Want an AMD processor or upgrades to the Econobox's graphics card, memory, and storage? Read on.
|Processor||AMD A10-6700 3.7GHz||$148.99|
|Motherboard||ASRock FM2A75 Pro4-M Extreme6||$74.99|
|Memory||Corsair Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600||$66.99|
|Storage||Samsung 840 Series 120GB||$99.99|
|Seagate Barracuda 7,200 RPM 2TB||$99.99|
|Graphics||PowerColor Radeon HD 7850 2GB||$154.99|
|Gigabyte GeForce 650 Ti Boost OC 1GB||$149.99|
If you favor integrated graphics and multithreaded CPU performance, then the A10-6700 may be a better option than the Core i3. It's not the fastest member of the Richland lineup, but it's right behind the top-of-the-line A10-6800K—especially on the integrated graphics front. The A10-6700 also has a modest 65W thermal envelope, which makes it easier to cool quietly than the 100W A10-6800K. We're willing to trade a little performance for lower heat and noise levels.
The A10-6800K does have an unlocked multiplier that allows easy overclocking. However, the one we tried to overclock didn't have much headroom; it was barely any faster than the stock config. Raising the clock speed on a 100W chip will further increase power consumption and associated heat output, too. We don't think that's a worthwhile compromise for this kind of system.
We usually stick with ATX motherboards for our standard builds, but microATX mobos are more affordable, and we think they're a better match for our AMD alternative. The A10-6700's primary appeal is its integrated Radeon, which precludes the need for a $130 discrete graphics card. Since we don't recommend any other expansion cards, it makes little sense to pay a premium for an ATX mobo with extra slots.
At only $75, ASRock's FM2A75 Pro4-M is a bargain. Nevertheless, this board has dual physical PCIe x16 slots, five 6Gbps SATA (and one eSATA) ports, and four USB 3.0 connectors. The integrated audio can be piped over a digital S/PDIF output, and the video outs include DVI and HDMI. That's a pretty good package overall.
We should note that AMD's next-gen Kaveri APU is scheduled to start shipping before the end of the year. We haven't seen motherboard makers pledge Kaveri support for any existing models, and the updated ones designed specifically for Kaveri aren't available for sale just yet. If you'd like a guaranteed upgrade path, it's probably worth waiting for motherboards based on Kaveri's tweaked FM2+ socket.
Can't get by on 4GB of RAM? Then feel free to spring for an 8GB kit. We've been using Vengeance memory in test systems for years, and it's been excellent.
There are three ways to boost the Econobox's storage config.
You can get a solid-state drive and load it up with your operating system and applications. A 120-128GB offering is probably your best bet for a system like this one. Among the solutions in that range, it's hard to beat Samsung's 840 Series 120GB. This may not be the fastest budget drive in every benchmark, but it's still leagues quicker than mechanical storage, and it's a fair bit cheaper than substantially faster SSDs. Samsung has technically replaced this drive with the 840 EVO 120GB. However, that model is more expensive right now, and it taps into less controller-level parallelism than its predecessor, which means the 840 Series may still be faster in some cases.
Another storage upgrade would be to replace the 1TB Seagate Barracuda with a 2TB version of the same drive. The extra terabyte only raises the price by 30 bucks, and you get the same 7,200-RPM spindle speed and 64MB cache as in the lower-capacity model. Going with one of Western Digital's Black drives would get us even higher performance with random I/O... but the 1TB Black costs nearly as much as the 2TB 'cuda, which makes it a rather poor value.
Your third option is to get both the 120GB Samsung SSD and the 2TB Barracuda. You'll have to shell out a fair bit more cash, but you'll get the best of both worlds: fast solid-state storage for your OS and software and plentiful mechanical mass storage for music, movies, TV shows, and other files.
By the way, unless you're running a solid-state system drive, we recommend staying away from "Green" hard drives. Those offerings may be great for secondary storage, but because their spindle speeds are typically around 5,400 RPM, they're too slow for your OS and applications.
Our Econobox graphics alternative is also a multiple-choice deal.
If you want a faster Radeon, try this PowerColor Radeon HD 7850 2GB. It's a big upgrade over the 7790, and it comes with your choice of two free games from AMD's Never Settle Forever Silver bundle. You may see 1GB versions of the 7850 listed for about five bucks less, but we think the two-gig card is a better option for the long run.
Nvidia has two options in this price range: the GTX 650 Ti Boost 2GB, which costs $170, and the 1GB version of the same card, which can be found for as little as $150. In our testing, we found that the 2GB version of the GTX 650 Ti Boost was about on par with the Radeon HD 7850 2GB; it was a little faster in some games and a little slower in others. The 650 Ti Boost 1GB has a smaller frame buffer and a lower memory speed, so it likely trails the 7850 overall, and it might struggle with next-gen titles that need extra memory.
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