When it comes to Entry Level systems, there are two types of customer. One is the person who's looking for a computer strictly for business -- office work, taxes, email, Web browsing, etc. The second is the customer who's looking for a system that fills all those needs while also serving as a quality gaming machine. While a budget gaming PC can handle all of the typical office and Internet tasks, the reverse isn't necessarily true. As in the past, this month's Entry Level Guide will give a several option for each component. However, rather than simply listing recommended components and alternatives, we will be focusing on suggestions for home office and gaming configurations.

Only you can decide what your actual wants and needs are. If you have no interest in playing games on your computer, our Office recommendations should provide more than enough power. On the other hand, if you are building a PC for the whole family and would like something that can be used by mom and dad as well as the kids, take a look at the Gaming configuration. PC Gaming is not an inexpensive hobby, however, so expect to spend a little more money if you want to add gaming capabilities.

Our end goal is to put together a budget Office PC for around $500 and a budget Gaming PC for under $1000. That might seem like a large margin, but it is very difficult to build a reasonable gaming computer for anything less than $750, and we have included upgrades that we feel will enhance the overall experience as well as the life cycle of the resulting machine. This is an Entry Level Gaming PC that should manage to run most of the cutting-edge games for the next year or more at reasonable rates, provided that you are willing to turn down the graphical complexity a bit.
CPU and Motherboard - Office


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  • Neurorelay - Thursday, October 07, 2004 - link

    When you commented on budget gaming cards, you mentiond the 6800GT in the 200 range coming out soon. I think you meant to say 6800 LE. Reply
  • mino - Thursday, October 07, 2004 - link

    #38 I STRONGLY disagree, the quality of the case and PSU will in time prove to be probably one of the most important factors(especially PSU) impeding the lifespan of PC. Also I will certainly suggest buyng some cheapo nice w/o PSU case and quite high quality Fortron 300W PSU

    Jarred: Please ,in next guide case/PSU section, mention the very important fact: in any case DO NOT BUY cases w/PSU's under $50 !!!

  • ksherman - Thursday, October 07, 2004 - link

    #40-- I agree. I have two 120GB drives and my second drive is about 90% full, and my first drive if about 70% full... I would never be able to survive on an 80 or 100GB drive. Reply
  • draazeejs - Thursday, October 07, 2004 - link

    What I do not understand, why it is never recommended to get the 200GB Seagate drive instead? It seems that the recommendations stop at 160, but if you want to store movies, some games, and still want to have a comfortable free space, why not the 200 one? Is there something wrong with the Seagates 200G drive? Reply
  • Egglick - Thursday, October 07, 2004 - link

    #21: I think you have a "Budget Office" machine confused with a Business Server. I don't know *anybody* that runs a RAID array in their home office machine, nor do any of the machines at my workplace. The huge mainframe server does, but that's something altogether different.

    RAID is more expensive, much more difficult to set up and use, and in this situation, doesn't provide any real benefit over simply backing up your data to CD, etc (which they should be doing anyway even if they DO have RAID).
  • Egglick - Thursday, October 07, 2004 - link

    Excellent article Jarred. You did a great job of explaining everything in depth and covering all the bases for those that are less knowledgable, or want to know exactly what their extra money is going towards. In addition to that, I agreed with almost everything you recommended.

    About the only thing that I might've questioned was the Case for the Budget Office computer. 75 bucks is a bit much to be spending there. It's actually the most expensive item in the list, after the Monitor. A good portion of that price might be due to shipping charges though, so if someone were to find something like that Aspire case you mentioned for around $35-40 at a local store, I'd recommend that instead. That would put the price under the $500 mark.

    For the gamer however, that case (which includes a quality powersupply) would be a great choice.
  • Gioron - Thursday, October 07, 2004 - link

    Ok, that turned out longer than I expected.... Reply
  • Gioron - Thursday, October 07, 2004 - link

    Excellent guide. You fixed most of my issues with the last budget guide and I'm now having a difficult time finding nits to pick.
    IIRC, what I had a problem with last time was as follows:
    Previously ignored integrated graphics: Now mentioned twice in the article. Although I'd still like to see it recommended as the default office option (with a note to make sure whatever board you get has an AGP slot if you change your mind), thats mainly just a matter of opinion instead of a fault in the review.
    Previously recommended low timing RAM: Now fixed, and I like the explanation and options for the RAM this time around. I'm not sure pushing dual-DDR is really a good idea for the value segment, but you aren't pushing it hard and it can make a couple percent difference, so I can't really fault you for it.

