Entry Level Buyer’s Guide, July 2005

by Jarred Walton on 7/20/2005 12:05 AM EST


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  • RussellCollins - Wednesday, August 31, 2005 - link

    So let's just start with some basics. I have relied upon the reviews here for the last 6 or 7 years when it came to building computers. I have built several of my own based upon a mix of recommendations from this site and personal research. My background is in mechanical engineering and I am currently working as a software test engineer. I say that to suggest that even those who know better can pay for their mistakes they shouldn't have made...

    I built a system for my parents (*gasp, that's already asking for trouble) based almost exclusively off this entry-level model (AMD flavor). It worked perfectly for about a week and then the system simply refused to turn on. I tried checking as many things as I could to narrow down the problem based on the limited equipment I had on hand. I thought at first that a bad power-supply might have fried some of the silicon so I had them get a new mobo after all the components plugged into it (save for the CPU) were tested on other machines and appeared to be fine.

    Needless to say, I'm STILL ironing out the kinks in my spare time because it refuses to breath again. The fans all turn on but nobody's home (won't even post to BIOS). I'll be installing a new CoolerMaster PSU and probably new CPU this week just to finally resolve the issue.

    Final words: go with your instinct for self-preservation and get a trustworthy power supply. It isn't worth the risk and headache. This was a good review overall but I wish now that I had gone with my first hunch to swap out power supplies before the first boot.
  • DarkForceRising - Sunday, August 28, 2005 - link

    Does the Foxconn AMD Mobo. have integrated graphics? Reply
  • Gioron - Sunday, July 24, 2005 - link

    Ok, I hate to harp on it, but I'm going to anyways. The included power supply in the case is a bad idea. Although I can't be sure this is the exact power supply, I went and found a review of a 350W codegen from annother cheap case. Here's the picture of the spec sheet: http://www.mikhailtech.com/articles/psu/codegen350...">http://www.mikhailtech.com/articles/psu/codegen350...
    Things of note:
    How the hell does that add up to 350W? I only get about 330W just by adding everything together. It sure as heck can't output all of that at once, and usually its a good idea to ignore the piddly little negatives and the VSB buss, which would drop it down to a heck of a lot lower than 300W. Honestly, I'd be suprised if this can handle 200W well. The only real hope is that they've improved their 350W power supplies in the couple years since the review, but I would doubt it.

    And then there's the quote from the article: "Worst case scenario - pardon the pun - is that you'll have to purchase a new power supply down the road (and/or deal with RMA issues)."
    No, thats _NOT_ the worst case scenario, although its a likely scenario. I had to completely replace every component in my parent's computer when their power supply died. I tested everything seperately and every single component in the system was toast. And the real worst case scenario involves an electical fire burning your house down (yah yah, not terribly likely, but a lot more likely with that power supply than with a quality one). Power supply death isn't something you want to deal with.

    As far as dell systems go, it was interesting to note that 2 of them on the site ended up dying when we had a planned power outage, even though the computers were switched off at the time. The sun boxes we also use came through fine.

    Side note: I was viewing the comments, then had to reload the dang thing because of an error. Then <poof>, the new comment system was in. Somewhat confusing to get used to, not sure I like the change yet, but just barely using it. Might be a good idea to add post numbers to things like this, just since everyone is so used to saying "#12, you're an idiot", etc. And add a preview button while you're at it.
  • Pythias - Monday, September 05, 2005 - link

    Is this budget system going to pull 330 watts at peak? Reply
  • spartacvs - Monday, July 25, 2005 - link

    I totally agree with you. It's funny because the computer case is propably the least important part of a computer. But the power supply is probably the most important. lol

    I don't think the problem is comming from Jarred. IMO, he do a hell of a good job in his systems guides. No, imo, the problem might coming from the price limit. Maybe 500$ is too low, maybe go with 550-600$. Sure you can buy a system for that price but is it really viable? Will you end up with a much better system that will last longer (eg. the messages about the monitor) for 50-100$ more?
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - link

    Thanks, spartacvs...

