System Buyers' Guide: PCs for Under $1000

by Sean Hollister on 2/12/2010 2:00 AM EST


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  • jonp - Thursday, February 18, 2010 - link

    start with the intel mainstream; drop the hd 4850, case and power supply; use Antec Two Hundred case $39.99, Antec Earthwatts Green EA-380D power supply $39.99; the base system is $482!!! For only $30 more than the E5300 configuration! The case has two BIG fans, power supply on the bottom; usb, indicator lights, power and reset buttons on the top-front (since most sit on the floor) and very quiet. Even at 380 watts, the power supply is probably 4 times more than this system configuration will use and the supply is used in a more efficient way (i3-530, asus p7h55-m pro, 4gb ddr3, wd blue drive, sony optiarc, media reader, 3rd case fan == 82 wall-watts under IntelBurn Test (4 threads)). Reply
  • dankegel - Wednesday, March 03, 2010 - link

    I did some research yesterday on my own, and also chose the Antec Two Hundred case. I may switch to the Earthwatts supply, thanks.

    My proposed configuration is written up at">
    please check it out and let me know what you think.
    I'm aiming at really fast C compilation and entry level
    (but not crappy) gaming.
  • JonnyDough - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    "But now, by popular demand, we've separated mail-in rebates and added estimated shipping costs within the continental United States as well. With this measure in place, discerning buyers can find the true out-of-pocket cost of any of our suggested builds without having to consult a virtual shopping cart (except for taxes—you're on your own there)."

    THANK YOU for that! :)
  • kjartan333 - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    $120 for a case and power supply has no place in a budget build!

    No blu-ray is listed because $60 is too much... No graphics card either...

    But for some reason a fancy case with 5 external bays and a 500w power supply is necessary? Get real.
  • zerobug - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    If you are not a gamer and use your PC to surf the net, watch movies, store pictures, and do office work, you do not need to upgrade. Ditch windows, move to Linux, and you'll gain a modern operation system and applications that can achieve all those tasks fast and efficiently even with a 10 years old machine. Reply
  • v12v12 - Tuesday, February 23, 2010 - link

    And a STEEP arse LEARNING CURVE required for even the most mundane problems. The person you're talking about is NOT going to need to use, nor want to use Nix. This person is a drone, another worker-bee in society using their computer to surf sites for mindless shopping, gossip sites and the like... Great idea, logical, but not practical for the worker-bee drone.

    I wish they were smarter... but, yadda...yadda...
  • hombre - Wednesday, March 24, 2010 - link

    My wife uses Ubuntu Linux every day, and she's certainly not a techie. It came pre-installed on her netbook, and the only thing I had to help her with was setting up the wireless adapter, and that's only because she didn't know what our WEP key was.

  • gychang - Saturday, February 13, 2010 - link

    I am very interested in the AMD budget for general and photoshop use at home, due to space constrsints is there a thinner or smaller case that will fit with all suggested components?


  • qwertymac93 - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    like this one?">

    or this one?">

    or this one?">
  • Blur - Saturday, February 13, 2010 - link

    I'm really glad to see this feature come back, i built my first system using the parts recommended in a previous guide. Reply
  • DominionSeraph - Saturday, February 13, 2010 - link

    For only $6900 + a measly $400 tax (CT), you could have an 8 core 2.93GHz with a whopping 6GB RAM and a rebranded Geforce 8600 GT!

    Can i haz tek job nao?
  • chrnochime - Saturday, February 13, 2010 - link

    I haven't been keeping up to date with the socket h burn issue. So, has Anand et al figured out, with or without help from the manu, determine the source of the socket burn problem?

    I can only speak for myself that unless this is determined conclusively, I'm stuck going with either socket 1366 or frantically scour up the last of the 775 motherboards.

  • stardude82 - Saturday, February 20, 2010 - link

    There was never an really issue with the 1156 Boards. The problem was only with Foxconn sockets used for extreme overclocking above 4 Ghz. If you are really concerned there are lots of boards with the Lotts manufactured sockets. Reply
  • clarkn0va - Saturday, February 13, 2010 - link

    Ignoring ACC and the possibility of unlocking one core of the Athlon II X3 435, it's not obvious why one would pay an extra 67% for the Phenom II X3 720, at least not from the information provided in the article.

    Looking in Bench, these two CPUs trade blows on all the benchmarks and there is no obvious winner. Add to that the possibility of turning the 435 into a quad, and the fact that it's $50 cheaper, according to this article, and I have no idea how SH can recommend the 720 at all, at least not without looking at information beyond what's presented here and in Bench. Please enlighten me if I'm missing the point though.

    Great article, Sean. It's always interesting to see what other pros are recommending and why.">
  • SeanHollister - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    You're right on the money, pun intended. In terms of performance per dollar at stock clocks, the Athlon is indeed a much better value for today's software, especially if you manage to unlock the fourth core.

    That said, there are three things that distinguish the Phenom. First, it's a better (and easier) overclocker. Second, it's the better gaming CPU in all benchmarks I've yet seen. Third and most importantly, it's got a sizable L3 cache—fast becoming an industry standard for CPUs—where the Athlon has none.

    In today's software and benchmarks, the L3 cache doesn't offer much of an advantage, just as a dual-core processor wouldn't offer an advantage over a single core a number of years back, but I'm guessing that as just as multithreading takes hold, so will the L3 cache that assists it.

