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The Entry-Level Box & Budget PC

In these trying times we realize that every dollar saved counts, so in addition to our standard Entry-Level Box we’re going to mesh in some secondary budget components to ease up on your wallet a little more.

The standard Entry-Level Box has a target price range of $800 or below, and should provide with enough horsepower to handle everyday tasks with ease and even play the latest gaming titles on medium to high settings with respectable frame rates. The budget flavor is more or less comprised of quality workhorse-level components, with the ability to overclock and tear through any standard application as well as support moderate gaming with a video card upgrade.

Motherboard:
Gigabyte GA-EP43-UD3L - $85
At $85 you'd be hard-pressed to find something that can match the base specifications of the Gigabyte GA-EP43-UD3L. Supporting an overclocked FSB of 1600MHz and DDR2 RAM at 1200MHz, six SATA 3Gb/s host adapters, one PATA host adapter, one PCI-E 2.0 x16 slots, four PCI-E x1 slots, one PCI slot, eight USB 2.0 ports, and S/PDIF out (optical/coaxial).

Alternatively, if you’re on an extraordinarily tight budget and don’t mind working with a Micro-ATX board the Asus P5KPL-CM ($55) will almost certainly fit the bill whether your endgame PC is a workhorse or an ultra-budget gaming rig. It features support for a smooth 1600MHz FSB, 4GB of 1066MHz DDR2 RAM (there are only two DIMM slots, mind you) and has one PCI-E x16 and x1 slots, two PCI slots, four SATA 3Gb/s host adapters, one PATA host adapter, four USB 2.0 ports and an Intel GMA 3100.

So depending on your budget, I would definitely opt for the GA-EP43-UD3L over the P5KPL-CM due to the additional connectivity, RAM speed/capacity support and improved chipset but either would be an excellent choice for an entry level gaming rig.

CPU:
Intel Core 2 Duo E7400 - $120
The most unfortunate thing about purchasing a PC with the price restraints of an Entry Level Box at this point has to be that the Core i7's aren’t that far out of reach. Nevertheless Core 2 Duos are still a superb buy and if anything, you can justify your purchase by smiling at the lighter price tags on most models today.

Our pick, the E7400, shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, being the lowest you can go on the Core 2 Duo totem pole. It features a 2.8GHz clock frequency, 1066MHz FSB, 3MB L2 cache and enough muscle to wrangle your library of games at stock speeds, not to mention the fact that some chips can be pushed well into the 3.3GHz territory and beyond.

For an extremely cheap fix ($70), we’ve chosen the Pentium E5200. With its 45nm process, 2.5GHz clock frequency, 800MHz FSB and 2MB L2 cache it’d make for a perfect companion to the Asus P5KPL-CM motherboard above. Some users report to have gotten it above 4GHz stable, so I would expect that 3GHz is almost guaranteed for most chips.

RAM:
2x OCZ 2GB DDR2 1066MHz - $45
Given that the P5KPL-CM only has two DIMM slots with a maximum RAM capacity of 4GB and the Gigabyte GA-EP43-UD3L can support up to 16GB of RAM, you might as well aim for 2 x 2GB regardless of whether or not you’ll be using a 64-bit OS. There are quite a few 2 x 2GB 1066MHz DDR2 kits available in the $40-$50 price range, but the cheapest second party RAM with a CAS latency of 5 happens to be OCZ’s OCZ2G10664GK, and they’re usually respected for producing quality goods so it’s a win-win.

*Note: You will almost certainly have to set the RAM’s frequency manually in the BIOS as its SPD data is set to 800MHz by default. Rest assured that it is fully designed and compatible with 1066MHz speeds, you just have to get your hands a little dirty and adjust the voltage/frequency according to the package information.

Graphics:
ATI Radeon HD 4830 512MB - $90
This will be one of the major calls you’ll have to make with your new build. You need to ask yourself whether or not this PC will be used for any level of gaming or heavy multimedia use or if it’s just going to be put up to standard use.

If you’re definitely going to be gaming, you might as well not short change yourself given the low cost of a solid video card. The performance offered by a Radeon HD 4830 will not be matched by anything sub-$100 and Sapphire’s model can actually be had for $75 after a mail-in rebate. It’s packed with 640 stream processors, 512MB DDR3 RAM, a single HDMI, D-SUB and DVI port and will make quick work of any game available, crowning this the best card on the market when strictly comparing cost:performance.

Should your build mostly be filling an office-related role, skimming by on the P5KPL-CM’s Intel GMA 3100 is doable and you always have the option purchasing a dedicated video card afterward if the GMA 3100 proves to be insufficient.

Hard Disk Drive:
Samsung HD642JJ 640GB 7200RPM - $60
There is such a minor price fluctuation when taking a dip in storage capacity that spending $10 less for half the storage is hardly advisable, regardless of your budget. The Samsung HD642JJ offers a hefty 640GB of storage, 16MB cache, an average seek time of 8.9ms, average latency of 4.17ms, a maximum internal transfer rate of 175MB/s and external transfer rate of 300MB/s.

