Dustin's AMD Pure Budget System
Hardware Component Price
Processor AMD Athlon II X4 640
(Propus 45nm, 3.0GHz, 4x512KB L2, 95W)
Video Integrated ATI Radeon HD 4250 -
Motherboard MSI 880GM-E41 (AMD 880G/SB710 AM3) $75
Memory Corsair 4GB (2x2GB) DDR3-1333 CL9 (CMV4GX3M2A1333C9) $59
Hard Drive Samsung Spinpoint F3 500GB
(HD502HJ 7200RPM 16MB)
Optical Drive LG 22X DVDRW (GH22LS50) $17
Case Cooler Master Elite 360 $40
Power Supply Antec EarthWatts Green EA-380D 380W
(380W 80 Plus Bronze Certified)
Base System Total $375

Over the past summer I wound up building a rash of budget systems for friends and family; over the past year you can chalk a couple more up. I actually have about two more queued up for the holiday season, so suffice it to say I keep a list of go-to parts for my builds that I've been consistently satisfied with. For this build I decided to go for a sort of "optimum budget" machine, and with most selections I'll have a suggestion as to how to reduce the price tag without hurting overall quality. There are some compromises made here—note the lack of a video card—but I'm perfectly happy putting my stamp on this system.

The first big decision is the processor, and I want something that'll last. It's true that Grandma Millie may not need all that power, but I've found that the AMD Athlon II X4 has been my go-to for nearly every budget build since its inception; it's just that good of a deal. The price-performance is undeniable and when you can get a quad core for $99, why would you settle for less? If you need to make a deeper cut for users who aren't going to push the system that hard, I've been remarkably impressed by the AMD Sempron 140. It's a 2.7GHz single core, but of the three I've built, two have unlocked into stable dual-cores—i.e. Athlon II X2—and at $33, it's an absolute steal.

Picking the motherboard turned out to be a bit trickier, but I've found myself consistently satisfied with boards from MSI, Gigabyte, and ASUS. After narrowing the brand down, I want an integrated chipset that's going to pass my "Grandma Test:" is it powerful enough to play Hulu and YouTube HD video? That leaves us with the 785G and 880G chipsets, and since those have hit price parity (actually the 880G is cheaper now!), I opted to go with MSI's 880GM-E41. I'm not too thrilled about the SB710 Southbridge, but the lack of 6Gbps SATA isn't devastating. The ATI Radeon HD 4250 integrated graphics part offers enough horsepower to even play the odd game, but mostly it's there for hardware-accelerated video and Flash (with 10.1), which can make a big difference with Hulu. Unfortunately, this is about as low as I'll go; other cheaper integrated chipsets don't bring that acceleration to the table.

As far as memory goes, I'll be blunt here: I only buy Corsair for my own builds. Jarred recommends an A-DATA set on his build and I've been happy with them; the fundamental deal with RAM is this: it either works or it doesn't. The problem is that when RAM is bad, it can be difficult to figure out. I've used Corsair on nearly every build I've done for friends and family and I've seen a whole one bad stick of it. With 2GB kits only shaving maybe $20 off the cost of the build, it's hard to justify not going the full 4GB. If every penny must be spared, I wouldn't be unhappy with this Kingston 2GB (2x1GB) DDR3-1333 kit at $38; in my experience Kingston is another good, reliable brand.

With hard disk prices the way they are, your bottom rung should really be 500GB of storage; the amount you pay for the capacity you get below $50 just isn't worth it. I've also been consistently happy with Western Digital's Caviar Blue drives, but this would be a good time to bring out a new cult favorite: the Samsung SpinPoint F3 1TB drive is stupid fast, and if you know where to look you can usually get it for about $60. For the budget sector, we opted to go with the 500GB model and save $20.

As far as budget cases go, I've been very happy with the Cooler Master Elite 360 and have used it on a few builds; in fact, I actually have one in my house for my media center PC. The Elite 360 isn't built for big, power-hungry builds, but it's usually cool and quiet enough for even a decent gaming machine provided you opt for a video card that will fit in the enclosure. I've elected to pair it with a 380W Antec EarthWatts Green power supply (don't forget the power cord if you don't have extras!); there's enough room to breathe for an efficient video card like an ATI Radeon HD 5770 down the road (which will fit just fine in the Elite 360), and you never want to cheap out on the power supply if you can avoid it.

The rest is going to be a matter of religion and taste. You can get a decent display with (crappy) built-in speakers for a low price. For the operating system, there's always Ubuntu, or you can usually find a good deal on Windows 7 if you know where to look (student discounts are amazing for this). But the build I've specced out here is something I'd be confident with. I've got comparable parts running in machines at home and in the machines of friends and family, and there's been nary a peep from anyone. That should tell you the real value of speccing out a good system from the get-go and not cutting corners on parts: peace of mind, and peace and quiet.

Holiday 2010 System Builder's Guide Balraj's Intel Budget System
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  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    While it would be great if Bulldozer could run in current motherboards, all the information I've been able to gather (including asking a contact at a motherboard manufacturer) is that Bulldozer for desktops will run in AM3r2. That socket will be similar to AM3, and it will be able to accept and run current AM3 processors, but the reverse isn't true. So, in essence it's the AM2+ situation again.

    If you search AMD's site, there's no mention of AM3r2 that I can find outside of their forums. It's still possible that we're mistaken, but AMD hasn't unequivocally stated that "yes BD will work in current motherboards" so I wouldn't count on it. I think originally the idea was to try and make it happen, but now it's not guaranteed.

