Because speed doesn't have to cost a fortune
As our second-cheapest build, the Econobox presents an affordable formula for gaming and general use. Rather than picking leftover components from the bottom of the bargain bin, we tried to balance low cost with decent performance and headroom for upgrades, which should result in a surprisingly well-rounded system for the price.
|Processor||AMD Phenom II X4 840||$109.99|
|Motherboard||Asus M4A87TD EVO||$109.99|
|Memory||Kingston 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1333||$43.99|
|Graphics||MSI GeForce GTX 460 768MB||$149.99|
|Storage||Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB||$64.99|
|Enclosure||Antec One Hundred||$59.99|
||Antec EarthWatts Green 380W||$44.99|
|Total||Buy this complete system at Newegg||$602.92|
There is a silver lining to the Sandy Bridge chipset snafu: AMD processors have gotten a lot cheaper all of a sudden. Thanks to AMD's new pricing, we can outfit the Econobox with a Phenom II X4 840 processor for only $109. Now, this chip's lack of L3 cache and Propus die really make it an honorary member of the Athlon II X4 series, but its 3.2GHz clock speed still places it above that series' official flagship, the Athlon II X4 645—and, believe it or not, it's actually cheaper right now.
The Phenom II X4 840 really does packs a heck of a punch. Just check out our video encoding benchmarks, where this CPU manages to keep up with much more expensive quad-core offerings from Intel... not to mention some of AMD's own six-core Phenom IIs. The Econobox has never had it so good.
Users seeking overclocking bliss—or lower power consumption—may want to contemplate the Core i3 alternative on the next page. That said, our value numbers from earlier this year clearly showed that the Athlon II X4 series already had an overall performance-per-dollar edge over the Core i3—and this Phenom II X4 is essentially a faster, cheaper Athlon II X4. AMD also enjoys a more compelling platform right now, with cheaper motherboards that have native support for 6Gbps Serial ATA. Speaking of which...
Thanks to AMD's new SB850 south bridge, our Asus M4A87TD EVO motherboard offers six third-gen SATA ports, a number unequaled even by top-of-the-line Intel motherboards. (Yes, we realize Intel's Sandy Bridge chipsets have quicker native SATA 6Gpbs connectivity, but they only offer two ports of it.) The rest of the M4A87TD EVO's features are also remarkable considering the price tag: dual USB 3.0 ports, external Serial ATA connectivity, FireWire, and two physical PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots, although one of those only has four lanes of connectivity.
Gigabyte offers a similar motherboard with additional eSATA and FireWire ports, but Asus offers superior fan-control functionality for a similar price. We don't know about you, but we like our PCs as quiet as they can be.
Since the Econobox's Phenom II X4 processor has a dual-channel memory controller, we've opted for a 4GB kit—specifically, one of Kingston's value-oriented offerings. This two-DIMM ValueRAM kit is rated for operation at 1333MHz with a 1.5V voltage setting, which should ensure both speed and power efficiency.
Graphics card prices are also on a downward trend, which is a blessing for the Econobox. MSI's N460GTX Twin Frozer II SOC, a custom-cooled flavor of Nvidia's GeForce GTX 460 768MB with higher-than-normal clock speeds, can be had for a scant $149.99. Keep in mind plain-Jane GTX 460 768MB cards can happily handle demanding games like Metro 2033 at 1680x1050 or above with antialiasing and anisotropic filtering enabled.
We've chosen this particular MSI card because of its low price, higher-than-average clocks, and the bundled coupon for free copies of Mafia II and Just Cause 2. We trust MSI to provide good warranty support throughout the card's three-year coverage, as well.
Based on the findings of our last 7,200-RPM, 3.5" hard drive roundup, the 1TB Samsung Spinpoint F3 combines excellent desktop performance and low noise levels in a surprisingly affordable package. We were so impressed, in fact, that we gave this drive our Editor's Choice award. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better deal in this price range. The Samsung does have a shorter, three-year warranty (the Caviar Black gets five years of coverage), but three years is pretty much the standard for desktop drives.
For our optical storage option, we've taken a liking to Asus' DRW-24B1ST DVD burner. Not only is it the best-rated DVD burner on Newegg, but it's also remarkably cheap.
As we've now noted in several editions of the guide, we've given up on an all-in-one case and PSU bundle for the Econobox. Our previous favorite, Antec's NSK 4482, has an undeniably ugly design and fairly run-of-the-mill expansion capabilities, yet Antec continues to price it around the $100 mark. For a similar amount of dough, we can we can outfit the Econobox with the same power supply and a much better case. So we did.
Antec's EarthWatts Green 380W power supply is available both inside the NSK 4482 and as a stand-alone unit. We looked around for a better option, but this one has a very low price tag, 80 Plus Bronze certification, and more than enough juice for the Econobox. Also, because the model name includes the words "earth" and "green," we assume this PSU saves more polar bears than other, comparatively priced units.
Our previous pick, Antec's Three Hundred enclosure, has given way to the new Antec One Hundred. While it costs the same as its predecessor, the One Hundred offers a number of added conveniences, like cut-outs in the motherboard tray for cable routing and heatsink installation, more front-panel USB ports, liquid-cooling support, and a 2.5" drive bay for an SSD. Also, the interior has a sleek, black paint job. What's not to like?
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