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Thread: How to Pick Parts for a Budget Computer

  1. #1
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    Dan's Avatar
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    Oct 2004

    Default How to Pick Parts for a Budget Computer

    Many of you are poor, because you haven't gone to college yet, are in college, or spent all your savings on college. This guide is for you.

    1. Intel or AMD?

    The sub-$150 processor arena is shared between the Celeron D (Intel's current offering), and the Socket 754 Sempron (AMD's current offering). The Celeron D line is priced a few dollars above the Socket 754 Sempron line, and while the Celerons have the clear upper hand in a couple of tasks (mainly MPEG-2 encoding), the Socket 754 Semprons are roughly as fast or faster in everything else.

    Since I doubt anyone is going to buy a budget computer to do video encoding non-stop, I'm going to be focusing on the Semprons in this article.

    Decent sources for benchmarks are:

    2. Which CPU?

    Performance increases pretty much linearly between value processors, so just pick based on your budget. Here are the current Socket 754 Sempron offerings:

    AMD Sempron 2600+ - $61
    AMD Sempron 2800+ - $79
    AMD Sempron 3000+ - $84
    AMD Sempron 3100+ - $116
    AMD Sempron 3300+ - $133

    (prices are from

    Note that there is a Socket 754 Athlon 64 2800+ selling for around $128. The 3300+ is usually faster, though, so unless you really care about 64-bitness, the 3300+ is a slightly better deal.

    3. The motherboard

    nVidia offerings tend to be nicer than VIA/ULI/SiS ones, and since Socket 754 nForce 3 boards can be had for very little money these days I'm going to be focusing on that. Here are some nice boards to choose from:

    Chaintech VNF3-250 - ($60)
    ASUS K8N - ($70)
    EPoX EP-8KDA3J - ($70)
    Abit NF8-V - ($80)

    The boards are mostly the same aside from gigabit LAN on the 8KDA3J and NF8-V, so it doesn't matter a whole lot what you go with.

    Note that there are some nForce 4-based Socket 754 boards with PCI-Express (such as the ASUS K8N4-E Deluxe). Budget graphics cards are going to keep coming out for AGP for a long time, however, and budget PCIe cards tend to be slower than their AGP counterparts. I therefore don't recommend bothering with PCIe for a budget computer.

    4. RAM

    Socket 754 Semprons take PC3200 or PC2700 DDR1 SDRAM, although you can always use PC2100 if you have some left from an old system. This will hurt performance somewhat, but it'll work.

    As for which sticks to buy, just go with Value RAM from a big name brand, such as Corsair, Kingston, Crucial or Mushkin. Don't go with generic RAM, since larger manufacturers offer lifetime warranties as well as pretty stringent quality control.

    A single 512MB PC3200 stick should run you around $40 as of July 2005.

    5. Graphics cards

    The fastest sub-$100 card right now is the Radeon 9600XT. Otherwise, the GFFX 5200 is a nice barebones card for very light gamers, and the 9800 Pro is still a pretty decent mid-range card these days.

    (Performance numbers taken from Tom's Hardware VGA Charts IV. Prices taken from Relative price differences should be the same regardless of currency.)

    You're not going to find better cards at those price points, so don't succumb to the temptation of getting a suspiciously cheap 256MB card or something with a large model number ending in "SE". More than 128MB of video memory only helps on $300+ cards, and "SE"-branded cards are usually crippled beyond recognition.

    As for which card manufacturer to pick, Sapphire and eVGA are good choices since they make the reference cards for ATI and nVidia respectively. Most manufacturers are roughly the same, though, so just check a few reviews before making your purchase and you should be fine no matter which one you go with.

    6. Sound cards

    Most people will be happy with onboard sound these days, but if you have expensive speakers/headphones then onboard just isn't going to cut it. Most good consumer cards use either VIA's Envy24 sound chip or Creative's emu10k2 (basically Audigy 2/Audigy 2 ZS). For standard multimedia use, you should be looking at the following cards:

    Stereo listening: Chaintech AV-710 (~$30)
    Games: Audigy 2 ZS ($90)
    Multichannel listening: M-Audio Revolution 5.1/7.1 ($75/$90)

    The Audigy cards will have poorer analog sound quality than the Envy24 ones, but they offer hardware sound acceleration support in most games as well as EAX DSP effects. In contrast, you'll be doing sound processing in software with an Envy24 card. This isn't as big a deal as it sounds, however, since most games today offer software DSP effects that sound just as good as Creative's EAX stuff, and the performance hit from letting the CPU do the work is reasonably small on modern systems. Overall, the M-Audio Revolution 5.1 is probably the most versatile, considering the good multichannel DAC and reduced CPU usage in games compared to other Envy24 cards.

