Prices are always dropping on computer components and what was once Mid-Range or High-End will eventually become a budget part. The temptation to upgrade a component here and there is always strong, but we try to balance that with a goal of keeping the price close to $500. As usual, we’ll offer an upgraded version for a bit more money.

An important consideration for any computer system is the intended use. If it will be used primarily for office tasks, such amenities as speakers and graphics cards take a back seat to RAM and processor choice. Generally speaking, though, it’s better to build a well balanced system rather than one with a few high end parts complemented by a bunch of older components. Most of us have encountered a system at one time or another that appears to have reasonable specs only to find that it feels incredibly slow. A fast processor with inadequate RAM and a slow hard drive is a common problem with the OEM systems that we see offered for incredible prices. By the time you tweak such a system to improve performance, you often end up paying as much as the setups that we offer. That’s not to say that OEM systems are all bad, but as with all things, there are compromises made, and some may or may not be acceptable.

Of course, the battle between Intel and AMD rages on with no sign of letting up. AMD systems typically offer better performance and a slightly lower price, and many of the Intel configurations seem to be a case of paying extra for the “name brand” more than anything else. $500 isn’t going to get you a super computer by any stretch of the imagination, though, and for most budget buyers, the actual difference in performance between the various setups won’t be noticed. It’s interesting to look back at our Mid-Range setup from a year ago and compare it to the current market; it’s a little more than half the cost for about the same level of performance.

Now, let’s get to the recommendations.

AMD Recommendations
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  • RussellCollins - Wednesday, August 31, 2005 - link

    So let's just start with some basics. I have relied upon the reviews here for the last 6 or 7 years when it came to building computers. I have built several of my own based upon a mix of recommendations from this site and personal research. My background is in mechanical engineering and I am currently working as a software test engineer. I say that to suggest that even those who know better can pay for their mistakes they shouldn't have made...

    I built a system for my parents (*gasp, that's already asking for trouble) based almost exclusively off this entry-level model (AMD flavor). It worked perfectly for about a week and then the system simply refused to turn on. I tried checking as many things as I could to narrow down the problem based on the limited equipment I had on hand. I thought at first that a bad power-supply might have fried some of the silicon so I had them get a new mobo after all the components plugged into it (save for the CPU) were tested on other machines and appeared to be fine.

    Needless to say, I'm STILL ironing out the kinks in my spare time because it refuses to breath again. The fans all turn on but nobody's home (won't even post to BIOS). I'll be installing a new CoolerMaster PSU and probably new CPU this week just to finally resolve the issue.

    Final words: go with your instinct for self-preservation and get a trustworthy power supply. It isn't worth the risk and headache. This was a good review overall but I wish now that I had gone with my first hunch to swap out power supplies before the first boot.
  • DarkForceRising - Sunday, August 28, 2005 - link

    Does the Foxconn AMD Mobo. have integrated graphics?
  • Gioron - Sunday, July 24, 2005 - link

    Ok, I hate to harp on it, but I'm going to anyways. The included power supply in the case is a bad idea. Although I can't be sure this is the exact power supply, I went and found a review of a 350W codegen from annother cheap case. Here's the picture of the spec sheet:">
    Things of note:
    How the hell does that add up to 350W? I only get about 330W just by adding everything together. It sure as heck can't output all of that at once, and usually its a good idea to ignore the piddly little negatives and the VSB buss, which would drop it down to a heck of a lot lower than 300W. Honestly, I'd be suprised if this can handle 200W well. The only real hope is that they've improved their 350W power supplies in the couple years since the review, but I would doubt it.

    And then there's the quote from the article: "Worst case scenario - pardon the pun - is that you'll have to purchase a new power supply down the road (and/or deal with RMA issues)."
    No, thats _NOT_ the worst case scenario, although its a likely scenario. I had to completely replace every component in my parent's computer when their power supply died. I tested everything seperately and every single component in the system was toast. And the real worst case scenario involves an electical fire burning your house down (yah yah, not terribly likely, but a lot more likely with that power supply than with a quality one). Power supply death isn't something you want to deal with.

    As far as dell systems go, it was interesting to note that 2 of them on the site ended up dying when we had a planned power outage, even though the computers were switched off at the time. The sun boxes we also use came through fine.

    Side note: I was viewing the comments, then had to reload the dang thing because of an error. Then <poof>, the new comment system was in. Somewhat confusing to get used to, not sure I like the change yet, but just barely using it. Might be a good idea to add post numbers to things like this, just since everyone is so used to saying "#12, you're an idiot", etc. And add a preview button while you're at it.
  • Pythias - Monday, September 5, 2005 - link

    Is this budget system going to pull 330 watts at peak?
  • spartacvs - Monday, July 25, 2005 - link

    I totally agree with you. It's funny because the computer case is propably the least important part of a computer. But the power supply is probably the most important. lol

    I don't think the problem is comming from Jarred. IMO, he do a hell of a good job in his systems guides. No, imo, the problem might coming from the price limit. Maybe 500$ is too low, maybe go with 550-600$. Sure you can buy a system for that price but is it really viable? Will you end up with a much better system that will last longer (eg. the messages about the monitor) for 50-100$ more?
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, August 2, 2005 - link

    Thanks, spartacvs...

    The budget price is killer. I deal with people asking about $500 PCs all the time, and I shudder at the compromises that often need to be made. You're right about the PSU, Gioron: the WORST that can happen is really bad. Very unlikely IMO, but I have had a cheap PSU fry everything in a system (other than the graphics, sound, HDD, and CD-ROM). That was an old socket 370 board, and the Celeron, motherboard, and RAM all got toasted along with the PSU.

    For what it's worth, I really do encourage people to upgrade the PSU. Still, I *think* these chepaer cases will do okay with budget components. Don't upgrade the graphics or CPU and stick with a single HDD and you should do okay. I think I may actually go out and purchase one of these cases for an article. A sort of PSU expose to see if I can get better OC results and stability with a good PSU rather than the crappy "350W" included. Heheheh.... stay tuned! :D
  • spartacvs - Thursday, July 21, 2005 - link

    And you can still buy a video board later. Also, a monitor last longer (like most of the peripherals).
  • Zebo - Thursday, July 21, 2005 - link

    True I hear ya. But the low end LCD's dont usually have DVI... All I'm saying is if I had $500 for a system I'd rather have integrated graphics and a 17" LCD than a 6200 TC with a 17" cheap CRT. As ones budget gets higher more and better options open up.. maybe I'm just low-balling to much.:)
  • OldPueblo - Thursday, July 21, 2005 - link

    The 6200TC allows you to play BF2, D3, HL2, and whatever else for an amazingly low price. The card is a gift in my eyes. I have friends that just absolutely cannot afford anything else, and to them its a godsend.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, July 21, 2005 - link

    44 - Calin, I'm not a big fan of mail-in rebates, so you're looking at $280 for the cheapest 19" LCD that has DVI input. If you don't mind MIRs, you can get an Aopen F90JS for $242 from Newegg - $70 MIR. I still say the Acer AL1914SMD at $307 is a great LCD, though. Expensive for a "budget" system, but a good display can last through 3 computer upgrades or more.

    43 - Zebo, I'd like to recommend an LCD with integrated graphics, but the lack of DVI output from the IGP motherboards makes the add-in card almost a requirement in my book. (That's another one of the problems I have with the "free LCD upgrades" you get from OEMs; LCDs without DVI are simply not the same.) It's still an option, though, and I think the recommendations in this Guide give people enough information to put together such a setup if they want.

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