gioron - Thursday, October 07, 2004 - link

    Ok, that turned out longer than I expected.... Reply
  • Gioron - Thursday, October 07, 2004 - link

    Excellent guide. You fixed most of my issues with the last budget guide and I'm now having a difficult time finding nits to pick.
    IIRC, what I had a problem with last time was as follows:
    Previously ignored integrated graphics: Now mentioned twice in the article. Although I'd still like to see it recommended as the default office option (with a note to make sure whatever board you get has an AGP slot if you change your mind), thats mainly just a matter of opinion instead of a fault in the review.
    Previously recommended low timing RAM: Now fixed, and I like the explanation and options for the RAM this time around. I'm not sure pushing dual-DDR is really a good idea for the value segment, but you aren't pushing it hard and it can make a couple percent difference, so I can't really fault you for it.

    The one thing I think I'd like to see is more recommendations on niche items. With a basic system like this, its fairly easy to add one or two components and make it suitable for various specialized tasks. The one that leaps to mind immediately is making a TIVO-like system just by swapping out the video card for an AIW card. It looks like it would be fairly easy to add a section that says, basicly: "for a mythtv system(add link to earlier article), we recommend the basic office computer, but replace the video card with XXXX and make sure you have at least XXXX RAM, XXXX processor, and don't bother buying a monitor". It might be a signifigant chunk more work, but I think it would be useful, and there are several purpose-built boxes you can make with only minor mods to the basic budget build. Somewhat like the difference between the office and gaming systems, but hopefully without needing to recommend items for every single part.

    #21, I don't think there's much point to using RAID on a value system. It basicly doubles the cost of the hard drives and thats hard to justify for the return. RAID 0 won't speed things up that much for gaming if you're only going to be using software raid, so you'd probably be better off using the cash to buy a raptor instead. And even then, assuming you have enough RAM to handle it, it'll only really speed up load times, not frame rates. RAID 1 for the office might be debateable, but for the cost of it its still not worth it. Most people aren't working on things that are all that irreplaceable, and if you are you really should be making backups or have a copy on a remote system. For most people, you'd be better off doing weekly backups to your CD drive and storing them in some other room. Besides, RAID 1 can give a false sense of security. On the last computer I had die on me, the power supply blew and took everything else in the case with it, including both drives. The data loss in that case wasn't more than an annoyance, but relying on RAID 1 to protect vital data is not a good idea.

    As to #24s post, I think there are enough similarities between the two systems that it makes sense to put them together. A gamer on a tight budget might pick up an office item or two, and an office customer with more money might pick up a gaming item. All the items are picked with almost the same criteria, just a slightly different audience in mind. I'd actually like to see more recommendations of different parts for niche markets, as I mentioned before, with one of these systems as a baseline.

    Now, for my opinions:
    CPU/motherboard: good choices. I might pick different ones, but only if the price points change. I'd probably go a bit lower on the gaming CPU, but thats just me.
    Memory: Nice explanation. I completely agree.
    Graphics: I'd probably go with the 9600 pro instead, but your arguments do have merit (and at least you mention the 9600 in passing). Although you won't be able to turn the details up on all your games, they're still playable and the price difference is large enough to sway me. Oh, and you might want to mention the 9600 All-In-Wonder in passing as well. Most people don't need the TV compatibility, but even some value customers might find it very useful.
    Hard Drives: I'm still partial to WD, but admittedly there isn't a whole lot of difference. I agree with your size, speed and buffer recommendations, although I'd be tempted to recommend the office drive for both systems and only recommend the gaming drive as an upgrade for those who like to store lots of media on their computer. By far the most space on my hard drives is taken up by video files, and even then I'm finding it hard to fill up a 120gig drive. For games, 80 gigs is probably plenty for now.
    CD drives: I agree with your recommendations, but I'd at least mention a specific DVD+-RW drive for those that want to upgrade.
    Case/power: I think the 430W power supply is a bit much for a value system, but as only an alternative I can't say too much against it.
    Displays: Been too long since I've been in the market for these, so I guess your recommendations are good enough. I would like to see a cheap LCD recommendation as an alternative, but I'm not sure what I'd pick myself.
    Misc. components: This is the area I'd like to see more mention of other niche items you can add to the system, but thats more of a feature request instead of a bug, your keyboard and mouse recommendations (or lack thereof...) are decent. I personally like Logitech wireless mice, but I know they aren't the only valid option.
  • Poser - Thursday, October 07, 2004 - link

    I know that Windows XP is pretty much the only choice for a mainstream system, but I think it's probably worth it to mention in every guide that you should get an OEM copy when you're buying parts. I knew somebody who paid a full $200 for a retail copy when they were building a system -- they knew enough to put it together, but not enough to avoid getting shafted. =/ Reply
  • daclayman - Thursday, October 07, 2004 - link

    #23 is right on with the Asus Terminators. Check ebay for teh refurbs; they are dirty cheap. If you're leary about that power supply (I think it's proprietary or microATX), then I like the Athenatech A301BS.Q300. The PowerQ power supply is actually a Fortron: ( Reply
  • skittlekiller - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    One thing that may be useful to inform buyers of is Miscrosoft's basic $15 optical mouse. I work with these very often, I find them to almost compete with Mice like my personal MX510. They're very nice, comfortable, and cheap. They'll do everything you want them to do, and will last you forever. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    ksherman - even inexpensive SFF cases can cost $200 or more, and they are usually more difficult to work with (since they're cramped). For first time buyers, it is difficult to recommend a SFF. If you know what you're doing, though, go for it. We're still looking into recommendations for a SFF System. Stay tuned.