    The one thing I think I'd like to see is more recommendations on niche items. With a basic system like this, its fairly easy to add one or two components and make it suitable for various specialized tasks. The one that leaps to mind immediately is making a TIVO-like system just by swapping out the video card for an AIW card. It looks like it would be fairly easy to add a section that says, basicly: "for a mythtv system(add link to earlier article), we recommend the basic office computer, but replace the video card with XXXX and make sure you have at least XXXX RAM, XXXX processor, and don't bother buying a monitor". It might be a signifigant chunk more work, but I think it would be useful, and there are several purpose-built boxes you can make with only minor mods to the basic budget build. Somewhat like the difference between the office and gaming systems, but hopefully without needing to recommend items for every single part.

    #21, I don't think there's much point to using RAID on a value system. It basicly doubles the cost of the hard drives and thats hard to justify for the return. RAID 0 won't speed things up that much for gaming if you're only going to be using software raid, so you'd probably be better off using the cash to buy a raptor instead. And even then, assuming you have enough RAM to handle it, it'll only really speed up load times, not frame rates. RAID 1 for the office might be debateable, but for the cost of it its still not worth it. Most people aren't working on things that are all that irreplaceable, and if you are you really should be making backups or have a copy on a remote system. For most people, you'd be better off doing weekly backups to your CD drive and storing them in some other room. Besides, RAID 1 can give a false sense of security. On the last computer I had die on me, the power supply blew and took everything else in the case with it, including both drives. The data loss in that case wasn't more than an annoyance, but relying on RAID 1 to protect vital data is not a good idea.

    As to #24s post, I think there are enough similarities between the two systems that it makes sense to put them together. A gamer on a tight budget might pick up an office item or two, and an office customer with more money might pick up a gaming item. All the items are picked with almost the same criteria, just a slightly different audience in mind. I'd actually like to see more recommendations of different parts for niche markets, as I mentioned before, with one of these systems as a baseline.

    Now, for my opinions:
    CPU/motherboard: good choices. I might pick different ones, but only if the price points change. I'd probably go a bit lower on the gaming CPU, but thats just me.
    Memory: Nice explanation. I completely agree.
    Graphics: I'd probably go with the 9600 pro instead, but your arguments do have merit (and at least you mention the 9600 in passing). Although you won't be able to turn the details up on all your games, they're still playable and the price difference is large enough to sway me. Oh, and you might want to mention the 9600 All-In-Wonder in passing as well. Most people don't need the TV compatibility, but even some value customers might find it very useful.
    Hard Drives: I'm still partial to WD, but admittedly there isn't a whole lot of difference. I agree with your size, speed and buffer recommendations, although I'd be tempted to recommend the office drive for both systems and only recommend the gaming drive as an upgrade for those who like to store lots of media on their computer. By far the most space on my hard drives is taken up by video files, and even then I'm finding it hard to fill up a 120gig drive. For games, 80 gigs is probably plenty for now.
    CD drives: I agree with your recommendations, but I'd at least mention a specific DVD+-RW drive for those that want to upgrade.
    Case/power: I think the 430W power supply is a bit much for a value system, but as only an alternative I can't say too much against it.
    Displays: Been too long since I've been in the market for these, so I guess your recommendations are good enough. I would like to see a cheap LCD recommendation as an alternative, but I'm not sure what I'd pick myself.
    Misc. components: This is the area I'd like to see more mention of other niche items you can add to the system, but thats more of a feature request instead of a bug, your keyboard and mouse recommendations (or lack thereof...) are decent. I personally like Logitech wireless mice, but I know they aren't the only valid option.
  • Poser - Thursday, October 07, 2004 - link

    I know that Windows XP is pretty much the only choice for a mainstream system, but I think it's probably worth it to mention in every guide that you should get an OEM copy when you're buying parts. I knew somebody who paid a full $200 for a retail copy when they were building a system -- they knew enough to put it together, but not enough to avoid getting shafted. =/ Reply
  • daclayman - Thursday, October 07, 2004 - link

    #23 is right on with the Asus Terminators. Check ebay for teh refurbs; they are dirty cheap. If you're leary about that power supply (I think it's proprietary or microATX), then I like the Athenatech A301BS.Q300. The PowerQ power supply is actually a Fortron: ( Reply

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