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  • Parhel - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    Is memory bandwidth so unimportant on these budget systems that 2 DIMMS for dual channel RAM isn't worth it?

    What about the 'budget AMD gaming system'? I thought those were particularly sensitive to memory bandwidth. Why not go with 2x2GB over 1x4GB?
  • DanNeely - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    The AMD A8 build is likely hurt by it; but the celeron's should be mostly unaffected. An i7 can't saturate a dual channel bus; and the G530 is much less than half a 3770K. Reply
  • StevoLincolnite - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    Might as-well drop in 2x4gb or 2x8gb sticks of DDR3 1866mhz ram anyway, Ram is stupidly cheap these days and the faster ram is very noticeable with APU's.

    Even DDR3 2133mhz sticks aren't that expensive which Llano and in turn Trinity love when overclocked, drop in a Radeon 6670/6570, enable crossfire and you should be able to play most games decently at 720P.
  • DanNeely - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    For a non-budget build I'd agree; but a budget build is about how low can you go without it starting to run into underpower problems. 3/4 builds here shouldn't be hurt meaningfully by only having 1x4GB of ram. Reply
  • Alexvrb - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    For the APU build using a single channel will hurt performance quite a bit. Seriously, you can get a 2 x 2 kit off newegg for $25. Some of them are decent kits even, like the Ripjaws X kit. So you're saving TWO DOLLARS and cutting your performance down hard.

    The 3870K even has some decent overclock potential, both on the CPU and GPU sides. I'd say that you're better off waiting for Trinity to hit the desktop, except that the unlocked Trinity chips will probably price them out of the budget system entirely.

    Then again, getting ANY Trinity system, even a locked one, will offer a much stronger upgrade path. Faster chips in the future, and dual graphics will probably be more viable as an upgrade path for Trinity than it ever was for Llano. Llano dual graphics didn't work very well, but from what I've seen of mobile Trinity, it's got potential.
  • leexgx - Sunday, September 02, 2012 - link

    i agree there is no point in using 1x4gb over an 2x2gb system

    its Very unlikely you need more then 4gb of ram for budget system
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    I think the idea is you can always add the second DIMM for dual-channel. I'd suggest doing that on the AMD Gaming setup if you're really going that route, but I'd more strongly suggest waiting for Trinity at this point -- lower power and higher performance than Llano. For everything else, dual-channel typically means a 1-5% performance increase, which is negligible, and since the boards are all two slots we'd recommend starting with 1x4GB and upgrading later to 2x4GB, or spend the extra $20 and go straight to 2x4GB. I'll make a note of that, though, just for clarity. Reply
  • Parhel - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    That answers my second question. I was thinking desktop Trinity must be right around the corner at this point. But, even then it may not fit in a true 'budget' category.

    Building your own 'budget' desktop tends to be a losing proposition nowadays anyhow. I have a Dell XPS 8300 with an i7-2600, 8GB RAM, and a 5770 that I paid under $600 for on the Dell outlet over 6 months ago, and a lesser XPS 8300 with an i5 that I paid under $400 for and am using as an HTPC of sorts.

    I'm glad you mentioned that in the conclusion of the article. I always enjoy reading these types of articles, but rarely do they ask the question of whether or not the whole idea makes sense to begin with.
  • Alexvrb - Sunday, September 02, 2012 - link

    OEM machines also make sacrifices. I get tired of replacing hard drives and power supplies in Dell machines. The upgradeability and customization aspects are also to be considered. They certainly don't have a lot of headroom for future improvements. In particular, if you want to slap more than a budget graphics card in that machine, you need a new PSU.

    If you're building your own machine, a budget OEM box isn't even a consideration. You might even be interested in overclocking, even just mild overclocking, and at that point budget OEM boxes lose any appeal. You'd be better off comparing DIY to boutique builders. The Dell units you listed no doubt used bottom-barrel cases, PSUs, drives, memory, and mainboards. Will they work? Sure. Are they using cheap components wherever they feel they can get away with it? You bet. YMMV, of course.
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, September 02, 2012 - link

    Dell's XPS brand tends to be a cut above their budget boxes. If you can find one of those brand new for $600 or less, there's no question it's a worthwhile purchase. I still have an old XPS 410 (Core 2 Duo E6600) that's plugging along, and while the power supply fan makes a bit of noise on occasion (mostly when cold), the only issue I've had is that the old GTX 7900 got a bit too old for my tastes.

