Prices are always dropping on computer components and what was once Mid-Range or High-End will eventually become a budget part. The temptation to upgrade a component here and there is always strong, but we try to balance that with a goal of keeping the price close to $500. As usual, we’ll offer an upgraded version for a bit more money.

An important consideration for any computer system is the intended use. If it will be used primarily for office tasks, such amenities as speakers and graphics cards take a back seat to RAM and processor choice. Generally speaking, though, it’s better to build a well balanced system rather than one with a few high end parts complemented by a bunch of older components. Most of us have encountered a system at one time or another that appears to have reasonable specs only to find that it feels incredibly slow. A fast processor with inadequate RAM and a slow hard drive is a common problem with the OEM systems that we see offered for incredible prices. By the time you tweak such a system to improve performance, you often end up paying as much as the setups that we offer. That’s not to say that OEM systems are all bad, but as with all things, there are compromises made, and some may or may not be acceptable.

Of course, the battle between Intel and AMD rages on with no sign of letting up. AMD systems typically offer better performance and a slightly lower price, and many of the Intel configurations seem to be a case of paying extra for the “name brand” more than anything else. $500 isn’t going to get you a super computer by any stretch of the imagination, though, and for most budget buyers, the actual difference in performance between the various setups won’t be noticed. It’s interesting to look back at our Mid-Range setup from a year ago and compare it to the current market; it’s a little more than half the cost for about the same level of performance.

Now, let’s get to the recommendations.

AMD Recommendations


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  • bob661 - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    Thanks Jarred. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    #15 - Bob,

    OCZ has quite a few overlapping RAM offerings these days, all of which have a place. I recommended the BH5 based Gold that runs 2-2-2-5 1T at 2.8V as opposed to the VX offering that requires 3.2V for 2-2-2-5 1T. Here's the link:

    You can also find the RAM at Newegg:

    The VX is about the same price, but it doesn't have "Gold" in the name.
    WRT the displays, I would much rather have a larger display. Getting people to go from $600 for the basic setup to $750 for a 19" LCD is a tough sell, unfortunately. I really like 19" LCDs (and I like my 2405FPW even more), but few people are willing to shell out over $300 for "just the display". As Hacp mentions, a lot of people just don't realize what they're missing. I know plenty of people with 17" to 19" displays that still run them at 1024x768 - even on LCDs. They just don't realize that resolution is something most people should adjust.
  • SDA - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    #31, I'm not sure where to start with you.

    First: Anyone can see the difference between 17" and 19".

    Second: You won't notice any difference between a fast system and a (reasonably) slow system when watching movies, writing letters, or surf the web. otoh, you WILL notice a difference between a good monitor and a bad monitor when playing games and editing photos. You're using your monitor every time you're at your computer, but most of the time you don't need a fast CPU at all.

    Third: Image quality is important. If image quality wasn't important, people wouldn't buy high-end video cards for games.

    IME, people who place I/O equipment (monitor, mouse, sound setup, etc.) at the bottom of the list do so because they have never used genuinely good I/O equipment for any reasonable length of time. I don't mean any offense here, this is just what I've seen.
  • Zebo - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    sprockkets - just the opposite.. prescott uses about 30% more power than a northwood at same hurtz.. and really starts leaking like crazy after 3.4 which a northwood never saw. Reply
  • Zebo - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    Bob - Reply
  • Hacp - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    I doubt that a budgetminded person would recognize the difference between 19 and 17 inches much. Heck, I would even go for a 15 inch LCD if it gave room to get a better video card/cpu or more ram. Screen size is the last thing I think about when I budget for a comptuer. Reply
  • Wellsoul2 - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    The Polywell LCD is a good one but I would go with
    a 19 inch monitor for around 40 to 50 bucks more.
    The bigger LCD makes such a huge difference IMHO
    compared to the bang for the buck you get putting
    50 bucks anywhere else.

  • Hacp - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    Btw nice guide. Didn't mention this before. Reply
  • sprockkets - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    Yeah, but consider first that having a prescott core as opposed to a northwood core would save power, but also save more energy also since you don't have to spend money on the HVAC removing the excessive heat it makes too, and that system takes a lot of energy!

    At work, we have 2.8ghz stupid dell optiplex systems that have no ventilation slots whatsoever, and it is so funny to see all the dust collect on the back and the floppy drive because that is all it can intake from. But they don't put out much heat. However, the newer prescott based ones (same 2.8ghz) are much hotter; in fact, I managed to get prime95 on it, and the stupid computer had to turn on the processor fan to full blast, making it sound like a vacuum cleaner! It even speeds up when loading simple websites (gets louder while loading, then quiets down once the page loaded up)!

    Btw, someone at newegg made this comment about not having cool and quiet on semprons: They don't need it! The 2600 and 2800+ (well, at least the 90nm Palermo cores) put out so little heat, I don't even think the fan is necessary! It runs 2-3 degrees over ambient, and around 5 when prime95 is running!

    Other note about power supplies and Dell: Dell used to use Delta, then of course the fiance department cut that out and now they use crappy HIPoint. Again, where I work, with new 3.06 ghz systems, out of 30 some systems, nearly all have had the power supply replaced, and a good amount even twice. For exaple, do a search for Dell 4600 and see what I mean. It doesn't pay in the long run to use crappy power supplies for all the issues it causes.
  • siliconthoughts - Wednesday, July 20, 2005 - link

    While I like to build systems as much as the next guy, for a $600 system the new HP A1130n systems (at bestbuy/circuitcity/etc) are really hard to beat (3500+ athlon64 socket 939, 250GB SATA, PCIe, DVD, DVD-RW, integrated ATI X300, 1GB RAM) for ~$650 (w/ monitor and throwaway printer after rebate) Dell has nothing competitive with it.

    You generally don't build a system like this for yourself anyway - vendors have a purpose: keeping me from being the free-support guy.

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