It's been far too long since we've run a Parts and Price Guide on the website, but we're now ready to get back into the groove of monthly component recommendations for your next PC build. This month, we're starting off with a $1000 PC. You'll be surprised at how much power and storage you can get for a grand -- even we're hesitant to call it a mere budget rig. In the following weeks, we'll also be running guides for $1500, $2000 systems, and will even try assembling and benchmarking a $500 configuration for the really budget-conscious (the troubled economy pretty much mandates it!). But for now, take a dive into our choices for a respectable system, and sound off on how you would build your PC differently!
(All prices found on newegg.com, as of March 8th, and do not include mail-in rebates)
We haven't had a chance to review this nForce 750a motherboard, but its support for SLI and 1066 DDR2 memory (with AM2+ CPUs) makes it ideal for the budget buyer. Dual PCI-E x16 and x2.2 slots give you plenty of breathing room for expansion, and the mobo even has integrated 8-series Nvidia graphics if you don't plan on gaming with a discrete GPU (or hate freedom). A plethora of I/O ports (12 USB supported), integrated Realtek audio, ExpressGate OS, and robust overclocking abilities makes this a smart buy at a great price.
AMD's Phenom II won't win benchmark battles against Intel's top Core i7 CPUs, but these chips are competing for a different market. This 2.6GHz part will give you respectable performance (and overclocking potential) for its sub-$200 price. When you pit the Phenom II against a comparable Core 2 Quad from Intel, Amd walks away with a decisive price and performance win. One thing to note is this is a Socket AM3 chip, which will work in AM2+ motherboards like the one we recommend above.
Nothing much to say here. DDR2 memory is so cheap these days that there's no reason to get less than 4GB for your new system. To make use of all 4GB, we recommend you use a 64-bit OS like Vista Home Premium. In our experience, all the top memory brands are reliable, so you can't go wrong with Kingston, Crucial, Corsair, OCZ, or Patriot.
From our EVGA GTX 260 review : "With the same stock clock speeds but 24 more shader processors than the original, the new version of the 260 GTX delivers comparable performance to the 4870 at a similar price. The speeds and feeds are about the same as the original 260’s, although EVGA clocked this card’s core at 626MHz (up from 576MHz stock) and includes 896MB of GDDR3 running on a 448-bit bus at 1053MHz (stock is 999MHz)... Performance was about what we expected; the card delivered scores that were slower than a GeForce GTX 280’s but slightly faster than the 4870’s in shader-intensive games such as Crysis." In other words, this is a fantastic mid-range part. Especially since the price has dropped to $250.
SLI compatibility with dual-PCIE power cables (one six-pin and another eight-pin), a dedicated +12V rail, six SATA power cables, and six four-pin molex cables makes this PSU more than beefy enough to power our config. The only thing you won't be able to do is run two GTX 280 GPUs if you choose that upgrade path, because each require two PCIE power cables.
This has been our favorite mid-tower case for months, besting out the similarly configured Antec 900 (the NZXT is slightly cheaper). From our review : "We experienced no difficulties whatsoever installing a modern-day system into this no-nonsense chassis. There was plenty of room to manage cables around our huge 8800 GTX card, and the case’s eight hard drive bays come with screwless rails preinstalled—you pop them off, attach them to a drive, and slide the whole deal into place. The two 12cm front-panel fans take care of the cooling efforts."
If you're still wary of running 64-bit Windows, man up and have some faith. 64-bit Vista may have been a mess when it first launched, the Microsoft has hotfixed and patched the vast majority of compatibility problems with its soon-to-be-suceded OS. Trust us: 64-bit Vista stable, and it'll let you use all 4GB of memory you bought for this rig.
Along with memory, hard drive prices have also plummetted in the past six months. We still find it amazing that you can buy a terabyte of storage for almost less than $100. The Digital Caviar Green is relatively quiet and power-efficient, and doesn't fall victim to firmware errors that some of its competitors are currently suffering from. It may not be as fast as a Velociraptor, but we think most users will be happy with its modest speeds.
The Samsung SH-223 is a minor upgrade from its predecessor, the SH-203, but it’s our new favorite. The burner has 22x DVD +/-R and though a majority of the specifications mirrored that of the older model, the SH-223 is seconds speedier. And don't worry if you can't find it listed on Samsung's website -- this drive is still very much alive and in production.