    All that said, is a bit of futureproofing and a little extra gaming performance worth $50? To be completely honest, when I first chose the Phenom chip, I was calculating its value at the Newegg price of $105, which I realized at the very last minute was the price for the bare CPU, *without a cooler,* and failed to rethink the value equation when I adjusted the price.
  • piasabird - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link">

    Part Number:SYS-Clarkdale-System-01Regular price:$419.99On Sale: $399.99

    System Components:
    Processor: Intel Core i3 530 2.93GHz Clarkdale 32nm Dual Core CPU
    Memory: 2GB (1x2GB) DDR3 1066 memory
    Motherboard: MSI H55M-E33 Socket 1156 Micro-ATX motherboard with Intel H55 chipset
    Video: Integrated
    Audio: 8 Channel Audio
    Storage: 320GB SATA2 Hard Drive
    Optical: 24X DVD-RW Drive
    Case: Thermaltake V3 Black Edition mid-tower case with TR2 450W power supply.
  • jigar - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    My very first post on Anandtech. before today i hadn't even heard of Anandtech. Found it really impressive (especially the CPU benchmark comparison bit).

    after reading this article i have decided to build my own base unit (with the help of a pal). my old unit stopped working few days ago (hence the reason me trawling the net).

    thing is, the prices quoted are in dollars. do you guys have any idea how much cheaper/expensive they are in UK? i tried shopping on amazon for parts and found out that intel core i3 530 is about £90 (is that reasonable? do you guys know where else i could shop for parts?)

    also, i got confused whilst reading the article. do i need to buy two hard drives or just one? you have mentioned WD Caviar blue 500GB on the intel mainstream pc system but in the upgrade section you have said that intel X25-V solid state drive which is only 40GB (£96 on amazon) is essential for a multitasker as it also speeds up basic computing and will cut windows load times by half.

    i am actually not a gamer. i just want a system where as mentioned above, the windows load up quickly and where i can use different programs at once (without slowing down the computer - e.g. internet and microsoft word etc).

    the other thing you mentioned was Cooling - CPU retail HSF - i searched for it on amazon but nothing came up :(

    i also already have a monitor so just need a base unit which is fast and reliable (i am totally fed up with installing windows software every few months).

    my original budget was between £200 and £300 but may spend upto £400.

    Any help will be really appreciated.
  • FlyTexas - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Welcome to AnandTech, one of the better tech review sites on the web.

    A quick heads up, most of us here have been doing this awhile and are rather techie, so forgive us when we talk over your head, it is not meant to be rude.

    The Heatsink & Fan come with the Retail version of the CPU, you do not buy them separately.

    You don't have to buy 2 hard drives, the suggestion for the 40GB Intel drive is just due to the speed of SSDs (Solid State Drives). These drives use flash memory rather than spinning disks, they are fast, but expensive.

    As for places to buy, almost everyone here will tell you NewEgg, however they do not sell internationally. Google "newegg uk equivalent" to get some ideas.
  • jigar - Saturday, February 13, 2010 - link

    but if i only get one hard drive with a 40Gb storage (i admit it will be faster and that is what i want) but where would i store all the files?

    what if i buy two hard drives? one fast solid state 40GB to boot up the computer and the other to store files (i would like the system to work for atleast few years so i probably will need a big enough hard drive) so is it possible to have two hard drives, one to boot up and one to store files?

    how big is 40GB, will it be enough for me? i watched avatar and saved it on my desktop (the legend of aang series is alone 15GB). it was my favourite so i downloaded it. but i dont download/save movies so probably something like 250 or 500GB should be enough for me?

    since i saved those avatar files, my computer went really slow. it would take minutes (literaly) to take any single action.

    can you make a separate list for me please? (using uk part names) there is this website (may be you can guide me through their prices and parts).

  • Ratman6161 - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Take for example your Intel entry level build at $690.00.

    Check out this from HP:">

    Or I'll save you the time of following the link by saying its an i3 based system with 4gb DDR3 RAM and onboard video and audio. So that should be better performance than the E5300 and its $549.00

    About two months ago I bought my inlaws a similar system but with the 5300 and 3 GB DDR2 on my company's employee purchase program for $349.00.

    Build it yourself makes sense for mid-range to high end -- if that is you are the kind of person who wants to get exactly the specs you were looking for. But on the low end, there is just no way that you can build a system for the prices the big OEMs are charging. The other big advantage is that if I built the system for them, then I would also become their technical support where this way they can call HP. Then again, the system has been working so well, they haven't had to call HP either.
  • poohbear - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Thank you for putting this article up, i was waiting for one of your system builder guides as a rough reference as they're usually on the money, this article was no exception.:) Alot of solid info there, will definitely use it as a reference for the next couple of months when people ask for advice (all my friends and family want a budget PC, i only know enthusiast parts! lol) Reply
  • juampavalverde - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Congrats for the first article Sean, it feels very "anandtech" like. Reply
  • papapapapapapapababy - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    all over the place. who makes this lame shopping list? example... the LGA 775 motherboard is a terrible choice, TERRIBLE for like 2 bucks you have this one > GA-EP43T-USB3 LGA 775 the difference ? nah not much, just that onboard NEC uPD720200 host controller ( that means USB3 support ) The funny thing, im just a guy from Argentina (cant even buy the dam board) even then i know how to build a better pc than the experts over here. great job Anad... Reply
  • piasabird - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    If you are going to look at an i3 530 why not also look at the E7500 and see which processor does best for the money.

    It seems like they would be fairly compatible at about the same price. Why go to a new somewhat experimental H55 motherboard if there is not enough of an improvement?
  • johnsonx - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    While it's true that MOST power supplies that come with cases are nearly worthless, there are some exceptions. Many Antec and some Coolermaster cases come with perfectly nice power supplies. The Antec NSK4480 comes with an EarthWatts 380 for only $70 (">
    There are other examples as well.
  • johnsonx - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    oops, the closing paren got included with the URL above, here it is again:">
  • JarredWalton - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    When we were putting the guide together, I actually looked at that exact system. You'll notice the regular price is listed at $100? That's what it was two days ago, which is why I didn't bother Sean with the change. I figure for the $20 extra, a 500W PSU was a better choice. For $80 (plus shipping), it's a much more attractive option, provided you don't want to upgrade to a high-end GPU down the road.

