Baseline AMD Budget Platform

It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that we had to go with a single core processor and integrated graphics in order to come anywhere near our $500 price target. We still overshot the budget by $150, but we certainly haven't eliminated every potential downgrade. Here's the basic AMD configuration that we are actually comfortable recommending.

Budget AMD Athlon 64 AM2 System
Hardware Component Price
Processor AMD Athlon 64 (AM2) 3000+ - 1.8GHz 512KB $74
Motherboard ASUS M2NPV-VM - NVIDIA GeForce 6150 AM2 $84
Memory A-DATA Vitesta 1GB (2 x 512MB)
DDR2-667 5-5-5-15
$120
Hard Drive Hitachi Deskstar 7K160 160GB
SATA3.0Gbs 160GB 8MB 7200RPM
$61
Optical Drive LiteOn SHW160P6S05 16X DVD+/-RW $29
System Total $368
Complete Package $654 - $926

Our processor choice goes to the AMD Athlon 64 3000+, which is currently priced at $74. The Athlon 64 3000+ has been a favorite of overclockers ever since it first came onto the scene just over two years ago. In terms of performance, not much has really changed with the move from socket 939 to socket AM2. It still comes with a 1.8GHz clock speed and 512K of cache, and with the right overclocking equipment you should be able to reach at least 2.6GHz and often more. Both platforms are at a mature state, even though socket AM2 is only a few months old. AM2 should also support quite a few future processor upgrades if that's important to you, and it will typically perform slightly better than an equivalent socket 939 configuration. If you already have a socket 939 system, there really isn't any need to upgrade to socket AM2 right now, but we definitely wouldn't recommend purchasing a new socket 939 system unless you can get it for less money than the equivalent AM2 setup.

We could have chosen to downgrade the CPU to a Sempron model, although it's important to keep in mind the fact that model numbers do not represent identical clock speeds between the Athlon and Sempron families. The Athlon 64 3000+ has a 1.8GHz clock speed, while the Sempron 3400+ has the same clock speed and half the L2 cache. The Sempron 3400+ is about $10 cheaper, but our experience is that it usually won't overclock as far as the Athlon 64 and the L2 cache is important enough that we felt the extra $10 was warranted. If you are really interested in saving money, the best bet would be to downgrade to the Sempron 2800+, which comes with a 1.6GHz clock speed and 128K of cache. If all you are looking for is a system capable of surfing the web and doing office work, such a computer would still be sufficient and you could even get down to the $500 price point with a bit of work. On the other hand, multiple processing cores are the talk of the town these days, so if you'd like more performance than the single core Athlon 64 offers, take a look at our upgraded configurations.

Moving to the motherboard, there are definitely cheaper alternatives available, but we have had far better luck with ATI and NVIDIA integrated graphics than the solutions offered from VIA or SiS. The nForce 6100 chipset supports the full DirectX 9 feature set, although performance will still be less than just about any DX9 discrete graphics adapter. The nForce 6150 sports higher clock speeds that help to improve performance slightly, but that's not the reason we went with the upgrade. The primary factor in our choice of the ASUS 6150 motherboard over something like the Biostar TForce 6100 is ASUS' inclusion of a DVI output. As we have stated many times in the past, we're done recommending CRTs, and if we're going to recommend an LCD it is going to include a DVI port. That's one less digital to analog conversion that has to take place, resulting in a slightly better image. The ASUS M2NPV-VM offers limited overclocking support, and while it should be enough to get you a ~10% overclock, that's certainly not the focus of the board. With true budget platforms, overclocking isn't high on our list of priorities either. If you're willing to spend a bit more money for overclocking capabilities, the Abit NF-M2 is very similar in features (including the DVI port) and costs about $10 more, but in general overclockers will be better served by fullsize ATX boards with discrete graphics.

ATI Xpress 1100 might have been a reasonable alternative, but we were unable to find any motherboards using that chipset that included a DVI port. If you don't care at all about overclocking, DVI, or integrated graphics performance, you should be able to get just about any of the current AM2 motherboards using an ATI or NVIDIA chipset. You should also be able to shave up to $30 off the price of the motherboard. However, motherboards are such a critical component that we have to strongly caution against trying to cut costs too much, as often that will result in a somewhat flaky system and/or component incompatibilities.

The one area of our base configuration that is likely to cause the most debate is our choice of memory. DDR2 memory is anything but cheap these days - and DDR memory is no better - with prices that have gone up sometimes 100% over the past several months. The current prices are likely to last at least another month or two, although thankfully they are no longer on the rise. The shortage appears to have been caused by the impending holiday season with many of the major OEMs purchasing large quantities of memory in advance. Whatever the cause, however, the end result remains the same: high prices that we are none too happy with. If you're trying to keep costs down, it might be tempting to consider purchasing only 512MB of memory, and it is definitely an option. Depending on how you intend to use your computer, 512MB of memory may be sufficient. For most of us, it has quickly become the bare minimum we are willing to install on a new system, and looking towards the future it is going to be woefully inadequate for anyone planning on running Windows Vista next year. You can save about $60 by going with a single 512MB DIMM, but we're not going to recommend it.