    The budget price is killer. I deal with people asking about $500 PCs all the time, and I shudder at the compromises that often need to be made. You're right about the PSU, Gioron: the WORST that can happen is really bad. Very unlikely IMO, but I have had a cheap PSU fry everything in a system (other than the graphics, sound, HDD, and CD-ROM). That was an old socket 370 board, and the Celeron, motherboard, and RAM all got toasted along with the PSU.

    For what it's worth, I really do encourage people to upgrade the PSU. Still, I *think* these chepaer cases will do okay with budget components. Don't upgrade the graphics or CPU and stick with a single HDD and you should do okay. I think I may actually go out and purchase one of these cases for an article. A sort of PSU expose to see if I can get better OC results and stability with a good PSU rather than the crappy "350W" included. Heheheh.... stay tuned! :D
  • spartacvs - Thursday, July 21, 2005 - link

    And you can still buy a video board later. Also, a monitor last longer (like most of the peripherals). Reply
  • Zebo - Thursday, July 21, 2005 - link

    True I hear ya. But the low end LCD's dont usually have DVI... All I'm saying is if I had $500 for a system I'd rather have integrated graphics and a 17" LCD than a 6200 TC with a 17" cheap CRT. As ones budget gets higher more and better options open up.. maybe I'm just low-balling to much.:) Reply
  • OldPueblo - Thursday, July 21, 2005 - link

    The 6200TC allows you to play BF2, D3, HL2, and whatever else for an amazingly low price. The card is a gift in my eyes. I have friends that just absolutely cannot afford anything else, and to them its a godsend. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, July 21, 2005 - link

    44 - Calin, I'm not a big fan of mail-in rebates, so you're looking at $280 for the cheapest 19" LCD that has DVI input. If you don't mind MIRs, you can get an Aopen F90JS for $242 from Newegg - $70 MIR. I still say the Acer AL1914SMD at $307 is a great LCD, though. Expensive for a "budget" system, but a good display can last through 3 computer upgrades or more.

    43 - Zebo, I'd like to recommend an LCD with integrated graphics, but the lack of DVI output from the IGP motherboards makes the add-in card almost a requirement in my book. (That's another one of the problems I have with the "free LCD upgrades" you get from OEMs; LCDs without DVI are simply not the same.) It's still an option, though, and I think the recommendations in this Guide give people enough information to put together such a setup if they want.
  • OldPueblo - Thursday, July 21, 2005 - link

    Doh. Anyway, the Asus website has the specs listed and they do say 700Mhz. Is the website wrong then? http://usa.asus.com/prog/spec.asp?m=Extreme%20N620...

    Graphics Engine NVIDIA GeForce 6200 w/TurboCache
    Video Memory 64MB/64bit DDR onboard
    Effective Memory Size 256MB
    Effective Memory Bandwidth 128bit
    Engine Clock 350MHz
    Memory Clock 700MHz(350MHz DDR)
    RAMDAC 400MHz
    Bus Standard PCI Express 16X
    Max Resolution 2048x1536
    VGA Output Standard 15-pin D-sub
    Vedio Output Composite
    DVI Output DVI-D (Available only in TD model)
    2nd VGA Output N/A
    Adaptor/Cable bundled N/A
  • OldPueblo - Thursday, July 21, 2005 - link

  • Calin - Thursday, July 21, 2005 - link

    JarredWalton, I would buy a 17" LCD - however, I think the resolution is just too small. So I will have to wait for a 19" LCD that has the same resolution, but the text has a readable size, in order not to experience all those artifacts generated by non-native resolution. Reply
  • Zebo - Thursday, July 21, 2005 - link