    The 380W is good for something like a 5770 with an i3/i5 CPU or Phenom II X4 level CPU, but if you overclock the CPU you're going to be pushing it very hard. Add in something in the 5850 class and you'd likely peak at close to 100% power draw, if not slightly more. On the other hand, if you just want to run at stock with IGP, such a setup is a great idea. (I wish more cases shipped with 80 Plus certified PSUs... a year ago, I recall a few cases like that falling into the $65-$75 shipped range.)
  • Bugler - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    I really enjoy reading these guides and the thought process that goes into your builds. My last build was 2004, which I am still using; however, I want to upgrade, the board, ram, cpu. etc.

    At the time I built back then, I tried to use some of the best components to make it easier to upgrade in the future. I am just not certain which parts I can retain with my rebuild.

    I have a large Cooler Master Stacker full tower case, a OCZ Power Stream 520w power supply, a 7.1 channel Sound blaster Audigy2 zs gamer PCI sound card, and an eVGA nvidia geforce 6800 GT 256mb GDDR graphic card that I am hoping to reuse. Do you guys see any problems with me using these components in your mid level build package option?

    I admit, I have not stayed up on the knowledge aspect of components specs the past few years. My video card is bus APG 4x/8x but does output to DVI.

    Also, my CPU heatsink is the Theralright XP-90 which has been sitting on my 939 socket AMD for the fast five years. Is that something I can reuse in this build?

    Thank you in advance guys.
  • FlyTexas - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Keep the case and power supply, maybe the Sound Blaster card and DVD drive if you really want, dump everything else.

    Why? First, AGP is long gone, PCI-Express is now how video cards are installed. Built in graphics won't be as good as your former video card, but they'll be close. For $100, the ATI 4850 will run rings around your old card.

    Second, modern hard drives are a lot faster than they were in 2004, don't hobble a new system with a 5 year old drive.

    You can probably reuse your old heatsink and fan if you go AMD, but do you really want to? The fan is 5 years old, it wasn't designed or certified for modern CPUs.
  • Bugler - Saturday, February 13, 2010 - link

    Thank you. Reply
  • mfenn - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    I would like to point out that, while I am a fan of quiet GPUs, I think you were referring to separate GPUs on page 5.

    Check out:">
  • SeanHollister - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    You're absolutely right, and in this particular context, "discreet" is quite inaccurate, as both the discrete GPUs I'm referring to have a fan while the onboard IGPs are cooled by passive means.

    Thanks, and I'll see if we can take care of the typo in a future revision.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Fixed. I guess I only saw one of the three uses on that page. :-| Reply
  • Mr Perfect - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Just thought I would throw this out there, but have you looked at a system as only the tower itself? Personally, I know a lot of people who don't start from scratch like that. They reuse the keyboard, mouse, monitor, and speakers. Sometimes even the case and PSU if they bought good ones. Doing that will put your $1000 upgrade into i7-860 with a 5850 territory. Reply
  • SeanHollister - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Personally, that's how I build all my home PCs (I don't even know how old my plain old vanilla CD drive is at this point) and we actually did consider something similar for this guide, but decided to go the traditional route in case buyers wanted recommendations for all the items in a complete setup.

    But since we also provide complete price breakdowns, those who want to can optionally pick and choose individual components from the list at their leisure.
  • hombre - Tuesday, March 23, 2010 - link

    I did exactly that. I already have keyboard, mouse, and monitor, so I skipped those.

    I will probably upgrade to a new monitor in a few months in order to take advantage of a DVI connection rather than VGA. I'm a bit limited in how large (wide) a monitor I can use with my computer desk though, so I shall have to choose one that fits. (Or maybe it's time to upgrade my furniture too.)

  • rivethead - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    As an alternative to the ASRock motherboard on the entry level list I'll suggest the MSI 785GM-E65. It's another mATX board that's a bit more expensive than the ASRock but packed with features. Reply
  • rivethead - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    On the totals of each entry it says "less applicable taxes". I believe it should say "plus applicable taxes".

    Taxes. The only certainty in life, other than death!
  • JarredWalton - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    It's a phrase meaning "this price doesn't include taxes", where "plus applicable taxes" might suggest to some that taxes are part of the price. We could say "not including sales tax" to make it clearer, I suppose, but I just went with Sean's phrase since I've seen it used that way before. Reply
  • rochlin - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Useful article but missing some stuff:
    Benchmarks: Why not benchmark these machines against each other?
    How much more oomph do you really get? AMD vs Intel? Put your recommendations side by side.

    Also, you need to "benchmark" your own skills. Compare your home built machine to a comparable Dell - with whatever their current sale is. The Dell i3 machine comes out much cheaper than yours (albeit sans extra vid card - but still it's like 750 w mon vs $950 for yours. That's something your readers ought to know.
    Building a machine is NOT usually the cheap route anymore.
  • Ananke - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    It is not cheap, since you have to pay at least $100 for the operational system, if you go Windows.

    However, OEM computers are designed to NOT be able to upgrade. The simplest example is trying to put powerful video a year later - the PSU will not be sufficient. Then, you will need to replace the PSU, but the case is proprietary and you will need new case too. If you pay attention to how many open slots for HDDs you have in Dell/HP, you will also realize serious restriction there. not to mention that Dell's internal design consists of strange and large plastic hoods for the fans, which are often obstructing new video cards. Also, you may just realize that the memory banks are only two on most OEMs, and hence you are going to double expenses if larger memory is needed.

