System Buyers Guide: PCs for Under $1000

by Wesley Fink on 12/29/2008 3:00 AM EST
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  • naveensn - Saturday, March 28, 2009 - link

    I built the AMD budge computer with more or less the components that you had in your article. This was the first time I did this and was much easier that I thought it would be.
    The computer is up and running and I installed Ubuntu also on that. Thanks for the info.

    Naveen
    Reply
  • HHumbert - Friday, January 09, 2009 - link

    I copied the article and friggen Newegged everything on here. Here goes nothing, as I've never built a PC before. Which is funny, because I majored in Electric Engineering, and I've had Investment Banker friends put together PCs, and I have lacked the testicular fortitude to do so.

    Finally. Thanks for this very well-written guide. I'll come back on after it arrives and let you know how it goes. Any idea how long it takes to slam together one of these things?

    I took the path of putting together the INTEL Budget PC with the Radeon 4870 GPU.

    My situation is that I have an Inspiron 1520 laptop that I've been gaming on (COD:WaW), Crysis 2 (when I get a more powerful computer, but it's getting long in the teeth, even with a dedicated GPU on the laptop.

    So, I'm building this first one for our weekend house and want to get it to play movies on the home theatre (I also ordered LG BR/HD drive for it).

    If that goes well, I'll be buying another one of these systems for the downtown house so I can have dual setups.

    Thanks again!
    Reply
  • Ryphil - Monday, January 26, 2009 - link

    If this is your first assembly, be patient and don't cut corners. Plan for a few quiet, uninterrupted hours for the task at hand. So assuming you don't run into any problems that can't be fixed on the spot, you should be able to slam this together in 30 minutes to two hours. And don't forget thermal compound for the processor's heat sink! Let me know how this went for you if you get a sec. Reply
  • Mozee - Friday, January 09, 2009 - link

    Here's a question, since I'm building a system with very similar specs to the AMD Budget System. If you increase the video card from the ATI HD4830 to an HD4850, would you still be able to use the 400W power supply, or would that require a higher powered psu? Reply
  • Malachi9 - Monday, January 05, 2009 - link

    Be careful with cases containing an Imon LCD - Silverstone, Anatec, Thermatech. There is a serious bug which connects and disconnects the USB hub causing pauses in games e.g PES 2009. I have the LC16M and have to physically disconnect the LCD to play games. Reply
  • djhunt - Saturday, January 03, 2009 - link

    First, I wanted to say thanks for these buyer guides. I used the mid-range guide four years ago to build my first system. For someone who can't keep up on all the latest hardware, these guides are a great starting point.

    Now I'm looking to do a replacement based on the Intel budget recommendation. I've tweaked a few items to get a quieter system (my current system whines like a jet engine), but I'm stuck on what to do for a video card. I don't have serious video requirements (minimal gamer, no HTPC) but would probably like something a little above onboard video. Since the GIGABYTE GA-EP45-UD3R doesn't have onboard video, what should I get? I'm currently looking at the ASUS EAH4350 SILENT/DI/512MD2 Radeon HD 4350, but not sure if it's any good. Recommendations under $75 or so?
    Reply
  • bearxor - Sunday, January 04, 2009 - link

    Thought about one of the newer GF9400 Motherboards?
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Saturday, January 03, 2009 - link

    The Asus Silent HD 4350 sounds like a good choice in line with the requirements you describe. It is not nearly as powerful as the Powercolor HD 4830 at $85 that we selected, but since silence is your major requirement the Asus will likely meet your needs better. Reply
  • Martin84a - Saturday, January 03, 2009 - link

    Hi, you don't mention a lot about the ram which is a shame, because a lot of these guides are read by people that have been away from the hardware scene for a while, eg. like me. I haven't upgraded my PC since 2003, but know i felt it was the time. But while it is fairly easy to read a CPU review and compare the results, it is a jungle of chipsets and motherboards out there, and they of course affect your choice of RAM.

    I was actually going with an Asus P5Q Pro, because of good reviews and its Loadline Calibration, which eliminates the Vdrops that happens under load. See http://www.hardwarecanucks.com/forum/hardware-canu...">http://www.hardwarecanucks.com/forum/ha...p5q-pro-...
    But now i see your EP45-UD3R recommendation..

