Since last November AnandTech has looked at most of the components in the various system configurations you might want to purchase. This included specialty guides for Core i7 Systems at the high-end and our most recent guide for the newest CPUs in the Phenom II System Guide. The one constant in the computer market is change, and generally new product introductions bring greater value to market segments affected by the new CPU - and those downstream from the announcement.

That is certainly the case with the new AMD Phenom II, which started a midrange price war. After the Phenom II launch Intel responded quickly with Core 2 price cuts, and AMD countered with price adjustments that placed the Phenom II processors at price points where they compete very well with similarly priced Intel Core 2 processors. AMD then filled out their 45nm Phenom II line with models that extended to the upper end of the entry market, which squeezed other models in both lineups and created further price adjustments.

Now that the dust has settled for a while it is time to take another look at the entry-level computer systems. Low-end PCs have a reputation for being sub-standard, underpowered, and barely better than off-the-shelf PCs. That certainly was true in the past, but with the continuing drop in component prices, you can get a lot of PC today for your $300 to $800. About a year ago it would cost you about $700 to $750 to put together an entry system. Today you can build a similar but more powerful system for about $200 to $400 less.

We last looked at entry systems in late December with our buyers' guide for PCs under $1000. At that point prices had dropped to the point that $1000 was starting to look more midrange than entry, which is why that guide focused on cost rather than "classification". Prices have continued their slide, particularly in processors, to the point that our guide now focuses on complete PC systems for under $800.

Component classes and individual items were covered in detail in the various component guides in December. You will find those a useful reference for many of the components chosen in these system guides. This guide will take a closer look at the complete systems you can build for less than $800 these days. We have also revised the component tables with a subtotal for the basic system without speakers, I/O, display, or OS as several readers have requested. With a quick glance you can now see the cost to build a basic box which many would consider in a system upgrade. You can also see the total to build a complete system with all the peripherals needed for a balanced brand new setup.

In this guide we will be taking a look three common categories of systems you can now buy for under $800. This includes the entry-Level PCs that represent the best value for a basic box costing around $300 or a complete system for around $500. The bar is then raised with budget PCs that feature the most bang for the buck closer to $500 for the basic box and the $800 price point for a complete system.

It was a bit of surprise to find you could build very capable AMD and Intel machines, complete with keyboard, mouse, operating system, and a Full HD widescreen monitor for less than $800. These all rely on integrated graphics, but it is very easy to add a capable discrete graphics card if you require more graphics power and still end up well below $1000. In reality, dedicated gaming rigs normally begin in the midrange spectrum and entry PCs are normally the realm of integrated graphics. However, CPU prices are so low today with so much power that it would be very easy to add a $100 to $150 video card and end up with powerful graphics that can easily tackle gaming.

All of our recommendations are upgradable - even the cheapest entry boxes. You never know where your computer interest might lead, so options for future upgrades are always a good idea. The storage recommendations may seem overkill to some, but there is little reason to choose a smaller hard drive when you can buy 500GB of hard drive storage for $59 and a 1000GB (1TB) drive for just $100. Since most will have trouble filling 500GB on an entry PC we didn't choose anything larger, but you can easily double your storage to 1TB for just $40 to $50 more.

Finally, we put together basic HTPC computers to deliver video content to your home theater. HTPC builders have normally already selected a display/TV and the sound system. For that reason we did not include either the display or speakers in the basic HTPC component selections. With the current CPU and chipset power available in the entry to lower mid-range it is amazing how much video-crunching power you can put into an HTPC at such a low price.

AMD Entry-level PC
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  • Spivonious - Monday, March 16, 2009 - link

    What's the point of an HTPC if you're just watching movies on it? Just get a $300 blu-ray player and a $200 Xbox 360 to stream movies from your existing PC.

    The only reason I would build an HTPC is to do the above PLUS act as a DVR. For that you need a tuner card, even if you're not using the actual tuner on it.
  • erple2 - Monday, March 16, 2009 - link

    Interesting. How many tuner cards support CableCARD's? I don't really know of any that you can buy yourself (without the rest of the computer from an OEM, that is). If I want to watch some encrypted stream (like HBO, Comedy Central, etc), there aren't any options.

    Therefore, the ripping aspect is what I'd wind up using the HTPC for, I'd imagine. That, or the ubiquitous hulu or other ... ahem ... legal means for watching TV shows...

  • Hrel - Monday, March 16, 2009 - link

    Don't know why you guys didn't include a gaming machine for this price point... so I'll list out some components for you.

    Part : Price
    Antec 300 Mid-Tower computer case : $60
    Scythe S-FLEX SFF21D 120mm Case Fan : $15
    Silverstone ST70F 700W PSU : $125-rebate=100

    GIGABYTE GA-EP45-UD3R Intel P45 : $115-rebate=100
    Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 Wolfdale 3.0GHz : $165
    Kingston HyperX 4GB(2 x 2GB) DDR2 800 : $48

    XFX GS250XYDFC GeForce GTS 250 512MB : $130 w/ free game
    Seagate ST3640323AS 640GB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache: $70
    LG 22X DVD±R DVD Burner with LightScribe Blk : $24

    Grand Total= $752 Total with rebates= $712

    Throw in a second hard drive and set up a RAID 0 configuration for 50 percent faster load times and your total is still only $782!!!!

