System Buyers Guide: PCs under $800by Wesley Fink on March 16, 2009 2:00 AM EST
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AMD Entry-level PC
A year ago our entry AMD was single-core, last December 40% less money bought a 2.6GHz dual-core system, and today's AMD entry system uses a Black Edition unlocked 2.7GHz dual-core that costs a few dollars less than our choice just three months ago. That is certainly increased value in an economy that forces most buyers to look closely at price. With memory so cheap we have continued our recommendation of 4GB at a kit price of just $37. You can go with 2GB and save $18, but that money is well spent in doubling memory. The hard drive remains at 500GB.
|AMD Entry-level PC|
|Processor||Athlon 64 X2 7750 Kuma 2.7GHz Black Edition
(2.7GHzx2 95W 2x512KB L2)
|Cooling||CPU Retail HSF||$-|
|Motherboard||ASRock A780GXE/128M 780G||$80|
|Memory||G.Skill 4GB (2x2GB) DDR2-800||$37|
|Hard Drive||WD Caviar GP WD5000AACS 500GB||$60|
|Optical Drive||Samsung 22X DVDRW/DL SH-S223Q||$25|
|Case||SIGMA La Vie ABWBP Black Aluminum/ SECC ATX Mid Tower with 500W Power Supply||$60|
|Power Supply||Included with Case||$-|
|Base System Total||$322|
|Display||Hanns-G HB-175APB Black 17" 8ms Widescreen LCD Monitor Built in Speakers - Retail (1440x900)||$99|
|Speakers||Built into Monitor||$-|
|Input||Microsoft CA9-00001 Black PS/2 Standard Keyboard and Optical USB/PS2 Mouse - OEM||$16|
|Operating System||Microsoft Vista Home Premium OEM||$99|
|Complete System Bottom Line||$536|
Prices on all processors are continuing to drop in the face of the aggressive pricing strategy adopted by Intel in entry to upper midrange processors. The $60 AMD 2.7GHz dual-core is a faster CPU at a slightly lower price than our December guide. Not only is it faster but it's also a Black Edition (unlocked) CPU. Most have been easily running at 3.0GHz just by increasing the multiplier. If you want even more power the Phenom 8750 triple-core Black Edition is a good value for just $44 more ($104). However, for most users the Athlon 64 X2 7750 provides plenty of power for an entry system. If you're counting pennies you could drop down to a single-core 2.6GHz Orleans 45W processor for $42 and save $18.
The 780G chipset is one of the best budget IGP designs we have worked with over the years. This is the chipset that made integrated graphics relevant again. One of the best boards in this price category is the ASRock A780GXE. The A780GXE features AMD/ATI Radeon 3200 integrated graphics. ASRock loads the board with six 3Gb/s SATA ports featuring RAID 0/1/10, 5.1 HD Audio, Gigabit LAN, two PCI-E x16 slots, one PCI-E x1 slot, three PCI slots, and support for 16GB of memory. Durability is addressed with solid capacitors for CPU power and duracap long-life capacitors for the rest. This board has been rock solid for us and supports AM2/AM2+ and the newest AM3 CPUs. The A780GXE has 128MB of sideport memory for additional performance. It fully supports the 140W Phenoms, and it can do dual x8 CrossFire. The A780GXE used to be a $100 board, so it is a good value at the current $80 price. It is ATX format, and ASRock also manufactures the A780FullHD motherboard, which at $57 may be a better choice for those pinching pennies. However, the extra performance of sideport memory and the better chipset for the $23 price difference is worth it in our opinion.
The case and power supply are the Sigma 500W La Vie mid-tower. This case and power supply are currently on sale after a $25 rebate for $40. Sigma makes both decent cases and decent power supplies that are sold separately. While no one will mistake this case/PSU combo for one of the premium Sigma offerings, it is still good quality and good value for a very reasonable price. Even if you pay the regular price of $60 to $65 you will get good value in this combo. We have built several entry systems with the Sigma case and PSU and had good results and stable performance. The only caveat is to check out the case when it arrives as shipping can take its toll on the case front door.
If you prefer a smaller case to mate with your Micro ATX motherboard the HEC 6K28BSOH48D Micro ATX mini-tower used in the Intel entry system is a good choice. It is a solid small case with a power supply from HEC, which is one of the world's best PSU makers. You should generally go for the best case and power supply you can reasonably afford, so you should also look at the cases and power supplies recommended for more expensive systems if you plan to keep your case/PSU and merely upgrade other components in the future.
With DDR2 prices so very low, we went for 4GB of DDR2-800 this time. This is double last year's entry recommendation for less than half the price. This 50% to 75% drop in DDR2-800 memory prices in the past year is why you're not seeing much memory advertising these days. RAM prices as a whole are certainly in the commodity category as of late. We recommended the G.Skill 4GB DDR2-800 CAS 5 kit, but you could just as easily choose OCZ, Kingston, Corsair, Crucial, Geil, Patriot, A-Data or any other quality DDR2-800 name and shop for the memory based on a combination of price and the company's support reputation. Again, if you are truly pinching pennies you can save about $18 by going with a 2GB DDR2-800 kit instead at $19 to $20.
