It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... it was a fantastic time to build a new PC. Last spring, with DDR2 memory prices in the toilet and budget Micro-ATX motherboards around every corner, we showed you how to piece together a quality dual-core PC for under $550—peripherals, monitor and operating system included. Then, we took the next logical step, and for the first time in Buyers' Guide history, we told you how to build a rig with no compromises—a fast chip, an overclockable motherboard, a 1080p LCD screen and even a gaming-quality graphics card—for just $300 more.

Needless to say, much has changed in the nine months since our last budget Buyers' Guide. Memory prices have risen drastically: the same exact 4GB of DDR2-800 we purchased for $27 last May would cost you $85 today. Intel has launched a series of exciting new 32nm processors—the Core i3 series in particular poised to offer serious value for mainstream computing—but at $125, they're too pricy for our budget box (though you'll find one in our mainstream config—see page 4). Windows 7 has completely supplanted Vista as the OS of choice for new PC builders and appears in all our suggested configurations, but even it comes at a $5 premium. And a number of the bang-for-the-buck parts we chose last year have been discontinued without a ready successor.

In short, it seems clear that you'll need to shell out a few more dollars if you want a new computer to match the high standards we set last year. But not all has changed for the worse. Even as DDR2 costs rise, quality DDR3 modules are close to finding price parity with their slower brethren. Motherboard and monitor features that once fetched a premium are also coming within reach of regular buyers. And if you shop around these days, you can often find free shipping on many if not all components. So if you do have the extra money to spare, we assure you that this edition of the System Buyers' Guide will afford you and yours more PC per penny than you've ever gotten before.

This guide continues the tradition of cordoning off the common components you may already own in a separate section of our pricing chart, allowing you to quickly and easily find the cost of a basic box without optional speakers, I/O, display or operating system, in addition to the total for a complete system with all required peripherals included. But now, by popular demand, we've separated mail-in rebates and added estimated shipping costs within the continental United States as well. With this measure in place, discerning buyers can find the true out-of-pocket cost of any of our suggested builds without having to consult a virtual shopping cart (except for taxes—you're on your own there).

If you're looking for an inexpensive yet dependable machine for a friend, relative, significant other or even yourself, you'd be hard-pressed to do better than our AMD Entry-level PC on page 2. Shipped to your doorstep for $717 before tax, it is filled with tried-and-true components centered around a tri-core Athlon II processor, 4GB of quality DDR3 memory and a motherboard equipped with the favored AMD 785G/SB710 chipset. If you'd prefer to go the Intel route, you'll find a similarly priced LGA 775 system on page 3; but be warned that that our Intel box doesn't offer quite the value of its AMD counterpart.

No, true Intel aficionados would do far better to check out our Intel Mainstream PC on page 4. Equipped with a new Intel Core i3 processor and the best H55 motherboard we've yet gotten our hands on, it comes with a bang-for-the-buck 1080p LCD monitor and a graphics card capable of driving both it and most any game you'd want to display for under $950 before tax. Of course, at that price point, AMD offers some stiff competition. On page 5, you'll find a similarly equipped AMD Mainstream PC sporting the Phenom II X3 720 Heka Black Edition, a 2.8GHz tri-core chip with an unlocked multiplier and, if you're lucky, an unlockable fourth core as well.

We realize that value comes at a price and that you often get what you pay for when it comes to computer components—but having shopped around, we also believe that any PC user would be happy with the value they receive from our suggested budget and mainstream configurations. That said, we don't want to make you think that these PCs are "one size fits all." They can each be upgraded and customized to match your tastes and computing style, and on page 6 we'll look at some of the inexpensive ways you can personalize your PC buying experience.

AMD Entry-Level PC


View All Comments

  • jonp - Thursday, February 18, 2010 - link

    start with the intel mainstream; drop the hd 4850, case and power supply; use Antec Two Hundred case $39.99, Antec Earthwatts Green EA-380D power supply $39.99; the base system is $482!!! For only $30 more than the E5300 configuration! The case has two BIG fans, power supply on the bottom; usb, indicator lights, power and reset buttons on the top-front (since most sit on the floor) and very quiet. Even at 380 watts, the power supply is probably 4 times more than this system configuration will use and the supply is used in a more efficient way (i3-530, asus p7h55-m pro, 4gb ddr3, wd blue drive, sony optiarc, media reader, 3rd case fan == 82 wall-watts under IntelBurn Test (4 threads)). Reply
  • dankegel - Wednesday, March 3, 2010 - link

    I did some research yesterday on my own, and also chose the Antec Two Hundred case. I may switch to the Earthwatts supply, thanks.

    My proposed configuration is written up at">
    please check it out and let me know what you think.
    I'm aiming at really fast C compilation and entry level
    (but not crappy) gaming.
  • JonnyDough - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    "But now, by popular demand, we've separated mail-in rebates and added estimated shipping costs within the continental United States as well. With this measure in place, discerning buyers can find the true out-of-pocket cost of any of our suggested builds without having to consult a virtual shopping cart (except for taxes—you're on your own there)."

    THANK YOU for that! :)
  • kjartan333 - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    $120 for a case and power supply has no place in a budget build!

    No blu-ray is listed because $60 is too much... No graphics card either...

    But for some reason a fancy case with 5 external bays and a 500w power supply is necessary? Get real.
  • zerobug - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    If you are not a gamer and use your PC to surf the net, watch movies, store pictures, and do office work, you do not need to upgrade. Ditch windows, move to Linux, and you'll gain a modern operation system and applications that can achieve all those tasks fast and efficiently even with a 10 years old machine. Reply
  • v12v12 - Tuesday, February 23, 2010 - link

    And a STEEP arse LEARNING CURVE required for even the most mundane problems. The person you're talking about is NOT going to need to use, nor want to use Nix. This person is a drone, another worker-bee in society using their computer to surf sites for mindless shopping, gossip sites and the like... Great idea, logical, but not practical for the worker-bee drone.

    I wish they were smarter... but, yadda...yadda...
  • hombre - Wednesday, March 24, 2010 - link

    My wife uses Ubuntu Linux every day, and she's certainly not a techie. It came pre-installed on her netbook, and the only thing I had to help her with was setting up the wireless adapter, and that's only because she didn't know what our WEP key was.

  • gychang - Saturday, February 13, 2010 - link

    I am very interested in the AMD budget for general and photoshop use at home, due to space constrsints is there a thinner or smaller case that will fit with all suggested components?


  • qwertymac93 - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    like this one?">

    or this one?">

    or this one?">
  • Blur - Saturday, February 13, 2010 - link

    I'm really glad to see this feature come back, i built my first system using the parts recommended in a previous guide. Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now