Instead, we will grudgingly recommend spending more money on a 2x512MB configuration. We have selected the A-DATA Vitesta DDR2-667 memory, which we have found to be highly compatible in our testing, and it is also capable of overclocking a fair amount. Overclocking headroom isn't nearly as important on AM2, as the way memory speeds are derived from the CPU core speed means you can use "ratios" without degrading performance much. As with most DDR2-667 memory, increasing voltage up to around 2.1V should allow you to reach the maximum timings and bandwidth the modules are capable of. Given the various bottlenecks that are likely to exist elsewhere within our base AMD configuration, it's probably best not to worry about it too much and just stick with the default or slightly tweaked performance.

One final memory option worth considering is getting a single 1GB DIMM instead of 2x512MB. Single channel performance might be up to 5% or even 10% slower depending on what task you're doing (typically it's around 2-3% slower), but going with a single 1GB DIMM allows you to add more memory in the future if/when it becomes necessary. This particular ASUS motherboards still has four DIMM slots, so it's not as big of a concern, but if you get one of the other motherboards that only includes two DIMM slots we would strongly recommend going with 1GB memory modules.

We will take a closer look at the remaining components on the budget Intel platform.

Index Baseline Intel Budget Platform
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  • jonp - Thursday, November 16, 2006 - link

    quote:

    We have selected a LiteOn burner with DVD-RAM support this time, and it should work well for just about everyone.


    Hmmm...I can't find that the LiteOn SHW160P6S05 supports DVD-RAM. It is not listed on newegg nor Liteon nor zipzoomfly web sites as having DVD-RAM capability...
    Reply
  • BurnItDwn - Friday, October 27, 2006 - link

    1. The Antec Overture II doesn't look as nice as the case selected, but it comes with a decent Antec power supply, and it is a very nice case (fits just fine in my stereo cabinet.)


    2. I don't understand why Media Center XP is being recommended when MythTV is free and can do so much more. (AT has even done several write-ups about it.) Seems stupid to waste money on an unnecessary OS when there is a free alternative that does things better.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, October 28, 2006 - link

    The idea is that you can do more with MCE 2005 - like run all of your Windows apps. HTPC doesn't mean that you don't do any normal PC stuff, at least to me. Naturally, you can also go the Linux + MythTV route. If you want to build *just* an HTPC that will do nothing else, I would recommend MythTV, get a case that you like (preferably something that will be quiet), get the Hauppauge PVR-500 (non-MCE), and then basically get a cheap motherboard, processor, and 512MB of RAM. Add in a DVDR, and then stuff in as many large hard drives as you feel the need to use. A couple 320GB drives would be a great place to start.... Reply
  • Operandi - Thursday, October 26, 2006 - link

    Low bottom lines are nice but if you have to resort to low quality components that are likely to fail (Rosewill) what’s the point?

    Ok, so a case is essentially just a "box" to put all your hardware in but the power supply is a very important piece of hardware. Rosewill is about 2-3 out of 10; I wouldn't count on them hitting their rated power and I certainly wouldn't count on them being very reliable.

    For under $50 (not including shipping) there is wide selection of http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.asp?Subm...">InWin case/PSU combinations. The cases are very solid; heavy steel, and quality plastic, no cheap junk here. The PSUs are also of decent if not great quality, and about 100x better then Rosewill units at any rate.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, October 26, 2006 - link

    As always, power supply aficionados love to rip on anything that doesn't cost upwards of $50 for the case+PSU, and even then those PSUs are "junk". You have to step back and look at the intended system. Would we recommend the cheap Rosewill PSUs for a midrange config? No, though they'll almost certainly still work if you get the higher 400W+ PSUs. I bought a couple crap cases and PSUs last year just to see how they do with budget systems. They are both still running fine, nearly 12 months later, even with overclocking.

    I've recommended Inwin in the past, and they're still good. I don't like using the same case month after month, and plenty of people have no issues with Rosewill units. Read the Newegg reviews -- which granted can be skewed -- and you still will see very few writeups scoring any Rosewill case lower than 4/5. Why? Because the people using them are probably building budget systems.