    I still say a sub $75 TC videocards like you recommned is worthless for gaming, even at low res 1024x768 featured on 15" LCDs it studders.. Need 600/700pro or 6200/6600 minimum. Again what's wrong with $50 mobos with inegrated graphics for a budget setup? Millions of Americans who shop at Dell get integrated graphics every year and could care less. But I do bet they opt for 17" or even 19" LCD's with thier package. Reply
  • BPB - Thursday, July 21, 2005 - link

    Geez, how'd I miss that? I was specifically looking for the RS480M2-IL too. Sorry. Reply
  • BPB - Thursday, July 21, 2005 - link

    Geez, how'd I miss that? I was specifically looking for that too. Reply
  • kmmatney - Thursday, July 21, 2005 - link

    They really need some Semprons for S939 - the MSI RS480M2-IL is not very compelling for a budget system without Semprons. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    14/38: the MSI board is mentioned as an integrated graphics alternative. No OC'ing features at all, so not everyone will like it, but I did mention that the cost of a discrete graphics card basically makes the MSI+939 the same price as the budget mobo+CPU+GPU and you get a faster CPU. (See page 2, last paragraph.) Reply
  • BPB - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    #14, I agree with you. Got the MSI RS480M2-IL and built a very nice system for my daughter. With the saving on video card got a better CPU. When she needs it I'll get her a better video card. I started out with the same hard drive as the article and then added another, bigger drive. For a monitor she has the Samsung 17" 730B purchased at Staples, on sale for about $200. Very happy with everything. Also, the MSI board supports the X2 CPUs so it has great upgrading potential should I decide to use it for my video editing system and build something else for her. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    Due to an error in specifications, we have changed the budget GPU recommendation to an X300SE - the cheapest PCIe card with DVI that we could find. It turns out that the ASUS does *not* have 700MHz RAM - in fact, we couldn't find any 64-bit 6200TC cards with 700MHz RAM. The price of the better TurboCache models is getting dangerously close to that of faster models, so we decided to simply cut the price $20 and go with a cheaper card. The graphics page and summaries have been updated accordingly. If you can find a card that offers substantially better performance in the $50 to $65 range, send me an email.

    (Grumble: The overlapping specs on the low-end graphics cards is a nightmare of confusion. /Grumble)
  • bob661 - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    Thanks Jarred. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    #15 - Bob,

    OCZ has quite a few overlapping RAM offerings these days, all of which have a place. I recommended the BH5 based Gold that runs 2-2-2-5 1T at 2.8V as opposed to the VX offering that requires 3.2V for 2-2-2-5 1T. Here's the link:

    You can also find the RAM at Newegg:

    The VX is about the same price, but it doesn't have "Gold" in the name.
    WRT the displays, I would much rather have a larger display. Getting people to go from $600 for the basic setup to $750 for a 19" LCD is a tough sell, unfortunately. I really like 19" LCDs (and I like my 2405FPW even more), but few people are willing to shell out over $300 for "just the display". As Hacp mentions, a lot of people just don't realize what they're missing. I know plenty of people with 17" to 19" displays that still run them at 1024x768 - even on LCDs. They just don't realize that resolution is something most people should adjust.
  • SDA - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    #31, I'm not sure where to start with you.

    First: Anyone can see the difference between 17" and 19".

    Second: You won't notice any difference between a fast system and a (reasonably) slow system when watching movies, writing letters, or surf the web. otoh, you WILL notice a difference between a good monitor and a bad monitor when playing games and editing photos. You're using your monitor every time you're at your computer, but most of the time you don't need a fast CPU at all.

    Third: Image quality is important. If image quality wasn't important, people wouldn't buy high-end video cards for games.

