Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

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Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Wed Jul 17, 2013 1:10 am

I'm going back to school to get an EE degree and I finished up a budget build for school. Primarily I'll be using it for homework and maybe watching a video on the weekend. I won't have time to game. This is what I have already bought and have up and running:

Intel Core i3-3220 Ivy Bridge 3.3GHz LGA 1155

GIGABYTE GA-Z77-DS3H LGA 1155 Intel Z77 ATX Intel Motherboard

GIGABYTE GV-N65TOC-1GI GeForce GTX 650 Ti

Western Digital WD Black WD1002FAEX 1TB Hard Drive

CORSAIR Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800)

CORSAIR CX430M 430W 80 PLUS BRONZE Power Supply

LITE-ON DVD Burner iHAS124-04

Win7

I do have a secondary rig from 2006 which has a better power supply. I'll put that in the new computer from school and the CX430M 430W power supply into the secondary rig as soon as I get a hold of a 8 pin to 4 pin adapter.


The parts altogether totaled $600 US. I had a $850 budget but that magically went up to $1000. So now I have $400 to spare. I would like a new monitor as I'm still using a 17in screen.

I was seriously considering this:
Dell UltraSharp U2312HM for $210

Which would leave $190. I'm not sure what to get and I'm looking for suggestions.

The following are things that I want but not necessarily what I need. If you were me what would you get with the remaining $190?

1. A good sound card: ASUS Xonar Essence STX $150
My terratec aureon space 7.1 sound card from my secondary rig does not have Win7 drivers so I can't put it in my rig for school. I have a modest home theater sound system that my computer is hooked up. Onboard sound is acceptable but I've always wanted the Xonar STX and I'm pretty sure it will be an improvement.

2. More ram: another two sticks of CORSAIR Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) $70
I upgrade about every 7-9 years. Not sure I'll be able to find matching sticks of ram at that time so if I want 16gigs of Ram now would be the time to do it.

3. Blu Ray burner for around $50
I have terabytes of anime to back up. I've used cheap dvds and some of the ones I had 10 years ago are starting to fade on me.

4. Larger/different monitor or dual monitors. I had dual monitors when I was overseas and it is very helpful.

5. A laser printer and scanner or printer scanner combination. I have access to printers at school but it may be convienent to have one in my apartment. I have a Cannon MP560 inkjet/scanner from a few years ago but the scanner doesnt' work anymore and the ink is pretty expensive.

6. Something else I haven't thought of.

7. Some combination of the above or

8. buy nothing and pocket the rest of the money for food and books.

I could go about $20 over-budget but that's about it.
Any suggestions? Thanks!
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Re: Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Wed Jul 17, 2013 1:22 am

Soundcard/RAM/BluRay burner would be just a waste of money, especially the burner (get a large cheap external HDDs for your futa porn collection :wink: ).
As for laser printer - it's convenient to have one, so just get one of the "disposable" Brother units, you can get the cheapest model for less than $100 at many online stores.
As for monitors - there are plenty of inexpensive IPS monitors available from Dell/Asus/whatever, just search the Amazon for stuff like "24" ips monitor" or whatever size you want. You may find some on sale occasionally if you'll watch the www.slickdeals.net site for few days or just search their forums...
Last edited by JohnC on Wed Jul 17, 2013 1:27 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Wed Jul 17, 2013 1:23 am

Two monitors might be handy for side-by-sides of wiring diagrams or speadsheets? You could also whack an SSD in there (my first choice) as a boot drive, but if it's geared at productivity and you are happy with current mechanical access speeds, the second monitor may be the best bet :)

Your RAM should be plenty as long as you aren't doing a ton of CAD work. I know a lot of wiring diagrams etc. can be done in Visio, but if your course uses a specialised software then that's a moot point.

The laser printer is a good idea as most of your printing will be B/W so you just need a cheapy Brother or something. Replace the printer when the toner runs out ;)

Just a recommendation my friend, it's always exciting to have a bit left over after a build. Enjoy!
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Re: Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Wed Jul 17, 2013 2:48 am

juzz86 wrote:The laser printer is a good idea as most of your printing will be B/W so you just need a cheapy Brother or something. Replace the printer when the toner runs out ;)


My sister used to think she could replace her car when the tires wore down. She learned. :P

To the OP:

Based on your potential school needs, I would prioritize the memory first. I agree with your feeling that finding compatible memory in 5-7 years might be difficult, so go ahead and do that now.

