In this guide, we will help you build the definitive budget PC. The price range for this is between $600 and $1000, so there isn’t a lot of wiggle room, but we promise you an excellent PC. While trying to keep as close to the low end of the budget as possible, we have included areas to upgrade certain elements for better performance (at a higher cost). So without further introduction, let’s build a computer…
ASRock 775Dual-VSTA Socket - $ 60
ASRock’s 775Dual-VSTA is just about the best budget-motherboard that we can recommend. With performance that is on par with other, more expensive mainboards, it comes at a quarter of their price. In addition, this board fully supports older hardware, such as DDR400 and AGP 8X. So, if you have an older PC and are upgrading, you can save your old RAM and GPU and save some money. The board features 2 hookups for both DDR and DDR2 memory (for a total of 4 sticks), AGP 8x and PCIe x16 slots, two PATA ports (for up to 4 drives), two SATA ports, onboard audio, four USB ports, and several PCI slots for upgrades. While it may not be bleeding edge, for $60 you get backwards and forward compatibility.
Intel Pentium D 805 - $ 100
Or upgrade to: Intel Core 2 Duo E6300 – $ 100
With the Conroe chips being released, Intel is dropping the MSRP of the Pentium D 805 to about $90. This 2.66GHz dual-core chip is quite a bargain for the price range. Build on a 90nm process, the chip is 64-bit and Windows Vista compatible. So, while it may be one of Intel’s older chips, it will still be good for a long time to come. The FSB used by this chip is only 533MHz, but it does give excellent overclocking potential.
The optional upgrade is the brand-spanking new Core 2 Duo E6300. By the time this article is published, they should be on the market and ready to be bought. For an extra seventy dollars, you can get performance that is on par with AMD’s X2 4600 chip, quite a bargain! If you can afford the extra price, it is highly recommended that you get the E6300. You can easily expect a dollar-for-dollar performance increase, easily seeing double the frame rates in games with the E6300 vs. the Pentium D 805.
Corsair Value Select DDR2-667 1GB (512MB x 2) - $ 90
While our mainboard supports DDR and DDR2 memory, AMD’s recent adoption of the DDR2 standard has driven prices down. It is now actually cheaper to get DDR2-667 memory than it would be to get DDR400. This is extremely cheap memory, and Corsair’s Value Select series offer excellent performance without killing your wallet.
That being said, if you have some DDR400 sticks from your last computer, we recommend saving the money and using your current RAM. Since the recommended mainboard supports it, we can’t really justify throwing away your old sticks if you’re on a budget.
Gigabyte ATI Radeon X1300 Pro 256MB - $ 75
Or upgrade to: NVIDIA GeForce 7600GT 256MB - $ 175
With DX10 cards rumored to be released this fall (with a possible announcement from nVidia at Siggraph 2006), the older generation of cards are on their way out. This may not be bad news for all however, since these next-generation cards could have steep power requirements, many may not be able to upgrade, making the current batch of DX9 cards viable for some time to come.
Our entry-level choice this month is the Radeon X1300 Pro. At the same price level as the GeForce 7300, it offers better performance. In addition, Gigabyte’s version features a fan-less design, allowing for totally silent operation. The card features a 600MHz core clock with 256MBs of 800MHz GDDR2 RAM, both D-SUB and DVI hookups, and is Windows Vista ready.
Our optional upgrade is the GeForce 7600GT, which is one of the best bang-for-your-buck cards out there. Featuring a 580MHz core with 256MBs of 1500MHz GDDR3 RAM, this card is considerably faster than the X1300 at a little over twice the cost, you can easily get twice the performance.