Introduction

In the recent past, we have put out buyers guides covering the midrange and high-end markets. Those are definitely easier to put together, as right now is a great time to purchase a midrange or faster computer - or at least, it's as good of the time as you're likely to see, what with the continuous release of newer products as time rolls on. One subject that we haven't looked at in several months is the budget sector, and quite a few of you have asked for advice on what to purchase. Many others have also pointed out the rising costs of memory, making it even more difficult to put together a reasonably priced computer. We hope to be able to shed some light on the topic in this buyer's guide, although the best we can do is to grit our teeth and simply recommend spending a bit more money than you would like.

Our buyer's guides are focused on putting together a complete system that fits the target market segment. We've already covered midrange ($1000-$1500) and high-end ($2000+) configurations, but unfortunately for many of us the pocketbook is going to have a far greater impact on our component choices than we would like. Today, we will tackle the budget sector, with the goal of keeping prices to around $1000 on the upgraded configurations, and getting as close as possible to $500 on the base systems. Needless to say, without making some serious compromises it is currently impossible to build a new complete computer system for $500, and we are not willing to make those compromises. Our maximum upgrade will also span the upper-budget and lower-midrange price segment, but individualization is the key: get the upgraded parts that you find useful, and don't bother with those you don't feel you need.

Especially at the budget end of the spectrum, it becomes reasonable to consider prebuilt solutions available at your local computer stores or from the larger OEMs. A quick look at Dell for instance shows that desktop systems starting at a mere $330 are available, which is quite a bit cheaper than what we will recommend today. If that seems too good to be true, sadly it is. The bare minimum system doesn't include a monitor, and it cuts down virtually every component choice possible. 512MB of RAM, a CD-RW optical drive, 80GB hard drive, integrated graphics, and the cheapest processors available (Sempron or Celeron in this case) allow them to reach their bargain basement price. By the time you make some reasonable upgrades like adding a monitor, 2x512MB of RAM, a faster CPU, and a DVD burner suddenly the price is right up there with the system configurations we will put together.

A few final points about OEM systems. You still get a lower price on the software, although that also means you get a bunch of software that you might not want. You also get a single warranty and support contact for the first year. Overclocking typically won't be an optionm though the need for it at this price point is debatable. The slightly upgraded budget OEM configurations really are worth a look, as they can save over $100 all told. Does that mean you should or shouldn't purchase an OEM system? As usual, there is no one answer that will fit every person and many will be more than satisfied with your typical budget OEM configurations. We feel that our buyer's guides offer better expandability, performance, customization, and features at roughly the same price, with the only potential drawback being that you have to know how to put together the system yourself.

We changed the format of our buyer's guides last time to focus on the overall system packages rather than going through each individual component. This allows us to be a bit more concise and avoid repeating the same things every other week - after all, how much can you really say about a hard drive? We will continue that trend with this guide as well, looking at the basic platform choices first and then moving on to accessories like the case, power supply, input devices, and display. For the most part, you should be able to mix and match components as you see fit, and certainly we will not be able to cover every single possibility. GPUs and motherboards that use the same chipsets will typically perform the same, with price, features, and overclocking potential being the differentiating factors. Overclocking is certainly a possibility within the budget price segment, although you will usually get much better results if you upgrade some of the parts, particularly the motherboard and RAM. We won't focus too heavily on overclocking in this guide, other than to mention typical estimates of what can be achieved.

With that out of the way, we will start with the base AMD recommendations, followed by the base Intel recommendations. We will then move on to the upgraded configurations before wrapping up with coverage of the accessories.

Baseline AMD Budget Platform
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  • jonp - Thursday, November 16, 2006 - link

    quote:

    We have selected a LiteOn burner with DVD-RAM support this time, and it should work well for just about everyone.


    Hmmm...I can't find that the LiteOn SHW160P6S05 supports DVD-RAM. It is not listed on newegg nor Liteon nor zipzoomfly web sites as having DVD-RAM capability...
    Reply
  • BurnItDwn - Friday, October 27, 2006 - link

    1. The Antec Overture II doesn't look as nice as the case selected, but it comes with a decent Antec power supply, and it is a very nice case (fits just fine in my stereo cabinet.)