    Gigabyte - Asus
    AWARD vs AMI bios.
    1x PCI-E vs 2x PCI-E (Can do crossfire as well)
    Realtek ALC889A soundchip vs Realtek ALC1200
    3x PCI vs 2x PCI
    Not sure about EP45-UD3Rs warranty, but the P5Q Pro has 3 years of warranty.

    Then there is the matter of how good BIOS and driver support there is, and when it will stop. No clue here though :(

    But overall, the Asus P5Q Pro is a bit cheaper, and comes with 2x PCI-E, and i just love that Loadline Calibration, i mean look at that straight line. Would you still pick the Gigabyte?

    Thanks.
    Reply
  • SleepyItes - Thursday, January 01, 2009 - link

    The HTPC truly is a "very personal machine", and I'm glad that you mentioned this in the beginning of the HTPC segment. I just finished a budget HTPC for under $400 (granted I used an existing HDD, TV Tuner, and OS license) and I can say that the choices in this market segment are vast, and require careful evaluation of particular requirements and considerations. I toyed around with various configurations and price ranges before I finally found the balance that was right for me. Home theater organization, TV resolution, gaming needs, and budget all played a role in component selection.

    I started with a case that would fit nicely with my A/V rack, the Antec NSK 2480. I found an excellent deal on a CPU/Mobo combo at an unnamed local vendor. I was building this for a low-ish resolution TV (1280x768) so I chose not to go with blu-ray, which saved me a bundle. I wanted discreet graphics to be able to do some casual gaming. However, since I have such a low resolution TV (and such old games), I did not even need a mid-range card. Instead, my focus was on power consumption, so I decided to go with a Radeon HD 4670. Sure, for $10 more (after rebate) I could have gotten the 4830, but it uses a lot of power, runs hot, and takes up a lot of space (which is at a premium in an HTPC case).

    I'm just reinforcing the notion that building an HTPC is not about pure performance, features, or bang for buck. It's about building a system that fits into your entertainment center and satisfies your particular needs.

    Fantastic guide! I cannot wait to read next week's.
    Reply
  • bearxor - Wednesday, December 31, 2008 - link

    It surprises me that you picked a 95w processor for the AMD build. Is it a HTPC or is it a computer hooked up to a TV? There should be a differentiator. HTPC's generally never get used for regular computer tasks.

    A computer that is hooked up to a TV that you use on a regular basis and then happen to stream some movies or downloaded stuff to every once in a while is LRPC (Living Room PC), not a HTPC, which should be inside the media interface full-time and only used as a computer on special occasions and even then, for pretty much nothing except web browsing/youtube playing.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, December 31, 2008 - link

    lol, just what we need, another acronym for another supposed market segment.

    I believe the reason they recommend reasonably fast processors is for transcoding duties. If you don't record TV and rip your optical media elsewhere, or don't mind shuffling files around a lot, then the HTPC obviously wouldn't need much processor power.
    Reply
  • bearxor - Thursday, January 01, 2009 - link

    That's the thing though, recording tv doesn't use a lot of processor power at all. It's all about the speed of your hard drive. I can record 2 SD, 2 HD and 2 Digital Cable (QAM) simultaneously while playing back an HD recording and still wind up using less than 50% of my processor with an Opteron 165. Any dual-core machine can handle HTPC duties with ease.
    Reply
  • spiral529 - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    For the Budget Intel build, the specified motherboard (Gigabyte GA-EP45-UD3R) accepts an 8-pin CPU power connector, while the suggested power supply (OCZ OCZ400MXSP 400W) only has a 4-pin plug.

    According to some of the NewEgg reviews, the board will not operate correctly without the 8-pin supply!
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - link

    The CORSAIR CMPSU-400CX 400W ATX12V V2.2 80 PLUS Certified Power Supply is also 80 Certified, the same cost of $35 after $25 mail-in rebate and it also has the 8-pin CPU power connector. Our PS Editor picked it in the Case and Power Supply Roundup.

