Dustin's AMD Pure Budget System
Hardware Component Price
Processor AMD Athlon II X4 640
(Propus 45nm, 3.0GHz, 4x512KB L2, 95W)
$99
Video Integrated ATI Radeon HD 4250 -
Motherboard MSI 880GM-E41 (AMD 880G/SB710 AM3) $75
Memory Corsair 4GB (2x2GB) DDR3-1333 CL9 (CMV4GX3M2A1333C9) $59
Hard Drive Samsung Spinpoint F3 500GB
(HD502HJ 7200RPM 16MB)
$40
Optical Drive LG 22X DVDRW (GH22LS50) $17
Case Cooler Master Elite 360 $40
Power Supply Antec EarthWatts Green EA-380D 380W
(380W 80 Plus Bronze Certified)
$45
Base System Total $375

Over the past summer I wound up building a rash of budget systems for friends and family; over the past year you can chalk a couple more up. I actually have about two more queued up for the holiday season, so suffice it to say I keep a list of go-to parts for my builds that I've been consistently satisfied with. For this build I decided to go for a sort of "optimum budget" machine, and with most selections I'll have a suggestion as to how to reduce the price tag without hurting overall quality. There are some compromises made here—note the lack of a video card—but I'm perfectly happy putting my stamp on this system.

The first big decision is the processor, and I want something that'll last. It's true that Grandma Millie may not need all that power, but I've found that the AMD Athlon II X4 has been my go-to for nearly every budget build since its inception; it's just that good of a deal. The price-performance is undeniable and when you can get a quad core for $99, why would you settle for less? If you need to make a deeper cut for users who aren't going to push the system that hard, I've been remarkably impressed by the AMD Sempron 140. It's a 2.7GHz single core, but of the three I've built, two have unlocked into stable dual-cores—i.e. Athlon II X2—and at $33, it's an absolute steal.

Picking the motherboard turned out to be a bit trickier, but I've found myself consistently satisfied with boards from MSI, Gigabyte, and ASUS. After narrowing the brand down, I want an integrated chipset that's going to pass my "Grandma Test:" is it powerful enough to play Hulu and YouTube HD video? That leaves us with the 785G and 880G chipsets, and since those have hit price parity (actually the 880G is cheaper now!), I opted to go with MSI's 880GM-E41. I'm not too thrilled about the SB710 Southbridge, but the lack of 6Gbps SATA isn't devastating. The ATI Radeon HD 4250 integrated graphics part offers enough horsepower to even play the odd game, but mostly it's there for hardware-accelerated video and Flash (with 10.1), which can make a big difference with Hulu. Unfortunately, this is about as low as I'll go; other cheaper integrated chipsets don't bring that acceleration to the table.

As far as memory goes, I'll be blunt here: I only buy Corsair for my own builds. Jarred recommends an A-DATA set on his build and I've been happy with them; the fundamental deal with RAM is this: it either works or it doesn't. The problem is that when RAM is bad, it can be difficult to figure out. I've used Corsair on nearly every build I've done for friends and family and I've seen a whole one bad stick of it. With 2GB kits only shaving maybe $20 off the cost of the build, it's hard to justify not going the full 4GB. If every penny must be spared, I wouldn't be unhappy with this Kingston 2GB (2x1GB) DDR3-1333 kit at $38; in my experience Kingston is another good, reliable brand.

With hard disk prices the way they are, your bottom rung should really be 500GB of storage; the amount you pay for the capacity you get below $50 just isn't worth it. I've also been consistently happy with Western Digital's Caviar Blue drives, but this would be a good time to bring out a new cult favorite: the Samsung SpinPoint F3 1TB drive is stupid fast, and if you know where to look you can usually get it for about $60. For the budget sector, we opted to go with the 500GB model and save $20.

As far as budget cases go, I've been very happy with the Cooler Master Elite 360 and have used it on a few builds; in fact, I actually have one in my house for my media center PC. The Elite 360 isn't built for big, power-hungry builds, but it's usually cool and quiet enough for even a decent gaming machine provided you opt for a video card that will fit in the enclosure. I've elected to pair it with a 380W Antec EarthWatts Green power supply (don't forget the power cord if you don't have extras!); there's enough room to breathe for an efficient video card like an ATI Radeon HD 5770 down the road (which will fit just fine in the Elite 360), and you never want to cheap out on the power supply if you can avoid it.

The rest is going to be a matter of religion and taste. You can get a decent display with (crappy) built-in speakers for a low price. For the operating system, there's always Ubuntu, or you can usually find a good deal on Windows 7 if you know where to look (student discounts are amazing for this). But the build I've specced out here is something I'd be confident with. I've got comparable parts running in machines at home and in the machines of friends and family, and there's been nary a peep from anyone. That should tell you the real value of speccing out a good system from the get-go and not cutting corners on parts: peace of mind, and peace and quiet.

