Today, we release our fifth Buyer's Guide in the past 5 weeks. You can look forward to Buyer's Guides in the middle of every week, and then, after the end of each month, we will retool our guides to reflect the new hardware and pricing of that particular time period. Today marks our first refresh of our Buyer's Guides to see what has changed, if anything, in the past 4 weeks. In case you haven't read our new Buyer's Guides yet, here's the basic format of them to be released on a weekly basis:

Week 1: Entry Level System
Week 2: Mid-Range System
Week 3: High End System
Week 4: Overclocking System

For every component that goes into a computer, we offer our recommendation for a piece of hardware as well as our alternative on that type of hardware. We've added alternative hardware picks to our guides because it allows AnandTech to recommend a wider variety of hardware (especially for those willing to spend a little more than what we budget for a particular system). Alternative picks tell you just that - your alternatives, which in some cases will be better suited for your needs, and in other cases, will not be. But at the same time, we can still be assertive enough with a first place recommendation so that new buyers aren't indecisive or confused about what to purchase. Most of the prices listed for the hardware that we recommend can be found in our very own RealTime Pricing Engine. Any prices not found in our engine can be found on pricewatch.com. We list pertinent parts of our RealTime pricing engine at the bottom of every page of our Buyer's Guides so that you can choose the lowest prices from a large variety of vendors all by yourself.

We are always taking suggestions on how to improve our Buyer's Guides. If you feel we are not including a wide enough variety of systems in our guides, please let us know and we can see if it warrants an additional weekly Buyer's Guide.

Entry Level Systems

The main concern for our Entry Level (or "Budget") systems is pricing, with reliability as a close second consideration. While we certainly take into account performance, we do not consider it a vital part of building an entry level system; it is merely something that is considered when price and reliability have been established. This is not to say that performance is ignored, because that is just not the case. We also believe that you're more than likely going to be keeping this entry level system for quite a long time without modification (read: at least 1.5 years), so some of our picks may be geared towards that type of mentality. Overall, we like to think that we will end up picking a balanced array of hardware based on price, reliability, performance, and longevity, in that order, for today's Entry Level Buyer's Guide.

Read on to find out more...

CPU and Motherboard Recommendations
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  • NeoGodless - Thursday, March 25, 2004 - link

    I've built a lot of Athlon machines, and so has my co-worker for here at work. I haven't heard of one person complaining about instability or processor failure in all of the time that I have been familiar with computer hardware that couldn't be blamed on software. It's almost amusing to see the reliability argument pulled in when people are trying to decide between AMD and Intel. Anyway, I wanted to say that I personally had two very bad experiences with 9200SE video cards. Perhaps it was just the brand (PowerColor) but the 2D IQ was horrible. Text was barely readable and icons on the desktop had blurred shadows (shadows that didn't belong there). I tried in a few systems, and on a few monitors, and always the same. A regular 9200 (tried both Sapphire and Transcend) did not share those IQ problems. So I always recommend spending the extra $3 for a 9200 and not getting the SE. Reply
  • zortwood - Monday, March 22, 2004 - link

    Also, that Cooler Master is rated only up to 900MHz Athlons, based on some sites that sell it. Reply
  • zortwood - Monday, March 22, 2004 - link

    "We suggest the Cooler Master DP5-5G11A, ... If you're looking for something more quiet, we suggest mounting a Panaflo L1A fan to reduce noise. "

    That sounds like a 120mm fan to go on a heatsink that takes 50mm fans? I'm I missing something?

    I'm looking for a inexpensive but quiet way to cool my Athlon 1.4G. My existing fan is too noisy.

    Reply
  • T8000 - Monday, March 22, 2004 - link

    By realistic I mean testing configurations that are likely to be made with high visual settings, so like I mentioned earlier, testing budget CPU's like Athlon XP and Celeron with $400 GPU's does not make sense, just like adding $300 worth of fast RAM to them.

    For C & C generals, I would not recommend playing it with a budget system, but if you must, you should use equal visual settings when you compare performance. And in my experience, user guessed CPU limits usually vanish with a faster GPU.

    Also, I have seen too many Athlon systems that did not even manage to keep working for three years of normal use, so I say that it is better to play at 60 FPS with Celeron and be able to save your progress, then to have frequent AMD related crashes at a whopping 62 FPS.
    Reply
  • newuser12 - Sunday, March 21, 2004 - link

    sry, for double post, but I had to mention this: I have never had any problems with any processors, so I cannot really vouch for either intel or AMD here. However, We have at least ....4 computers with Athlon XP processors in our house and I know of some other people elseware, and NONE have had problems with them.


    what did you mean by the comment: "
    But generally speaking, a Celeron with dual channel memory will perform close to Athlons rating system when used with realistic benchmarks and settings." Realistic?!? what do you mean?

