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

  • Rumpelstiltstein - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    These are all decent builds for the different price points, but I have a few suggestions for future system guides. Before I say anything else, I would just like to note that I am a big fan of your site, it is always a source of some great journalism and analysis of PC Hardware. Keep up the good work. However, when a PC Hardware site puts up a system guide, I like to use it as a source to send friends to that are thinking of building a new PC and I like to compare between different guides before deciding who to send them to. This is an area that I think you could improve in. I personally think that if you changed your approach to these guides a little bit, it would help out immensely. My model for comparison, since I have found it to be the most comprehensive guide out there is The Tech Report's system guide:


    This may or may not be the best example as recently released hardware has changed the game up a lot, but I think some of their guides in the past were pretty spot-on. Anyway, what these guys do is create a few budget tiers and all of the TR Staff debate over the best choice for each part, rather than assigning one person per build. I'm sure this could easily be accomplished by your editors. Sure, it might bring up some heated arguments, but I have no doubt that the final choices will be better overall. I understand that you have more builds here for a wider range of purposes, and that's great, but you can adapt this approach to accomplish the same goal. Even TR often has an alternate build every few months for a different audience. In this last one, they came up with a highly upgradable nettop-like system that is a good recommendation for those who would otherwise go out and purchase a system-in-a-box from the likes of HP or Dell.

    Another thing they do is provide links to newegg, since newegg is a good place to determine the price you would likely pay for the overall build and it provides good user feedback for people to look at as well as a great wishlist system for people to plan their purchase with, whether or not they choose to do their final purchases through newegg. This is not as essential a feature, but it does help. Granted, they do have newegg's sponsorship, so they have more incentive to do this. But they have been doing it even before newegg took notice and decided to give their thumbs up.

    They also put peripherals, accessories, and extras under a separate topic since these things really are very much user preference and don't necessarily depend on the system they are using them with. And of course, at the end they provide a conclusion to reflect on the changes and how the industry as a whole has changed since their last system guide to lead them to the hardware picks they have chosen for each build.

    Again, I'm not suggesting you try to adhere to the formula used by another site, but there are things that can be learned by reading them. I think if you made a few of these changes, particularly the collaboration of all your staff on each build, you will provide a much better guide that more people will be apt to follow rather than just look at, have a chuckle, and do whatever they were gonna do before reading it. You will likely have less members crying "that is a horrible choice for that build, this would be better." Granted that particular person can make all the changes he wants to suit his personal preference, but they could just build their system from the ground up which would render such a guide useless. You might point a few in a better direction with a guide like this, but more knowledgeable people would likely take it with a grain of salt. I think with a better approach you can hit a larger audience with your guides. It's all about helping people make a good investment in their systems and pick good quality parts with a nice price/performance ratio within the limits of a given budget.
  • Iketh - Saturday, November 20, 2010 - link

    Agree 100% with this... when i read the title, and then read who the author was (Anandtech staff), I thought i was gonna read about "the best of now" systems which all the authors collaborated... i was rather disappointed when i saw otherwise :(

    it IS fun to read about each author's particular taste (and hence get to know them a little better), but you can better demonstrate this if each system is chosen as a team, and then break down, in the explanation, what one author was fighting for in a particular build over another and the ensuing carnage :)... THAT would be fun to read, as well as explaining why eventually one part was chosen over the other
  • benrico - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    This is a 32 nm chip... Improperly identified in the mid HTPC build. Reply
  • ERDoc - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    The one system I'm waiting to build is a large NAS. Something with 20 drives, RAID 6, Blu-ray disc player for backing up my content and serving to multiple HTPCs. WHS Vail or Server 2008 would likely be the OS of choice. 2 x SSD RAID 0 as system drives. Now that 3TB drives are available (soon), are there any server boards will support SATA 6Gb/s, 3 TB drives? I was thinking a Norco 4220 as the case. Any other suggestions? Same for for processors (will be transcoding on the fly, 8 to 10 separate output streams True HD)?

    Dual GB ethernet at minimum. There are companies such as Vidabox selling systems like this for $10k to $15k. I think I could build a better system (with 2 TB drives) for less

    Any other suggestions?
  • hglazm - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    No. Stop right here. Do not, DO NOT do these. They are never unbiased, they are rarely good to suit users needs, they direct a tremendous amount of consumers to products they dont need or are too underpowered for, and they will end up degrading you into the likes of TomsHardware.

    Just stay the fuck away from these, guys. Don't do it.
  • hglazm - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Also, what the hell is up with recommend the Antec BP series?
    Stuffs a load of crap.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    What are you talking about? This was a Holiday Buyer's Guide and we figured it would be nice to give everyone a voice for a change of pace. This is not intended to be the way we do buyers' guides going forwards, but instead is a large article that covers a huge swath of possibilities in time for Black Friday.

    As for the BP550, can you point me to any good review that shows it's a "load of crap"? The word on the street is that it's a decent Delta-built power supply. Is it the best PSU out there? No, but if you can pick it up for $35 with the current $30 combo at Newegg with the Antec Three Hundred case, it's a heck of a lot better than most other $35 PSUs. Best info I can find suggests there's nothing wrong with the BP550 (unless you're anti-Antec I suppose).
  • Bad_Wolf_Online - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    I have a dual x5680 system, Brian asked for pictures and benchmarks how do I contact him?


  • Ryan Smith - Saturday, November 20, 2010 - link

    brian@ you know the rest. Reply
  • Hrel - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    I think this is the best bang for you buck, period.


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