Holiday 2010 System Builder's Guide Balraj's Intel Budget System
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  • PubicTheHare - Monday, November 22, 2010 - link

    I see the case pictured in the "cover," but I don't recall any of the systems using this case. I know this case is highly regarded for it's airflow and design. Are some of the cases selected better in these regards, or is case selection truly that personal and cases within the same price range tend to perform the same? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, November 22, 2010 - link

    It's from Newegg's EggXpert system (see the shout out in my config on page 4), and it's a good case. I chose the Antec Three Hundred simply because there was a combo offer with the PSU to save $30, but I've used the HAF in a build before and liked it a lot. Anyway, mostly the picture was used simply to have a picture there with an introductory text. I figured some readers would notice the components didn't exactly match anything we selected, but I didn't think it would really matter. :-) Reply
  • pvdw - Friday, November 26, 2010 - link

    For a near silent PSU go with the Nexus Value 430, or for more power the Seasonic S12II range. Reply
  • The0ne - Monday, November 29, 2010 - link

    Just wanted to say thanks for making the guide base off of each reviewers choice. Personally I think this is a better way to approach a guide and sometimes a review than relying one one person. Reply
  • scarfinger68 - Monday, November 29, 2010 - link

    With the help of great sites like AnandTech I finally put together a new system.

    COOLER MASTER HAF 922
    AMD Phenom II X6 1090T Black Edition
    ASUS M4N98TD EVO AM3 NVIDIA nForce 980a SLI ATX AMD
    (2 for SLI) ASUS ENGTX460 (Fermi) 768MB 192-bit GDDR5
    SeaSonic X750 Gold 750W GOLD Certified
    CORSAIR XMS3 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin SDRAM DDR3 1333
    (2)Western Digital Caviar Blue 250GB 7200 RPM SATA
    Windows 7 Home Premium 64

    It may not be perfect but its mine now. With shipping it came in at $1297.
    Thanks again,
    Joe
    Reply
  • rdh - Tuesday, November 30, 2010 - link

    That Athlon II X4 640 comes with a free MSI motherboard (or $10 upgrade to a choice of other Motherboards) at Microcenter. That would knock $75 off your price.

    I upgraded to the MSI msi 785g-e53 for $10 more. Total price was $106 for CPU and Motherboard after the $20 rebate. Also, there have been a rash of 4GB(2x2gb) DDR3 memory sales for $35 or $40 AR. Microcenter had the AData memory for $50 , no rebate.

    In all, you can EASILY knock almost $90 off your budget price... enough for a Radeon 5670/4850/5750 Graphics adapter to create a TRUE budget gaming system for about $370.
    Reply
  • rdh - Tuesday, November 30, 2010 - link

    ps... only applies if you have a Microcenter... or someone who will match them... nearby. Reply
  • rufwork - Sunday, December 5, 2010 - link

    I've been looking through NewEgg with this guide "in hand", and it appears there are several AM3 options that'll save a few bucks if you BYOV[ideo card]. That said, I couldn't quite get enough on Northbridges to figure out where I'm actually saving money and where I'm settling for less.

    Like the GIGABYTE GA-MA78LMT-S2 is currently $65 and $55 after rebate, but it has a 760G Northbridge. Enough to scare me away? The Intel budget system made do with two RAM slots, so I think that's okay. And it looks like it's still got an IDE plug for my old DVD and hard drives.

    I'd like to conserve as many parts from my last white box, built five years ago, and the "recycler's low end" system is still a bit of an unknown. This is largely my fault for not keeping up with SATA, PATA, PCI-e/x, etc, but I'd love to see it all laid out for those with parts still laying around. Drives (hard and optical), cases & PSUs, and video cards seem to be the things with the best reuse potential -- but even PSUs might have new 8 pin connectors?

    Alternatively, where would an out of touch buyer go?

    (My first Celeron whitebox used an ISA sound card I borrowed from a friend's junk heap... I'm all about the reuse.)
    Reply
  • FullHiSpeed - Friday, December 17, 2010 - link

    I would love to reach for the stars and have Brian's 24 thread dream machine (or see how it performs).
    If you're not ready to spend $3760 on CPU, MB, and RAM, you can get 2/3 the number of threads for 1/3 the price like this:
    SUPERMICRO MBD-X8DAL-i-O Dual LGA 1366 Server Motherboard $289.99
    16 logical processors - Xeon E5620 2.4GHz 80W Quad-Core CPU 2 *$384.99= $769.98
    12g GB RAM - 2 x Kingston (3 x 2GB) DDR3 1333 ECC KVR1333D3E9SK3/6G 2 * 90.99 = $181.98
    That's the guts of a 16 thread machine for $1,241.95
    Reply
  • Stormblade - Tuesday, January 4, 2011 - link

    I was all set to start building my machine. I based it on the High End Gaming system here. I'd gone so far as to add the parts to my cart. Came back to check on something and I see the article about Sandy Bridge. Well now I gotta re-think.

    Definitely want to get an i7-2600K but which motherboard? I see the Asus P8P67 being coupled with it so was thinking of basically still getting the system described but getting that MB and CPU instead. Any thoughts on whether this is a horrible idea or not?
    Reply

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