We like to start our Guides by explaining what the target market is, just to avoid confusion. There are numerous ways to tweak any system within a given budget, and more often than not, we hear comments about why we didn't use product X or forgot to mention feature Y. For some people, specific features and upgrades are going to be important, while others are really just interested in a decent computer that will handle the typical tasks that they are likely to perform.

The Budget sector is the low end of computer systems, naturally, and expecting a computer that only costs $500 to be fast in all areas is unrealistic. Compromises must be made, and most often, we look to drop performance and features a bit while still maintaining an acceptable level of performance. The biggest deficiency in most budget systems is their graphics support. Pre-built OEM systems from Dell, Gateway, etc. often limit the amount of upgrading that can be done; for example, by removing the graphics slot (either AGP or PCI Express X16). If you never plan on running complex graphics on your computer, it may not matter, but with hardware accelerated graphics becoming a more central component of future versions of Windows, we consider an AGP or PCI Express expansion slot to be mandatory in our recommendations.

One thing that we would like to get out of the way right now is the possibility of purchasing a pre-built system. They are rarely ideal configurations, but most of the large OEMs can offer software and hardware bundles that are difficult to match. We won't bother recommending them in our Guides, but feel free to comparison shop. One pre-built system that we would like to specifically mention is the new Apple Mac Mini. If you haven't already heard about it, you can read up on the features and performance in Anand's initial review as well as his attempts at turning the Mac Mini into a Home Theater PC / Digital Video Recorder. Starting at $500, the Mac Mini is an attractive, small design. By the time you add a display and upgrade the memory to 512MB, it will cost significantly more than our budget recommendations. Still, for a computer neophyte, it may be the best solution.

We would like to be able to put together a reasonable PC for $500, but realistically and given some of the current trends, we're going to end up at closer to $650 for this Guide. We feel the upgrades that we've made for the additional $150 are worthwhile, but if you want something cheaper, the recommendations from our last Budget Guide can be had for about $550. That said , we'll move into our actual recommendations. Prices and availability are subject to change at any time, but we try to select parts that are easily acquired just about anywhere in the world. We will also have some alternative recommendations for those looking to improve performance by spending a bit more money. Now, on with the show!

CPU and Motherboard - AMD
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  • rivethead - Tuesday, March 15, 2005 - link

    The Leadtek GeForce 6600 is $109 at NewEgg. It's only $7 more than your 6200 PCI-E selection.
  • rivethead - Tuesday, March 15, 2005 - link

    "what happen to 6600 non-GT?"

    Man, that's an excellent question. I was wondering the same thing.
  • rivethead - Tuesday, March 15, 2005 - link

    I think you're socket 939 mobo recommendation is incorrect.

    The Chaintech board that's $91 shipped (actually $89 shipped from NewEgg) is the nForce 4 board, but it's not ULTRA, meaning you don't get the firewall, the SATA2, or NVIDIA nTune software.

    I THINK this is the board you're wanting to recommend.

    If it really is the Chaintech ULTRA board, please let me know exactly where I can get it for $89 shipped.

    BTW, if you do a pricegrabber search on the Chaintech VNF4 Ultra board, the non Ultra board will erroneously be displayed in the results for new egg.

    The Chaintech VNF 4 ULTRA board is $101 at ChiefValue....that's the cheapest I can find it.
  • rivethead - Tuesday, March 15, 2005 - link

  • bigpow - Tuesday, March 15, 2005 - link

    what happen to 6600 non-GT?
  • Jep4444 - Tuesday, March 15, 2005 - link

    you beat me to it ChineseDemocracyGNR, the 9600SEs 64bit bus cripples the 9600 far more than the 75mhz core clock reduction on the 9550

    also the 64MB 6200TCs are even slower than the 32MB ones due to use of slower memory, the X300 would beat either of them anyways

    you guys really didn't look enough on the budget GPU recomendations
  • Booster - Tuesday, March 15, 2005 - link

    Displays - 'costED a year ago' - is that correct?
  • ChineseDemocracyGNR - Tuesday, March 15, 2005 - link

    "AGP Graphics Recommendation: Sapphire Radeon 9600 SE 128MB DDR 64-bit, 325/400 GPU/RAM clock (bulk/OEM)"

    This is a very, very bad recommendation. The Radeon 9550 128MB ***128-bit*** will give much better performance for the same money.

    "PCIe Graphics Recommendation: Leadtek GeForce 6200TC 64-bit, 64MB (256 shared) PCIe with 350 MHz core"
    I also don't agree with the PCI-E recommendation. I don't think $71 is a good price for a 64MB 64-bit 6200 when the X300 (not SE) is only $76.

    I actually don't mind this though, but the 9600SE is so bad I hope you change the guide before more people read it.
  • filterxg - Tuesday, March 15, 2005 - link

    Another great read. Thanks for the guide!

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