Recommendation: 1 X 256MB Crucial PC3200 (DDR400)
Price: $47 shipped

Choosing the right type of memory for an entry level system usually isn't too difficult nowadays. PC2100 speeds and CAS 2.5 latencies are common measurements of performance for memory modules, and are virtually the only two important performance-related factors when deciding to purchase memory, besides the actual size of your memory module, of course. But if you can't spend a lot of money, performance should be the last thing on your mind when choosing memory on a budget. Price and reliability, in that order, should be your only real considerations. Anyway, we've come back to recommending Crucial modules for entry level systems. Because their price and performance are so nearly identical to Kingston ValueRAM modules, we decided between the two based on warranty and customer support. In that scenario, Crucial wins out quite easily. Buying direct from Crucial is very easy; you will rarely encounter problems in processing an order. Tech/Customer service reps are knowledgeable, patient, and very quick to answer your questions, which is especially impressive considering that they answer many of the same questions everyday. It also helps that the (native) language spoken by Crucial support is English and that they are generally wary of North American culture (which, believe it or not, can be very helpful in expediting shipping).

Alternative: 1 X 256MB OCZ PC3200 EL (Enhanced Latency) CAS2.0 module
Price: $64 shipped

OCZ's DDR module prices have stayed virtually the same, more or less, over the last month. We've talked about OCZ's troubled past and history in detail before, but thankfully, those issues have been resolved and OCZ has been able to bring great memory to market for over a year now. With that said, OCZ has had tremendous success with their EL series of modules for a reason: a great price/performance ratio. At only $17 more than Crucial, which we recommended today, you get lower CAS timings (CAS 2-2-3 1T) with OCZ EL modules instead of high CAS timings (CAS 3-3-3 4T) with the Crucial modules (which helps reduce load times actually, similar to how RAID 0 can reduce load times). Lower CAS timings along with the EL series' overclocking capability translates into better performance for a great price.

With that all said, be sure to check out Kingston's line of PC3200 modules as well. Their ValueRAM line should be given a close look.


Recommendation: 64MB ATI Radeon 9200SE
Price: $40 shipped

Just like last month, our recommendation this week is the Radeon 9200SE.. Though this time, it's the version direct from ATI instead of Sapphire. 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. Text quality is an absolute necessity for an entry level system, as you will likely be reading emails, working in programs like Excel and Word, and reading online material on a regular basis. At $40, it's hard to find a better video card with the said feature set.

Something we mentioned in our previous Entry Level Buyer's Guide that bares repeating here is the generally accepted area of concern surrounding the reliability of ATI drivers. While driver stability was a major issue in the days of the Radeon 8500 and certainly before then, ATI's current Catalyst brand of drivers are delivering excellent stability for each and every segment of computer users (entry level, mid-range, high end, etc.). We've been able to verify this fact through countless hours of testing by many different AnandTech editors for years now. Any issues that you may be hearing about ATI cards are probably relatively minor and shouldn't be thought of as necessarily negative when compared to video cards from the likes of NVIDIA. Bottom line - don't be at all afraid to delve into Radeon territory.

Alternative: 64MB Sapphire Radeon 9200
Price: $54 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 this Radeon 9200 than the Radeon 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 Radeon 9200 (from Gigabyte, for example). If you're at all interested in some semi-serious gaming, you should definitely be considering this card for your entry level system instead of the 9200SE. 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 entry level users. There are 128MB versions of this card available, but it's completely unnecessary to upgrade to them when looking at the higher price differential.

If you're interested in gaming performance at 1024x768 resolutions and up, we highly suggest something more powerful than Radeon 9200, like a Radeon 9600 Pro or GeForce FX 5600 Ultra. Either card will be able to perform significantly more smoothly at those higher than 800x600 resolutions. Slightly better mid-range cards, like the 9600XT and 5700 Ultra, are also good, but more money than you might want to spend for the corresponding increase over the 9600 Pro and 5600 Ultra.

Listed below is part of our RealTime pricing engine, which lists the lowest prices available on ATI video cards 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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  • Booster - Thursday, August 26, 2004 - link

    I have to add I can't agree on this value system configuration to the extent that I'd call the choices really unpractical. That system of yours may look good on paper, but have you actually tried to use such a system daily? I bet you'd hate it in a week, and here's why.
    First, the monitor choice. It's by far the most important choice of all, and you recommend a crappy Samsung CRT. This is ridiculous. Try to read web pages, e-mails and text documents on that CRT and I bet you get a headache after no more than just 2 hours (at least that's my personal experience). The only thing that CRT is good for are games, movies and other multimedia stuff, but not for doing any actual work. And games and movies aren't the point of a budget system, according to your own words. Now that LCD prices are rapidly declining, a 15 inch LCD (cheapest of the cheap, with no DVI, in the $300 range, just $150 more than that CRT, and without unnecessary expense of a $50 video card - only $100 - you'll get so much just for additional hundred bucks!) would be so much easier on the eyes of a budget user. That would also eliminate the need for a costly $50 video card, which is, simply put, a complete waste of money in that system (because even the worst quality integrated video would be sufficient to produce no-ghosting image on a 15 inch LCD with 1024*768 resolution at 60 Herz).
    Second, the CPU choice. Athlon XP is a bad choice. It has more power than the Celeron? It sure does, but that's not the point of a budget system, as you say. Price and reliability are more important, I agree, then you need a Celeron, b/c say a 2.0 boxed Celeron costs the same, but it's by far more reliable - it wouldn't burn, in fact it's indestructible, and the boxed cooler is of much higher quality than Athlon XP's bundled cooler, not to speak lots quiter. Performance? Who needs performance in a budget system like that, but the Celeron is fast enough to run anything that system is supposed to run, anyways. Plus take into consideration that you can get a completely integrated Celeron motherboard (with onboard video) for much less than the ASUS board you reccomend, and that the Celeron system would run really cool and quiet and wouldn't require extra case coolers like any Athlon system does, not to speak of high power (and thus expensive) PSUs - a no-brainer choice IMO.
    The case - who needs an ATX case? It's too big, and since there wouldn't be much expansion, a Micro ATX case would suit this system so much better.
    I have to add I agree with this guide's choice of a Seagate hard drive, I was going nuts when I saw you recommend WD in previous guides (those drives suck, they're too loud and there's pretty much nothing else they offer over competing products).
  • xilef - Friday, August 13, 2004 - link

