Recommended Budget Systems

Note the below prices include neither taxes nor shipping as those vary based on the buyer's specific location. The RAM, hard drive, optical drive, power supply, and case recommendations are all, of course, interchangeable between the AMD and Intel-based systems, so mixing and matching those components is unproblematic.

Budget AMD Athlon II X2 system

As noted on previous pages, the AMD motherboards are largely interchangeable and the inclusion of the ASRock board in this list is largely subjective. In this case, it is my opinion that the ASRock board's richer feature set outweighs its shorter warranty.

Component Product Price
CPU AMD Athlon II X2 250 (dual-core 3.0GHz) $60
Motherboard ASRock 880GM-LE (HD 4250 IGP) $55
RAM GSkill 4GB DDR3-1333 kit $26
Hard drive Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB $70
Optical drive Lite-on iHAS124-04 $18
Power supply Antec Earthwatts 380W $40
Case BitFenix Merc Alpha $39
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit $100
  Total: $408

Budget AMD A4-3300 system

It's important to remember that the A4-3300 uses socket FM1 motherboards, so you cannot swap only the processor between these two AMD builds. You must change both the chip and the board. Given the benchmark results on the second page, the Athlon II X2 250 system above is a better general, basic usage computer—if you are not interested in gaming. However, if you are interested in playing less system-demanding titles at lower resolutions, as well as general computing, the following A4-3300 system will let you game on a budget. For anything more demanding, we'd recommend either upgrading to a quad-core Llano APU (with its faster GPU), or add a budget GPU to one of the other two builds. The Llano system also uses less power than the Athlon build, though the Celeron still wins as the low-power champ of this trio.

Component Product Price
APU AMD A4-3300 (dual-core 2.5GHz, HD 6410) $70
Motherboard ASRock A55M-HVS $59
RAM Mushkin 4GB DDR3-1333 kit $26
Hard drive Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB $70
Optical drive Lite-on iHAS124-04 $18
Power supply Antec Earthwatts 380W $40
Case Fractal Design Core 1000 $40
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit $100
  Total: $420

Budget Intel Celeron system

Similar to the AMD system, the budget Intel boards are also interchangeable, and in this case I include the Biostar motherboard largely because it offers a DVI port and legacy PCI slots (whereas the ASRock and MSI boards do not).

Component Product Price Rebate
CPU Intel Celeron G530 (dual-core 2.4GHz, Intel HD Graphics) $57  
Motherboard Biostar H61ML $60  
RAM Mushkin 4GB DDR3-1333 kit $26  
Hard drive Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB $70  
Optical drive Lite-on iHAS124-04 $18  
Power supply Corsair CX430 V2 $45 -$10
Case Fractal Design Core 1000 $40  
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit $100  
  Total: $416 -$10

Suggested upgrades

Neither the Celeron nor Athlon II X2 systems as configured will work as a gaming computer. Adding a Radeon HD 5670 will bump both systems near $500, or a more capable Radeon HD 6770 will push them over $500. Including an SSD will not significantly change the overall cost of the system given current HDD pricing; it's worth considering ditching the mechanical hard drive altogether if you don't need much storage space given the relatively high cost of platter-based drives right now. (Note that you'll still want a larger capacity drive if you plan on storing any video or lots of pictures, and if you want to install more than a couple modern games.) As discussed earlier, the Llano platform with an A4 chip isn't going to impress in terms of benchmarks; upgrading to a faster A6 or A8 chip would help, but that will also increase the price quite a bit. If you're interested in going that route, we'd also suggest looking at motherboards with the A75 chipset, which adds native USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gbps support.

Closing Thoughts

If it weren't for the anomalously high prices of hard drives at the moment, budget systems built around AMD and Intel CPUs would be well under $400—OS included. That's about 10% less than the budget systems we outlined back in February of this year. While the AMD AM3 system hasn't changed all that much, on the Intel side, you're getting a substantially more powerful computer today than earlier this year, and one with much better upgradeability to boot. AMD's Llano platform is a bit of an odd man out at this price, as the dual-core Llano fails to really impress given the cut-down GPU, but about $20 more will net you a modest gaming system if you're willing to go that route.

Once more, it's important to note that the upcoming holiday season will present lots of great deals for budget-conscious builders. The Hot Deals section of AnandTech's forums is a great place to find and share the latest low prices on components. Further, the General Hardware section of the forums is a great place to ask for and share advice with fellow computer enthusiasts.