I also like the BluRay burner idea. I just watched my first BluRay movie ever on my 2+ year old Asus laptop, and ... wow, it sure was nice and convenient. $50 would be about the top limit there.

An Asus sound card would be nice to have, but $150 sounds kind of high to me for basic quality audio. Does the motherboard have decent onboard audio and current drivers for your OS? If so, maybe that will suffice and be easy to maintain during your school career.

I also agree with the Dell monitor choice and if you have enough to spend, I would even have you consider one of their 24" IPS panels; the quality is wonderful.
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Re: Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Wed Jul 17, 2013 3:19 am

BIF wrote:My sister used to think she could replace her car when the tires wore down. She learned. :P


Lol! :D

I had an older one of the cheap Brother mono lasers as my University printer. It cost 65 bucks, and the toner was 89. One of the few that didn't come with a 'promotion' cartridge 2/3 full, but rather a proper cartridge (although not a high-yield). Needless to say, on a two-minute noodle budget, the printer got replaced every time. I now have three defunct old 21-something-Ns in the shed :)
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Re: Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Wed Jul 17, 2013 4:18 am

It is true even today - cheapest Brother model, HL2230, can be found new for about $80 with free shipping, this already includes a starter toner cartridge and a new drum unit. The replacement drum unit (which you have to replace after about 12,000 pages) for it is around $65-70, this does not include the toner cartridge. So when it is time to change the drum unit - it is cheaper just to throw the whole printer out (without toner cartridge, of course) and buy a new one :wink:
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Re: Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Wed Jul 17, 2013 4:29 am

A SSD will be the best upgrade. A SSD makes even budget computers feel "fast" (even my first gen atom netbook).

If you have money left over upgrade to an i5-4570 processor. This would bump you up to Haswell and would give you a better integrated GPU (see below).

Do not get a blu-ray burner, there are many other better upgrades (see above). You'd also likely have to purchase software specifically to play blu-rays which is expensive.

You might also think about dropping the graphics card. If you really will not do any gaming then the integrated graphics should be fine (unless you're going to use some specialized software for school).
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Re: Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Wed Jul 17, 2013 8:09 am

I love the idea of a cheap laser. I got a refurbished Brother HL-2140 for about $80 on Newegg in 2009, and as in juzz86's case, it came with a full toner cartridge. Toner for this printer was more like $45, so I replaced the toner when it ran out. Ran like a champ - still works, actually, but my employer bought me a multi-function laser when I started working from home. Now it's just sitting in a closet.
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Re: Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Wed Jul 17, 2013 8:55 am

I am with kumori do not get a blueray burner. If you are purchasing it to watch blueray movies you will allso need to buy software to play it witch will run around $100 and it does not work for every bluray. If you want to watch bluray movies get yourself a cheap stand alone player for $100 or under.

I would get a SSD and a monitor....note that you can use your current 17" monitor as your second monitor.
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Re: Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Wed Jul 17, 2013 8:57 am

I don't understand why people are buying new printers when the TN toners for brother laser printers go on sale at Meritline for $15 every month. I've had 3 of them in 5 years. Keeps the old HL-2120W working like a horse.
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Re: Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Wed Jul 17, 2013 8:58 am

Solid State Hard Drive (SSD) and a new 24" monitor. Period. Everything else is trivial.
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Re: Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Wed Jul 17, 2013 9:30 am

Definitely pick up a good monitor.

What you get in addition to that depends on what you want more. A SSD will make your system much snappier. On the other hand, a second monitor can have a lot of benefits when it comes to doing work. I would often have homework on my primary monitor and Netflix or something similar on my other monitor. If I wasn't doing that, I would have work on both screens, like datasheets, Visio, Excel, Word, etc. You can definitely get by with one monitor, but a second one can make life easier.

