Dustin's AMD Pure Budget System
Hardware Component Price
Processor AMD Athlon II X4 640
(Propus 45nm, 3.0GHz, 4x512KB L2, 95W)
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)
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)
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


View All Comments

  • Aikouka - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    First, a few oddities on Balraj's build...

    Why sacrifice dual-channel support for the possibility of upgrading to 8GB in a budget system?

    Also, the blu-ray drive that was included is OEM and doesn't include blu-ray playback software, which just adds an extra cost (that can be significant depending on the route chosen to attain such software).

    Those Lian-Li cases... really make me wish I would've stayed with Lian-Li on my current build. I would've probably kept my PC-V1100+ (I think that's the right model number), but I noticed the case has an issue where the slide mechanism that holds the side panel on eventually succumbs to reverberation (which is rather annoying). My PC-V2000+ is still going strong though and no reverberation!

    I'm using a Cooler Master case right now, and the only problem is that the side panels are so darned flimsy unlike the Lian-Li cases where the side panels double as lethal weapons. Not to mention how it scratches like crazy!
  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    I had to switch the Blu-ray drive because I couldn't find Balraj's original choice in stock. Without doing more research, I figured 8X BD-ROM was better than 4X, and then there's a jump of $15-$25 to get to the better quality drives. I'll look around to see if I can find something else though.... Reply
  • Aikouka - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Well, I guess my thought was, "why not just stick with a normal DVD burner?" It is a budget build after all :).

    It might just be better to pick up a retail blu-ray drive, since they'll have OEM software (usually isn't as good as the fancier ~$90 software though).
  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Okay, I found a decent price on a 10X LG... it's $85 at Newegg, but Microcenter currently has it for $70. As for leaving out the Blu-ray entirely, we mention that option. Think of this more as "Balraj's Budget Intel System" as opposed to "Balraj's Budget Intel System" and you'll get the picture. He personally thinks BD is great, and really his system is almost a budget HTPC more than a strictly budget PC. Cheers! Reply
  • 7Enigma - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Had a very bad experience like many others with the Intel mid-range Gigabyte mobos. They've had MANY issues and the customer support has been non-existent for some of us. You can read my story on Newegg, but there are many with the same complaints about bad hardware and no recourse from the company. I've purchased video cards and mobo's from them in the past but they are off my list for the foreseeable future.

    Ended up having to shell out for a new mobo (Asus) and it has been rocksolid from day 1 with no issues.
  • GeorgeH - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Laptop Guide = :-)
    Desktop Guide = :-)
    Smartphone Guide = :-(
  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    That's coming... patience, grasshopper. :-)

    You can harass Anand, Brian, and Vivek if you'd like, though... but Anand is probably going to let others do that as he's got plenty keeping him up late at night.
  • therealnickdanger - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    The LG Optimus S is going to be $1.00 at Best Buy on Black Friday! Reply
  • GeorgeH - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    There is no patience - there is only read... or read not. :-) Reply
  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, November 23, 2010 - link

    Except that patience was pretty much Yoda's biggest problem with Luke... Reply

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