Budget computing is about two things: reliability and cost. Most people looking for a budget computer don't have a lot of money, and the last thing that they want is to have to go out and replace parts (or buy additional parts) because of some issue that comes up. Performance would be nice to have as well, of course, but that's a distant concern. We've looked at gaming and office configurations in the past, and while much of what has been said still applies, new technologies are always appearing. They may provide a better option in the long run than some of our previous recommendations.

One of the biggest concerns that we have right now with the budget sector is the platform. AMD currently has socket A parts and Intel has socket 478 parts, and these are often cheaper than the more recent platforms, but longevity is something of a concern. If you think that you'll want to upgrade some of the parts in the future - especially if you plan on getting a faster processor after a while - we would strongly suggest that you avoid the older platforms. AMD plans to discontinue production of socket A parts in the next couple of months and Intel has similar plans for socket 478. They are still decent platforms in terms of performance, though, so we will not totally discount them as a budget option.

Since we've covered budget gaming several times recently, it will not be a concern in this Guide. Adding in a decent graphics card is the major difference between gaming and non-gaming setups, but there are other considerations as well. What we're going to be looking at are some good picks for a reliable system that won't cost a lot of money. We'll shoot for a price of around $500 as the "base model", but we'll also include some reasonable upgrade selections for those who want a bit more power.

CPU and Motherboard - AMD


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  • edlight - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    Warning for Corsair Value Select: If you want to run dual channel get one of their dual channel kits containing a matched pair. I bought one stick and another a month later, and they are totally different and won't run dual channel at all on my Asus A7V880. In fact, one is single sided and one dual sided. The memory isn't made by Corsair at all.

  • justly - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    I really don't have a problem if you prefer the Nforce 3-250 chipset BUT to call the "performance and reliability" of either VIA and SiS "questionable" for a budget system seems a bit (actually quite a bit) narrow minded.

    If this where a overclocking or performance guide I would have less of a complaint, but for a budget guide I think you should elaborate on why these chipsets are so "questionable". Has Anandtech pionted out these "performance and reliability" issues in any reviews of either VIA or SiS, because the ony complaint I can recall had to do with overclocking.
    You even mention that a Nforce 3-250 board (Epox) has "memory compatibility issues" so Nforce 3-250 is not void of "performance and reliability" issues either.

    A BUDGET GUIDE is about two things "reliability and cost", performance is a "distant concern" (does this sound familiar? it should its on the first page). So when it comes to the motherboard why is "performance" now a concern (especially when performance differances between A64 motherboards seem trivial compared to other components)?

    If I sound upset because of this then you are correct. I offen hear review sites hope for more competition in the chipset market (things like wishing some board manufacturer would try to make a performance board with a SiS chipset) and then I read things like this. If you really want to see some competition then the least you could do is not cut them from the market that they are targeting with their product without explaining why.
  • ChineseDemocracyGNR - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    "Intel has socket 478 parts, and these are often cheaper than the more recent platforms, but longevity is something of a concern."

    I agree that longetivy is a concern, but the socket 478 platform is not necessarily cheaper. Intel released the Celeron D in LGA775, starting with the 2.53GHz model (the lower ones are to be discontinued in Februrary according to the Inquirer). The LGA775 is a "J" version, which adds NX support for less than $5 more compared to the socket 478 version.

    Given this, I would switch the Intel budget system to the Celeron D 325J, a little more expensive than the 320. There are cheap LGA775 motherboards available, like the ECS 661FX-M7 ($53.50) and the ASRock 775V88 ($57).

    Another thing I would like to comment on is the Radeon 9600Pro suggestion. Newegg is selling 400/446 Sapphire cards as 400/600 (without saying it's an Advantage card) so be careful. I would suggest these for budget systems:

    SAPPHIRE ATI RADEON 9000PRO Video Card, 64MB DDR, 128-bit $46 shipped

    ABIT ATI RADEON 9550 Video Card, 128MB DDR, 128-Bit, DVI/TV-Out, 8X AGP, Model "R9550-Guru " -RETAIL $80 shipped
    This ABIT card comes with 3.6ns and overclocks to 500/600 (9600XT) more often than not.

  • bupkus - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    I just bought the Biostar 210V and according to their website this model does support a 400 fsb. Don't expect to overclock an AXP as there is neither a voltage nor a multiplier setting in the bios. The fsb for your cpu is set using jumpers which I hope also changes the AGP/PCI ratio as I'm told are unlocked. BTW, newegg had this model for fifteen dollars less than it is now, so look for possible sale prices. Currently $154. Reply
  • Avalon - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    You can get the Samsung 997DF 19" monitor for $202 shipped at, I bought it there two weeks ago. If the price hasn't changed....then I'd think $202 > $215 in terms of savings. Reply
  • Glassmaster - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    Great guide Jarred!

    Though I would rather not have seen the RAIDMAX PSU in there, it probably won't be as big a deal for the entry level budget system. It was good to see Fortron Source being mentioned too, as a cheap but reliable PSU alternative.

    You might also point people in the direction of the excellent power supply guide by computerpro3 of the hardforums.

    He lists the brands to stay away from, and those worth buying, along with links to newegg for his specific recommendations.

  • Spacecomber - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    I always enjoy reading these system guides; so, thanks for this latest one.

    A couple of minor comments.

    I don't think that the 120mm fan on the Antec SLK1650 cases is temperature controlled. At least one of the fans in the power supply is; so, perhaps that is what you were thinking. Nevertheless, the 120mm fan is fairly quiet and becomes virtually silent, if you use 7 volts for it.

    I have been a big fan of the Seagate drives, because of their 5 year warranties (started at the time when there seemed to be a trend toward 1 year warranties on hard drives). While my initial experience of these drives was how quiet they were, I have been hearing other complain of getting drives that were not that quiet. My most recent Seagate purchase was a 120GB PATA model, and I too noticed that it seemed to buzz relatively loudly when it was seeking. I don't think it is so much how loud the noise is, but it has a kind of annoying quality to it.

    Apparently, Seagate is involved in a lawsuit that alleges that Seagate stole their accoustic management technology from someone else. As a result, they have disabled this feature in their current line of drives. (You can use something like Hitachi's Feature Tool to see that accoustic management doesn't show up as an option on these drives.)

    So, while Seagate continues to offer a 5 year warranty, which nobody else does (except the WD Raptors), they no longer should be looked to when a quiet drive is one of your criteria, imo.

  • Pollock - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    I think you should forgo the SATA Seagate and go with the IDE version, which I've seen as cheap as $59-$62, saving you $7-10 for a pointless upgrade. Reply
  • bigpow - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    Entry Level Budget & Entry Level Performance labels should make the conclusion less confusing. Reply
  • kmmatney - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    Great review. The graphics section was very good, as well as the SFF section. Nice work.

    Although you did mention it, I think the Athlon XP-M is the best budget cpu, with a Barton core and unlocked multiplier. It is more expensive than the Sempron, but you can team it up with a $42 Asrock motherboard and overclock it 3200+ speeds easy, even with cheapo RAM.

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