Budget System Builder’s Guide February 2011

Ed: We'd like to bid a warm welcome to Zach Throckmorton for this edition of our Buyers' Guide. As a long-time member of our forums, some of you are probably already familiar with his recommendations. Jarred edited this article, so if you have some issues with some of the text, you can blame him. However, the component choices (outside of the keyboard/mouse and LCD additions) are all from Zach. We'll look at having Zach update our midrange and high-end guides in the near future, once the dust has settled from Intel's chipset bug.

In the wake of Intel’s Cougar Point platform debacle, and with the impending release of AMD’s new Bulldozer platform, the high-end remains dominated by Intel’s LGA 1366 and, to a lesser extent, 1156 platforms. There's enough confusion going on at the high-end right now that we're going to bypass all that with this guide and focus instead on the budget sector. While there haven't been any massive changes since our last Budget Guide, there are plenty of upgrades and faster components we can now include.

The budget system price range ($500-750) continues to be dominated by AMD platforms closer to the $500 end of the spectrum and Intel at the more expensive end. One particular novelty has emerged in the last few months, however: the advent of increasingly affordable SSDs, which are now within the reach of more frugal system builders. Also, thanks to healthy competition between AMD and NVIDIA (as well as the graphics stagnation of games due largely to console porting), gamers on a budget can afford to buy a graphics card that will play even the most demanding titles on at least medium settings. If you're willing to spend a bit more money, AMD’s Thuban hex-core CPUs are now available for less than $200, giving number crunchers, video encoders, and others with computationally intensive goals incredible power at affordable prices.

This guide details specific components that can be used to assemble a basic, general-use computer based on AMD and Intel processors. Recommended upgrades are then given for both AMD and Intel CPUs, followed by upgrades for both platforms based on specific needs. While each system includes $100 for a copy of Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit), it’s worth considering that free OSes such as Ubuntu Linux are viable options for many intermediate to advanced computer users.

Keep in mind that component prices fluctuate wildly and often. Retailers often offer very limited time sales. Paying attention for a few days or even weeks can help ensure you get your gear at the lowest prices possible. That said, it’s best to purchase parts in a short period of time. This is mostly so you have the opportunity to return or exchange DOA parts or components that fail shortly after assembly for a quick exchange or refund instead of having to go through the longer manufacturer’s RMA process that will likely lead to getting a refurbished part back. And with that out of the way, let's start with the basic system builds.

Basic System Builds
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  • GeorgeH - Monday, February 14, 2011 - link

    I'm saying 380W is fine by referencing readily available data and reviews.

    You're saying 380W is not fine by making claims that have been trivially demonstrated to be completely false.

    LOL indeed.
  • ckryan - Monday, February 14, 2011 - link

    Yes. I have used the 380D in several situations. One 17a rail would only amount to 204w maximum. Even if you've never seen the unit in question, the Anandtech review has a clear shot of the label. Besides, while the 380D is a great PSU, it's not what I'd put in my computer. Why? Because modular is what I need. Antec took some measures to reduce cost by not including a power cable or prettying up the mess of wires.

    By the way, a GPU with two 6pin PEGs can receive up to 75w per plug. That's 150w. That would leave you with 54w to spare on the rail, provided the (up to) 75w a GPU can draw through the PCIe 16x is on another rail. But no one suggests running a 4 or 6 core + a mainstream (or up) GPU with one 17a 12v rail. The maximum power a GTX460 could draw would be 150w from the PEGs and 75 through the Mobo. That would 225w (Or at the wall, with an 80% PSU, you'd be drawing ~275w) in a worst case scenario.
  • Roland00Address - Monday, February 14, 2011 - link

    The Antec Earthwatts EA-380D has two 12 volt rails one at 17 amps and one at 15 amps. These two rails can do a max combined watts of 336 on the 12v rail (336/12=28 combined amps on the 12v rail)

    This psu can easily handle a 5850 or a 460 if you keep the cpu at stock settings and buy a molex to 6 pin adapter.
  • Kaboose - Monday, February 14, 2011 - link

    At least some people know what they are talking about.

    As long as you DON'T OC the CPU, GPU, or RAM you should be fine, and it is hard to find a non-synthetic situation that puts your computer under FULL 100% load.
  • pvdw - Saturday, February 19, 2011 - link

    You really need to do your research:


    And there's a huge difference between a CHEAP psu and a GOOD BUDGET psu. The earthwatts definitely qualifies as good budget.
  • pvdw - Saturday, February 19, 2011 - link

    Oh, and my guess is that you don't know anything about the construction of quality PSUs. Cheap power supplies use low quality parts, can't be used at rated wattage, have horrible ripple and voltage regulation, etc.
  • mgl888 - Monday, February 14, 2011 - link

    Can I suggest that you take out the cost of Windows 7 from the build price? Or at least take it out of the Base System Cost.
    It just seems a little out of place considering it's not a piece of hardware and the price of an OS can vary depending on what you choose to install and where you are getting the software (hopefully legally...).
  • richardginn - Monday, February 14, 2011 - link

    I fully agree.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, February 14, 2011 - link

    Sure we can: subtract $100 from the cost of the systems. BAM! You're at $321 and $345. Come on guys, it's $100 and you can do the math for that one without a second thought.
  • seapeople - Tuesday, February 15, 2011 - link

    Don't be silly, use tech people intent on building our own computer system from scratch NEED you at AnandTech to do all the thinking for us. That is why I hope you are working on the new Bench feature that will purchase and deliver the perfect system to our door.

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