    My suggestion: first buy nice and spacious case with 90 degree HDD cage and at least four HDD slots! Example - Cooler Master Elite 310 for $49 (cheap, but the cages are 90 degree on this one).Then get really good PSU - Corsair, PCP&P, Seasonic 750W and above - you need it for all the available connectors and capacity for indefinite future expansion. Then decide on the platform. I had Intel, just recently switched to AMD and I am very happy actually with what I got for the twice less money - Fry's deal on Athlon II X4 630 with free Asus 785G micro-ATX, total $130. Yesterday I replayed Crysis warhead, it runs smooth on Enthusiast 1920*1200, with Radeon 5850.

    Buy 2*2 GB DDR3 - there are modules on sale. I prefer Kingston Hyper X for stability. The idea is you want to start with at least two banks by 2GB so you have enough and still room for further expansion. The mobo should have 4 memory banks, not only two.

    I got micro ATX, next upgrade I can use the micro ATX for a home server box or HTPC. If you get full ATX now, you cannot use it for HTPC small factor later, because it's big. Of course, if building ultimate machine, the choice of components is different. mine is best bang for the buck for gaming and video editing. Spec:

    Asus A785M microATX, Athlon II X4 630, 8GB Kingston Hyper 1600 DDR3, 4*1TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 /not the 11th series- it's junk/, XFX Radeon 5850 regular, PCP&P 750W, Windows 7 64-bit Pro This comp gets 7.7 Win performance index. All components have frequent sale. Cut the memory to 4 GB, use HDD by your taste, use cheaper video and voila - you have power under $500. Intel configuration would cost me more. Instead I opt for the Radeon 5850. I transcode with Cyberlink Esspresso 5.5 or Avivo because are GPU accelerated. The last time it transcoded 4.31GB x.264 to PSP for 17 minutes :):). The Radeons are crazy stuff and under load temp is 42 Celsius. My previous G285 was going 81 Celsius under load and the entire motherboard was getting cooked.

  • brybir - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    I agree about comparing to pre-built. The best bang for the buck in lower end builds is probably not building yourself anymore.

    For example, Gateway has a new Gateway DX4831-05 Desktop with:

    i5-650 @3.2GHz,
    8GB DDR3,
    1TB HDD,
    Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
    G310 graphics card

    and this all comes in at $799 shipped free and no tax to most states. If you can find one refurbed you can cut another $100 off of that.

    So the prebuilt machine comes in at $150 less but is arguably a better machine with a better processor, more ram, bigger hard drive, and a warranty with room to upgrade to a better video card. Even if you tack on $100 for a better vid card, you still save $50 and get much better system specs overall.

    I know its not fun to just buy a PC anymore, but if you are not building a overclock hobby machine, it really pays to look around Dell, Gateway, HP etc for prices! (And hell, even gateway sells a $1299 i860 machine with a 5850, so even at the upper end, their are still good deals to be had)
  • mckirkus - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    It would be nice to see a table with a price to PCMark (or other benchmark) ratio.

    More categories would be nice to. Instead of grouping by price range, group by category. So for instance:

    Grandma PC
    Cheap / Fancy
    Niether of which would have discreet graphics but maybe a small SSD on the high end.

    And also cover, workstation, gaming, HTCP, etc. It feels like in an attempt to give an overview of the whole market you're forgetting about actual uses. Watch this TED video on why there are 50 types of spaghetti sauce to see what I mean...">
  • rundll - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    This first "entry level" rigg put together here isn't actually entry level. It's way too powerful and expensive for that.

    At entry level you'd choose Athlon x2 240 which is a very powerful and capable prosessor for those things you are supposed to do at entry level.

    2 GB memory is also more than sufficient. I'm not sure how much faster an entry level rigg gets in every day internet and office use if you put there extra 2 GBs? 0%? 2%?

    The power source is also both over kill and too expensive.

    What comes to MB, The 785G is ok pick up here but once again, the 780G offers almost identical performance. I know that 785G has other advances, so this choice is understandable.

    And understandable are all of these choices made here. I could easily do exactly the same line up for me and I would reason my choices exactly the same way. But as a result I'd end up having something else than an entry level PC.

    All in all, all I'm saying here is that this now called "Entry level" starting point should actually be called "best-bang-for-the-buck level".

    You put to this "entry level" rigg an ATI 5830 graphic card and you end up with a quite capable power house.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    The consensus at AnandTech is that we wouldn't touch 2GB machines these days; Windows 7 64-bit can run on 2GB, but we felt it was far more useful to bump it up to 4GB. How much faster it ends up being really depends on how you use your PC, but I know I frequently get a lot of HDD thrashing from swapfile access if I don't have 4GB.

    As for the power supply, you have essentially two choices: get a cheaper lower efficiency PSU for less money, or get something that's better but costs">at least $40. This is another item that has been debated in the past, and the result is that we're all a lot more comfortable spending more money on a higher quality PSU. That will also give you plenty of options for growing the PC down the road, along with overclocking.

    As someone else commented, if you're just looking for a standard system and you don't intend to upgrade, take a serious look at Dell/HP/etc. pre-built systems. They won't be faster than these builds, but at $500 for a complete setup you're not going to get equivalent components with a DIY. What you will get are more features and higher quality (with the ability to upgrade any and all components should the need arise). The OEM cases are still vendor lock in, unfortunately.

    To whit, I've got a friend's Dell XPS 400 at my house right now with an old Pentium D 820 (2.8GHz) and it's having problems. There's little point in trying to spend money fixing it when we can build a newer, faster system for less than $500. If I could swap out the mobo and CPU, we could have a "new" system in there for less than $200, but because of the proprietary chassis that's not an option.
  • FlyTexas - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Regarding the Dell XPS 400 system.

    You are correct that it has a BTX motherboard, and thus can't really be upgraded in that case.

    However, even if you could, what are you saving? The motherboard + CPU + memory is what costs all the money in a computer anyway.

    A basic case will run you $50 including power supply (not a uber case, but one that works just fine), and while you can move the hard drive from the XPS 400, it is now out of date compared to a modern hard drive.