Then again, assuming that you're keeping your 17", you'll probably have extra screen real estate anyway, so a SSD might be the best choice.
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Re: Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Wed Jul 17, 2013 10:33 am

Upgrade the monitor, then save the extra $200. In a few months you're going to be looking for it. Especially if you decide to pick up a collection of academic discounted software that will be relevant to your degree (e.g. MathCAD) instead of using the school labs for everything.
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Re: Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Wed Jul 17, 2013 10:43 am

I'd get the monitor and upgrade the processor, everything else is more or less midrange stuff, The to me an i5 would fit in better with the rest of the build. And maybe jump up to 16gb since well, it's cheap, and it's hard to have too much ram.
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Re: Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Wed Jul 17, 2013 12:10 pm

Here is what I learned over the years; spend your money on the hardware that gives you the most back all the time.
For instance, doesn't matter how great your PC is if your monitor, keyboard and mouse suck, cause you use those every second you are interacting with the PC.

I like screen real-estate when I work.
With that being said, I like the monitor choice. 20" or larger LCDs are great if you can pair them up, or go up to one of Korean 27" IPS panels.

After that, I'd get a good keyboard and mouse, SSD, and bump the ram to 16GB. Once I get 15-20 tabs open in a browser, its nice have spare ram and a fast disc.
Storage can go to a portable USB 3.0 drive and to the cloud.

For sound, stick with onboard and get some digital + analog headphones for when u really wanna hear songs, movies, and gaming.

As far as blue-ray stuff, I'd say just buy a cheap player, since blue-ray on a PC can still be a pain in the butt.

With dual Monitors, one can ply a movie while u work :)
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Re: Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Wed Jul 17, 2013 4:27 pm

flying hippo wrote:
1. A good sound card: ASUS Xonar Essence STX $150
My terratec aureon space 7.1 sound card from my secondary rig does not have Win7 drivers so I can't put it in my rig for school. I have a modest home theater sound system that my computer is hooked up. Onboard sound is acceptable but I've always wanted the Xonar STX and I'm pretty sure it will be an improvement.

2. More ram: another two sticks of CORSAIR Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) $70
I upgrade about every 7-9 years. Not sure I'll be able to find matching sticks of ram at that time so if I want 16gigs of Ram now would be the time to do it.

3. Blu Ray burner for around $50
I have terabytes of anime to back up. I've used cheap dvds and some of the ones I had 10 years ago are starting to fade on me.

4. Larger/different monitor or dual monitors. I had dual monitors when I was overseas and it is very helpful.

5. A laser printer and scanner or printer scanner combination. I have access to printers at school but it may be convienent to have one in my apartment. I have a Cannon MP560 inkjet/scanner from a few years ago but the scanner doesnt' work anymore and the ink is pretty expensive.

6. Something else I haven't thought of.

7. Some combination of the above or

8. buy nothing and pocket the rest of the money for food and books.

I could go about $20 over-budget but that's about it.
Any suggestions? Thanks!


1. Skip the sound-card. don't be silly.
2. Probably won't need 16 GB of ram, can't imagine paying 70 dollars for 8gb in any case. if this is your plan, wait for it to go on sale for 30 somewhere. depends on what kind of CAD programs you use whether you need more than 8 which is probably a recommended average these days.
3.BD burner isn't necessary either, unless you have blu rays, if you get a BD drive make sure it comes with power-dvd or some such otherwise its useless...
4. Dual monitors i really like dual monitors, if you get them, put one of them on an arm so that you can rotate the monitor 180 degrees. I feel this adds tremendous value for a student
5. Every student should have a working printer, and i believe that every EE student probably also needs a working scanner(see my suggestion below.)
6. Suggestion 1) a kindle fire/nexus 7 is great if you don't have one. you can save yourself hundreds in mandatory book purchases and any pdf that would otherwise need to be printed can be brought to class in one neat little package. they are also cheap(unlike ultrabooks). The MSFT surface would also have a keyboard and would probably be exceptional for taking notes as well. (suggestion 2)also, maybe download steam and get 2-3 awsome oldies for 2-5 bucks, like fable or dragon-age during the steam sale. Things you can play of a 650 ti if you want, say during break or whatever. there is really no down-side to buying and holding at these prices.(suggestion 3)get an SSD or get another HDD and stripe the two of them with RAID0. it makes a big difference.
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Re: Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Wed Jul 17, 2013 9:14 pm

2560 x 1440 monitor, either instead of or in addition to what you already have, and I'm saying that as an MEng graduate.
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Re: Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Wed Jul 17, 2013 10:12 pm

Get a bigger screen. 23 inches is so 2005. I'd think at least 27 if not 30 for any machine I was building today.
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Re: Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Thu Jul 18, 2013 6:24 pm

5. A laser printer and scanner or printer scanner combination. I have access to printers at school but it may be convienent to have one in my apartment. I have a Cannon MP560 inkjet/scanner from a few years ago but the scanner doesnt' work anymore and the ink is pretty expensive.