    We could also cut the gaming system down to $750 while sticking with the 9800 Pro if we go with a cheaper case, monitor, 80GB HDD, and socket A. The performance will suffer a lot, though, especially in the most recent games. A 9800 Pro is still 50% faster (or more) than a 9600XT, so the extra $70 is money well spent, especially if you have any interest in gaming. If you get a 9600XT, high detail modes really are not an option for the latest generation games (Doom 3, HL2, Far Cry, etc.) That's just our opinion, though, and we do mention the 9600 Pro/XT as an option.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    I made a few minor tweaks after reading the comments. I remember reading before that the A7N8X-X was single-channel only, but it's easy to forget with the similarity in names. Still, it's not like the single-channel mode really hurts performance, but with the suggestion of dual-channel RAM, we ought to stick with a board that supports the feature. Sorry for the confusion.

    Regarding case and monitor, I tried to make it clear that there are a LOT of options out there, and I don't think any two components are as personal a choice as those items. If money is an issue - and on a budget sytem, it almost certainly is - check out some local computer shops. You have to pay taxes, but you save on shipping, so it usually equals out. Searching for displays - both CRT and LCD - at local stores is also a good idea, especially if you have any large electronics stores like Fryes, CompUSA, or similar in the area. They often have sales on parts that can beat any online purchase.
  • ksherman - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    I think that $900 for an entry level gaming system is a little much... why not use a 9600XT (which still kicks, but costs signifigantly less) and an AMD XP 2600, that only costs $75 and still performes well for games. Also, a SFF computer should be considered as an entry level PC, and should have been inluded... but otherwise, i like the review! Reply
  • Ballistics - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    If you are looking for a 17" CRT monitor that can do high rez at high refresh rates look no further than the Viewsonic G75F. 1600 X 1200 @68 Hz and 1280 X 1024 @ 80 Hz. Natch! Reply
  • thebluesgnr - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    This article shows socket A is not quite dead yet - I wonder why AnandTech completely ignored the KT880 chipset.

    For what it's worth, I'd recommend ASRock's K7V88 instead of the ASUS A7N8X-X. Save almost $20 for a stable board with SATA support, better sound codec.

    btw, the A7N8X-X doesn't support dual-channel like page 4 of the article says.
  • MemberSince97 - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    Very clear and informative Jarred. A concise guide for they noobler and confused first time PC builder... Reply
  • jensend - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    Seagate's recent PATA drives have all been the sucks. See For PATA, go Samsung P80- same price, 3-year warranty, significantly better performance (25% or greater difference in every DriveMark 2002 test), lower noise (for details on that, see Seagate's SATA drives are considerably better and I'd call them a dead draw with Samsung's (slightly faster than the P80 SATA drives, slightly louder and slightly more expensive). Reply
  • Spacecomber - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    "... the NEC FE771 is the same display [as the NEC 770] only with a beige enclosure."

    Actually, I believe that the NEC 770 is a shadow mask monitor, and the NEC 771 uses the Diamondtron aperture grill tube. Both models came in different colors.

    Just being picky. I enjoyed reading the write-up.

  • Illissius - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    Solid recommendations. Why, though, do you insist on presenting two completely seperate price guides under the guise of a single one? It would be much simpler to, rather than have two pages for everything within the same guide, seperate it into two. Reply
  • kmmatney - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    We are going completely small form factor at my office, using either the ASUS Terminator or, lately, ASUS T2-P with Celeron-D. They've all worked great, and no problems using on-board graphics.

    The ASUS Terminator + Duron is simply an incredible value. The ASUS T2-R is also nice, with ATI Radeon 9100 graophics.
  • kherman - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

  • kherman - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    Left kinda confused. I see alot of areas I simply didn't like. In particular, for a true Office rig, where data intergretty is VERY important, I'd suggest 2 hard drives and a software RAID solution. Same total cost for hard drives, but it's justfied in terms of budget. Spend the same amount. for gaming, go for fast loading. For office, go for redundancy. The Office rig would actually have more alloted to the hard drive, but isn't that the critical component in an office rig?

    I say this every time I see a write up. You really need to start mentioning it, even if it's simpyl an alternative office solution that costs more. Most people using a PC for home office use, don't have a server running RAID 5 available and it almost seems as though it's an assumption.

    Other than this, I loved that article. Also, for home office, I can't see recomending 17" monitors. You need to generally run higher resolution and see more of the screen to be efficient in a home office.

    To be honest, I have to say that "a "budget rig" for office shouldn't be much cheaper than he gaming rig. Monitors and redundancy are important factors here where gaming rigs need a killer video card.

    Please consider this in the future.
  • boomerang - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    Very happy with the more in-depth explanations and choices given in the guide. I very much depend on these guides when building systems.