    Add SAMSUNG 2233SW Monitor for $200 ($180 after rebate) and Logitech S-220 17 Watts 2.1 speakers for only $23 and your total is still only $915 or $985 with RAID!!!

    You can even add a TV Tuner for $50-$80 and make it a media pc as well and ur total is STILL only about $800.

    Hauppauge WinTV HVR-1250 Hybrid Video Recorder 1196 PCI-Express x1 Interface
    Hauppauge WINTVHVR1600 Dual Tuner White Box 1101WB PCI Interface
  • Knowname - Tuesday, March 17, 2009 - link

    I just bought the Tuniq Potency 650w PSU, it's got 2 pcie connectors (one is 8 pin) and is like 88% efficient at the low end. for $45 after $40 rebate it's a pretty darned good deal. Much more bang for your buck than what you got.">

    here is another one that is 630w, modular, 80-plus bronze efficient, 2pcie's and only $40 after rebate. I've not tried it but it's got good reviews.

  • Hrel - Saturday, March 21, 2009 - link

    yeah, both of those seem pretty good, but they both have fewer 12V rails, they both have less total Wattage and they both have a shorter warranty or none at all. Not to mention Silverstone is reliable high quality, honestly I don't really know if those are any good, in todays market I assume they're not terrible; but the silverstone one hav tons of wattage plenty of amperage, it's modular, it's 88 percent efficient; and that's a reliable number, and it's quiet. I don't know how stable the voltage is on those psu's and I don't know how loud they are. But 100 bucks for a high quality 700W PSU with 4 12V rails that runs silent and has 4 PCIEx6pin and 1PCIEx8 pin connectors is very fair. The other ones only had two PCIE-connectors, so you won't be SLI'ing any 9800GTX+'s or GTX260's. Don't every skimp on mobo or PSU, EVER!
  • Knowname - Tuesday, March 17, 2009 - link">
  • Hrel - Monday, March 16, 2009 - link

    If your really concerned with noise, you should get this case.
    NZXT HUSH Black SECC Steel/ Aluminum/ Plastic ATX Mid Tower Computer Case">

    it's awesome and priced fairly.

    Don't care about noise and want good cooling? Get one of these.
    Thermaltake V9">
    Antec 900">
  • Hrel - Monday, March 16, 2009 - link

    You can take another ten bucks off that price if you use this case instead: Thermaltake WingRS 201 VJ60001N2Z Black, it's $50; but it's out of stock right now.
  • Hrel - Monday, March 16, 2009 - link

    Not really dude: If you want to game, spend an extra 20 bucks and get the Wolfdale CPU, double the cache and a faster FSB AND a higher clock speed. They've got you spending an extra 20 bucks on the motherboard for no reason, there's no reason to their Gigabyte board instead of the one I listed. They have you paying for 1066MHz DDR2 instead of DDR2 800, which doesn't matter if you don't wanna overclock; and I'd rather have Kingston DDR2800 over any other brand of DDR21066 if the prices are about the same.

    With my system you get an extra 140GB of storage for only 10 bucks and your getting Seagate instead of WD, that doesn't really matter as far as quality, but Seagate generally has a better Warranty. They've got you buying a Samsung DVD drive when for one dollar less you can get an LG drive; so that's a pretty obvious choice, LG beats ALL!

    I've never liked Cooler Master cases, every single one I've worked with has felt like is was built using cheap materials. Antec 300 is a much better choice for cooling quality noise and room. The power supply they use costs less, but it's lower wattage which means more noise, and the fan makes more noise. The Silverstone 700W PSU, that anandtech reviewed, is almost always the way to go; unless your building a low end system or stupidly high end system.

    I don't know if any of you have tried to deal with Viewsonic when you have to return one of their products or get warranty work done, but they're impossible to work with. We used to use them at the computer store I worked at, but we switched to only Samsung and LG because even though Viewsonic is cheaper, their warranties are worthless because they just won't help you; and the quality is lower. For 5 bucks I'd rather have the speakers I picked, but those are good too. I didn't list a keyboard mouse combo, but Logitech all the way. The one they used for HTPC computers was a good choice at a good price.
  • 7Enigma - Monday, March 16, 2009 - link

    The problem is they are building a complete system. $20 here and $20 there, having a monitor, and keyboard/mouse, and suddenly you've increased the price by >10%.

    I like these builds because it allows me to say, "Well I already have an existing case/mobo/monitor/keyboard/mouse/OS, so I can look at the Budget Build but cut the cost in 1/2".

    I think most of us that build systems rarely have a completely new system from scratch to build (unless you are building for someone else). We normally keep the case for a couple builds, monitor for a couple, and personally I use the keyboard/mouse until they die. I only recently upgraded the HD from my 80gig Maxtor to a 250gig WD because of the huge size of Vista and the ever increasing size of games. So while we will probably always argue over the exact components, rarely are we going to be building a complete system like in the guides.

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