RAM, HDDs, SSDs, GPUs, PSUs, and Cases
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  • vitaminwater - Tuesday, November 08, 2011 - link

    1st time poster, long time lurker

    a AMD x2 in this day an age?? you can get a Athlonx4 955 black editon for $120 shipped

    for a couple of bucks more you get MONSTER performance for a budget build

    just my 2cents

    keep up the good work!
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, November 08, 2011 - link

    $120 is twice the cost of the Athlon X2, and at that price you could also get the Llano A8 processors or an i3-2100. You could also add a discrete GPU for the same $60 increase, or some other upgrades like a better display. Given the higher power requirements of the 955BE relative to other choices, I'm not sure it's any more sensible than an inexpensive Athlon II X2. Reply
  • jefeweiss - Tuesday, November 08, 2011 - link

    It seems like part of the problem with the comparison of the low end A4 part is that it should be compared to a system that is comparable in cost of both CPU and graphics, because you get both with the Llano parts. The cost of the Celeron plus the 5670 discrete graphics or the Athlon II plus 5670 discrete card would give you enough money to buy a much nicer Llano processor. Otherwise, it doesn't make sense to compare the Llano to the other two with discrete graphics, you would have to use integrated graphics. Part of the value proposition of the Llano is that you can game on a system and not have to buy a discrete card, or at least that was my understanding. Reply
  • Wierdo - Tuesday, November 08, 2011 - link

    Yeah that was strange, are we comparing products we can buy for X price, or not? Makes no sense. Reply
  • mczak - Tuesday, November 08, 2011 - link

    The gpu of the a4 is not anywhere close to a HD 5670 however - there's a reason its gpu is called HD 6410 (not even the a8-3850 is really close to that fwiw more like HD 5570)... I guess it should be quite comparable in performance to a HD 6450, it has significantly less shader power (thanks to much lower clock) but it possibly can make up this loss with its higher memory throughput (of course not against the HD 6450 gddr5 but these aren't available anyway).
    Granted the price difference between a HD 6450 and HD 5670 is not really all that large - but the 3d performance of the A4 is going to be low enough that you can't really say it comes with both cpu and graphics but the celeron does not (yes the HD 2000 will be slower, a HD 3000 such as in the i3-2105 could however possibly challenge it).
    Reply
  • mino - Wednesday, November 09, 2011 - link

    Well, the Celeron, or any Intel for that matter, has no proper 3D drivers.

    So no it does not come with a GPU. Even a Radeon 9700 from 2002 has more "GPU" in itself.
    Reply
  • Paul Tarnowski - Tuesday, November 08, 2011 - link

    Haven't yet read anything beyond the first page, but I'd say the problem in your thinking is that budget builders are going to want to spend the extra dosh. In fact, most budget builds are extremely tight. When I'm wearing my system builder hat I have to be very careful when building these things. For the price of your 955 I can get both CPU and motherboard.

    It's just not going to be much of a gaming build. Budget PCs aren't meant for gaming.
    Reply
  • MonkeyPaw - Tuesday, November 08, 2011 - link

    I think Microcenter is probably the best kept secret in CPU pricing, as they actually regularly check and try to beat Newegg pricing. For example, they are selling the G530 for $39.99 as I type this. They are also selling OEM Phenom II X4 830s for $49.99. If you need a retail model, the 840 is $10 more. That would probably be my first choice for a "budget CPU" right now unless absolute efficiency was the goal. At least you can overclock them still. Reply
  • Roland00Address - Tuesday, November 08, 2011 - link

    Phenom 830 is a true phenom II x4 with 2.8 ghz, 2mb l2 cache, and 6mb l3 cache
    Phenom 840 is a rebrand athlon II x4 with 3.2 ghz, 2mb l2 cache and 0mb l3 cache.

    Agreed that microcenter is awesome.
    Reply
  • TrackSmart - Tuesday, November 08, 2011 - link

    Agreed x 2. $50 for a 2.8 - 3.0 GHz quad core is the way to go (assuming you have access to a MicroCenter store. I think they advertise that deal every week. It makes me want to build a system, even though I have no need for another one, just because it's such a goo deal. And I guess that's the point. Reply

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