    2. I don't understand why Media Center XP is being recommended when MythTV is free and can do so much more. (AT has even done several write-ups about it.) Seems stupid to waste money on an unnecessary OS when there is a free alternative that does things better.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, October 28, 2006 - link

    The idea is that you can do more with MCE 2005 - like run all of your Windows apps. HTPC doesn't mean that you don't do any normal PC stuff, at least to me. Naturally, you can also go the Linux + MythTV route. If you want to build *just* an HTPC that will do nothing else, I would recommend MythTV, get a case that you like (preferably something that will be quiet), get the Hauppauge PVR-500 (non-MCE), and then basically get a cheap motherboard, processor, and 512MB of RAM. Add in a DVDR, and then stuff in as many large hard drives as you feel the need to use. A couple 320GB drives would be a great place to start.... Reply
  • Operandi - Thursday, October 26, 2006 - link

    Low bottom lines are nice but if you have to resort to low quality components that are likely to fail (Rosewill) what’s the point?

    Ok, so a case is essentially just a "box" to put all your hardware in but the power supply is a very important piece of hardware. Rosewill is about 2-3 out of 10; I wouldn't count on them hitting their rated power and I certainly wouldn't count on them being very reliable.

    For under $50 (not including shipping) there is wide selection of http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.asp?Subm...">InWin case/PSU combinations. The cases are very solid; heavy steel, and quality plastic, no cheap junk here. The PSUs are also of decent if not great quality, and about 100x better then Rosewill units at any rate.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, October 26, 2006 - link

    As always, power supply aficionados love to rip on anything that doesn't cost upwards of $50 for the case+PSU, and even then those PSUs are "junk". You have to step back and look at the intended system. Would we recommend the cheap Rosewill PSUs for a midrange config? No, though they'll almost certainly still work if you get the higher 400W+ PSUs. I bought a couple crap cases and PSUs last year just to see how they do with budget systems. They are both still running fine, nearly 12 months later, even with overclocking.

    I've recommended Inwin in the past, and they're still good. I don't like using the same case month after month, and plenty of people have no issues with Rosewill units. Read the Newegg reviews -- which granted can be skewed -- and you still will see very few writeups scoring any Rosewill case lower than 4/5. Why? Because the people using them are probably building budget systems.

    I will state this once again: a budget system with one hard drive, IGP or lower end GPU, typically 1GB or less RAM, one DVDR, and a lower spec CPU will come nowhere near the stated power output of even cheap PSUs. A Pentium D 805 with 7600GT http://www.anandtech.com/guides/showdoc.aspx?i=279...">maxed out at 256W; dropping to IGP would reduce power requirements at maximum by a good 30-50W I would say. Take away the Pentium D and put in a single core Athlon 64 or Sempron, and the maximum power doesn't even break 170W. Average load is going to be around 125W (or less). For the upgraded configurations, they will be faster than the Pentium D 805 but still use less power, so they will also work. I think if you're going to spend $1000 on a system, spending at least $50 on the power supply starts to make sense, but when you're already cutting out higher performance graphics, CPUs, memory, etc. do you really need to get a more expensive, "better" PSU?

    Now, I'm not saying cheaps PSUs are great. They usually have poor heatsinks and compensate by using higher RPM, louder fans. They will often fail if you push their power output by overclocking, using multiple HDDs, a higher-end GPU, etc. If you just plan on running a low-end configuration, though, it's really doubtful that you will have problems -- heck, I've even had high-quality power supplies fail or arrive DOA.