    It's now running an HD 5850 (for over a year), and the 375W Delta Electronics PSU is working well enough. My biggest gripe is that the PSU Dell includes has these perfectly specced cables so that everything goes together really well, and if I swap out the PSU the HDD placement in particular is an issue for cable routing.

    Would I recommend people spend $1000+ for such a system? Heck no, but at $600 for the equivalent new setup that wouldn't be a bad purchase at all.
  • mevans336 - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    I bet you couldn't tell the difference unless you used a benchmark util. Reply
  • popej - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    Probably not, but even Windows Experience Index will drop significantly because of lack of bandwidth for integrated GPU.

    Even if I couldn't show more advantages of dual channel memory for office PC, I would feel uncomfortable building such an handicapped system ;)
  • mosu - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    I've noticed that too.Also I would recommend a faster memory pack Reply
  • goinginstyle - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    For $5 more you can get the Asus F1A55-M LE board. What does that $5 buy you? Another x4 PCIe slot, 2 additional SATA ports, 4 more USB ports, additional fan header, and a true UEFI and not the Hybrid EFI crap on the Gigabyte board. Oh yes, also much better audio and network controllers and the software suite (options, fan controls, etc) is greatly improved on the Asus board. I understand this is budget but another $5 for that trade-off seems like an easy choice. Reply
  • SunLord - Sunday, September 02, 2012 - link

    I'd get the ASRock A55M-HVS personally as it at least has an HDMI connector and it's only $60 with shipping but really if I'm gonna lock myself into a dead socket I'm gonna just save a little more and get a board with USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gbit/s so I have some future proofing in other areas Reply
  • Joe Miller - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    Very good read. It is very well balanced. I liked it a lot - all the issues with selections and compromises to do are laid out well.

    I feel like now it is more difficult than ever to make a budget build - AMD is weaker, Trinity is expected soon, but the socket is changed, Core i3s are relatively expensive, hard drive prices are higher, while SSDs are still more expensive than I am willing to pay, and I am still afraid of reliability and need larger capacity for dual boots, and so on :)

    There is also a problem with availability of mini-ITX cases where I live. Delivery from US is like 70$, so not an option.
  • Torrijos - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    The thing with AMD CPU on gaming machine is they might have more influence than previously sought on gaming performance...

    This article shows that there are more slowdown with AMD CPU than with Intel
  • Z Throckmorton - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    Hi Joe - Thanks for the kind words. I agree that AMD's retreat (though not total withdrawal) from the budget market is a bummer for consumers. That said, the fact that the G530 is as powerful as it is and so dirt cheap helps to mitigate the drawback of less competition. ...For now. I worry that this situation will not persist much longer. Anyway, I hope that Trinity will bring better CPU-centric performance to the low-end APU line, which would bring AMD closer to parity in the cheap CPU segment. As for your concerns about SSD reliability - there are many SSD models that I personally trust as much as any mechanical HDD. So do your research, take a deep breath, and jump in. (Of course, the lower capacities are an issue for multi-OS booting and such, but that will become less of an issue with time.) Where do you live? AnandTech's General Hardware forum is filled with non-US users who might be able to point you to ITX case resellers in your country if you post there. Hope this helps - Zach Reply
  • bill4 - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    I'd argue the number one reason costs are higher is cause Intel has no competition. $220 for the sweet spot quad core Intel's sticks out like a sore thumb. Used to be able to pick up some perfectly fine AMD chip or other for like 100, and maybe 60 on the mobo. No more.

