The school year is now in full swing, and hopefully everyone is enjoying themselves. Some of you might already be in the depths of mid-terms, for which you have our condolences. If you're lucky, you already have a PC that you can use for doing homework, but parents might now find themselves looking towards the purchase of a new or second computer, in order to allow more than one person to access the Internet at the same time. What better way to fill that need than to pick up an economically priced budget PC?

Our last Buyer's Guide looked at the Mid-Range price segment, with a price range of $1250 to $1500. We split the recommendations up into office/business vs. gaming use, and we attempted to utilize the available budget to customize the system as much as possible for the intended market. We'd like to do the same thing for the budget sector, but unfortunately, there isn't a whole lot that can be done past a certain point. We'll give it a shot, though, with the goal of getting as close as possible to $500 for the non-gaming systems and $750 for the gaming configuration. If you want a bit more performance, you can look at the Mid-Range recommendations and try to downgrade some areas. Alternatively, you can take the budget recommendations and upgrade them where necessary. Either way, it should be pretty easy to combine the information from our Buyer's Guides and Price Guides to put together the type of system that you desire.

We'll be including an AMD as well as an Intel configuration for each of the recommendations. Performance and price are competitive in the budget realm, with AMD holding an overall lead at present. However, the lead is more like watching two family sedans drive down a two-lane street, the drivers going about their daily tasks without even realizing that they could be racing each other to the next stop light. If that doesn't make sense, what we're really saying is that for typical family use and basic office tasks, talking about performance really doesn't matter much. If the computer can get the job done and the user doesn't feel that it's too slow, the goal has been achieved. Price is generally a bigger concern than loading a web page one second faster.

Since the last Entry Level Guide, we've had a few changes. Nothing earth-shattering, of course, but we do have the expected price drops as well as a few new components on the market. As usual, we'll start with the selection of an appropriate platform and go from there.

Office CPU and Motherboard Recommendations
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  • i am getting angry - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    As most of you known, I'm usually a big fan of Anandtech, however this time I couldn't disagree more!

    A "cheap/no name/ POS" PSU is an open inventation to every problem possible!

    Very good PSU's can be had for under $30!

    Cheap, but Good PSU's! [url][/url]

    I am "davidhammock200" however I couldn't login as me!
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    "A 'cheap/no name/POS' PSU is an open inventation to every problem possible!"

    It depends a lot on how high-end you go with parts. I've got a system sitting two feet from me with that MGE case and PSU. It's running at 2.70 GHz with a Sempron 3100+, and it's been running that way for three months. Did I get lucky? Maybe. More likely, people are just a little too concerned about power supplies and budget systems. $30 more would be enough to upgrade the 19" CRT to a 17" LCD - which do you think most people will choose?

    I personally have never encountered instability that I would attribute to a PSU. I've had PSUs fail on numerous occasions, but in every case all it required was a new PSU. I've heard the stories of PSUs taking out the entire computer, and it's certainly possible in theory. I've never actually seen it happen, though.

    Maybe I just care for my PCs too well? I do try to give them a good dusting every 3 months, which does wonders for fan life. I also don't try putting high-end builds with low end power. Low end parts with a low end PSU is exactly what you get from Dell and the likes, though. I've got a P4 2.8C Dell at my corporate job that has a 150W PSU. Amazing, eh? And it's been running 24/7 for over two years.
  • bldckstark - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    If you want to get PO's about an article take a look at this one that is posted on THG. This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever read. They put together a MAJOR POS, don't use any logic, then also don't have any benchmarks to show what a piece it is. Take a look @">$500 gaming rig from THG
    You may disagree with some of the picks here, but that whole system is crap. But at least they stayed in budget! I used to love THG, but now it is ridiculous. They have become a system buyer site, instead of a system builder site. It's like PCWorld bought them or something.

    If you were going to build a system for $750, and you found you could build a significantly better one for $100 more wouldn't you do it? Hell, that is only 13%. I recently did the exact same thing. I got an SLI board cuz it was only $20 more. I got a 3200+ on a deal cuz it was only $15 more than the 3000+ on a package deal. I got a 6600GT even though they cost more than I originally thought. I got 512MB OCZ Platinum Rev2 ram cuz I can buy more later instead of 1GB of value ram now. I got a 300GB SATA drive cuz it was cheaper per GB than a 250, but it cost more too. Any project of any kind should have built in 10% contingency plan. In my lonely opinion Jarred is only liable for grief on the 3% over that. So here it is WAAaa.......... (3% of a whine).
  • bgladwyn - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    It seems odd to include a speaker package with a subwoofer for an office setup when headphones would do. Similarly, flat panels are useful in the office because of the desk space they liberate. Lose the $37 speakers and shell out $199 for the cheapest 17" TFT on PriceGrabber and you have $33 well spent.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    When I say office in this guide, I mean "home office" as opposed to an actual workplace computer. For a workplace, speakers are generally frowned upon. There are many ways to get to an LCD, but quality is a bit more important than price if you're going that route. I'd forget about 15" LCDs and put 17" as the minimum, with a DVI input being preferred. Still, $200 for a 17" LCD isn't bad. $250 will even get you a 19" model, possibly with DVI.

    Like I said in the displays section, the only reason I didn't include an LCD was to get closer to the $500 price. I highly recommend anyone that can should spend more money on the display, with 19" LCDs being the ultimate goal.
  • bgladwyn - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    Fair play, I've read all the article now(!) and can see that you'd already considered this point.
  • ceefka - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    Any expectations on integrated DVI graphics?


    If at all possible - particularly for a business setting - we'd drop the CRT and get a decent LCD instead.

    I think that a 17" VGA LCD like the Samsung 710v (think it was 12 or 16ms) is quite OK for office use. Granted it is more expensive than a "comparable" CRT. It uses less juice, produces less heat and occupies less space, plus you actually work on that screen. My latest experience on a CRT was that after some time the numbers danced before my very eyes :D Just weigh that in and draw your own conclusions.
  • pcmatt1024 - Saturday, October 15, 2005 - link


    Any expectations on integrated DVI graphics?

    i believe the new 6150 from nvidia (basically the higher end version of what was used on the amd office board) will have dvi out. boards should be out in the next few weeks.
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, October 15, 2005 - link

    I can say for sure that the ATI Xpress 200 and Intel 915G both *can* support DVI output. The problem is that no motherboard manufacturers actually have such support so far. (I know that it's possible because I have two SFF cases with those chipsets, and they both have DVI ports.) Basically, DVI is a "high-end" option and IGP is often "value-oriented". It's sort of like the problem with uATX motherboards: no one makes an "enthusiast uATX" design; they're all built for value. And yes, there are some people that would like a high quality uATX mobo.
  • PrinceGaz - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    LCD panels are certainly getting better and I know for a fact that my next display (when this Mitsubishi DP 2070SB fails, which hopefully won't be for several years) won't be a CRT as there is already nothing available as good as it.

    If you were having problems using a CRT, then the refresh-rate was almost certainly too low. Windows 2000/XP defaults to 60hz which is unusable for most people for extended periods with a CRT monitor, and that is probably what you were using. Any half-decent CRT monitor will support at least 85hz at the ideal resolution, with which most people have no problems. Really good CRT monitors will support 100hz or more at their optimum resolutions, but unfortunately those really good CRT monitors can only be bought second-hand now as all the best manufacturers have switched to LCD panels.

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