    Anyway, just FYI, Rosewill is basically a Newegg brand as far as I'm aware. Concerning power supplies, according to information I've received, there are only about three manufacturers in Asia that actually put together power supplies. They will build to the specifications that a company sends, but they are pretty much all coming from the same places. The names on the outside of the power supply are often pretty meaningless.
    Reply
  • Operandi - Friday, October 27, 2006 - link

    My statements come from experience; I'm not some power snob that thinks every system should have a $200 500 watt PCP&C unit. I haven't been building and working with PCs for a particularly long time but over the course of 5 years I've replaced probably 5-6 (at least) Deer, L&C PSUs (as well as one or two others). Deer, L&C, and other similar manufactures are known for making junk, most of them fail after 1-2 years. Also keep in mind all of them were lower-end budget systems, Duron CPUs, 256MB of RAM, one hard drive, one optical, ect; I don't have to tell you the power requirements were very low.

    On the other hand I've only had to replace one PSU from a known good manufacture; a mATX Delta that was clogged full of dust. I've also personally put into service 20+ systems powered by cheap ($30-40) FSP (Forton-Source) units; all of them are still going, some of them approaching 4.5-5 years.

    Running a couple of "crap" units for 12 months is hardly conclusive. As I've already stated I've replaced a lot of junk, yet I know for fact some of that junk is still running after 2-3 years. Of course if you do the math it comes out to be a failure rate of about 30-40% (within 24 months) for Deer & L&C units; maybe you find that to be expectable but I don't.

    A low load dose not mean a cheap, low-quality, crap, junk whatever you want to call it PSU going to be OK. It will almost certainly last longer, but how long is anyone's guess. There is also the safety factor; a well designed (slightly more expensive) unit will protect the hardware it's protected the hardware it's connected to in the event of a failure. (very) Cheap units often designed just to work and lack such features.

    Cheap PSUs are designed to work, not to last and that’s what most of them do. They do use smaller heatsinks and use louder fans but they are often designed with cheap and sometimes inadequate components. This means shorter life span, low efficiency/more heat, higher ripple, and poor voltage regulation

    Newegg reviews don't hold much of any value when it comes to PSU. The majority of those reviews are dealing short durations and even worst units will last at least several months unless you stress them really hard. I'm willing to bet very few come back after 1, 2 or 3 years later to complain about failure. There is also no tangible user benefit from a poor unit working poorly and a good unit working properly. There is no application to measure DC ripple, and no real accurate way of measuring voltages, but the affects of high ripple and poor voltage regulation are very real in the form of instability and decreased component life. If it turns on it gets 5, if it’s a DOA it gets 0, that’s hardly a complete picture.

    Back to Rosewill. I know they are Newegg's house brand, and they don't actually manufacture anything. Rosewill's PSUs come from a variety of manufactures non I would consider to be good; according to jonnyGURU the list includes ATNG, Youngyear and Solytech; you can check the “Rosewill brand experience?” thread in the forums http://forums.anandtech.com/messageview.aspx?catid...">here if you want to educate yourself further on the subject.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, October 27, 2006 - link

    I cant speak for Rosewill (although, I would neither reccommend, nor put one in any of my own systems), but I just replaced another no name PSU for a customer today. The thing is, he just bought this other PSU TWO DAYS ago, from another 'PC repair' shop. The PSU had Kate loon fans in it, was a no name brand (couldnt find a single identification, number, or company name on it, that google knew of . . .), and was SUPPOSEDLY a 550W PSU. I Say SUPPOSEDLY, because the PSU which I replaced it with, was a 380W wariant (another in-expencive PSU brand 'TRU-Power'), and it only had 3 amps less on the 12V output. In other words, this '550W' PSU had all its power rated on the 3.3v output(atleast the majority of it).

    There are a few exceptions when it comes to buying in-expencive parts from any one, for anything, but when you're 'playing' with your buisnesses name sake, its not a very good idea reccomending parts that you are un-sure of. I will guess, that some of, or possibly even a lot of these people putting down 'lesser brand ' PSUs, are kids, who have read bad information on a web site, or forum somewhere, and basicly havent a clue, however, this doesnt mean this is entirely false. Hell, I've read the user reviews on newegg, concerning Antec PSUs, and its not always good, but, again, readers judgement/experience will let you know who is full of it, and who is a complete idiot, when putting PCs together.

    Anyhow, where our buisness is concerned here, we will not play around with the random off-branded PSU, and only use those in-expencive parts that WE KNOW will work, but I still reccommend atleast an Antec to each customer, explain to them why, and let them make the final choice.

