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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  • JarredWalton - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    Next Guide is due out "soon" - like this weekend probably.

    As for PATA vs. SATA, the performance difference is negligible. The cables are a different story. PATA (also called IDE/EIDE) uses 40 pin connectors and 80 pin cables. SATA gets by with a cable that's about 1/4 as large, and the connector is only about 1 cm wide instead of 5 cm or so. Rounded IDE cables help, but the IDE connector is still rather a pain in the butt.

    Also, SATA is point-to-point, which means there are no worries about master/slave settings. Each SATA device is on its own channel. The theoretical performance of SATA is higher than PATA, but in practice all current hard drives are limited by the hard drive's sustained transfer rate.
  • Fauno - Thursday, January 20, 2005 - link

    Dumb question: what´s the difference for SATA and PATA?
    Tkx for all.
  • Fauno - Thursday, January 20, 2005 - link

    Mr. Jarred, thank you for the great newsletter!
    I would like to see an improved, i mean, something
    better than the Budget and Performance scenarios.
    How long may i have to wait for your next guide?
    I´m anxious because i´m in hurry to make a brand new computer.
    Thank you vey much.
  • micronot - Monday, January 17, 2005 - link

    Show me the Benhchmarks ---

    I have no complaints about the selections, but it would have been nice to also see how these systems compare on a few benchmarks. This would help show a price to performance ratio.
  • erinlegault - Wednesday, January 12, 2005 - link

    How do think nForce motherboards have instability at default settings?

    I know VIA has been very reliable since their Apollo Pro 133 chipset, I have owned several. But, to say Nvidia nForce chipsets are unstable is unfounded. The various flavors of nForce 2, 3 and now 4 are the probably the best chipsets ever made.

    I have no opinion about the initial nForce chipset, I personally never give first timers a chance. This is probably the chipset you call unstable, but what company does not produce a first generation product that isn't perfect.
  • bob661 - Tuesday, January 11, 2005 - link

    I don't recommend Nforce boards to non-enthusiasts because of instability or just plain quirkiness (sp?). I figure a geek wouldn't mind troubleshooting and tinkering but I don't assume that for newbies or general users. VIA has always treated me kindly and I don't have people coming back to me after I build them a computer complaining about quirks. I remember when VIA was the quirky, problem-ridden chipset but I haven't seen that for at least 5 years. We use computers with that chipset at work as CAD workstations (29 machines) and there's no instability.
  • Live - Tuesday, January 11, 2005 - link

    If the 6600 is an option in PCIe why not as AGP it is available in both?
  • woodchuk - Tuesday, January 11, 2005 - link

    Have to agree on the VIA and SIS chipsets, not only because they tend to lose sound drivers and such occasionally, but the nVidia solutions seem bulletproof.
    Also, the Semprons I've built recently are very disappointing in anything that likes a lot of cache, either Tbird or Barton equivelents are faster.
  • justly - Tuesday, January 11, 2005 - link

    Thanks again, although I really wasn't expecting a responce to my last post.

    I understand the reluctance tward integrated video, but to be fair there are two reasons for building a budget system one is obviously because you cant afford the alternitive, and the other is because you know you dont need the alternitive. If someone is simply trying to make a performance system fit a tight budget then I would expect them to have problems simply because that is not the correct way to make a performance system. Is this the type of person that you are making a budget guide for? if so then I guess I misunderstood the purpose of the budget guide.

    I'm NOT intentionally trying to argue with you, it just irritates me that the impression I (and I think others may also) get from the article is that Nforce is not just the chipset of choice but that it seems to be the only chipset that is acceptable, and now I see you say "a less expensive chipset isn't necessarily inferior". That was the point I was trying to make.
    A lot of what you say makes sense, but a few things don't (at least to me), one being that you assume cheaper capacitors, resistors, fabrication facilities, etc (along with cheaper chipsets and less features) are used to make a budget board, but unless the Nvidia chipset is cheaper or the board has less features then the only way a Nvidia motherboard can compete in price is to use as cheep or cheeper parts or fabrication facilities yet you still claim it is more stable/compatible, how can this be? ok maybe it is the BIOS, I guess I just have a hard time believing that every non-Nvidia moterboards out there has problems with their BIOS.
    My experiances are a little different than yours. I have had very little or no problems with SiS or ALi drivers in the past (VIA is a different story). When the K6-2/III was popular I had both ALi and VIA based motherboards and I would say without a doubt that I liked the ALi better. On the Athlon platform I can also say without a doubt that I liked the SiS better than the VIA. While I personally haven't owned a Nvidia chipset I do know of more than one person that had problems with them (and they where not budget builds either, in fact they where top of the line in most cases).
    Having a bias is normal everyone has them, I just think with a following as large as what Anandtech has you should try to hide that bias a little better. Maybe it is time you try a SiS or ALi/ULi chipset again, you might be pleasantly surprised. Then again maybe you know yoou need more than SiS or ULi can give you in that case continue on with your "self-perpetuating bias. :p" just kidding, have a nice day and thanks for the insight regarding your recommendation.