    That computer is now 4+ years old, the most valuable thing there is the Windows XP licence. :) (which you're not supposed to move to a new system, but Microsoft will do it over the phone anyway if you call to activate it on a new box)

    Regarding your friend's computer, since he doesn't need a new monitor, keyboard, mouse, hard drive, etc.

    All he really needs is the case, motherboard, CPU, RAM (maybe), and he is good to go. That doesn't cost $500.

    Just my random thoughts... :)
  • JarredWalton - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Actually, I could keep the RAM (2x2GB DDR2), GPU (9800 GS), PSU, and case... and really, the XPS 400 series case is quite good, and the PSU is far better than the cheap stuff you get bundled with a case.

    The HDD seems to be having problems, but again I don't know if it's truly dying or just needs a reinstall. (I was able to boot into Linux to copy off the files, but trying to boot XP gives a BSOD no matter what I try.) So, at $50/hr to work on a computer, it's probably not worth saving.

    If it were my own PC, I'd put in the time and fix the HDD, but it's not so the question quickly becomes one of fixing old vs. buying new. Their feeling is, "why spend $250 fixing this old thing [i.e. new HDD plus my time] when we can get a brand new PC for a bit more that's going to be superior?"
  • FlyTexas - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    True enough about the RAM, assuming it isn't part of the problem. As a completely unrelated note, I've found memory to cause more problems in the past few years than anything else. 10 years ago I never had to RMA memory that I can recall, now I'm doing it maybe once a year. And I sold a LOT of computers 10 years ago.

    I have a XPS 410 myself, however no need to upgrade it because it came with a Core 2 Duo @ 2.4gHz. That machine is now my son's computer, but it used to be my main rig. Want to buy it as a "cheap repair"? ;)

    The second area that is unreliable are hard drives, however this seems less so now than 10 years ago. I generally won't use a consumer hard drive more than 4-5 years, they just weren't designed to be used much longer and I've had too many fail on me after that point. If that XPS 400 has the origional drive in it, you actually should get a speed boost by putting in a new one.

    Your comments regarding the cost to repair are spot on. I didn't know that you were charging for that work. In that case, REALLY don't bother, part it out and move on. At $50/hr, few 4 year old desktop computers are worth fixing.
  • FlyTexas - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    I disagree on the 2GB vs. 4GB comment, at least in my experience. Had the prices not jumped in the past year, I'd agree with 4GB, but right now it costs too much.

    At home, my gaming machine and my server both have 6GB, the rest of the machines have 2GB. They all run Windows 7 64-bit.

    My wife uses a Dell Vostro 410 with an Intel Quad-Core @ 2.4GHz. She actually does use Office (Word, Excel, & Publisher), Quickbooks, Adobe Acrobat (full, not reader), Skype, etc. She has a half dozen things running in the system tray (she has a Zune, a web cam, music player, etc.).

    2GB of RAM works just fine for all that. I actually have spare DDR2 sitting on the shelf, I've been meaning to put it in, but haven't made the time. Why? It doesn't need it and wouldn't really benefit the system.

    Now I know there are cases where you need more. The server had to live with 2GB for awhile when I had a memory stick fail. I noticed that difference. I don't think my main machine needs the 6GB however, 3GB would have been fine.

    Vista was terrible using memory efficiently, Windows 7 seems to be much better about it.

    All just my opinion of course... :)
  • rundll - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Hi there, JW!

    I couldn't agree more. I think all you said actually doesn't contradict what I said. I don't question the choices made, I just ponder over the phrase "entry level"

    Could I make a guess here for you? You wouldn't disagree with me if I said that this entry level rigg is actually pretty decent runner if you put in there a good graphic card? At least that's how I see things. Subsecuently, I can't help finding me smiling internally when we are talking here about entry level.

    I guess the reason for this awkward situation is that these days the components are both powerful and cheap. At least that is if you think back more than couple of years.

    As for the article as a whole, I think it was a pretty well shaped entré for SH.
  • PrinceGaz - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Unless you are building a HTPC or something else where form-factor is important, wouldn't a standard ATX mobo be a better option. Quite apart from the very useful additional PCI and PCIe sockets the ATX board will have which will allow the PC to be used for practically anything, there is generally room for more of other assorted headers like SATA and USB for adding further drivers and whatnot internally as well (and any decent ATX mid-tower will have plenty of 3.5" and 5.25" bays for them all).

    Admittedly I haven't checked prices for several years (mid 2005 when I built my current box, actually), ATX mobos were only a bit more expensive than uATX back then and I assume the same is true today. Even if you don't use most of the extra features, those you end up using at some point easily (for me) justify the small additional cost.
  • MatrixVPR - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    It was recently brought to my attention that there is a really good Samsung HD that is the same size, same price and double the performance! In many cases it actually out performs the Raptors (which i have...)

    Samsung HD502HJ

    I would post a link to the benchmarks but I'm not really sure if that's Kosher or not!?
  • SeanHollister - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    As I mention to another commenter above, we were actually originally going to go for the Samsung HD502HJ, but not for the reason you suggest. Though benchmarks do show the Samsung having higher sequential read and write speeds than some contemporaries, it seems to suffer somewhat in access times and IOPS such that it's not much better (though certainly not worse) in real-world applications than the WD we chose.

    That doesn't keep me from wanting to test one for myself, though :-)
  • jdparker520 - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    It's good to see some mention of a budget SSD (Intel X25-V), though it could really use the coverage and analysis of a full article. It's frustrating that this site only seems to cover the fastest and biggest SSDs that would almost double the cost of a reasonably configured system. What I'd like to see is a full comparison of the lower capacity drives in the 30-40GB range from the persepective of using it as a boot / application drive while storing user data on a traditional disk. This is what I'll be looking for in the next few months, but so far I haven't seen much information that would help guide my purchase. Reply
  • rivethead - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    I too, was also glad to see a mention of an SSD in the upgrades section. The time has arrived.

