The Budget Box

• Decent performance • Good for everyday computing • Very lightweight gaming

If you just want to watch YouTube videos and check your email, you could probably get by with a tablet. However, if you follow our budget build, you'll have a system acceptable for any role besides running graphically intense applications. Throw a budget graphics card into the mix -- which can be had for less than a $100 -- and you'll have a humble solution to gaming as well.

Component Product Alternative Price
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-F2A88XM-HD3 MSI A88XM-E35 FM2+ $60
Processor AMD A8-6600K AMD A8-5600K $100
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws 4GB DDR3-2000 Corsair XMS 4GB DDR3-1600 $50
Graphics Integrated - $0
Sound Integrated - $0
Storage SanDisk SDSSDP-128G WD Green 1TB $55
Optical Samsung SH-224DB/RSBS LG GH24NSB0B $20
Case Cooler Master Elite 350 + 500w PSU Thermaltake V2 Plus + 450w PSU $60
Monitor Viewsonic VA2037m-LED 20" Asus VS208N-P 20" LED $110
Speakers Logitech LS21 2.1 - $30
Peripherals Logitech Wireless Combo MK260 - $25
Core System Total
$345
Core System + Monitor and Peripherals
$510

Motherboard, Processor, Memory

AMD reclaimed a seat in our Budget Box back in 2011 with its Llano-based desktop APUs and it has maintained that position with its Trinity and Richland chips. Although we'd have no problem recommending the newer Kaveri-based A8-7600 over the A8-6600K, the former doesn't seem to be available yet. If that changes before our next update, the A8-7600 is a better choice as it consumes around half the power and delivers similar performance (both Gigabyte and MSI boards recommended above will work with Kaveri APUs).

In our review of the Richland APUs, we found the part's general execution to be slower than Intel's offerings while consuming more power, but its integrated graphics core was significantly faster, exceeding some entry-level discrete graphics cards. At ~$100, the A8-6600K is a great solution for budget system builders, especially if you intend to run some lightweight games without a dedicated graphics card.

However, if you do plan to employ a discrete GPU, we'd opt for Intel's $125 Core i3-3220 as it's more efficient and costs less while offering solid performance, particularly with single-threaded tasks. Although it's mostly useless for gaming, the i3-3220's integrated HD 2500 IGP is more than suitable for basic tasks. We'd pair it with the Asrock H77M.

While you could save a little cash by purchasing 2GB of RAM for basic productivity and browsing, the chosen Gigabyte FM2 board only has two RAM slots. That being the case, it seems like a better idea to fill them with at least 4GB instead of potentially shorting yourself. Better safe than sorry as they say, and DDR3 RAM is cheap at the moment with a 2x2GB kit running as little as $20. Likewise, given how AMD APUs scale with higher frequency RAM, you might as well buy 1866MHz modules over 1333MHz ones.

Graphics, Sound

This build is not intended for graphically demanding tasks, but adding a relatively low-cost GPU like the Radeon HD 7750 will seriously boost your frame rate. Assuming that's still outside your budget, you can expect fairly acceptable performance in many PC games when playing on the A8-6600K or A8-7600, especially if you're into free-to-play releases. Along with the APU's integrated graphics, the chosen motherboard has a 8-channel Realtek audio chipset and integrated sound is more than sufficient for a basic machine.

Storage

The way hard drives are priced these days, a few extra dollars can literally yield a 50% increase in storage space -- and gigabytes disappear faster than you think. But if you're certain you won't need the additional storage, you're welcome to save a couple bucks by choosing a less capacious drive. If you happen to already have a storage drive laying around, it'd probably make sense to invest the cash in a low capacity SSD boot drive.

Starting from scratch we suggest two options depending on your needs and they both cost roughly $55. If storage capacity is a priority then the WD Green 1TB is a wise investment. However if you can get away with 128GB of storage space then we highly recommend the SanDisk SDSSDP-128G as it will make this budget build considerably more responsive.

Power, Case

For budget builds I have always gone for cases that come pre-loaded with a power supply as you simply cannot purchase them separately for the same price. There are plenty of case and power supply combos to choose from and to be honest, most of them are pretty awful. Most comprise of paper thin, razor sharp cases fitted with featherweight power supplies.

However, the Cooler Master Elite series features relatively high quality cases with decent power supplies. I have purchased several dozen of these for friends and family and one has yet to fail.

It's possible to purchase the Cooler Master Elite 350 complete with a Cooler Master 500w power supply for just $60, a combo that’s hard to beat. If the Cooler Master Elite series isn’t available to you then the Thermaltake V2 Plus with its 450w power supply is the next best thing.

Monitor

A 20" display doesn't sound like much these days, and there's no denying it's toward the smaller end of desktop monitors. The Viewsonic VA2037m-LED 20" features a native resolution of 1600x900 and unless you've already been spoiled by high-res displays this should prove adequate for general computing tasks. No sub-$150 screen is going to have superb imagery and most are comparable enough in quality that you're safe buying anything with decent reviews.

You can probably get by with just finding something that fits your required size and resolution, though it should be noted that the chosen HP display features an IPS panel with better colors and viewing angles than you'll likely get with standard TN-based models at the same price point. We should also mention that the Pavilion 20xi doesn't have built-in speakers, so you'll have to purchase an external set -- a move we're confident you'll be happier with anyway, as integrated speakers are rarely enjoyable.

Mouse & Keyboard

Unless you intend to use this machine for lengthy productivity sessions or heavy gaming, you can probably get by with a basic wired or wireless keyboard and mouse set. We recommend Logitech's budget MK260 wireless combo, which features 128-bit AES encryption, a handful of multimedia and web keys, as well as a spill-resistant design. The keyboard gets up to two years of battery life and the mouse can last about five months.