    You are to be commended for a job well done!
  • iversonyin - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    since we in the entry level budget, why not get a generic case+ PS. generic case usually got for ~$35
    i would not run XP with 256 MB RAM even its only for office use. IMO
  • PrinceGaz - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    On the last page in the Additional Alternatives table, the Power Supply Upgrade has the wrong item name. Reply
  • Iger - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    Thanks for the nice guide, I love explanations too :)
    About monitors - there actually are Samsung 795 DF ones, which handle 1280x1024@75 for a few more $ :)
  • Gholam - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    $14, Bayfield is just way too expensive - why not use a D865GVHZ if you're determined to go Intel? Reply
  • Gholam - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    $14, Bayfield is just way too expensive - why not use a D865GVHZ if you're determined to go Intel? Reply
  • Scarceas - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    I've had seen at least one business app that didn't run right on an nForce motherboard. It was wierd.

    Anyway, I never seem to have any trouble with stability or configuration when using an Intel-branded motherboard with an Intel CPU.

    It does cost a bit more, but the in the total cost of ownership equation, the hardware itself is definitely not the largest factor, especially on a budget near this one.

    The previously mentioned application is a good case in point: the money saved in hardware was easily ate up in service/support to troubleshoot the program.

    I like the Intel D865GBFL motherboard, and if you're going budget, a Celeron D 320 will fit nicely ($165 shipped from Newegg).

    In an office environment, the performance delta is not so critical, and I don't mind spending $35 more if it reduces support issues.

    Just something to conside...
  • Gholam - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    Why not use an nForce2 IGP or KM400 based board and dump the discrete graphics card? Also, $73 case for an office system is waaaaay too expensive - an HEC 6CS3 with a 300W PSU will run you $30-35. Reply
  • Scarceas - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

  • Ozenmacher - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    I think for a budget office system, someone staring at a monitor all day may appreciate an LCD since they generally have better text and do not flicker. In that case, you can find 15 in LCD's online close to 200 dollars with integrated speakers. While integrated speakers suck, they would suffice for the office user and would reduce clutter. In that case, maybe another recommendation would be to subtract the 16 dollar speakers and add a little money towards an LCD for a slightly higher price. If they are really hurting for money, they definitely could subtract the video card as well. Reply
  • ceefka - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    I second that #8. I like this new style too. Thank you Jarred for going the extra mile. Reply
  • Zebo - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    #7 the best kept secret in ram is the crucial 8T, which Mwave sells also in thier bundles. This stuff can and will clock to 250 Mhz FSB and low timings. 3-3-3 1T. I've talked about it in various threads before and pointed here:

    to show it's outstanding charachteristics.
  • Zebo - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    Excellent work Jarred.

    I really like the idea of and your explinations of "alternative" goods. Like the monitor, 512 ram and 9800 pro. It gives users who may value of aspect or another, while considering thier intended use, some good clues.

  • DrMrLordX - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    Interesting guide. I may follow some, if not all of these recommendations soon, if I can actually bear to part with money for a new system anytime soon.

    I was wondering if you've noticed's deals on the Chaintech board you recommended, paired with Athlon 64s and Kingston memory(I think they have a few other brands available). The price on the three components together is very cheap, and could serve as an excellent base for a budget gamer(or overclocker) system.

    You can get the above-mentioned combo(the RAM is 1x512 megs Kingston PC3200) for $292 + shipping. You get a free Farcry thrown in as well, and you get a better CPU than the Sempron 3100+.

    Also, AMD is reportedly going to be dropping prices across the board on Oct 15. Best to wait 'til then if you're going to buy an AMD system.
  • ilancas - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    Calin, certain flash USB devices can apparently be configured to function in place of a floppy drive. At least, that's what I've heard - I have never actually used one personally. Like I said in the article, it's worth the $10 for me. :D Reply
  • Calin - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    "and installing hard drive controllers for XP are a couple of examples that often benefit from the presence of a floppy drive"

    Hello, there is no other way to install a driver for an unusual controller - even in Windows 2003. If you don't have a floppy, you're out of luck

  • MAME - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    good job jarred Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link


    We chose the Sempron 2400+ due to price/performance constraints. It's still $10 cheaper than the cheapest Celeron D, and performance is about the equivalent of the Celeron D 325 (which costs $20 more). Combine that with the fact that a reasonable quality motherboard will also cost a little more, and we end up with recommending the Socket A Sempron over the Celeron D. If you want budget overclocking, the Celeron D wins, but that's a different topic.

    You can read our initial comparison of the Celeron D and Sempron chips here: We did not actually test the Sempron 2400+, but it's performance should be at worst the same as or slightly faster than the Athlon XP 2000+. We didn't test that either, of course, but if you take the average of the 1700+ and 2200+, you can guesstimate.

    And of course, prices for this article were gathered over the past week, so some of them are now off by a few dollars. Oh, well. :)
  • Murst - Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - link

    Why choose the Sempr0n...

    I thought it was pretty much accepted that similar celeron-ds run faster and actually cost less (cpu+MB) - that does not include the 3100+ but that's not the issue here.


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