    Anand did cover the Kingston 40GB SSD in a recent SSD article (which is the same thing as the Intel 40GB....same hardware, same controller, and now that you can flash the Intel firmware onto the Kingston....same firmware WITH TRIM). It compares very favorably to the bigger SSDs on random reads.
  • MadMan007 - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    On pg 3 in the last paragraph you refer to the RAM as Corsair but the recommendation is G Skill.

    Good read, the options are many and while one can always find other viable options it's nice to have things narrowed down sometimes.
  • SeanHollister - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Thanks for catching that. We originally chose Corsair RAM, but they bumped the price of their modules $5 at the last minute. Reply
  • qwertymac93 - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    I really wish this site would take a look at samsung hard drives, they are really cheap and the new f3 line is great. the samsung f3 1tb(which i now own :P) is one of, if not THE fastest 1tb hard drive, and is silent. i run my computer with no side panel on my desk, and i cannot hear it apart from initial spin up. It absolutely destroys my 320gb Seagate from a year and a half ago(:duh:). i think 1tb is the absolute lowest any builder should go today, you spend $20-30 more for twice as much size and better performance. I had a 160gb seagate for 5 years, and never thought I'd need more, then i got a 320gb and filled it in less then a year, my new 1tb is now half full(my 320 is pulling backup duty now), YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MUCH! Reply
  • SeanHollister - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Funny you should mention that: we were originally going to go with a Samsung F3 500GB HD502HJ, but the retailers with the best price ran out of stock the day before the article went live.

    While it's true that newer hard drives are faster and quieter no matter the manufacturer, when you're comparing ones from the same generation at the same price point, it's hard to see a difference in real-life performance -- at least one big enough to justify spending extra on. :-)
  • Spivonious - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    I'm curious why the E5300 was chosen, when the E3200 is just as capable and cheaper. I've been using it in my HTPC for 6 months and have yet to run into any slowness. It makes perfect sense in my mind for an entry-level non-gaming system. Reply
  • Taft12 - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Probably because double the cache (and a couple hundred MHz) is worth the $10 extra. Reply
  • Jaguar36 - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Could we get some power usage numbers on these setups? For the last cheap computer I built I think I've ended up paying more for the power to run it, than I paid for the system overall. Reply
  • FlyTexas - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Good job detailing the various parts and options.

    However, that is a lot of work to build something that will cost more than what you can just order from Dell and save all that trouble.

    Yes, yes, the Dell is an OEM machine without the features and options you can play around with here, but really, if you're building a budget machine, you just want something that works well, not a super custom machine that you'll tinker with forever.

    Right now, Dell is selling the following:

    Inspiron 546
    AMD Athlon II X4 630 (2.8GHz, 2MB)
    Windows® 7 Home Premium, 64bit
    20.0" Dell IN2010N HD Monitor
    16X DVD+/-RW Drive
    4GB Dual Channel DDR2 at 800MHz
    750GB Serial ATA Hard Drive
    Integrated ATI Radeon HD3200 Graphics

    All for $599.

    That is a faster processer, larger monitor, bigger hard drive, for $100 LESS than your custom computer.

    And it comes pre-built, ready to use, with a warranty from a single company.

    And if you want to play games, yes it has a 16x PCI-E slot to put a better video card in.

    I would like to see an article here detailing what to order from HP/Dell/Etc. For example, if you don't need a monitor, the Dell Outlet is a great source for cheap computers.

    Right now, in the Dell Outlet, you can get:

    Inspiron 546
    AMD Athlon II X4 630 (2.8GHz, 2MB)
    Windows® 7 Home Premium, 64bit
    16X DVD+/-RW Drive
    6GB Dual Channel DDR2 at 800MHz
    500GB Serial ATA Hard Drive
    Integrated ATI Radeon HD3200 Graphics

    For $389.

    The Windows 7 alone is $105, that makes the hardware $284. Hard to beat that deal... That is for a Certified Refurbished machine, to be sure, however I've bought dozens of them over the past 3 years without any issues.

    If you want to build a high end rig, you can do it for a lot less than Dell/Alienware will charge. If you want a budget rig, buy a Dell (or HP or whatever). Faster, for less money, and less hassle.

    My 2 cents anyway.

    Proud owner of a custom high end gaming rig and 10 Dell Vostro machines for everything else... because rolling my own is just work after the first one.
  • piasabird - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Dell is just So-So. It is not as junky as AMD, unless it is a junky AMD Dell.

    Windows 7 is priced $99.99 at">

    I couldnt tell if that includes shipping or not, so it may be about the same price.
  • Steele Phoenix - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    I have done my own builds and bought budget computers from Dell as well. There are a couple issues that I really ran into:

    1) Video card MUST be only single slot. The 3 Dell's I have do not have room for a two slot width card. This is something that cannot be worked around without replacing the case. Requiring a single slot card makes it very difficult to upgrade video cards. Currently this will limit a user to a single 5770 option from HIS. All higher cards are two slot width.

    2) Power supply must be replaced to support any video card that requires additional power. Once you do this the Dell warranty is technically void. You can still get support from Dell if you don't mention this but don't ship your computer back to them or ask a tech to come to fix something.

    3) BIOS options are very limited.

    4) External ports have very little options. No eSATA, Firewire etc.

    Other than all of that your golden.
  • FlyTexas - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    And this is why I'd like to see a complete article on build it yourself vs. OEM systems...

    1. Not always, there are mini-towers from Dell that will take a dual slot card. Not all of them, but more than you'd think. It isn't the dual slot that kills it, it is the length. However, I've put GTX9800+ cards into Dell's mini-tower cases just fine, and those are dual slot coolers. As for the AMD 5770, that card kicks the heck out of the 3200HD built in graphics these systems all come with. If you really want more than 5770 level graphics, you aren't building this level of system anyway. In my opinion, a 5850/5870 really needs a Core i5/i7 CPU to do it justice.

