Intel Entry-level PC

Intel still owns the pole position in CPU performance, but the area from entry to upper midrange is very competitive between Intel and AMD. In fact, as pointed out in the recent Phenom II Buyers' Guide, AMD is often the better value in the broad midrange category. The only area still dominated by Intel is the very top, where CPUs cost $280 and more.

The one advantage that remains for Intel is that their processors generally overclock better than current AMD CPUs. That has changed with Phenom II in the midrange, but most of today's entry AMD processors still use older designs that do not overclock as well as Intel choices. Overclocking is not normally a consideration in entry computers, but it could be for some buyers, and at the lowest rungs of the CPU ladder Intel processors remain the best overclockers for now.

Intel Entry-level PC
Hardware Component Price
Processor Intel Pentium Dual-Core E5200 Wolfdale
(Dual-core 2.5GHz, 45nm, 65W, 2MB shared L2, 800FSB)
Cooling CPU Retail HSF -
Video On-Board -
Motherboard ASUS P5QL-CM G43 HMDI uATX $80
Memory Patriot Viper Model PVS24G6400LLK
4GB DDR2-800 4-4-4 ($52 less $25 Rebate)
Hard Drive WD Caviar GP WD5000AACS 500GB $55
Optical Drive Sony Optiarc Model AD-7240S-OB 24X DVDRW SATA $24
Audio On-Board -
Case SIGMA La Vie LBYWBP Leather Mid-Tower w/ 500W PSU
($65 less $20 Rebate)
Power Supply 500W Included with Case -
Base System Total $301
Display Acer X193W+BD 19" 5ms Widescreen LCD (1680x1050) $110
Speakers Cyber Acoustics CA3090WB 2.1 Gaming Speakers $16
Input Microsoft CA9-00001 PS/2 Keyboard and Optical Mouse $17
Operating System Microsoft Vista Home Premium SP1 (for System Builders) $99
Complete System Bottom Line $543

Our choice for the Intel entry CPU remains the excellent 2.5GHz dual-core E5200 Wolfdale. This 65W rated CPU is built on Intel's 45nm manufacturing that begs you to overclock. The E5200 uses a default 800FSB, so right out of the box the first option for overclocking, if you are so inclined, is to bump it up to 1066 bus. That will give you a 33% overclock and a final speed of 3.33GHz, and it is readily attainable with proper cooling. Even if you never overclock you will be very pleased with the performance of the E5200.

The E5200 is an easier choice now that the price has dropped from $83 a few months ago to $70 today. We do not recommend going lower than an E5200 in an Intel system because the trade-offs in performance for the few dollars saved are too great. The performance of the E1200 at $50, for example, is dismal compared to the E5200, and certainly not a good choice in performance for the $20 saved. The only drawback to this processor choice is the lack of Intel's Virtualization Technology (Intel VT).  If running the Windows Virtual PC under Windows 7 for XP Mode (as one example) is important to you, then moving up to the E8x00 range or down to the E6x00 allow the best VT options in this range, although this budget point is no longer valid.

Unlike the numerous AMD product choices in the $60~$80 price range that feature current chipsets and loads of features, the Intel selections are mostly limited to older chipsets like the G31 or NVIDIA GeForce 7100 series. These chipsets are stable, well supported, and are valid options for basic entry-level systems. Intel is promoting the G41 chipset into this price range now and we seriously considered a couple of very good G41 boards, but they featured VGA output or the storage options were limited due to the ICH7 for the type of system we had in mind. Fortunately, ASUS came through with some timely price reductions on their G43 based ASUS P5QPL-CM motherboard and it was an easy decision to choose this particular board for our budget based system.

The P5QL-CM features the latest G43 GMCH along with the ICH10 Southbridge. The GMA X4500 graphics engine does not feature the hardware accelerated H.264/VC-1/MPEG2 decoding capability of the G45 or NVIDIA GeForce 9300 chipsets, but HD video playback is acceptable with a decent processor like the E5200. Otherwise, the performance of the G43 is fine for SOHO applications, flash-based games, and general video duties. However, insert a discrete video card like the HD 4770 and any weaknesses of the G43 chipset go away in an instant.

The P5QL-CM features support for the latest Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad, and Pentium/Celeron dual-core processors along with 8GB memory support. The board has a very good layout with one PCIe x16 slot, one PCIe x1 slot, and two PCI slots. The ICH10 does not support RAID but does provide six SATA 3Gb/s ports, one IDE port, and twelve USB 2.0 ports. ASUS includes the 8-channel VT1708B HD audio codec, Realtek RTL8111B Gigabit LAN, and DisplayPort, DVI-D, and VGA video out ports. ASUS based this motherboard on the uATX form factor and it includes a basic accessory kit along with several ASUS specific software applications. The board has proven to be very stable and problem free over the last 30 days. It is not an overclocking demon with our E5200/E7200 being limited to the 345FSB range due to the chipset, but that is more than enough headroom (4.16GHz with the E5200) for most users.

The case and power supply choice are the same Sigma La Vie 500W Mid Tower chosen for the AMD entry system. At a final price of $45 for this good-looking, side-window case and Sigma 500W power supply it is a value that is hard to pass up. If you prefer a smaller Micro ATX case, the HEC 6K28BSOH48D mini tower is a good alternative. HEC is best known as a manufacturer of power supplies. Some are sold under their own name, but most are manufactured for other well known power supply brands. HEC includes a 485W PSU with this attractive mini tower, which should provide plenty of power for your entry build.