    It's sad all the AMD haters online who so desperately want them to go out of business vs Nvidia, this is what you're going to get...
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, September 02, 2012 - link

    You can still find plenty of AMD CPUs/APUs for $100, but they're not compelling compared to Intel's offerings. The quad-core Llano stuff is a case of win some, lose some against even a low-end Core i3-2100, never mind newer Intel CPUs like the i3-3220. Heck, even the Pentium G2120 would likely give it a run for the money. Still, if all you want is an inexpensive PC, there's nothing wrong with Llano's performance for general use -- or Athlon X2 or Core 2 Duo for that matter. You can find some pretty inexpensive motherboard as well if you shop around. Reply
  • Draconian - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    The 250GB hard drive for $60 seems like a pretty bad deal. Newegg is selling the Seagate Barracuda 1.5TB for $80 + FS. Reply
  • Z Throckmorton - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    Hi Draconian - Both of those are bad deals compared to pre-flood prices! I recommended the worse $/GB HDD simply because its absolute cost is lower and 250GB is typically more than sufficient for basic office and gaming builds. Spending more money on capacity you don't need is always a waste even if the higher capacity drive is a better $/GB value. Furthermore, that $60/250GB drive is a day-to-day price while the Seagate you mention is a sale price. I mention explicitly in the article to keep an eye out for sale prices on HDDs, because their pricing right now is particularly volatile. Here's hoping we'll be back to $30/500GB drives sooner than later. Best - Zach Reply
  • Esben - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    I think the places that you have chosen to save money are well thought out. For an office machine the SSD gives a much faster system, than putting the money towards faster processors. The i5-2400 I use at work with mechanical harddrive is painfully slow.

    A suggestion to the guide is to consider a B75 based motherboard, such as e.g. the Gigabyte GA-B75M-D3V ($60). It will give you native USB 3.0, SATA 6 GB/s and support for Ivy Bridge if you need a very fast workstation. I would also scrap the optical drive, since that is so rarely used. Windows installation via USB or PXE netboot, the remaining apps through ethernet/USB.

    I would choose the Samsung 830 64 GB instead of the Intel 330, as it's the least handicapped ~60 GB SSD, with high R/W speeds, and solid reputation for stability.

    I have in the past found good deals on e.g. Vostro 460, but no more. Now it makes more sense to build yourself. Next week I'm assembling my new work PC: Gigabyte B75, i5-3470, 16 GB DDR3-1600, 128 GB Samsung 830, Fractal 1000 and Antec 380D. Same price as stock Vostro 470.
  • Z Throckmorton - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    Hi Esben - Thanks for the kind words. I'm particularly glad that you recognize an i5 with an HDD can seem slow compared to a less powerful CPU with an SSD in many office/productivity workflows. I agree that optical drives are not always necessary; I build as many systems without an ODD as with an ODD nowadays. But IMHO any basic configuration should still include one, especially since many people do not know how to install applications via USB or a network. Plus, many people still use DVD drives to rip and burn CDs and DVDs. You or your customers know whether you'll need an ODD, and it is nice to be able to eschew that $20 from a build, but not always a possibility. I'm not sure if the ODD will ever go the way of the FDD given the pervasiveness of optical media in non-computer devices like car stereos and home theaters. The main reason I recommended the Intel SSD over the Samsung 830 is simple: cost. The 830 64GB has never been as cheap as the 330 AFAIK, and it's still more expensive right now. While it is faster than the 330, I wouldn't consider the 830 more reliable than the 330. (I consider the 830, M4, and 330 to be the most reliable consumer/mainstream SSDs.) It's also interesting to note your findings on cheap outlet desktops vs. DIY systems: they resonate with my own observations over the last few months. Regardless, I'm sure you'll be happy with the PC you're planning on building - sounds like a great system! Best - Zach Reply
  • kmmatney - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    "It's worth noting that for a basic productivity machine, the Windows 7 license by itself accounts for a large percentage of the build's total cost."

    This. You can find plenty of systems on sale for around the same price, or less, that include the OS. This includes a recent shell-shocker at NewEgg that sold out quickly. The pre-built system will have a crapper power supply, but otherwise will do the job for less money.
  • apmon2 - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    "It's worth noting that for a basic productivity machine, the Windows 7 license by itself accounts for a large percentage of the build's total cost. This is a nearly unavoidable cost for system builders"
    With $91 the Windows license is the most expensive individual item and it constitutes nearly 1/3 of the total costs!! Not using Windows would drop you from $371 to $280, which is much more "budget", or you could get significantly better components for the same price.

    Why do you therefore not recommend Linux for budget systems? For the basic productivity system, it is imho just as (if not more) user friendly as Windows and has all of the productivity software like office already included. Installation of Ubuntu Linux is also quite a bit simpler than windows (if you choose the appropriate hardware).