    If you really want to go to the rumor mill, BD might actually work in current boards but might blow caps or have reduced performance. Maybe someone will come out with a fix. All indications however are that there will be new chipsets (980/990 most likely), a new socket requirements, etc. I guess it may be a lot like the socket 775 transitions from Intel where we had a few manufacturers that got older 945P chipsets to run Core 2 and such.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Just to add a bit more: Phenom X6 will technically work in many 790FX motherboards... but it's not the same as running it in an 890FX. 790FX wasn't designed for Turbo Core, it has some power management issues with Thuban, etc. We have seen similar issues with previous updates where a CPU would work, but it didn't perform optimally. We may see that with Bulldozer as well, where it will run in 800 series boards with a BIOS update but it very likely will run best with a new motherboard/chipset. If AMD and their partners can prove me wrong, I'd be very pleased, but based on at least one source I'm not holding out much hope.
  • blotto5 - Saturday, November 20, 2010 - link

    thanks for the info good to know since im running a phenom x6 in a 790fx mobo but i think im going to wait to buy a new mobo because of this talk of a new socket a la am2 to am2+
  • baba264 - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    This comes quite handy as after the death of my graphic card two days ago, I was seriously thinking of buying a new system that would be quite similar to "Ryan's High-End Gaming System".

    However, when I had previewed the various parts I wanted, I had set my mind on a new lynnfield core with an i7 870 rather than the old Bloomfield core. Since I don't plan to upgrade to an SLI setting I thought that the i7 870 was the best choice of processor (for the price), was I mistaken?

    Anyway, thanks for the article, this article really comforts me in what I meant to buy.
  • Ryan Smith - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    The 870 is quite good. In fact when I was putting that list together I was seriously considering that instead of an X58 platform. The clincher was SLI support (P55 boards with SLI quickly drive the price up); but since you're not going to be using SLI I wouldn't be concerned.
  • mapesdhs - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    P55 boards run very nicely SLI, easily outperforming X58 boards, and that's
    with an 860, never mind an 870. See my results pages:


    Further tests coming soon with an 870 + GTX 460 FTW SLI.

    it's only really 3-way SLI where X58 takes over. For 2-way, the speeds
    are just as good (if not better) and the costs are significantly lower - the
    board I'm using costs less than 70 UKP ($110).

  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Color me confused, but those links don't seem to provide the data you're talking about. The question is how something like i7-930 with X58 compares to i7-860 with P55 while everything else is kept constant, and all the stuff there looks like 930 + 4870 CF or 460 SLI, and 860 + 8800 GT SLI, or some other sets of data. You'd need to show X58 460 SLI vs. P55 460 SLI to "prove" that P55 is "easily outperforming X58 boards". And if you do everything with similar quality components, the X58 ought to win out by virtue of having two x16 connects compared to two x8 connects on P55.
  • mapesdhs - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    (my friend has 4890s, not 4870s)

    I'm surprised you'd say that given existing articles have already
    shown that SLI doesn't need full 16x to perform nicely. Some games
    need it because they're written badly (FSX), but others run perfectly
    well at 8X, or even 4X.

    Specific data coming soon (still testing) but my point was that the
    existing data already shows the same effect - people on forums
    said the 4890s should win, but they don't much of the time except
    where resolution, etc. are a factor.

    I'm still ploughing through my P55/460 tests. All takes time as I'm
    sure you can appreciate. :)

  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    I'm not saying X58 is substantially faster by any means; I'm just saying that all things being equal there's no reason P55 should be faster. x8 vs. x16 isn't a huge benefit, but especially with higher clocked CPUs and more powerful GPUs (i.e. GTX 580 or HD 5870) the X58 should come out ahead. Anyway, Gary Key did a pretty direct comparison when he was still with us:

    In general X58 CF is better than P55 CF, though the margin is never so large as to be alarming. What Gary doesn't show is how the SLI setups compare (probably for lack of an SLI capable P55 board at the time he was with us). I'd figure they're also similar. All told, P55 is faster for single GPUs, but the x8+x8 dual-GPU configuration should and usually does incur a small performance hit.
  • mapesdhs - Saturday, November 20, 2010 - link

    Generally true, though remember the one advantage which
    can make a difference sometimes (and push it in favour
    of P55) is the better Turbo on the 870, etc. For fixed
    clocks, have a look at the CPU scores I get with the
    860 at 4018 for the 3DMark06 CPU tests, compare to
    my friend's 930 at 4136 (and btw, it's not RAM speed;
    I lowered my RAM to match, scores only dropped 1
    or 2%).

    You're right though about the top-end cards/CPUs, if
    I was playing at crazy res with expensive cards like
    the 580 then X58 would be more logical. For midrange
    though, like the 460 (with or without SLI), the gain from
    X58 is minimal at best - the cost difference (which
    may be large) can be used to have a better GPU,
    widening the gap further.

    And by cost difference I mean, for example, the Asrock
    P55 Deluxe, which is now as cheap as 68 UKP here.
    It has excellent slot spacing for SLI, ie. better cooling.

    Either way, we shall see; after doing default tests, my
    plan is to run the FTWs at lower clocks to match my
    friend's Palit Platinums, that should be interesting.

    All I'm saying is, don't be surprised if P55/SLI runs
    better than you might expect. I certainly didn't think
    two 8800GT SLI would be able to match or beat
    an X58 with two 4890s, but they can and do.


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