Other components are the same ones chosen for the AMD Entry system. Some readers will also notice that our link for the Windows Vista Home Premium System Builders OS is for the 64-bit version. Whether you choose 64-bit or 32-bit, the price of Vista is the same. The choice is yours, but you will need the 64-bit version to fully use the 4GB or more system memory. While 64-bit has made giant strides in drive and component compatibility, if you have an old printer or other peripherals you want to bring from Windows XP to Vista you need to check compatibility very carefully. 32-bit Vista generally works with almost anything that worked with Windows XP, but that is not always true of 64-bit. If you are starting fresh, we recommend choosing 64-bit Vista.

If we compare the two entry-level systems, the winner depends on what is of more value to you. The Intel system is a bit more powerful, but you can move up to a high-end Athlon X2 or a low-end AMD Phenom II X3 for comparable performance at less than $85. If you are an overclocker, the Intel entry may be your best choice. For a gamer, the AMD offers more flexibility for future expansion. For the typical entry-level PC right now and for what the system typically is used for - internet, office, low-end gaming, and low to mid graphics - you can go either route and be very happy.

AMD Entry-level PC AMD Budget
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • Hrel - Thursday, May 28, 2009 - link

    Why spend 100 dollars on that card when you can get the GTS250 for 10 DOLLARS MORE?!! That's right, just 10 bucks.">
    Or, if you run your monitor at a stupidly high resolution for some reason, you can get the 1GB version for only 125.">

    Not sure if you guys at anandtech were just unaware of this or if you really are bias against Nvidia, but the GTS250 is WAY more card for the extra 10 bucks.
  • dndavis57 - Saturday, May 23, 2009 - link

    I've been planning something along the lines of your AMD Budget Build, to replace my deceased Athlon 64-3000 rig, so the Builder's Guide is quite timely.

    Question: If you're not going to use a mobo with ACC, would the Phenom II X3 710 be the value choice or is the additional speed of the 720 worth the slight ($20) price difference?

    I already have a Corsair TX650W PSU, since the $80 price AMIR was too good to pass up. I had planned to reuse my original Antec Sonata, but probably will get a Sonata Elite instead ($89 at my local Micro Center). Does anyone know of any problems with this combo?

    I'm thinking of swapping the mobo for Gigabyte's AM3 version, since it's only $30 more and DDR3 isn't much more than DDR2 these days. I know DDR3 doesn't make much difference on the Phenom II platform, but it may be a reasonable upgrade even if AMD can't make any changes to the existing architecture or BIOS to take better advantage of it. I just have to figure out how tight my budget truly is, since I need to build now.

  • Lummox - Sunday, May 24, 2009 - link

    I am building something like this already. Maximum bang for buck is the BIOSTAR TFORCE TA790GX 128M, It has just about everything including two PCI-E x16 2.0 Slot (CFX x8), firewire, DVI, HDMI, VGA and the 790 and 750 chip sets. Also you can play most games with the eye candy turned off.

    When combined with a X2 7850 it is $129 AR of $10, which I got. This is $3 cheaper than the Entry Level, with better processor and MB.

    When combined with a X2 Phenom II X3 720 it is $199 AR of $10. This is same price as the Budget Level, with better MB.

    When combined with a Phenom II X4 940 it is $250 AR of $10.

    When combined with a Phenom II X4 955 it is $305 AR of $10. and it is on the list of compatible MBs

    All with free shipping. This is same price as the Budget Level, with better MB. The only limit On games is a Power Supply big enough for your eventual graphics card.

    I you build the entry level all you need is a new PS and faster GPU, to turn it into a gaming machine. For memory, You can either buy 1066 now, upgrade later, or leave it at 600. There is not a dramatic difference between 800 and 1066.

    PS all prices on NEW EGG


    For a few bucks more the Foxconn A7DA-S has two x16 and two x8 slots. no on board video

  • pashbe1 - Friday, May 22, 2009 - link

    Let me just start by saying Anandtech has been my hardware education. I have a question for you experts though. I spend 8-10 hours a day on 3d CAD and Rendering and maybe 15 hours a week gaming. My current rig, dont laugh, is an old dual Xeon workstation. I would really like to replace it with the mid-level AMD system that you describe in this article. Here is my concern, every ATi gpu that I have ever had to work with has had problems with the hardware acceleration in CAD. If the acceleration is maxed, the cursor prompts become a garbled box. If I set the acceleration one step down, I get a stutter in when moving around in 3d, and obviously when gaming I get a gimped cursor. So I feel compelled to stick with Nvidia, even if I have to pay a premium. Have the newer ATi cards fixed this problem? What combination of parts can I put together to come up with the performance, overclock ability, and base system price of the mid level AMD system described in this article that uses a good Nvidia card?
  • Hrel - Thursday, May 28, 2009 - link

    you should get the GTS250 from Nividia, it only costs $110 after rebate; and it's MORE card for the money.">

    Here's the 1GB version, since that may be helpful with CAD. Still only 125; both reliable companies.">
  • PC Reviewer - Thursday, May 21, 2009 - link

    first might i add that there is no such thing as "gaming speakers"

    no speakers are good for gaming.. the only way to go is headphones.. now obviously this is entry level but at least shell out a few more dollars for headphones if you are going to insert it with the title "gaming"

    second thing is that case isnt very good. This is on sale for $54 and the quality is way better...">

  • nordicpc - Wednesday, May 20, 2009 - link

    Hey guys, the X2 Black Editions don't ship with a stock heatsink. Be sure to pick up a Freezer 64 or something for it.
  • Gary Key - Wednesday, May 20, 2009 - link

    The 7750 and 7850BE retail units we received from Newegg both had heatsinks.
  • jospoortvliet - Wednesday, May 20, 2009 - link


    I would love to see a few comparative benchmarks added to these systems - just to see how the entry-level Intel and AMD compare, for example...
  • Gary Key - Wednesday, May 20, 2009 - link

    early June.. ;)

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now