If you look on EBAY you will see the HP 4050 TN network printer for around $100. The nice thing is a duplex unit will cost you about $34 and what's even better, 10,000 pages of toner will set you back only about $24.
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Re: Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Thu Jul 25, 2013 5:42 am

juzz86 wrote:
BIF wrote:My sister used to think she could replace her car when the tires wore down. She learned. :P


Lol! :D

I had an older one of the cheap Brother mono lasers as my University printer. It cost 65 bucks, and the toner was 89. One of the few that didn't come with a 'promotion' cartridge 2/3 full, but rather a proper cartridge (although not a high-yield). Needless to say, on a two-minute noodle budget, the printer got replaced every time. I now have three defunct old 21-something-Ns in the shed :)


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Re: Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Thu Jul 25, 2013 8:21 am

Here are my recommendations.

1) Upgrade your monitor to a 24"+ and buy a monochrome laser
Screen real estate is always nice, and having a printer is really nice. It will save you from having to hunt one down on campus.

2) Buy a flash drive
Always have backups, and a copy on your physical person is nice.

3) Buy more RAM
RAM never hurts.

4) Buy an SSD
This is kind of a luxury item, but they do make things quicker.
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Re: Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Sat Jul 27, 2013 12:22 pm

A bigger monitor would be useful, as would a printer if you don't have one already. If you have spare money and are an EE student you might want to consider picking up a 3D printer kit. Not only will it make you the envy of all your nerdy friends, you'll get practical experience with some of what you're learning and see how it applies to real-world technology. Or an Arduino or .NET Gadgeteer kit if you'd rather have a badass robot.
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Re: Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Sat Jul 27, 2013 1:28 pm

i would go with a second monitor...i can't even imagine going back to a single screen for desktop use.
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Re: Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Sat Jul 27, 2013 2:08 pm

No brainer. Get one of the Korean 27 inch 2560x1440 monitors
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Re: Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Sat Aug 24, 2013 1:28 am

Thanks for the responses. I wanted to post a rambling belated followup. Been busy moving in and getting ready for school and I haven't had time to post.

I ended up getting more memory and a Blu Ray burner. Newegg had a one day sale on the memory and I got suckered in--2x4Gig for $60. Backing up data was also a priority as well. I'll be getting the Dell monitor I mentioned soon. I would have loved a dual monitor, the extra real estate makes a lot of sense. But again the sale on Ram was too hard to resist. A couple years down the road I probably won't be able to get a DDR3 upgrade, but I'm sure I'll still have the option to get a second or even bigger monitor. That goes for an SSD as well--I'll wait for the prices to hopefully go down more.

The laser printer was a great suggestion, but I couldn't find one under the 75$ range. If I can find one in that price range I could justify buying one.

In my opinion using e-book versions of textbooks (especially math or cs) suck. I"m not taking any Engilsh classes where I need to read some lit straight through. I need to be able to flip pages back and forth to do problem sets. That to me is worth the extra cost and weight of bound paper book. Looking at constants or integral tables on the inside cover can be a pain on a kindle. I already have a kindle and an HD fire anyway. I never use them for school. I haven't had luck taking notes on a tablet either. It's just not as easy as pen and paper. Lower eyestrain with paper as well.

Thanks again for your input.
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Re: Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Sat Aug 24, 2013 3:41 am

Whats wrong with using your current monitor as a secondary?
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Re: Have about $400 to burn. What should I do?

Postposted on Sat Aug 24, 2013 10:00 am

Nothing. I will be using my current monitor as a secondary. I should have been more clear on that. It just would have been nicer to have a secondary monitor larger than 17"
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