Today, we continue with our Buyer's Guide series of AnandTech Guides. 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, we are continuing the 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 that 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

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 toward 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.

CPU and Motherboard Recommendations


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  • Tostada - Monday, May 24, 2004 - link

    Yes, most people prefer the name "ASUS" to the name "Biostar," but this is a budget system. Are you honestly suggesting you'd rather have a system with half the memory, half the storage, no dual-channel, and no ability to read DVD's?

    We're talking about best bang for the buck here.
  • guitarizt - Friday, May 21, 2004 - link

    I'd rather have the asus than the biostar. Reply
  • Tostada - Tuesday, May 18, 2004 - link

    People seem to absolutely love Samsung drives. It looks like the SpinPoint 80GB with 8MB cache has almost identical performance to the WD 800JB, but I can't even find anybody selling the ATA Samsung drive with 8MB cache. Having a 2MB cache shouldn't make much difference, though, so I'll have to try one.

    It is pretty stupid that WD isn't using FDB like everyone else, and they actually list the 800JB as a 2-platter 4-head design, which would really hurt its transfer rate compared to modern 80GB-platter drives, although WD does change configurations without changing the model number, so you never know what they're using.

    Hitachi's SATA drives all have a 3-year warranty and 8MB cache, and I use them whenever I can. They're the fastest 7200RPM drives around -- almost as fast as the new Raptors and even quieter than Samsungs.
  • Zebo - Tuesday, May 18, 2004 - link

    I with Tostada. Excellent work.:)

    Especially the Biostar mobo combo. I would change the HD to Samsung spinpoint simply because they are quieter:)

  • XRaider - Tuesday, May 18, 2004 - link

    Good point Tostada. I will have to agree with you on the entry system that you have proposed. Parts are alil better. Reply
  • Tostada - Monday, May 17, 2004 - link

    Seeing as I just built one of these, I'll post the entry-level system I would make. Let's compare the prices without speakers or monitor.

    AnandTech Entry Level system:
    Athlon XP 2000+ OEM
    Cooler Master DP5-5G11A heatsink
    ASUS A7N8X-X nForce 2 400 motherboard
    Sapphire Radeon 9200SE 64MB
    Western Digital 40GB WD400BB, 1-year warranty
    256MB Kingston ValueRAM, PC-3200 CL3
    Sony 52X CD-RW drive
    CasEdge 3GTS-01 Black ATX case

    That's $382.00 listed in the guide. The parts are currently $368.99 delivered from NewEgg.

    The machine I would build:
    Athlon XP 2000+ Retail
    Biostar M7NCG 400 nForce2 IGP dual-channel
    Western Digital 80GB WD800JB, 3-year warranty
    512MB Mushkin PC-3200 CL2.5
    Lite-On 48X CD-RW / 16X DVD-ROM combo drive
    APEX TM-163 Black Micro-ATX case

    That's currently $372.00 delivered from NewEgg.

    Upgrades I recommend for a silent system are the EnerMax Noisetaker 325W power supply and the Arctic Cooling Copper Silent 2TC Rev2 heatsink.

    Maybe you could argue that 2D quality is a little better on the Radeon, but the 9200SE is a 64-bit card with a 200MHz core, it is only a DirectX 8 card, and it doesn't perform any better than the on-board graphics on nForce2 IGP boards.

    The guide has chosen to use an older model 40GB hard drive with a 1-year warranty, when it is only $13.50 more for the 80GB model with a 3-year warranty and 8MB cache. They have chosen to use 256MB of CL3 Kingston ValueRAM, when it's only $37 more for 512MB of Mushkin CL2.5. They have chosen to get a plain CD-RW drive when it's only $15 more for a combo DVD-ROM. In light of that kind of hardcore penny pinching, it's very questionable to spend an extra $40 for a Radeon 9200SE.
  • Tostada - Sunday, May 16, 2004 - link

    SxRxRnRx: That places prices are certainly decent, but you don't get a monitor or an operating system, so you're not doing better than building it yourself.

    The parts in CyberPower's $424 system you speak of would cost $342 delivered at NewEgg. That's everything but the case and speakers, which you can certainly get for less than $82.

    Athlon XP 2600+: $90.00 (Retail)
    ASUS A7N8X-X: $76.00
    256MB PC3200: $46.00 (Apacer)
    80GB 7200RPM drive: $67.00 (WD800BB)
    Nvidia GeForce 64MB Video: $36.00 (GeForce2 MX400)
    52X CD-RW: $27.00 (Samsung)

    It would be much better to build a system yourself, because that thing is stupid. Why would you get a Barton 2600 with only 256MB and a GeForce MX? The Anand guide has things a little more in perspective.

    Personally, for an entry system, I would go with the 2000+ (or maybe the Mobil 2000+) like the guide says. I would go with an nForce2 board. I would usually go with 512MB. I can understand saving $45 on memory, though, if you really think you won't need it. I would always get a HDD with a 3-year warranty. I also think it's ridiculous to build a new system that can't read DVD's.

    I have to agree with the guys suggesting onboard video for an entry-level system. There's nothing wrong with the nForce2 IGP. You guys complaining about 2D quality are confused. Most people using entry-level systems are running their desktops in 1024x768 at the most. Often they just use 800x600. These are the types of people who are more than happy playing games with the horrible "Intel Extreme Graphics." Any "SE" or "MX" video card with a 64-bit memory bus will not significantly outperform the nForce2 integrated GeForce4 MX. It's just a waste of $35.

    If you're that concerned about perfect 2D quality, you should at least spend the extra $5 to get a Radeon with a DVI connector. Then if you get a good monitor you actually will be able to notice the difference.

    The Biostar M7NCG 400 is a great nForce2 Micro-ATX board. It's $64.00 delivered. It has the onboard GeForce4 MX. It supports dual-channel memory. It fits in cute cheaper Micro-ATX cases that everybody likes. It also uses the same Realtek 6-channel audio as the board in the guide.

    Speaking of on-board audio, it is still something you have to consider. A lot of boards now have cheaper sound chips and totally unshielded jacks that give a constant hum.
  • gordon151 - Sunday, May 16, 2004 - link

    Athlon XP 2500+ Retail - $80
    ABIT VA-10 KM400 mATX mBoard - $53
    In-Win Black mATX Tower Case - $50

    Mid and full tower ATX cases are a little too bulky for my tastes in use of an entry level computer.
  • scuzzmaster - Sunday, May 16, 2004 - link

    as an alternative, i've used msi's km4m with good luck for customers before, and it runs about $10 less at newegg. with decent (imo) integrated graphics, it's a popular mobo swap for aging customer systems. Reply
  • Zebo - Saturday, May 15, 2004 - link

    Oh and don't forget to include shipping. Some guys promote Dells "specials" and fail to mention thier shipping is around $150 sometimes. Reply

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