  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 10, 2005 - link

    Let me go back to an earlier statement, just to make sure we're all on the same page. I said the following on page 2: "There are boards that use the VIA K8M800 chipset with its S3 UniChrome Pro graphics, and there are also boards that include the SiS Mirage graphics. Performance and reliability of either one are questionable in our opinion." Just to make this clear, the "questionable" aspect is specifically in regards to the integrated graphics - lowest common denominator graphics almost always cause me grief. Some will only support 24-bit color, which is not 100% compatible with all applications, forcing you to use 16-bit mode at times. Others simply perform very poorly even in 2D applications, and then there's the supported refresh rates which may end up being 60 Hz at any resolution above 1280x1024.

    Okay, now back to the topic at hand....

    Memory compatibility issues can come from a variety of areas. For example, even with an Intel 865PE chipset, you're not going to see identical performance or compatibility across all motherboards. It probably has a lot to do with the BIOS, not to mention some other items like quality and location of capacitors, resistors, etc.

    THG did a memory comparison maybe six months back where they tested about 10 to 15 different brands of RAM on 10 to 15 different motherboards. I don't recall the specifics, other than the ASUS K8V SE Deluxe was the most compatible motherboard (working with all the RAM types used) and that the Corsair RAM was the most compatible RAM.

    As I'm not a BIOS programmer or motherboard manufacturer, I can't say for sure what causes the issues that some boards experience, but I can hazzard a guess. Let's assume you're trying to make a budget board that will sell for $25 less than other motherboards. The first step is usually to go with a cheaper chipset, i.e. SiS or ALi or VIA as opposed to Intel or NVIDIA. (I don't know how expensive NV chipsets are, but I know that Intel is regarded as the most expensive out there.) Now, a less expensive chipset isn't necessarily inferior, but I have a feeling a lot of motherboards that use cheaper chipsets also use cheaper capacitors, resistors, fabrication facilities, etc.

    I would guess that this is why the ASUS A8V Deluxe and the Abit AV8 are still very good boards even with the VIA K8T800 Pro chipset. They also cost nearly as much as competing NVIDIA boards. As with all things, compromises are made to reach any price point. If most motherboards with a certain chipset sell for $85+ and a new board comes out that only costs $70, you can be almost sure that either features or quality were cut - possibly both. Long-term reliability of cheap motherboards has never been good for me, although I'm sure others have had okay experiences.

    Beyond that, I don't have any real concerns with the VIA A64 motherboards. SiS and ALi/ULi are a different matter, although I freely admit that I have avoided using motherboards with those chipsets for years. Finding comprehensive chipset drivers for NVIDIA, Intel, and VIA motherboards is generally a simple matter; not so with SiS and ALi (in my experience). Drivers always end up mattering, and the easier it is to get all the drivers installed, the better.

    In the end, it's a Catch-22 situation: I don't trust SiS and ALi/ULi based motherboards as much as NVIDIA and Intel based motherboards due to some bad experiences. The only thing that would really convince me that they no longer have problems would be extended use of such a motherboard over a two year period. However, when I look at the prices and it's only $10 more for a board that I already trust, why take a chance?

    I'm only one person, with limited access to hardware (even if I have more access than most people, I can't just get anything I want). No one has perfect knowledge of how specific boards will work over a 4 year period, so we end up guessing based off of previous knowledge. My previous knowledge says that SiS and ALi boards are more likely to have issues over an extended period of time, but what I really know is that *previous* SiS and ALi boards had a lot of problems. Yup, it's a self-perpetuating bias. :p

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