    For my own PCs, nothing less than an Antec, ever. Why do you ask ? 13 years of building PCs, the majority of which I have used in-expencive PSUs in my own systems, and getting tired of the random oddity, like the PC randomly shutting down on its own, BSoDs, or a system that plain ole, wont boot, period :)
    Reply
  • Frumious1 - Friday, October 27, 2006 - link

    I have had bad luck with Antec the past three years. Every single Antec power supply I have used has failed within two years. Most were cheap 350W power supplies that came with the case, but I even had a couple truepower 380W power supplies fail (Antec Sonata case).

    Consider this: Rosewill IS Newegg. What is Newegg known for? Providing some of the best prices on computer hardware on the Internet. They are also known for having very good customer support. Others have already mentioned that there really aren't that many Asian companies who actually manufacture power supplies. Why does brand X cost more than brand Y? In some cases it is because they use higher-quality components. In other cases, it's because company X is just trying to make more of a profit. I would be willing to bet that most of the people who bash on Rosewill have never actually owned or tested one of their power supplies. In fact, the next time I need a higher-quality power supply (for example if I'm building an SLI or CrossFire system) I think I'm going to go out and buy one of the more expensive Rosewill offerings and see how it does. http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...">This one looks interesting!
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 27, 2006 - link

    "Check the 'Rosewill brand experience' thread in the forums here if you want to educate yourself further on the subject."

    That thread was about as useless - actually more so - than Newegg reviews. A bunch of people called them crap, but not one of those people said "I bought unit X, ran hardware Y, and it Z..." Again, I'm not saying they're great, but what's better:

    A $39 Rosewill case and 300W PSU *shipped* that's flimsy but will still run okay and looks fine, and the PSU might fail in a year or two (at which point you can go out and buy a Fotron Source for another $40 *shipped*), or go and get an InWin with 300W PSU that starts at around $65 shipped, has a slightly better PSU that will likely still fail within 3 years if you never clean the dust out of your case, at which point you again buy a new $40 PSU?

    Yes, the InWin is built better, but for people that put the system together and then never open it again unless something fails, does it really matter how easy or hard the case is to work with? We're not talking about cases that are likely to go to LAN parties here, and most likely they will sit on the floor or desk for years. If I'm building a cheap computer for someone, they are almost always FAR more concerned with what the case looks like then whether it's flimsy or not. I had three Antec SLK-1650 cases with failed PSUs in the past two years... I built five systems using that case during that time period. The Raidmax case I built 3 years ago for another friend is still going strong, as is another Raidmax from 5 years back.

    Oh yeah, the 10+ PSUs I've had fail over the last three or four years have not once managed to take out any other component. None of those were Rosewill, but there's just too many anecdotal "the PSU destroyed my system" stories floating around when I have experienced that sort of problem exactly once during my 20+ years of using computers. (That was back in the days of the Celeron 300A; I've be used an old AT power supply with an extremely cheap motherboard that was supposed to be Baby AT compatible.)
    Reply
  • Operandi - Saturday, October 28, 2006 - link

    The thread contains information regarding the manufactures of Rosewill PSUs. If you really want know what your dealing with that’s probably the most important information there is.

    We agree that the InWin is better, but your “slightly better” assumption is based on what?, the slightly higher price? InWin has always had a reputation for making well built cases with decent included PSUs. They used to outsource FSP for all of their PSUs; very good units making them probably the best value out there for case/PSU combos. Recently InWin started manufacturing their own units, they have been by tested by http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/other/display/inw...">X-bit and found to comparable to the FSP units. I’ve opened a few up and checked them out and found the design and components to be decent (in my non-expert opinion) so it looks like the value is still there.

    Rosewill's PSUs on the other hand come from manufactures known for producing some of the lowest quality cheapest units around. Rosewill might not have bad reputation yet but the units that are built by the same manufactures do.

    Isn’t $15-20 more worth the piece of mind of reliable PSU and better built case?
    Reply

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