    2. Not true, many Dell systems come with PCI-E power cables. The above GTX9800 cards require 2 of them. The Dell system had 1, and you can buy adapters to get a second one from the standard power cables. Works great.

    3. Very true, you won't be overclocking the Dells...

    4. True, but do you care on a $500 computer? Maybe, maybe not. It isn't hard to add either using a PCI or PCI-E 1x card to a Dell however.

    Again, I'm not saying building your own is bad, I've built many of my own systems. I've also bought a lot of Dell's. They each have their benefits. Sometimes it just isn't worth the trouble to build your own. It all depends on your needs and what is important to you.
  • erple2 - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    I agree with the vast majority of what you've said. Having said that, I can also see the additional value of buying your own components. Right now, to do a fairly substantial upgrade for me, I have to buy Motherboard, Memory and Processor (going from DDR2, Core2Duo to DDR3 and i5/i7) only. So my intermediate upgrade price is substantially lower than Dell (which, for the last 3 Dell's I've worked on, they still used a custom format Motherboard that was not attainable from, say, Newegg).

    However, if you're intermediate upgrades don't involve "just about anything", then there's not that much reason (at this price point) for buying something other than a pre-packaged system. Unfortunately, Dell's prices for warranties beyond the default 1 year is extremely cost prohibitive at this level (200+ dollars on a 600 dollar system)...
  • FlyTexas - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    You are right about Dell's warranty upgrades beyond a year, they are expensive. I have never bought an extended warranty for a Dell desktop, and never needed one.

    However, I always buy 3 year warranties on my Dell laptops, and have used them more than once. The next day on-site service for something like a laptop is wonderful. Of course, spending $169 for a 3 year warranty on a $1,200 laptop makes sense. If it was a $500 laptop, I probably wouldn't. :)

    Dell (and most big OEMs) actually do use a standard, the BTX form factor. You are correct, NewEgg doesn't sell motherboards in the BTX form factor, but NewEgg isn't the only place to buy stuff.

    Google "btx motherboard Core 2" and click on shopping, you'll find something to use if you REALLY want to upgrade your 5 year old Dell. :)

    But truth be told, what do you really save? If you have to upgrade the motherboard, CPU, RAM, etc. You're saving a case and a power supply, neither of which cost that much to begin with.

    As someone else said, OEM systems aren't really meant to be upgraded, they are meant to be used for 3-5 years, then replaced with a new one. It would be interesting to compare spending $500 every 3 years compared to what some of us here spend upgraded every year. Heck, I've spent $500 on my last 2 video cards (the 8800GT, then the GTX260, they were $250 each when bought new), so I suppose it is all in how you look at it.
  • mm2587 - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    while the big guys do offer some very competitively priced low end systems you do need to keep they also come with

    1) value ddr2 ram compared to high performance ddr3
    2) a craptastic motherboard which has
    a) no dvi port
    b) no esata
    c) no 7.1 sound
    d) no optical out
    e) probably no real bios options
    3) a barely passable power supply
    4) no side port memory and a weaker igp

    I bet you could match the price of the new dell system if you went with lower end components then what was chosen. Its also completely unfair to compare new parts to refurb systems. You could drop the price of anandtech's system almost in half if you bout used parts.
  • FlyTexas - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Good points...

    1. DDR2 and DDR 3 cost about the same. Yes DDR3 is better going forward, however for such a basic system, does it really matter?

    2. Dell's motherboards are generally made by Foxxcon, the same company that makes most of the fancy motherboards you already use. Believe it or not, there are not very many companies that actually make motherboards (or video cards for that matter). Dell's cheap boards are usually lean on features, but again this is a basic system.

    2a. True, but for a 20" monitor, who cares? In any case, you'll have a DVI port if you upgrade the video card.

    2b. Really? For a basic system we care about eSATA?

    2c & d. Again, who cares... This is not a uber system, just a basic system. In my opinion, if you have a set of speakers to do 7.1 justice, you're spending a lot more on your computer than this.

    2e. For sure, but again who cares, basic system remember?

    3. The powersupply works fine, I've got GTX9800 cards running in 3 of these level systems and they don't complain, you don't need to spend $65 on a powersupply to get one that works.

    4. The AMD 3200HD Graphics are not bad, better than most of what Intel provides. If you care about gaming, $50-100 fixes that right up.

    Can you match the price of the Dell? Yes, but you have to drop everything down a bit, and you're still building it yourself...

    From NewEgg:

    Rosewill R2036-BK Black Computer Case 400W PS - $29.99
    AMD Athlon II X4 630 2.8GHz - $101.99
    ECS A780GM-M3 AM2+/AM3 Micro ATX Motherboard - $59.99
    PQI POWER Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2 800 - $74.99
    HITACHI Deskstar 500GB 7200 RPM - $54.99
    SAMSUNG 22x CD/DVD Burner Black - $19.99
    Acer X203H Black 20" 16:9 5ms LCD Monitor - $124.99
    Windows 7 Home Premium OEM - $104.99
    Rosewill Keyboard & Mouse Combo - $10.98
    Shipping on all that is $15.06

    Total price - $597.96

    The same price as the Dell, and you have to build it, install Windows, and support it yourself. The Dell comes ready to use out of the box, gives you a place to call and get service for a year, and generally just works.

    I'm not knocking building your own computer, for many people it makes sense. I've built more than I can count over the years. All I'm saying is that for this level of computer, for basic computer tasks, for someone who isn't a heavy upgrader or gamer, an OEM system works just fine with fewer headaches.
  • jstall - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    While I have no problems with Dell LCD monitors (some great buys and I own 2) I would never again purchase a Dell system. Poor build quality, poor components and limited life. I would rather take the extra time and effort to build a system knowing the parts were carefully chosen/thought out and well put together.