    While in Linux after installation, everything just works, including firefox, thunderbird, LibreOffice and any other standard productivity software, in Windows after installation pretty much nothing works until you install all of the additional components. In my case not even the wired ethernet controller worked out of the box in Windows7 enterprise edition and I needed a second computer to download the driver and copy it onto a usb stick (as coming from Linux I hadn't expected that to fail). Then I had to install graphics drivers to get more than 640x480 resolution, install sound drivers, wireless drivers, motherboard drivers, ....

    Furthermore, Linux took up only 2.7Gb of my SSD after installation, and that is including office and all other productivity software, so I can use it quite happily on my 32Gb SSD.
  • Z Throckmorton - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    Hi apmon2 - I wholeheartedly agree with you that a free OS like Ubuntu makes more sense than a $90-100 Windows 7 license for a very low budget build. That said, Ubuntu is simply not mainstream, while W7 is. While you and I are savvy computer users and have no trouble using Ubuntu, many people are simply uncomfortable learning a new OS, even one as user-friendly as Ubuntu. I used to offer customers super-budget Ubuntu machines, but the response from them was mostly negative. I spent a lot of time helping people learn Linux (which helped them, but ended up eating into my bottom line - time is money). Fully half of the people I sold Ubuntu machines too eventually ended up dropping another $100 to get Windows 7 after getting frustrated with Ubuntu. Furthermore, I disagree that LibreOffice is just as good as Microsoft Office. For basic uses, it is, but for more sophisticated productivity users, it is not. For example, dozens of my own Excel macros simply don't work in LibreOffice, and this is a sentiment echoed by many of my customers and friends. Anyway, this really isn't the appropriate forum for the eternal Windows vs Linux debate - I will simply conclude by saying that there are many, many reasons to not build Linux machines for people who are not particularly computer-savvy. Best - Zach Reply
  • jwcalla - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    I've been out of the loop on these things, but how much does a MS Office license cost these days? Reply
  • bgold2007 - Monday, September 03, 2012 - link

    Great article ZT. Agree with your response to apmon2 - disagree with your computer-savvy qualification. I consider myself moderately PC-savvy (A+ years after building my own systems, some N+, lite hex programming in the dot matrix days, some cmd line, tech center support etc). I have been playing around with dual-booting Linux for years - on laptops. Due to the closed and open source issues, lots of crap with wireless support (fw-cutter horrors, anyone?).

    Nowadays I often boot to ubuntu - because it is fine for email, basic web browsing etc. So I reboot to it because that's where I was using it last.
    Nowadays, yes Ubuntu "just works" -mostly. But audio visual is NOT windows class. How many times have I been in youtube (in ubuntu) and get a "you need to install a plugin" which I attempt (nevermind ZERO info about selecting the firstr default option or the "386" option) [don't worry - NEITHER will work!] to be followed by a "cannot install - dependencies not resolved" error. Why is it harder to print many images to a page with Linux freeware than Win7?
    Why do I often get sync issues on av, esp. if I pause the (eg youtube) video?

    It is NOT because i am not "computer-savvy", it is in part due to ubuntu defects/limitations and, if solovable, because I am not a linux/Ubuntu expert.

    And although not STRICTLY within a budget article, I thought ZT could've added a comment/reminder about the W7 family packs on sale. Great way to rehab older systems and have available as backups, or split the cost with a family member and reduce the budget system cost.

    That said, it would be nice if someone build some of these systems and verified all systems go with Ubuntu as os.
  • bigjer - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    What are you using for the Sandy Bridge Reply
  • Z Throckmorton - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    Hi bigjer - The stock fan included with the CPU will work fine in these builds; no need to spend money on an aftermarket cooler. Hope this helps - Zach Reply
  • bill4 - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    Anybody who claims PC gaming isn't expensive as hell hardware wise is lying.

    PC gaming has a very well defined sweet spot. Buying outside of it up or down is just stupid. With this build you just wasted $400 on a piece of junk. Spend 700-800 and build a real machine or dont bother.

