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The Budget Box
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.
|Memory||G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-2133||$63|
|Storage||Crucial BX100 120GB or WD Green 2TB||$68|
|Case||Cooler Master Elite 350 + 500w PSU||$60|
|Monitor||Viewsonic VA2037m-LED 20"||$110|
|Speakers||Logitech LS21 2.1||$40|
|Peripherals||Logitech Wireless Combo MK260||$40|
Core System Total
Core System + Monitor and Peripherals
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, Richland and now Kaveri chips. The Kaveri-based APUs have been shrunk down to the 28nm process and as a result consume considerably less power.
In our Kaveri review, 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 A8-7650K 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 $110 Core i3-4150 as it's more efficient and offer superior performance, particularly with single-threaded tasks. Although it's mostly useless for gaming, the i3-4150's integrated HD 4400 IGP is more than suitable for basic tasks. We'd pair it with the Gigabyte H81M-S1 ($40).
While you could save a little cash by purchasing 4GB of RAM for basic productivity and browsing, the chosen MSI A68HM-E33 board only has two RAM slots. That being the case, it seems like a better idea to fill them with at least 8GB instead of potentially shorting yourself. Better safe than sorry as they say. Likewise, given how AMD APUs scale with higher frequency RAM, you might as well buy 2133MHz modules over 1600MHz or even 1866MHz ones.
This build is not intended for graphically demanding tasks, but adding a relatively low-cost GPU like the Radeon HD 7750 will bring a serious boost in frame rates. If 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 ALC887 audio chipset and integrated sound is more than sufficient for a basic machine.
The way hard drives are priced these days, a few extra dollars can yield a 50% increase in storage space – and gigabytes disappear faster than you think. If you're certain you won't need the additional storage, you can 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 $70. If storage capacity is a priority then the WD Green 2TB is a wise investment. However if you can get away with 120GB of storage then we highly recommend the Crucial BX100 120GB as it will make this budget build considerably more responsive.
For budget builds I have always gone for cases that come preloaded 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 paper thin, razor sharp cases packing 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.
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.