    I will state this once again: a budget system with one hard drive, IGP or lower end GPU, typically 1GB or less RAM, one DVDR, and a lower spec CPU will come nowhere near the stated power output of even cheap PSUs. A Pentium D 805 with 7600GT http://www.anandtech.com/guides/showdoc.aspx?i=279...">maxed out at 256W; dropping to IGP would reduce power requirements at maximum by a good 30-50W I would say. Take away the Pentium D and put in a single core Athlon 64 or Sempron, and the maximum power doesn't even break 170W. Average load is going to be around 125W (or less). For the upgraded configurations, they will be faster than the Pentium D 805 but still use less power, so they will also work. I think if you're going to spend $1000 on a system, spending at least $50 on the power supply starts to make sense, but when you're already cutting out higher performance graphics, CPUs, memory, etc. do you really need to get a more expensive, "better" PSU?

    Now, I'm not saying cheaps PSUs are great. They usually have poor heatsinks and compensate by using higher RPM, louder fans. They will often fail if you push their power output by overclocking, using multiple HDDs, a higher-end GPU, etc. If you just plan on running a low-end configuration, though, it's really doubtful that you will have problems -- heck, I've even had high-quality power supplies fail or arrive DOA.

    Anyway, just FYI, Rosewill is basically a Newegg brand as far as I'm aware. Concerning power supplies, according to information I've received, there are only about three manufacturers in Asia that actually put together power supplies. They will build to the specifications that a company sends, but they are pretty much all coming from the same places. The names on the outside of the power supply are often pretty meaningless.
    Reply
  • Operandi - Friday, October 27, 2006 - link

    My statements come from experience; I'm not some power snob that thinks every system should have a $200 500 watt PCP&C unit. I haven't been building and working with PCs for a particularly long time but over the course of 5 years I've replaced probably 5-6 (at least) Deer, L&C PSUs (as well as one or two others). Deer, L&C, and other similar manufactures are known for making junk, most of them fail after 1-2 years. Also keep in mind all of them were lower-end budget systems, Duron CPUs, 256MB of RAM, one hard drive, one optical, ect; I don't have to tell you the power requirements were very low.

    On the other hand I've only had to replace one PSU from a known good manufacture; a mATX Delta that was clogged full of dust. I've also personally put into service 20+ systems powered by cheap ($30-40) FSP (Forton-Source) units; all of them are still going, some of them approaching 4.5-5 years.

    Running a couple of "crap" units for 12 months is hardly conclusive. As I've already stated I've replaced a lot of junk, yet I know for fact some of that junk is still running after 2-3 years. Of course if you do the math it comes out to be a failure rate of about 30-40% (within 24 months) for Deer & L&C units; maybe you find that to be expectable but I don't.

    A low load dose not mean a cheap, low-quality, crap, junk whatever you want to call it PSU going to be OK. It will almost certainly last longer, but how long is anyone's guess. There is also the safety factor; a well designed (slightly more expensive) unit will protect the hardware it's protected the hardware it's connected to in the event of a failure. (very) Cheap units often designed just to work and lack such features.

    Cheap PSUs are designed to work, not to last and that’s what most of them do. They do use smaller heatsinks and use louder fans but they are often designed with cheap and sometimes inadequate components. This means shorter life span, low efficiency/more heat, higher ripple, and poor voltage regulation

    Newegg reviews don't hold much of any value when it comes to PSU. The majority of those reviews are dealing short durations and even worst units will last at least several months unless you stress them really hard. I'm willing to bet very few come back after 1, 2 or 3 years later to complain about failure. There is also no tangible user benefit from a poor unit working poorly and a good unit working properly. There is no application to measure DC ripple, and no real accurate way of measuring voltages, but the affects of high ripple and poor voltage regulation are very real in the form of instability and decreased component life. If it turns on it gets 5, if it’s a DOA it gets 0, that’s hardly a complete picture.

    Back to Rosewill. I know they are Newegg's house brand, and they don't actually manufacture anything. Rosewill's PSUs come from a variety of manufactures non I would consider to be good; according to jonnyGURU the list includes ATNG, Youngyear and Solytech; you can check the “Rosewill brand experience?” thread in the forums http://forums.anandtech.com/messageview.aspx?catid...">here if you want to educate yourself further on the subject.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, October 27, 2006 - link

    I cant speak for Rosewill (although, I would neither reccommend, nor put one in any of my own systems), but I just replaced another no name PSU for a customer today. The thing is, he just bought this other PSU TWO DAYS ago, from another 'PC repair' shop. The PSU had Kate loon fans in it, was a no name brand (couldnt find a single identification, number, or company name on it, that google knew of . . .), and was SUPPOSEDLY a 550W PSU. I Say SUPPOSEDLY, because the PSU which I replaced it with, was a 380W wariant (another in-expencive PSU brand 'TRU-Power'), and it only had 3 amps less on the 12V output. In other words, this '550W' PSU had all its power rated on the 3.3v output(atleast the majority of it).