    We will change the PS for the Intel Budget system to the Corsair 400W so buyers do not have to wonder if the PS will work properly with the motherboard. You can buy the Corsair at http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8....
    Reply
  • spiral529 - Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - link

    Thanks for the info. Unfortunately I just bought this board without noticing the connector. I'll try it out with my current (4-pin) PSU first before I spring for a new one. Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - link

    Normally a good PS 4-pin 12V will drive the motherboard 8-pin just fine, but we don't have the OCZ PS in the lab to confirm right now. A 4-pin to 8-pin 12V converter should fix the issue - if there is one - at a very low cost. The converter is available from Newegg for $3.50 at http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.a...5&Tp....

    We really prefer the modular PS cables of the recommended OCZ PS because of their flexibility and the ease of upgrading, but we are looking at some possible alternates as another recommendation for the Bargain PS.
    Reply
  • StriderGT - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    Zotac N73PV-Supreme NVIDIA GeForce 7100 HMDI:
    I am looking for the worst case scenario (%) vs using a dual channel DDR2 intel chipset eg G3X/G4X with the same Dual Core 5200@default speeds as well as OCed around 3Ghz
    (integrated GPU performance excluded)
    Reply
  • trake1 - Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - link

    Test Results: Single Vs. Dual Channel RAM

    Much less than 5% difference depending on application


    Reply
  • trake1 - Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - link

    Test Results: Single Vs. Dual Channel RAM
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/PARALLEL-PROCE...">http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/PARALLEL-PROCE...
    Reply
  • Wixman666 - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    Nonsense, you're forgetting that they are posting builds that are user friendly for the general public. 99% of the people in the US couldn't install Linux if their life depended on it. Even for many supposed "power users" it is not exactly friendly.

    While it is indeed a good alternative, Linux is still just not for the mainstream.

    You guys also neglected to choose Vista 64 for forward thinking. Buying a 32 bit OS today is like throwing away money. If I wanted a 32 bit OS I'd buy XP home, pro, or media center.
    Reply
  • n0nsense - Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - link

    People in US do install and use Linux like in any other place.
    Dumb
    Anyway you will install some OS and installing Vista is at least longer process at the first time and "find the drivers CD" on next time since even NIC wont work out of the box in most cases (XP much worse with default drivers).
    And usability, if my 60 years old (in average) parents can use it without calling me few times a week (like they did with XP), anyone can :)
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    I'd guess that most users considering assembling their own computers (and for that matter most users who can put a CD in the drive) could install Ubuntu. And with reasonably mainstream hardware they might even have it run flawlessly. If you are willing to use the forums and such to find help you probably can get it to run on just about any system. The problem is that lots of people want it to just work, and you never know what you are getting with each new release. I have been using Ubuntu since 6.10 on my desktop and 7.04 on my laptop. Each release I have installed on the desktop has required new kernel flags to work around problems (noapic, nolapic, all_generic_ide, etc), and the 7.04, 7.10, and 8.04 LiveCDs didn't even boot without help. With 8.10 they seem to have fixed all that, I still haven't gotten around to actually installing it but it runs perfectly off a flash drive. My laptop (Thinkpad T43) , OTOH, had zero problems with any of the releases prior to 8.10, everything did just work. So I went ahead and installed 8.10 without any trial period, and it broke Wireless support, so that it would constantly disconnect from the router, then most times ask for the password on reconnecting and sometimes refusing to reconnect at all. Obviously not acceptable, so I went back to 8.04.

    I have installed Ubuntu on several other systems at work without problems (including one which is almost identical to my troubled desktop), but the point is that a lot of users probably don't want the uncertainty of whether their hardware will be happy with the software or not. Not that Vista has a spotless hardware support history, but most users probably feel more comfortable finding support for that than Linux.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    Actually, we didn't specifically state whether you should buy the 64-bit or 32-bit version, though we did mention that 64-bit is the way to go if you run 4GB or more RAM. There's only a couple applications I use regularly that utterly fail under 64-bit Vista: Dragon NaturallySpeaking (still waiting for their 64-bit update!) and Gametap (a bunch of the games fail to install/work under 64-bit Vista). So it's still not 100% the same as 32-bit, but I do run 64-bit for my primary gaming PC. My work PC remains 32-bit until the Dragon issue is fixed. Reply
  • sprockkets - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    If you can assemble a computer, you can install Linux.

