TechSpot PC Buying Guide (2013-2014)
Page 2 : The Budget BoxBy
When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
The Budget Box
If you just want to watch YouTube videos and check your email, you could probably even get by with a tablet. However, 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 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.
|Motherboard||MSI A88XM-E35 FM2+||$60|
|Memory||2x2GB G.Skill Ripjaws DDR3 1866MHz||$50|
|Storage||Western Digital Caviar Blue 500GB||$60|
|Power||Corsair Builder Series CX430||$45|
|Case||NZXT Source 210 Elite||$50|
|Monitor||Asus VS207D-P 20"||$100|
|Speakers||Logitech LS21 2.1||$30|
|Peripherals||Logitech Wireless Combo MK260||$25|
|Core System Total||$425|
|Core System + Monitor and Peripherals||$580|
Motherboard, Processor, Memory
AMD reclaimed a seat in our Budget Box a couple years ago 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 A10-6800K, but 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 (the MSI board above will work with Kaveri APUs).
In our review of the A10-6800K, 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 ~$150, the A10-6800K 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 ASRock 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.
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 A10-6800K 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.
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 such as the Samsung 840 Evo 120GB for less than $90.
You wouldn't put diluted gas in your car and you shouldn't feed your PC dirty power. The instability offered by your typical no-name PSU will lead to an untimely failure, leaving you with an unglamorous paperweight. In short, friends shouldn't let friends buy cheap power supplies. Corsair's CX430 will not only provide this build with all the power it could ever need, it should also meet the requirements of most entry-level video cards in circulation.
There are plenty of basic sub-$50 chassis and the NZXT Source 210 Elite is our personal pick with a front USB 3.0 port, plenty of space for expandability and stock 120mm/140mm fans, which should be more than sufficient for a system with no discrete graphics and perfectly fine if you decide to add one later. It's almost always available with free shipping, which is a major plus if you're buying a 14lb metal box.
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 Asus VS207D-P 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 boast 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.