    Like I mentioned earlier, please read the budget CPU shootout article. AMD will always have an advantage over Intel in these low end CPU's.
    Reply
  • newuser12 - Sunday, March 21, 2004 - link

    "And most benchmarks favor one CPU or the other, making it possible to have a Celeron outperform an Athlon 64 clock for clock, but also to create the results you mentioned, depending on the benchmarks used."

    True, but out of a unch of benchmarks, celerons only did barely OK in media encoding and they got killed in everything else. This is not just a case of benchmarks that favor AMD, this is just a fact: celerons suck. I remeber this comment: "All celerons have to offer is a high clock speed".

    The fact that they are generally more expensive than AMD processors(that are much faster in performance) while this is a budget system is another interesting point.

    You are right that this would not be a real gaming system, but that using Evan's entry level system, you could make a system that could run many games well enough. Just for kicks, lets talk about C and C generals with celerons vs Athlon XP's.

    The celeron I had (2.2) would barely even run C and C. The 1800+ with the same vid card ran it much, much faster. I know I wasn;t GPU limited, so that is not a factor here. The celeron simply could not handle the amount of data it had to process fast enough.
    Reply
  • T8000 - Sunday, March 21, 2004 - link

    It is not the performance that makes Celerons stand out, but their reliablity when paired with Intel mainboards does.

    And most benchmarks favor one CPU or the other, making it possible to have a Celeron outperform an Athlon 64 clock for clock, but also to create the results you mentioned, depending on the benchmarks used.

    Just when you benchmark a $400 GPU with a $75 CPU for games and select settings like 640x480 with no AA and AF, big differences will arise. But those differences are meaningless because nobody would use that CPU with that GPU and nobody with a $400 GPU would ever play with these low settings.

    But generally speaking, a Celeron with dual channel memory will perform close to Athlons rating system when used with realistic benchmarks and settings.

    Not to mention that none of these budget systems will offer serious game performance, but are more likely to be used for home office, Internet and small server appliances, where reliability is much more important then performance.
    Reply
  • newuser12 - Saturday, March 20, 2004 - link

    25, Apparently you never read the CPU budget shootout where only a celeron 2.6 could barely manage to outperform an athlon 1800+ in media encoding and the celerons got raped in everything else. Celerons suck, period. Although they are Intel's budget CPU's they are still priced higher than AMD's processors which can kick their asses badly, ESP. when it comes to games. I once figured that I would try a celeron.........a 2.2 celeron with a geforce4 (with 64 ddr) AGP was outperformed badly by an Athlon XP 1800+ with a geforce4 (once again 64 ddr memory) PCI card. Badly. Reply
  • T8000 - Friday, March 19, 2004 - link

    For a budget system, I would go for reliability, as most people want a system that actually keeps on going.

    So I would suggest:

    CPU & Cooling Intel Celeron 2400 - $71
    Mainboard Intel D865GBF - $96
    Memory 2 x 128 MB Kingston PC2100 - $52
    Video Card Onboard - $0
    Monitor Samsung SyncMaster 763MB $146
    Computer Case Antec SLK1600 - $46
    Sound Card Onboard sound $0
    Speakers Creative Labs SBS270 2.0 $20
    Networking Onboard 10/100 Ethernet $0
    Hard Drive - Seagate 7200rpm 40gig- $59
    CD-RW Samsung CDR-W/DVD Combo Drive,- $47
    Bottom Line - $537

    I think the extra $33 are very well spend, as this memory comes with lifetime warranty and it is much faster because of the dual channel setup. And this mainboard offers a very nice upgrade path, supporting the fastest CPU's available.

    Not to mention this setup allows you to tell your friends your real CPU speed without being laughed at.
    Reply
  • Evan Lieb - Friday, March 19, 2004 - link

    Yeah Trogdor and mostlyprudent, definitely a lot you can do with such a small budget these days, and with great upgradeability.

    Zebo,

    Yeah, if you compare the two on the same monitor you will probably find the nForce IGP to be inferior. Even though text isn't "blurry" (depending on what your standard is, I suppose), sharpness can varry quite a bit.
    Reply

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