    7. CD/DVD drives

    If you just need to play DVDs/CDs and burn CDs, get a cheap Lite-On combo drive like the SOHC-5236K. If you want a DVD burner, get a NEC ND-3520A.

    8. Hard drives

    There's no real way to assess failure rate for consumer hard drives, so you should be picking something based on four factors: cost, warranty, performance, and noise output. The following drive lines have offerings below $100 and come standard with 5-year warranties:

    Seagate Barracuda 7200.7
    Samsung Spinpoint P80

    Samsung P80s will usually be slightly faster and quieter than Seagate 7200.7s, although not too significantly. Other <=$100 drives will have either 1-year or 3-year warranties.

    You should also know about SATA. It offers longer, narrower and more flexible cables, as well as a new power connector design that allows compatible drives to be hot-swapped. It is preferable to get new drives in this format, as IDE will eventually be phased out, but installing Windows on a SATA drive may require a floppy disk with the SATA controller drivers.

    9. What about a case and power supply?


    You'll probably want to cut down expenses by getting a case/PSU bundle, however. This pretty much restricts you to Antec if you want a decent PSU, since most other case manufacturers bundle low quality PSUs with their cases in order to cut costs.

    10. Sample systems

    AMD Sempron 2600+ - $72
    Chaintech VNF3-250 - $58
    512MB Corsair VS PC3200 - $40
    Sapphire Radeon 9600XT - $91
    80GB Samsung SP80 - $56
    Lite-On SOHC-5236K - $33
    Antec SLK1650B/350W - $65

    Total - $415

    AMD Sempron 3300+ - $135
    EPoX EP-8KDA3J - $71
    512MB Corsair VS PC3200 - $40
    Sapphire Radeon 9800 Pro - $127
    120GB Samsung SP80 - $70
    NEC 3520A Retail - $49
    Antec SLK1650B/350W - $65

    Total - $557

    Lastly, if you're pricing out something and want to examine it at a later date, use sirchode's C4. You can save configurations there, link them, and it'll compute total prices for you.

    Note: I've reccomended for purchasing parts. I did so, because they offer, in my opinion, the best deals on retail parts. However, if you are interested in purchasing inexpensive OEM hardware, head on over to
    Last edited by Dan : 08-29-2005 at 06:42 PM Reason: Newegg note at the bottom of post.

  2. #2

    MasterX's Avatar
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    Mar 2005
    East Greenbush, NY


    DAng Mre helpful stuff you on a roll
    <embed type="application/x-shockwave-flash" wmode="transparent" src="" width="400" height="64"/> Is there Flash BBCode on this Forum?

  3. #3
    YuCant See Bhind My Eyes

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    Jul 2005


    All i have to say is that i spend 4 whole months saving withouth buying any games and I finally bought my dream PC,at least for a couple of years.Here are the details:

    brand name Gateway
    manufacturer Gateway
    model name 831GM
    processor type Intel Pentium 4 630 HT
    processor speed 3.0 GHz
    frontside bus 800 MHz
    memory 512 MB
    maximum memory upgrade 4.0 GB
    memory speed PC2-3200
    memory type DDR2 SDRAM
    hard drive capacity 250 GB
    video memory 224MB shared
    video hardware Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900
    audio hardware Intel High Definition Audio, 6-channel
    modem standard 56K V.92
    Wi-Fi capability included (Wi-Fi ready) no
    Ethernet port yes
    infrared port no
    included integrated drives DVD+R DL/DVD?RW; DVD-ROM
    integrated memory card reader yes
    number of FireWire ports 3
    number of parallel ports 1
    number of PS/2 ports 2
    number of S-video out ports 0
    number of serial ports 1
    number of USB 1.1 ports 0
    number of USB 2.0 ports 7
    number of VGA video ports 1
    peripherals included keyboard; mouse; speakers
    operating system Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005
    software included yes
    warranty 1-year limited

    :D I love it,the savings where worth it :D

  4. #4


    You can also check out my selection's if you are confused about what to choose.