    IME, people who place I/O equipment (monitor, mouse, sound setup, etc.) at the bottom of the list do so because they have never used genuinely good I/O equipment for any reasonable length of time. I don't mean any offense here, this is just what I've seen.
  • Zebo - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    sprockkets - just the opposite.. prescott uses about 30% more power than a northwood at same hurtz.. and really starts leaking like crazy after 3.4 which a northwood never saw. Reply
  • Zebo - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    Bob - http://forums.anandtech.com/messageview.aspx?catid... Reply
  • Hacp - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    I doubt that a budgetminded person would recognize the difference between 19 and 17 inches much. Heck, I would even go for a 15 inch LCD if it gave room to get a better video card/cpu or more ram. Screen size is the last thing I think about when I budget for a comptuer. Reply
  • Wellsoul2 - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    The Polywell LCD is a good one but I would go with
    a 19 inch monitor for around 40 to 50 bucks more.
    The bigger LCD makes such a huge difference IMHO
    compared to the bang for the buck you get putting
    50 bucks anywhere else.

  • Hacp - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    Btw nice guide. Didn't mention this before. Reply
  • sprockkets - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    Yeah, but consider first that having a prescott core as opposed to a northwood core would save power, but also save more energy also since you don't have to spend money on the HVAC removing the excessive heat it makes too, and that system takes a lot of energy!

    At work, we have 2.8ghz stupid dell optiplex systems that have no ventilation slots whatsoever, and it is so funny to see all the dust collect on the back and the floppy drive because that is all it can intake from. But they don't put out much heat. However, the newer prescott based ones (same 2.8ghz) are much hotter; in fact, I managed to get prime95 on it, and the stupid computer had to turn on the processor fan to full blast, making it sound like a vacuum cleaner! It even speeds up when loading simple websites (gets louder while loading, then quiets down once the page loaded up)!

    Btw, someone at newegg made this comment about not having cool and quiet on semprons: They don't need it! The 2600 and 2800+ (well, at least the 90nm Palermo cores) put out so little heat, I don't even think the fan is necessary! It runs 2-3 degrees over ambient, and around 5 when prime95 is running!

    Other note about power supplies and Dell: Dell used to use Delta, then of course the fiance department cut that out and now they use crappy HIPoint. Again, where I work, with new 3.06 ghz systems, out of 30 some systems, nearly all have had the power supply replaced, and a good amount even twice. For exaple, do a search for Dell 4600 and see what I mean. It doesn't pay in the long run to use crappy power supplies for all the issues it causes.
  • siliconthoughts - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    While I like to build systems as much as the next guy, for a $600 system the new HP A1130n systems (at bestbuy/circuitcity/etc) are really hard to beat (3500+ athlon64 socket 939, 250GB SATA, PCIe, DVD, DVD-RW, integrated ATI X300, 1GB RAM) for ~$650 (w/ monitor and throwaway printer after rebate) Dell has nothing competitive with it.

    You generally don't build a system like this for yourself anyway - vendors have a purpose: keeping me from being the free-support guy.
  • bob661 - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    Do you remember the cost difference?
  • Zebo - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    "I once calculated the cost of running a 60W lightbulb 24/7 for a year and it was only about $37 - 526 kWHrs at 7 cents per kWHr. "
    Was this after your Dad told you to turn off the lights..he's not made of money? I did the same thing.:)

    BTW I calculated X2 4200+ is cheaper than 820D dispite costing $250 more up front using the same formula (although I pay 14 cents per kWHr).
  • Zebo - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    4/10 BTW which last time I checked was an "F".. as in Failure...as in Fu**ed up. Reply
  • Zebo - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    LOL @ suggesting Dell. They have a 4 reseller rating for a reason ya know. They suck. Add in the fact you must get rebates, must get a "hot deal" to relise any savings you're much better off BYO normally. Reply
  • Zebo - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    Nice to see those back and very good job Jarred.

    Of course I have issue with 1G of ram for a "value"setup.. Any video card with a one. And all should have LCD these days... simply not that much more, $50, for both more view area in 17" and much much better quality than any POS low end CRT.
  • KayKay - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    Good Choice on the MSI Neo4-F Reply
  • Abecedaria - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    For your Intel setup, I would think that a 2.4C (either on eBay or retail) would perform better than any of the options you mentioned for considerably less money. And you'd get 800FSB. And you'd get HT. Granted, the legacy socket 478 and AGP are going to limitations long term, but if you were going to go for better performance, you'd want to upgrade your video card and MB anyhow.

