The Budget PC ($500)

Granted, if you just need to create a few documents and check your email, you can get by on much less than a $500 desktop. Hell, a $300 netbook can tackle that job while remaining ultra-portable. Buying a netbook is a worthy route for the road warrior, but desktops still reign supreme in cost-to-performance terms and upgradability.

If you follow our Budget build to the T, you'll have a system acceptable for any role apart from running graphically intense applications. Throw a budget video card into the mix - which can be had for less than a $100 these days - and you'll have a humble solution to gaming.

Asus P5KPL-CM - $55
Built around microATX standards and Intel's G31 and ICH7 chipsets, the Asus P5KPL-CM has support for 45nm LGA 775 Intel processors with a 1333MHz front side bus (1600MHz via overclocking). It houses two 240-pin DIMM slots with support for up to 4GB of DDR2 1066MHz RAM, a single PCI-E x16 and x1 slot, two PCI slots, one PATA and four SATA II host adapters, an Intel GMA 3100 graphics chip, four USB ports, on-board audio and Ethernet.

This board offers just the right features and price to make it a perfect solution for someone that needs basic functionality. The P5KPL-CM carries on-board video, so you won't need to splurge for a dedicated GPU right now - but should you decide to tomorrow, the door is open.

Intel Pentium E5200 - $66
If any two components in this build absolutely belong together, it's the Intel Pentium E5200 and Asus P5KPL-CM. This CPU is built on 45nm tech and features a 2.5GHz clock frequency, 800MHz FSB and 2MB L2 cache. At stock it will provide all the muscle you need and then some when faced against general PC use.

Should you decide to step things up, the E5200 overclocks like a champ. Some users report obtaining speeds upward of 4GHz, so 3GHz is almost guaranteed.

G.Skill 4GB DDR2 Kit F2-8500CL5D-4GBPQ - $55
The motherboard we've suggested only has two DIMM slots. That being the case, if you buy a 2GB kit now, and decide you want 4GB later on, you'll have to remove your old RAM and park it on a bench. If that's alright with you then by all means buy a 2GB kit (which is plenty for a simple office PC).

We feel that with today's memory prices, you might as well just buy a 4GB kit (2 x 2GB) flat out. For $50 you have a decent selection, but we recommend G.Skill's F2-8500CL5D-4GBPQ, which operates at 2.0V, has a frequency of 1066MHz and a CAS latency of 5.

Hard Disk Drive:
Samsung Spinpoint F1 500GB - $55
Mechanical hard drives are so cheap these days that opting for an 80GB model will save you a mere $20 or less. It would seem that the current sweet-spot is about 500GB, which runs between $50 and $60 in most cases. Even then, you can double the capacity to 1TB for another $25.

Samsung's Spinpoint F1 HD502lJ is nothing out of the ordinary. It conforms to SATA II standards, has a rotational speed of 7200RPM, 500GB of storage, 16MB cache, an average seek of 8.9ms and an average latency of 4.17ms. Features include PMR and FOD technology, NoiseGuard and SilentSeek.

Optical Drive:
LG GH22NP20 - $30
The LG GH22NP20 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:
Corsair CMPSU-400CX - $50
Let's face it, you wouldn't put watered-down gas in your car and you shouldn't feed your PC dirty power. The instability offered by your typical no-name PSU will inexorably lead to an untimely failure, leaving you with an unglamorous paperweight. In short, friends shouldn't let friends buy cheap power supplies.

Corsair has a great deal on a modestly endowed power supply, the CMPSU-400CX. With a maximum output of 400W, it keeps cool with a 120mm fan, has 30A on a single +12V rail, is 80 PLUS Certified and ships with all the connectors you'll need. The CMPSU-400CX is often coupled with a $20 rebate, which brings its total to $29.99.

Basic Rosewill Chassis - $25
With no dedicated video card, a low-power CPU and few components overall, a single exhaust fan should suffice on the thermal-front. Cases with a rear-mounted 120mm fan start at about $25 and are robust enough to withstand a basic build.

Take a look at any of the following Rosewill models and you'll probably find something that both you and your bank account can agree on: R218, R220, R222, R223, and R226-P-BK.

Asus 20-inch VH202T - $130
A monitor's display size is much like a hard drive's storage capacity. While 250GB of storage may seem roomy and a 17" panel looks grand - you will outgrow them, sooner or later. If you intend to use your new display for heavy work sessions, it will only be a matter of time before you're considering dual displays.

Taking rebates into consideration, for an extra $30 you can bump the screen size by a few inches and the resolution up to 1920x1080 or 1920x1200. If a 20" display sitting on your desk will satisfy you, take a look at Asus' VH20T-P. It features a 1600 x 900 resolution, a pixel pitch of .277mm, ASCR 20000:1 contrast ratio, 160/160-degrees viewing angle, 5ms response time, brightness of 300 cd/m2, a single D-Sub and DVI port, and two 1W speakers.

Input Devices:
Logitech EX 110 - $30
There aren't too many wireless keyboard and mouse combos at this price, let alone many which aren't total crap. The Logitech EX 110 is the perfect solution for basic use.

All in all, for $30 you are unlikely to find something to top the EX 110 in the wireless department, but the Microsoft Wired Desktop 600 gives it a run for its money at $28.

Our $500 Budget PC, in a nutshell...
Motherboard Asus P5KPL-CM
Processor Intel Pentium E5200
Memory G.Skill 4GB DDR2 Kit
Hard Disk Drive Samsung Spinpoint F1 500GB
Optical Drive LG GH22NP20
Power Supply Corsair CMPSU-400CX
Case Basic Rosewill Chassis
Monitor Asus 20-inch VH202T
Input Devices Logitech EX 110