    There are a few exceptions when it comes to buying in-expencive parts from any one, for anything, but when you're 'playing' with your buisnesses name sake, its not a very good idea reccomending parts that you are un-sure of. I will guess, that some of, or possibly even a lot of these people putting down 'lesser brand ' PSUs, are kids, who have read bad information on a web site, or forum somewhere, and basicly havent a clue, however, this doesnt mean this is entirely false. Hell, I've read the user reviews on newegg, concerning Antec PSUs, and its not always good, but, again, readers judgement/experience will let you know who is full of it, and who is a complete idiot, when putting PCs together.

    Anyhow, where our buisness is concerned here, we will not play around with the random off-branded PSU, and only use those in-expencive parts that WE KNOW will work, but I still reccommend atleast an Antec to each customer, explain to them why, and let them make the final choice.

    For my own PCs, nothing less than an Antec, ever. Why do you ask ? 13 years of building PCs, the majority of which I have used in-expencive PSUs in my own systems, and getting tired of the random oddity, like the PC randomly shutting down on its own, BSoDs, or a system that plain ole, wont boot, period :)
    Reply
  • Frumious1 - Friday, October 27, 2006 - link

    I have had bad luck with Antec the past three years. Every single Antec power supply I have used has failed within two years. Most were cheap 350W power supplies that came with the case, but I even had a couple truepower 380W power supplies fail (Antec Sonata case).

    Consider this: Rosewill IS Newegg. What is Newegg known for? Providing some of the best prices on computer hardware on the Internet. They are also known for having very good customer support. Others have already mentioned that there really aren't that many Asian companies who actually manufacture power supplies. Why does brand X cost more than brand Y? In some cases it is because they use higher-quality components. In other cases, it's because company X is just trying to make more of a profit. I would be willing to bet that most of the people who bash on Rosewill have never actually owned or tested one of their power supplies. In fact, the next time I need a higher-quality power supply (for example if I'm building an SLI or CrossFire system) I think I'm going to go out and buy one of the more expensive Rosewill offerings and see how it does. http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...">This one looks interesting!
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 27, 2006 - link

    "Check the 'Rosewill brand experience' thread in the forums here if you want to educate yourself further on the subject."

    That thread was about as useless - actually more so - than Newegg reviews. A bunch of people called them crap, but not one of those people said "I bought unit X, ran hardware Y, and it Z..." Again, I'm not saying they're great, but what's better:

    A $39 Rosewill case and 300W PSU *shipped* that's flimsy but will still run okay and looks fine, and the PSU might fail in a year or two (at which point you can go out and buy a Fotron Source for another $40 *shipped*), or go and get an InWin with 300W PSU that starts at around $65 shipped, has a slightly better PSU that will likely still fail within 3 years if you never clean the dust out of your case, at which point you again buy a new $40 PSU?

    Yes, the InWin is built better, but for people that put the system together and then never open it again unless something fails, does it really matter how easy or hard the case is to work with? We're not talking about cases that are likely to go to LAN parties here, and most likely they will sit on the floor or desk for years. If I'm building a cheap computer for someone, they are almost always FAR more concerned with what the case looks like then whether it's flimsy or not. I had three Antec SLK-1650 cases with failed PSUs in the past two years... I built five systems using that case during that time period. The Raidmax case I built 3 years ago for another friend is still going strong, as is another Raidmax from 5 years back.

    Oh yeah, the 10+ PSUs I've had fail over the last three or four years have not once managed to take out any other component. None of those were Rosewill, but there's just too many anecdotal "the PSU destroyed my system" stories floating around when I have experienced that sort of problem exactly once during my 20+ years of using computers. (That was back in the days of the Celeron 300A; I've be used an old AT power supply with an extremely cheap motherboard that was supposed to be Baby AT compatible.)
    Reply
  • Operandi - Saturday, October 28, 2006 - link

    The thread contains information regarding the manufactures of Rosewill PSUs. If you really want know what your dealing with that’s probably the most important information there is.

    We agree that the InWin is better, but your “slightly better” assumption is based on what?, the slightly higher price? InWin has always had a reputation for making well built cases with decent included PSUs. They used to outsource FSP for all of their PSUs; very good units making them probably the best value out there for case/PSU combos. Recently InWin started manufacturing their own units, they have been by tested by http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/other/display/inw...">X-bit and found to comparable to the FSP units. I’ve opened a few up and checked them out and found the design and components to be decent (in my non-expert opinion) so it looks like the value is still there.

    Rosewill's PSUs on the other hand come from manufactures known for producing some of the lowest quality cheapest units around. Rosewill might not have bad reputation yet but the units that are built by the same manufactures do.

    Isn’t $15-20 more worth the piece of mind of reliable PSU and better built case?
    Reply

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