    My system specs:
    Motherboard: Abit AN8 Ultra
    CPU: AMD Athlon 64 3000+ @ 2.69 GHz
    PSU: 500 Watt
    Video Card: nVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX @ 520/1400
    Hard Drive: WD 450 GB
    Sound: AudioMax 7.1
    RAM: OCZ High Performance 1024MB @ 2-3-2-5

    3DMark05: 8870
    3DMark03: 18209

    Love it lots.

  5. #5


    can you tell me more about the ram you use. Is it sdram, rdram, dd2, or what. Is ocz better than all 3? and do most mother boards support it.

  6. #6


    Quote Originally Posted by EclipsEAgentGOD
    CPU: AMD Athlon 64 3000+ @ 2.69 GHz
    I bet
    In hoc signo vinces

  7. #7
    Enchantment? Senior Member
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    Thats not impossable...The fx-57 has similar construction and is at 2.8 GHz and overclocks to 3.2 GHz(on water)
    Quote Originally Posted by jpheonix View Post
    i have a form of dyslexia that hinders my ability to scout and macro at the same time.

  8. #8


    Left: CPU status
    Right: Slightly overclocked RAM - Validation link

    By the way, 200 MHz, in ddr is DDR400.

    Overclocked like mad on air ;)

  9. #9

  10. #10
    Srs Bsns Gold Member

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    Xthar's Avatar
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    There is some very nice helpfull hints nice job my friend.
    Originally Posted by Pcreme
    my best stoner moment would have to be the time me and my friend were walking from my dealers house, and we see my other friends, who are all ecstasy fiends, driving their volkswagen van 60 MPH THROUGH A PARKING LOT , BUMPING TECHNO HELLA ****ING LOUD, an then they try and take a sharp turn and the van TIPS over cause theres too many people in the car. noone was hurt but it was EPIC FAIL.

  11. #11
    Maverick Renegade Senior Member

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    Don't revive dead threads...

  12. #12

    HARD_ON's Avatar
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    thx for all the information,but none of that has to do with laptops and i have one :(

  13. #13

    mini_shadow's Avatar
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    Jan 2006
    Sydney, Australia


    talking about buying computers and computer parts. if you are in sydney australia, especially in northern suburbs, and you are interested in buying a computer or computer parts, visit [ ]. happy buying.

    Visit for all your computer needs
    (Sydney, Australia only unless customer covers shipping fees)

    Vamos Argentina Carajo!

  14. #14

    FireXtol's Avatar
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    Dec 2004
    between d and t


    Quote Originally Posted by game_on
    thx for all the information,but none of that has to do with laptops and i have one :(

    If you don't believe me...

  15. #15
    Weiße Kraft Senior Member

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    Apr 2005


    Nice job raising this thread. Oh well, it was stickied. lol. Anyways, I made a semi budget system for about $700.
    Ho boy!

    Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

  16. #16

    saren's Avatar
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    Feb 2005
    Tucson, AZ


    Chaintech is a piece of ****. NEVER BUY THEIR BOARDS.

    God, spend the extra 10 bucks.
    For the love of all things nerdrage: it's saren, not Saren.
    All you have to do is copy and paste the moniker.

  17. #17
    From the Land of the Sexy Senior Member
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    Mookster's Avatar
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    Jul 2005


    PSU requirement calculator:
    Someone might find this useful. Might be time to move this on down to the hardware section too.
    A conclusion is a place you find yourself, when tired of thinking.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ranged View Post
    That statements is invalid.

  18. #18


    jeez i was reading this thread thinking how these dream computers really suck.. then i saw its 2 year old thread. nice bump?

    "Its better to be quiet and appear stupid, then to open your mouth and remove all doubt."

  19. #19
    hardhittnnigazwtpipznsht Senior Member
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    BloodyBlade's Avatar
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    Jun 2004
    Torrance, CA


    They're budget machines, not dream machines anyway.

    Quote Originally Posted by Timothy Leary
    Think for yourself. Question authority.

  20. #20
    Geeky Azn d00d
    Loser777's Avatar
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    Oct 2005


    It was pretty good, I used this when I was buildin my machine.
    It's been a pretty long time since I've been here

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