    Decent Intel Qaud Core=220
    Decent cheap case=50
    8GB RAM=40
    Decent basic PSU=50
    1T TB HDD= I dunno what these cost with the changing prices after flooding, $70?
    OEM Windows=90

    $620 and you need a GPU. Spend anywhere from $150 on something like a 6870 to $200 on a 7850 (hell I even saw a 7870 for 199 after rebate recently)

    $770-$820, a good rig that should last 3+ years just like my current Q6600 build has. Dont bother throwing money down the drain on anything less.
  • bznotins - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    While $437 isn't going to get you the "sweet spot" gaming rig, it still gets you *a* gaming rig.

    Not everyone has the budget for the sweet spot rig.

    The rig Zach put together will play SC2 at low settings and many other games at low settings. That's enough for some people, especially when it's compared to the alternative -- nothing at all.

    I play SC2 on my laptop that only has HD3000. Is it as good as my primary gaming rig? No. But does it get me my fix when I'm on the road? Yup. Is it playable? Yup. I can also play WoW and SW:TOR on it. The rig Zach put together here is light years ahead of my laptop.

    Just because it's not in the sweet spot, doesn't mean it is useless.

    For someone who has 50% more to spend, then yeah, the best bet is to get something like what you described. But for someone who is reaching just to squeeze $400+ into their budget, this is adequate.
  • estaffer - Sunday, September 02, 2012 - link

    should be 100% more to spend but i agree. the topic says "budget" not "sweet spot". Reply
  • dave1_nyc - Saturday, September 01, 2012 - link

    I bought a G530 last spring to use for a file server machine, and figured what the heck, how good does it have to be for what I was using it for.

    While this is clearly an anecdotal comment, I played around with the system as a general purpose Win 7 machine, even using the built-in graphics (which are just plain old HD) and was really surprised at how capable a chip it is for under $50.
  • zappb - Sunday, September 02, 2012 - link

    Is this fast enough for excel, crm, 10 + chrome tabs and a financial / erp app, payroll app etc..?

    Fantastic value in this build, would replace 4 of our core 2 due / Vista / Windows xp machines this month with this exact build (only change would be 120gb SSD instead of 64gb and no local storage).
  • KAlmquist - Sunday, September 02, 2012 - link

    Even with budget systems like these, a mechanical hard drive will still be a major performance bottleneck, so if 60 GB isn't enough storage space I would think hard about springing for a 120 GB SSD rather than buying a mechanical drive.

    If reliability is critical consider the Samsung 830 ($100) or the Intel 330 ($104). The Samsung is $40 more than the mechanical drive, but either of these drives will be vastly faster, and probably significantly more reliable, than a mechanical drive.

    Another option is the OCZ Vertex Plus, at $80, or $70 after rebate. The performance is significantly less than the Samsung or Intel drives mentioned above, but that don't matter too much. The Vertex Plus is fast enough that it won't be the major bottleneck in a budget system. The only reason I hesitate to recommend it is that OCZ Technology's quality control seems to be rather hit and miss. The Vertex Plus is not cutting edge technology, so if you are willing to buy from OCZ Technology at all, the Vertex Plus would seem to be a relatively safe choice.
  • Onus - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    After reading all the comments about what a mere "TWO DOLLARS", or $5, or $20 could add to this machine, I would suggest that some of these ideas might be mentioned in the article. Especially when going for a rock-bottom budget, another $5-$10 can make a huge difference, and it's worth pointing that out.
    IMHO, someone on a budget probably cannot afford to replace junk that fails. The reduction of hard drive warranty periods to one year is a disgrace; I've been sticking to the more expensive WD Black drives that still have five year warranties. That's tough on a budget, but not as tough as having to buy two or three cheap drives that fail just out of warranty. I would definitely sacrifice a little performance elsewhere to get more solid reliability.
    I disagree 100% with the poster who suggested such a cheap machine for games is a waste of money. It blows the doors off the gaming rigs of only eight or ten years ago, and people sure had lots of fun with the games available back then. And, even modern titles still look pretty good turned down to "medium" settings. Of course that isn't my preference, but I wouldn't call it insufferable, especially compared to the alternatives.
  • shorty lickens - Sunday, September 30, 2012 - link

    for the minor price difference you should get a lot more than 250 gigs. Especially for a gaming rig. Its nice to not have to uninstall games. Also, mods and stuff can take up a lot of space. And its also nice to have all your MP3's on the game rig to play your own music in the background. (Though you could also stream music from another computer or server). Reply

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