Hard drive capacity continues to grow, as you can see in our selection of the Western Digital Caviar 500GB for our entry system. It seems a waste to choose a lower HD capacity when 500GB is now available for around $60 - even from www.amazon.com. While there are differences between hard drives, outside of running benchmarks most people aren't likely to notice the difference in performance between Western Digital, Seagate, Samsung, Hitachi and other major brands. All are worthy of consideration if the price per gigabyte (or terabyte) is right.
For the optical drive we went for value with the dependable Samsung 22X DVD. With the rise of the 25GB/50GB Blu-ray burners, DVD writers have continued to drop in price. A DVD writer that supports double-layer and 22X DVD writes for $25 is a bargain indeed.
The last major component to discuss is the display, and here the tilt was toward price. $99 is a really low price for an LCD monitor, and the Hanns-G is a 17" widescreen that supports a native resolution of 1440x900. This is the resolution supported by most 19" and 20" widescreen monitors. You will not give up resolution with this monitor, but things will be a bit smaller.
If your budget allows, you can choose the 19" Acer X193Wb with the same 1440x900 resolution at $120, or a 21.5" Viewsonic VX2233wm with true HD 1920x1080 resolution at $170. 21.5"/22" True HD is today's sweet spot, since the next step up to 23.6"/24" starts around $250. If your budget can stretch to $170, that is money well spent on a 21.5" 16:9 HD widescreen display.
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scwtlover - Monday, March 16, 2009 - linkThanks. Do you have an opinion regarding the significance of voltage?
Wesley Fink - Monday, March 16, 2009 - linkAt the same speed or overclock lower voltages that actually work are always better. Higher voltage allows some incredible performance but high voltages shorten component life. If two memories are honestly rated at the same speed and timings but one is lower voltage at that speed, the low voltage is the better choice.
There are fewer variations in memory speed, timings, and voltages than you might imagine, though. Almost every memory vendor buys memory chips on the open market. When one company stumbles onto a terrific new chip or PCB it isn't long until most of the major players have the same thing. Expertise in PCB design and SPD programming can matter in performance, but not nearly as much as the actual memory chip and binning used.
scwtlover - Tuesday, March 17, 2009 - linkI apologize for not asking my question more clearly. I understand your general point regarding lower voltages putting less stress on computer parts. I see, however, that while I can get quality 800 DDR2 RAM at 1.8 volts and CAS 5, to get quality 1066 DDR2 RAM at CAS 5, the RAM spec will be 2.0V or even higher. What considerations come into play in making this choice for an AMD system?
erple2 - Tuesday, March 17, 2009 - linkBy "incredible performance" do you mean that are visible in benchmarks only, or in real world usage?
scwtlover - Monday, March 16, 2009 - linkAfter reading your praise of ASRock's 780GX board for the AMD entry-level system, I was surprised not to find it even mentioned for the AMD budget system. Currently, it's $5 less expensive than the Biostar board you do recommend. As I try to finalize components for my own new build, should I being drawing adverse conclusions about the ASRock 790GX board?
MFK - Monday, March 16, 2009 - linkWhats the deal with those these days?
I got a cable box for my cable signals but I need my HTPC to act as a DVR.
I think any HTPC should include a TIVO card. Doesn't have to be a TV tuner though!
What would be the cheapest way to add DVR functionality to the HTPCs in the article?
BernardP - Monday, March 16, 2009 - linkAll the suggestions are nice and well-balanced. However, monitor choices on the entry-level systems seem questionable. Yes, you have to meet the price point, but these days, it seems 22-inch monitor have become the minimum worth spending money on. Spending on a brand-new 17-inch or 19-inch monitor seems a waste, unless someone has not enough space to fit a larger monitor.
The0ne - Monday, March 16, 2009 - linkI agree. 22" LCDs have the sweet spot now. Even the 24"s are coming down in price.
Spivonious - Monday, March 16, 2009 - linkWhy no tuner in the HTPC? Also, since the 9400 chipset handles all decoding, why use a beefy processor? Also, a 500W power supply is way overkill. 350W would be plenty and probably quieter too.
Save $30 on the CPU and go with the E1400.
Other than that, it looks almost exactly like the HTPC I spec'ed for myself last week, only to find out that my bonus was not very big after Uncle Sam got to it.
7Enigma - Monday, March 16, 2009 - linkDid you read the article? They gave an explaination (whether you agree with it or not):
[quote]"Since most end-users are on cable or satellite for TV, we will make no recommendations at all for a TV tuner. Of the many possible uses of an HTPC the great majority of end-users store, play, and stream movies with their HTPC computers. That is mostly what their HTPC systems are used for and that is where we have concentrated our recommendations. In general the processing power in both systems has increased since our December 2009 guide, but costs have gone down a bit."
"As we discussed in the HTPC introduction, we did not include a TV tuner in the configuration since most end-users are now using their cable and satellite feeds. Few users, therefore, have any real need for a TV tuner card." [/quote]
As for the beefy processor I somewhat agree with you. If all you are doing is playing movies and such then a lowly cpu is all that is needed due to the mobo. But any form of heavy processing work such as encoding to highly compressed formats, or multitasking while watching a video and it makes sense. Having the better cpu certainly gives you the flexibility to do more than just watch movies.