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 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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  • TrogdorJW - Thursday, March 18, 2004 - link

    I realize this is on a budget, but since the CPU/motherboard alternative was an extra $40, the graphics an extra $20, the hard drive and extra $18, etc. I would think that suggesting 512 MB of RAM as an alternative might be a good addition.

    It doesn't help in a lot of systems, but if someone is going to add in the 9200 (Pro?) graphics card, the 2500+ CPU, and the NF7-S motherboard all in hopes of making their budget system a more capable gaming system, then the 256 MB of RAM will be a serious problem. There aren't many games coming out that don't use more than 256 MB of RAM now, and several are already using up to 700 MB or so. At the very least, I think it would warrant mention as a *third* alternative in the memory area. Some people aren't going to go and read all of the other guides, after all.

    However, that said, it's pretty impressive what you can put together for $500, especially when the monitor is one third of the price!
  • mostlyprudent - Thursday, March 18, 2004 - link

    Just wanted to take a moment and tell you folks at Anandtech how much I enjoy and appreciate these buyers guides. I recently started a new job (outsie the IT field). My employer wanted me to start ASAP, but the OEM they normally buy their PCs from could not ship a system for over two weeks. I mentioned that I was capable of building my own system in a matter of a day or two, and to my surprise and delight, they took me up on it. I found these guides very helpful, if for nothing else than to ratify my own decisions.
    In case you're interested, here's what I assembled:

    Foxcom Supercase 1150 BK
    Fortron FSP300-60N 300W PSU
    AMD Athlon 2500+ Barton
    ABIT KV7 motherboard
    ASUS 64MB Radeon 9200SE
    1x512MB Corsiar Value Select PC-2700
    Western Digital 40GB HD - 400JB
    Samsung 19'' 955DF Monitor
    Creative Labs SBS230 2.0CH Speakers
    WinXP Pro

    While this was far from my first build, it was really nice to have read the buyers guides and have them as a resource for decision making when I had such a short time frame.
  • Zebo - Thursday, March 18, 2004 - link

    Were you using the LCD to compare the 9800 Pro to the Shuttle board's nForce IGP graphics? You're definitely a rare case if there's no noticeable difference between the two in terms of text sharpness.
    I did not compare side by side just stating I don't notice blurred text with the on-board graphics. Lucky? perhaps I do notice it's slower than molases at ~2800 3dmark2001.... Need a 9000/9100/9200 to test.
  • Ronnie - Thursday, March 18, 2004 - link

    Out of some spare parts I built a system almost identical to that. The only difference was I had a 440mx card laying around and some kingston pc3200. I plan on giving it to my brother in-law.
  • Evan Lieb - Thursday, March 18, 2004 - link

    Thanks guys, corrections made.
  • georgeg - Thursday, March 18, 2004 - link

    On the summary chart, you list the Sapphire 64mb Radeon 9200 for $41.00. At that price, don't you mean the 9200SE?
  • gherald - Thursday, March 18, 2004 - link

    >Agreed guys, I'll change PC2100 to PC2700 next time.
    >Even though it means squat for entry level users, you're right,
    >might as well go with the faster memory if the price is identical.

    Ok, but make the 3200 the "alternative". Because, here's a possible scenario:

    About two years from now this system will start to seem obsolete (cuz it's already entry level). When that happens, you'll have these extra PC2700 DIMMs that no one can use. Whereas if you'd used 3200 for just $5-10 more, you would be able to add that memory to a less-old system, such as once of the current P4 or A64s, and make a nice 2GB RAM file server or somesuch on the cheap...
  • Z80 - Thursday, March 18, 2004 - link

    Where did you find a new Abit NF7-S motherboard for $82 shipped? Best I've found is about $100 unless you buy a refurb. Maybe you confused the NF7 price with the NF7-S?
  • assemblage - Thursday, March 18, 2004 - link

    I like these series of articles. I've been putting my own system together for years and like playing around with configuring different types of systems for different users.
  • nastyemu25 - Thursday, March 18, 2004 - link

    If you want to be able to watch DVDs, then you can always opt for a combo drive. Its function essentially integrates CD burning and DVD watching into one drive. The burning takes place at a slower 32X speed, but the added benefit is that you're getting a better price for this combo drive versus purchasing an additional drive.

    ^^^^^^^ wtf? the burning takes place at a slower 32x speed?????? ummm, it's 52x32x52x16

    I don't understand how CD burning is taking place at a slower "32x" speed..... there is NO caveat with buying a combo drive....

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