    How about this system that includes dual channel, Barton Core, DVD and a subwoofer for less money. Shipping is less than $50. I've saved this system at Newegg as AugustCheapo.

    POWMAX ATX Aluminum Mid-Tower Case with X-Window, Model "ALV90-511SEL" -RETAIL 35

    Rosewill 52x32x52x16 CD-RW & DVD Combo Drive, Model C523216, Retail 37

    Western Digital 80GB 7200RPM IDE Hard Drive, Model WD800BB, OEM Drive only 62

    Crucial 184 Pin 128MB DDR PC-2700 - OEM (2 pieces) 64

    PROVIEW PS709s 17" CRT Monitor –RETAIL 89

    ASUS "A7N8X-VM/400" nForce2 IGP Motherboard for AMD Socket A CPU -RETAIL 82

    AMD Athlon XP 2600+ "Barton", 333MHz FSB, 512K Cache Processor - Retail 95

    Logitech Z640 5.1 Speakers -RETAIL 49

    Total 513
  • Hoot - Friday, August 13, 2004 - link

    Systems recommended by popular sites like this one always seems to recommend an abit or asus, and they are not always the best choice. How about an mATX system with a very reliable Biosta M7NCG 400 - and it's also overclockabe if you get rev 7.2 (full voltage and multiplier control and will run mobiles.

    APEX Silver Mid-Tower Super Tower with 400W Mustang Power Supply, Model "PC-146/400W" -RETAIL (newegg $28.00)

    Biostar M7NCG 400 mATX (better than the Asus and has IGP to use when you sell the video card yto upgrade. ($65.00)

    Samsung 160 Gig HDD at newegg (IDE $87.00)

    512 MB Kingmax newegg $75.00

    Power color 9600 Pro newegg $126.00

    *This system get't you alot more storage. Better memory as most will not want 256 MB stick for a more power hungry system later - but add to the other 512 stick later to make a gig of ram. Also the powercolor 9600 pro is cheap and very good for gaming.

  • razor2025 - Thursday, August 12, 2004 - link

    I think for the money, a good alternative is Nforce 2 IGP board. It'll save anywhere from $30-40 for not having to get a graphic card. The performance of integrated GF4 MX is also decent enough to compete with GF 2 GTS/Ultra in 3D games. With the $30-40, you can add $10-20 and get two stick of same memory for dual channel. In a nut shell, for just adding $10-20 more, you can have a system with 512mb vs 256mb (big difference in real-world, even for budget PC), and a similar 3D performance (maybe a little slower than the 9200(SE).
  • Chaotic42 - Thursday, August 12, 2004 - link

    An XP 2400+ is $1 more. I'd have gone with that instead of a 2000+. Heck, a 2200+ is $6 cheaper.
  • Degrador - Wednesday, August 11, 2004 - link

    I would think that entry level being a general field should include just about all fields - average home users, web surfing, office apps, games, playing music - these are things most users would be doing, and most would be doing all of them (some concurrently even). Entry level is usually for family computers - where everyone needs to use the computer. Mostly 'cause they don't have the budget to have different computers for different family members, each comp with specific tasks.

    For instance, with a friend's family, his dad uses the comp for Autocad (he's a tool maker), his mum uses it for tax / financial management stuff, and he and his sister use it for school / uni work, playing music, and games.
  • gherald - Wednesday, August 11, 2004 - link

    Entry-level w/o a specific label means the most general field imaginable, i.e. average home users, office workers... you know, mainstream stuff. Video editing, gaming, and the like are all distinctly special cases.
  • ceefka - Wednesday, August 11, 2004 - link

    If you lable a system "entry level", I ask what field.

    What would make an entry, mid-range and high end gaming, video editing or DAW PC? Seems like we're talking about 9 different machines. Or you can make suggestions what to add or change depending on what you want the machine to do.

    Would it be possible to do a few benchmarks on the suggested configurations?
  • gherald - Tuesday, August 10, 2004 - link

    "entry level gaming" == "mid-range" in my book

    But if you actually think this entry system would be a workable base, it's not to hard to figure out what to change.. 512mb, a 9600, and definately go with the alternative Abit NF7 and 2500 Barton picks.

    Such a thing doesn't warrant a seperate article.
  • Z80 - Tuesday, August 10, 2004 - link

    Good article, I agree with all of the recommended components. I'm glad you didn't skimp on the monitor. A quality monitor can make all the difference in how someone perceives the usability of a system. I'd like to see an article on an entry level gaming system. I assume it would only entail a couple of minor upgrades to this system configuration.

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