I would recommend you purchase something in the general vicinity of 500GB if you have any intentions of media-related work or gaming because the GB's fly by faster than you might imagine. As an ultra cheap alternative, the 160GB 7200RPM Western Digital Caviar SE can be purchased online for $42.

Optical Drive:
LG GH22NP20 - $21
The LG GH33NP20 is the same high quality optical drive recommended throughout the guide. It can write to DVD+R media at up to 22x, DVD+RW up to 8x, DVD-R at 22x and DVD-RW at up to 6x. It can also write to CD-R at up to 48x, CD-RW at up to 32x, DVD+R DL up to 16x, and DVD-R DL up to 12x.
Power Supply Unit:
Corsair CMPSU-450VX 450W - $70
A quality PSU is not only one of the more important PC components, but it is unfortunately also one of the first places people look to skimp when working with a tight budget. To the average Joe, a PSU is merely an unglamorous metal box taking up space and restricting airflow within the PC case. The few who actually show interest in the component seem entirely concerned with only the rated wattage, disregarding quality and stable power in favor of price.

Power supplies are one of the few components that can almost always be found with a substantial rebate. At this point in time the CMPSU-450VX is the best you’re probably going to find for an entry level gaming rig at <$60 (after rebate), but if you can shell out $10 more, Corsair’s 550W (single 12v rail @ 41A instead of 33A) model is open to you as well.

For those following the budget side of things, if you’re absolutely 100% positive you won’t be doing much beyond the basic PC functions and won’t even have a dedicated graphics card, you can save a little by running with something along the lines of a PC Power & Cooling PPCS370X 370W (27A on a single 12V rail) for $50.

Case:
Chassis with sufficient cooling - $30-50
If your chosen video card happens to run on the toastier side of things, you definitely want a 120mm rear exhaust at minimum along with some form of front or side intake. The Radeon HD 4830 runs pretty cool, so if you’re eyeing a case with only an exhaust, all should be well.

Some <$50 chassis with at least two fans include the following: Sunbeam Silent Storm, Rosewill R5730-P, Rosewill R5717-P, Rosewill Conqueror WSL, Rosewill Wind Ryder, Raidmax Tornado, Cooler Master Centurion 5, Cooler Master Centurion 534 and the Atop AT-AP103WSB.

Some <$30 chassis with at least one 120mm rear exhaust include the following: Rosewill R220-P, R218-P, R102-P, R101-P, R223-P, R226-P and R105-P.

Monitor:
HannsG Hi-221DPB 22" Widescreen LCD - $160
One of the lowest priced 22” LCDs on the scene is the Hi-221DPB. It features a 1680x1050 native resolution, 5ms response time, 160°(H) / 160°(V) viewing angle, 1000:1 contrast ratio, 300cd/m2, 0.282mm pixel pitch, integrated speakers and is a pretty solid package at $160, however, if you can spare the coin, the realm of 1080P and HDMI is wide open for an extra $20-$30 (Acer H213H, Asus VH226H).

It’s not just the gamers and media addicts that benefit from having large displays either, unless you think you can skim by with your old 15” CRT. Being able to work on a word document and navigate a web page simultaneously is extremely handy, time-efficient and the 19” widescreen LCDs only run just over $100 these days (the Acer X193Wb is $110).

Input Devices:
Logitech EX 100 - $30
Ah, input devices, components which command the beast. The fact of the matter is, it's impossible to select the proper keyboard and mouse for you, however, throughout this guide we will offer our selection of quality input devices that might fit your needs. For our Entry-Level Box, the keyboard and mouse we feel incorporates the healthiest balance of offering modern technology without denting the bank is the Logitech EX 100.

Wireless is a major plus these days, whether you're gaming or working in an office environment, the tad bit of mobility and clutter-minded design makes a wireless setup highly appealing to us. Though, we’re sure some would rather not worry about replacing the batteries and/or are looking to cut costs on every angle possible. If that sounds like you, rest assured that quality wired keyboard and mouse combos start as low as $15.

Our Entry-level Box and Budget PC, in a nutshell...
Component
Product
Cost
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-EP43-UD3L / Asus P5KPL-CM
$85 / $55
CPU Intel Core 2 Duo E7400 / Intel Pentium E5200
$120 / $70
RAM OCZ2G10664GK 2 x 2GB DDR2 1066MHz
$55
Video Card ATI Radeon HD 4830 512MB / Intel GMA 3100
$90 / $0
Sound Card Integrated
$0
Hard Disk Drive HD642JJ 640GB / WD Caviar SE 160GB
$60 / $42
Optical Drive LG Electronics GH22NP20
$21
Power Supply Unit Corsair CMPSU-450VX / PPCS370X
$70 / $50
Case Chassis with sufficient cooling
$50 / $30
Monitor Hanns·G HW-191DPB 22" / Acer X193Wb 19"
$160 / $110
Speaker System Integrated
$0
Keyboard/Mouse Logitech EX 100
$30
Total
$741 / $463

Also check out our mid-range and high-end system configurations.