    By the way, that WD Green drive has NEVER been a variable speed drive; it operates at 5400rpm ALL the time. WD just doesn't want the public to fret over the fact that it is a 5400rpm drive so they obfuscate this fact as much as possible.
    Reply
  • cbutters - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    I was just about to post that the WD wasn't a variable speed drive, but I see you have commented on it already, therefore, I second your post. Reply
  • n0nsense - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    Truly, I can't understand why 20% of computer cost should be spent on OS.
    Yes, you can argue that other OS does not really support ALL games.
    But when talking about Internet/Office/Media non professional use (in professional people can choose Mac) for what f... reason should person to spend this 100 USD on something really not needed. Actually it's more then 100$ since they gonna need "good anti everything" soft which will slow down their already not so fast computers.
    On the other hand they can opt for something like Mythbuntu for HTPC, or Ubuntu for normal desktop and spend saved money on something better like tripling disk space, getting decent dedicated graphics and other things.
    And i'm disappointed that you don't even mention this.

    and please, add preview button for posts :)
    Reply
  • DerwenArtos12 - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    Why didn't you all use the Corsair ram you were raving about in your memory guide, it's only a couple bucks more? Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - link

    We certainly like the Corsair memory as well. As we said in the Buyers Guide:

    "RAM prices as a whole are certainly in the commodity category as of late. We recommended the Kingston 4GB DDR2-800 kit, but you could just as easily choose OCZ, G.Skill, Corsair, Crucial, GeIL, Patriot, or any other quality DDR2-800 name and shop for the memory based on a combination of price and the company's support reputation."
    Reply
  • BernardP - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    I have had a system based on Asus M3N78-VM GeForce 8200 motheboard for a month. I have all the latest chipset, audio (NVidia + VIA) and video drivers installed. I have tried all possible audio settings and configurations, in WinXP and BIOS. Despite this, I have been unable to get audio through HDMI, although the HDMI video is perfect @ 1280x720.

    Searching on the net, this seems to be a widespread problem. Some users report they have HDMI audio working, but they don't seem to have done anything special to make it work.

    The fundamental problem is that, on my system, there is no visible option to select HDMI audio, either in Hardware Manager or Control Panel/Sounds.

    Anyone knows the sure-fire recipe to enable audio through HDMI on the 8200/8300 chipset?

    Reply
  • zerodeefex - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    I'm surprised you didn't suggest a more powerful video card added on to the AMD HTPC. A 4550 or greater gets you completely working audio over HDMI. There are a few PQ benefits as well, and you can make do with a weaker processor, and the upgraded video will still provide superior deinterlacing, especially for SD content. Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - link

    Our goal was to provide an integrated video solution for the HTPC systems that would adequately handle HD video content like Blu-Ray. That is certainly possible with today's improved integrated graphics, and the boards we chose have excellent reputations as HTPC boards.

    You 4550 or higher video card alternative is certainly a good one, and a good choice for those with the needs you describe.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    Your text for the budget systems states that you kept the 500GB hard drives, but the price tables show 640GB units.

    The tables on those same systems have apparently been edited during the time I was reading the article to add the 4830 graphics.

    From my experience the Logitech EX100 sets offer rather limited range - around 3-5 feet from the receiver. Unless you are going to put the receiver in the couch, that might not work too well for an HTPC.

    The stock Intel HSF incorporates heatpipes somewhere? The ones I have seen appear to be just a solid aluminum or copper core (depending on processor) and extruded aluminum fins.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    An earlier working spreadsheet, rather than the final choices, was used for the Budget configurations. That has been corrected.

    We missed the HD reference in our editing. Thanks for pointing it out. It is now fixed.
    Reply
  • bunga28 - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    I'm confused. I thought no video on board for this MB? Please clarify. thanks. Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    The Budget Systems did include a Radeon 4830 video card at $85. The configurations have been corrected and we are in the process of fixing the text references. Thanks for bringing that to our attention. Reply
  • bunga28 - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    thanks for fixing that. Reply
  • 7Enigma - Monday, December 29, 2008 - link

    The mid-range buyers guide. I had planned to go with the new i7 platform and occompanying high cost of mobo/ddr3. Now I'm thinking of just building a temp system for a year or two (since I have a 19" lcd), and only replacing my cpu/mobo/ram/video card. I'll be waiting on the next article before planning my upgrade path...

    Thanks again for this one.
    Reply

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