    Just because it's a budget system doesn't mean you can't think and act like it's a high end system when you put it together. After all, this may be someone else's high end system when it's built.
  • StormyParis - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Thanks for yet another very nice write up. I use them regularly when recommending or buying PCs.

    A few suggestions:
    1- the perfomance graphs are very nice. Could you possibly
    1a- generalize them, so that we can see how much the extra money spent going from "entry" to "mainstream" buys us, performance-wise ?
    1b- indeed, include your past recommended configs, so that we can judge if upgrading is worth it.
    1c- format the graphs as indexes, I got a headache mentally flipping half of the bars.
    1d- to make up for all that extra work, methinks you could get rid of a handful of benches, and just keep 1 each of: boot+launch apps, DX9 game, DX10 game, video encode, office work.

    2- You seem in love with Asus MBs. I've given up on them after a couple of dead MBs, and very bad service. My retailer told me that the issue was frequent, on top of that. I do like Asus's screens a lot though, much better build than most others.

    3- It would be nice to have upgrade suggestions, as in "how to best spend an extra 10%"

    4- Maybe you could list the peripherals (screen, kb+mouse, printer...) separately ?

    Anywyay, those are minor remarks. Thanks and congrats on a job well done.

  • JarredWalton - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Thanks for the feedback.

    Are you referring to ASUS or ASRock? We've got one ASUS, two ASRock (a split off from ASUS back in the day, but I'm sure we can all agree that they're not the same sort of company, given the sometimes quirky nature of ASRock board layouts), and one Gigabyte. So one of four is hardly too many ASUS boards.

    All manufacturers have some poor products, and most of these recommendations are made with input from our other editors. The ASRock H55 board for example is the best current bang-for-the-buck that Raja has tested. General statements about ASUS quality (or any other brand) being good or bad don't help unless you've had actual experience with the recommended board.

    For upgrades, we've got page six... though I suppose we didn't specifically address the 10% extra? Separating out peripherals is something we will likely do in future guides.
  • GeorgeH - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Overall the article was well done, but there’s a lot of room for improvement in its organization.

    The RAM, HDD, Case, PSU, KB/Mouse, and OS are common to all builds, so it would have been good to do a first page breaking out and detailing all of those items, and to only list them once. The following page could then have been dedicated solely to unique Entry-Level components, and the one following that to unique Mainstream components (although if there were room, both Entry-Level and Mainstream on the same page would be even better.) Also slightly better highlighting (perhaps a different color or slightly larger font) of the most important totals would help immensely.

    As it stands right now, it’s very difficult to get a sense of the differences between the builds without lots of clicking back and forth and/or the opening of multiple windows, meaning a lot of the (very good) information you have to offer here just gets lost in the work of trying to sift it out.
  • BelardA - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Yep... the now discontinued X2 550 (and X3 720BE) is defaulted at 3.1ghz. With air and no voltage changes... it runs like a champ with all 4 cores running and 3.4ghz. Some are hitting 3.6~3.8 without raising the voltage on the x2 550.

    X2 555 = 3.2ghz default clock. About $10~15 more in price.

    These CPUs are usually faster for day to day operations over the X3... getting the other 2 cores up and running is a big plus.

    Gigabyte boards have the BIOS setting for this... takes seconds to do.
  • AznBoi36 - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    For a HTPC case, check out the Moneual Labs MonCaso 312 HTPC case.">

    It's a beauty.
  • jstall - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Nicely done and welcome, I think we often forget that some of the systems we build are not mainstream. I may even put together the budget AMD system in the next month or two.

    Thanks for a well thought out article.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Congrats to Sean on his pilot article for AnandTech!

    Just FYI, if you try to send him an email, you'll notice that it goes to me instead. I'll forward the email messages on to him short term, because we don't want to overwhelm Sean's real email with hundreds of spam messages. (After heavy filtering, I still get at least 10-15 spam messages per day... and when we switched filtering a few years back and didn't have anything for a day or two, there were 2000+ messages in just one day. Ouch!) Update: We're going to see how Gmail does at filtering spam now, per Sean's request. So now you can flame him without me filtering anything. ;-)

    Anyway, long story short, you can either email Sean through me, or you can leave him a comment down here and we all get to see it. So welcome aboard, Sean, and good job with your first article.
  • coolhardware - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Very nice article Sean!

    I always enjoy seeing Anandtech put their expertise to use in creating some nice builds :-).

    I was a bit worried that the entry level AMD system I put together a couple of weeks ago,"> was already going to be obsolete ;-). It looks like it is holding its own though. That system was inspired by Anand's Phenom II X2 unlocking article. Any tweak/tips from other readers are greatly appreciated.

    Please keep up the great work guys!
  • Rampage1 - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    I'm not sure why most hardware sites segregate their reviews for processors

    AMD processors
    Intel processors

    why not just processors?
    and specify price/performance etc
  • Iketh - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    I can tell you one reason why. I read these guides to see what's a good idea to purchase that will work with my current system, ie. an upgrade. I cant place an intel chip into my amd board. Reply
  • TheQuestian - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Heh, unfortunately, a lot of people would never consider buying a chip from the dark (read: "other") side. I suppose AT is trying to cater to a broad audience. Reply
  • JonnyDough - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    Well they should diversify their investments! :D Reply
  • Herald85 - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    To make it easier for the fanboys ofcourse :) Reply
  • MJinZ - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    Sean, good effort, but might want to research some idioms like "down in the dumps" before putting them in the abstract. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    That was actually my fault. Sean didn't write an abstract so I added my own. LOL. Leave it to me to screw it up (and I can't even blame Dragon NaturallySpeaking on this one). Reply

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