  • bob661 - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    You were most likely CPU limited with that 6600GT in that system. A 9800 Pro wouldn't be.
  • bupkus - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    I tried a 6600GT in my old system-- a Barton OC'd to 2.2GHz --and it didn't perform as well as my nephew's 9800 Pro on a Barton w/ a 333 fsb and mem, so I returned it.
    This Venice seems to perform pretty good without any tweaks. I'm using cheap of-the-shelf PNY 2x512 PC2700 DDR at all default settings. 2T, etc.
  • SDA - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    >> I still feel like I keep repeating myself from Guide to Guide, but maybe you readers don't notice it as much? :)>>
    It's a good idea to repeat important points. You'll have no trouble remembering the recommendations you made in the last few guides, but what about readers that just look at the latest guide or forgot what earlier ones said once or twice on one page?

    wrt the PSU, these systems will probably eat as much power as a couple incandescent lightbulbs, but that doesn't mean a Fortron or something isn't worth the money for an upgrade. At the very least, a better PSU is pretty much guaranteed to last longer (better elcaps, fans, etc.). Remember, there are some components in rock-bottom generics that will die even if you only draw about ten or twenty watts from the things for their entire lifetimes.

    >>Anyway, I don't generally worry much about the mail-in rebate opportunities, as it's basically loaning a company your money at 0% interest for several months.>>
    heh.. that's a great way of putting it. Shame that most people won't get it (how many times have you seen someone brag about a large tax refund?).
  • wilburpan - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    Regarding Dell: before I read the comments I went over to the Dell website and looked over their current offerings. There are cost cutting measures on the part of Dell to bring the price down on their budget systems: PATA instead of SATA, questionable memory, lack of PCIe, their Celeron based systems come with a maximum of 512 MB RAM, and probaby a bunch more that I don't know about.

    About this buying guide: some of the recommendations take into account future upgradability. I'm not sure that this should be a real priority for a budget system. One thing that has been made clear to me over the past few years is that building a computer is an exercise in balancing all the components. As a result, once a computer gets very old, it is more cost effective to replace the whole thing rather than upgrading a component at a time. Being that this is a budget system, the lifetime of the components would be less than average, as these components have already been on the market for a while.
  • bob661 - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    In the article you mention that you can do 222 with the OCZ Gold at 2.8V but on OCZ's website it says 3.2V. Can you clarify this?
  • Zoomer - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    What about motherboards based on the RS482?

    They offer decent integrated graphics at a good price.

  • xsilver - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    gigabyte makes a fanless 6600GT
    costs a few dollars more but if you need it
  • bupkus - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    I just built a system with an OEM 3000+ Venice for $115, Epox 9NPA+ Ultra for #105 and a Gigabyte X300 for about $70 and now I hear the X700 is the way to go for just a little more. I like to play Ut2004 and that's it. Hmm.. time to rma the X300 and get that X700 before it's too late.
    I'd consider the 6600GT but I dont' want noisy and I get that impression.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    Bah - I caved and listed an optional PSU. I still feel like I keep repeating myself from Guide to Guide, but maybe you readers don't notice it as much? :)

    10 - PATA is going to be a bit slower and we don't really like the cables. The newer Intel motherboards often come with a single PATA connection (supporting two drives), making it a very poor choice for such motherboards. It *is* an option, but there's a reason PATA drives are getting large mail-in rebates. The same reason such drives often end up in OEM systems: the manufacturers are clearing out old inventory.

