Recommendation: 1 X 256MB Crucial PC2100 (CAS2.5)
Price: $40 shipped

This week, we recommend Crucial memory modules primarily because Crucial continues to offer excellent customer support, warranties, and just plain reliable memory modules. This particular memory module is rated at CAS 2.5 and is on par with other PC2100 modules from the likes of Kingston, Mushkin, etc. 256MB of memory should be more than enough for most entry level applications unless you decide to start gaming or using other applications that require significant main memory capacity, in which case, we'd recommend 512MB of memory instead. We'd also recommend upgrading other parts of your system if that's the case (like video, for one), but we'll get to that in a moment. Anyway, make sure you buy your memory from a reputable online vendor, and if you're not sure what to do, just visit and buy directly from them. Crucial's web site is very specific about which memory modules you need. If it's confusing, just make sure to look for the modules that we've recommended here today and make sure they are unbuffered, non-ECC memory modules.

Alternative: 1 X 256MB Mushkin Blue Line PC2700 (CAS2)
Price: $50 shipped

Mushkin's Blue Line offers a PC2700 module that runs at a low Cas Latency of 2.0 instead of CAS 2.5, like with Crucial's PC2100 module above. In addition, this is a PC2700 module, which of course means it's capable of 333MHz DDR frequencies. This memory is ideal for the 2500+ that we recommended today as an alternative CPU, as it perfectly matches that processor's FSB speed, offering the best possible performance. Still, it's $10 more for only a little bit more performance, mostly unnoticeable. In addition, for a few dollars more, you can purchase PC3200 memory running at CAS2 (like OCZ's Performance series of modules), so it depends on exactly how much performance you need.


Recommendation: 64MB Sapphire Radeon 9200SE
Price: $41 shipped

This week, our recommendation is the Radeon 9200SE instead of the regular 9200. This is mostly due to the fact that we changed our format for secondary picks ("alternatives" instead of "runner-up" hardware), but nonetheless, it is still fitting of an entry level system. While the 64-bit memory interface of the 9200SE (SE indicates the halved memory interface) cripples gaming performance considerably compared to 128-bit video cards, it's still an acceptable card for the light to occasional gamer, and of course, more than necessary for non-gamers. 2D IQ quality will live up to business users' needs as well as the regular Joe Shmoe's needs; that is, crisp text and excellent clarity in general. At $41, it's hard to find a better video card with said feature set.

Alternative: 64MB Sapphire Radeon 9200
Price: $57 shipped

The Radeon 9200 is the AGP8X version of the Radeon 9000. This is the non-crippled 128 bit memory interface version of the 9200SE. Vendors may or may not make this information about memory interface differences clear when advertising their 9200 video cards, so be sure to check. Gaming performance is considerably better with the regular 9200 than the 9200SE, and 2D IQ is identical, if not better in some cases depending on whether or not you choose to pick a higher quality version of ATI's 9200 (from Gigabyte, for example). You should definitely be considering this card for your entry level system instead of the 9200SE if you're at all interested in some semi-serious gaming. As far as the onboard video memory size is concerned, 64MB should be more than enough for the majority of video games out there, and certainly enough for budget users. There are 128MB versions of this card available, but it's completely unnecessary to upgrade to them when looking at the price differential.

Listed below is part of our RealTime pricing engine, which lists the lowest prices available on memory and video from many different reputable vendors:

If you cannot find the lowest prices on the products that we've recommended on this page, it's because we don't list some of them in our RealTime pricing engine. Until we do, we suggest that you do an independent search online at the various vendors' web sites. Just pick and choose where you want to buy your products by looking for a vendor located under the "Vendor" heading.

CPU and Motherboard Alternatives Monitor, Computer Case, and Power Supply
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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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