    Anyway, I don't generally worry much about the mail-in rebate opportunities, as it's basically loaning a company your money at 0% interest for several months. If you can find a good rebate on an SATA drive, I'd prefer that personally, but PATA drives are still okay for some people.
  • Hacp - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    One question I had was why SATAII? Why not a 40 dollar 80GB PATA100 HD from circuit city or best buy after rebates? I know that those two stores are good for their rebates, and with the 15 dollars you save, you can defenetly upgrade the processor, which is a better bang for your buck in terms of performance. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    Regarding case and PSU: yes, I realize the PSU is suspect, and I always put better PSUs in computers I build. However, I've also used generic PSUs in budget PCs, and provided the systems aren't overloaded you rarely have problems. At full load, I would guess that the two budget setups will draw 150W or less. If you add in a second hard drive and a more powerful graphics card, you're asking for trouble, but as built they should be fine. Feel free to buy a Fotron Source, Antec, Enermax, etc. - I've suggested it many times and hopefully have made it clear that a nice PSU is never a bad idea.

    I've got some Dell systems that I use regularly that include Pentium 4 2.8 GHz processors and 1GB of RAM, and they're paired with a (generic) 200W PSU. If Dell thinks a 200W is sufficient for that setup, I'm comfortable with slightly better PSUs for these budget setups.
    As for buying a Dell, that last comment of mine ought to give you something to think about. Dell/HP/etc. often take a good processor like a Pentium 520 and pair it with the cheapest remaining parts that they can find. You'll also get 256MB DIMMs, because no one else wants them these days - upgrading a Dell to 2x512 instead of 4x256 often costs as much as buying 2x512 on your own.

    They're still okay, and you can often get a decent LCD with them as well. Upgrading them can often be a frustrating experience, and rarely do they make something an enthusiast would be happy with. If you're okay with that, they're decent systems. I'm not going to do buyers guides picking out OEM systems, though. ;-)
    Finally, I wasn't aware that the low-end Semprons don't support Cool 'n Quiet, but it doesn't matter much to me. They're 90nm parts with 1/2 or 1/4 the L2 cache of the Venice core, so they should run relatively cool already.

    I once calculated the cost of running a 60W lightbulb 24/7 for a year and it was only about $37 - 526 kWHrs at 7 cents per kWHr. Cool 'n Quiet on a Sempron isn't likely to save 60W, more like 20W, so the yearly savings would only be around $12. That's enough to upgrade to the next higher Sempron, of course, but if you're looking at the yearly costs it becomes easy to justify buying a much faster PC - at least for me.
  • Hacp - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    Why not buy a dell? Because Dell offers less performance, few overclocking features, a huge premium for upgrades(ram and dvd rewritable for example), and even crappier graphics than the integrated/turbocached stuff that anandtech is reccomending. Some of the choices are questionable in the article though. The power supply is a major concern. Reply
  • xsilver - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    really #6?
    didnt know that!
    wont it be benefitial to upgrade then as in the long run the cost of a lower power bill will make the cpu pay for itself?
  • Budman - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    Nice setups. :)

    Jarred you should also tell eveybody that the AMD Sempron 2800+ and below doesnt support cool & quiet while Semprons 3000+ and above do support Cool & quiet.

    Might be important to somebody to have it cool & quet.
  • Grandpa - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    Why not just buy a Dell? By the time you buy an Operating System, virus program, word processor, and all the other software needed, it seems like a refurbished H-P or Dell would be better.

    Any thoughts?
  • crimson117 - Friday, July 29, 2005 - link

    Some people already have the software they need, and don't want to pay dell for it. Reply
  • xsilver - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    do the s754 with PCI-e have low availablity/demand?
    havent seen them where I am (australia)
  • shoRunner - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    i think i'd be much smarter to go with a cheap case (Skyhawk/Eagle has a nice aluminum one for $30) and a cheap Fortron PSU(~$25) and buy keyboard/mouse/speakers separate (OEM Logitech Keyboard and mouse combo $10, speakers $5). Ends up only $1 more than the Codegen combo and you don't have a PSU that may(and probably will) crap out on your possibly damaging your system. Reply
  • shoRunner - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

  • Manzelle - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    Well done. Reply

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