Because speed doesn't have to cost a fortune
Our low-end Econobox isn't designed to be the cheapest possible combination of parts. Instead, it's a solid and affordable foundation for enthusiasts on a budget. We've avoided cutting corners in ways that would have limited future upgrade options, and at the same time, we've tried to ensure that the system doesn't actually need any upgrades to deliver relatively peppy performance as it is.
|Processor||AMD Athlon 64 X2 3600+||$63.50|
|Memory||Corsair 2GB ValueSelect DDR2-667||$79.99|
|Graphics||eVGA GeForce 8600 GT||$114.99|
|Storage||Western Digital Caviar SE16 320GB||$74.99|
|Audio||Nvidia nForce 500 (Integrated)||$0|
|Enclosure||Antec NSK 4400 w/380W PSU||$79.99|
We've downgraded our Econobox's processor recommendation from the Athlon 64 X2 3800+ to the slightly slower 3600+ model. There's a small performance difference between the two chips, but the 3600+ saves us a few bucks, and it's based on AMD's new 65nm process technology. The new fab process gives this chip lower power consumption and heat dissipation than the 3800+, which should allow for significantly better overclocking. (The 3600+ runs at 1.9GHz by default, but it's not uncommon to see it overclocked to near the 3GHz mark.)
Price cuts and component changes give us room in the Econobox's $500 budget for a discrete graphics card, so we're retiring our Asus M2NPV-VM motherboard. The M2NPV-VM isn't a bad product, but it has integrated graphics and a Micro-ATX form factor. We can get a nicer, full-sized board for less money. Our recommended Asus M2N4-SLI motherboard costs just $86.99, but it has a full ATX layout and support for Nvidia SLI multi-GPU setups (albeit in a x8/x8 lane configuration). The M2N4-SLI also has an nForce 500 core logic chipset with two ATA channels, four 300MB/s Serial ATA ports with RAID support, Gigabit Ethernet, and passive chipset cooling.
We stuck with DDR2-800 memory throughout our last few builds in order to give our recommended Asus M2N-VM motherboard's integrated graphics a little extra oomph. However, since we've abandoned integrated graphics, it's more sensible to go with cheaper DDR2-667 memory. Combined with falling memory prices, that move allows us to bump our recommendation from 1GB to 2GB of memory, too. Corsair's 2GB ValueSelect DDR2-667 kit is an absolute bargain at just $80, so that's our pick.
Not only memory prices have gone down. Nvidia's GeForce 8600 GT graphics card launched with a recommended price range of $149-159 two months ago, but now eVGA's 256-P2-N751-TR GeForce 8600 GT is available for just $114.99 (or $99.99, if you don't mind mail-in rebates). This isn't some crippled version with GDDR2 memory and a heatsink made out of tinfoil, either. It's a full-blown reference card running at Nvidia's specified clock speeds with the customary 256MB of GDDR3 RAM. eVGA hasn't "factory overclocked" this particular model, but considering the price and the fact that it's covered by a lifetime warranty, we gladly forgive them.
Western Digital's 320GB Caviar SE16 hard drive is our new recommendation for the Econobox. That's a pretty radical change, considering we've been recommending Seagate hard drives in most of our builds ever since the first system guide. Seagate's 320GB Barracuda 7200.10 (our previous recommendation) is still a fine drive, but this Western Digital model has a lower price tag, higher performance, and lower noise levels. The only tradeoff is in the warranty, where Seagate delivers five years of coverage and Western Digital offers only three. We don't think a warranty alone is worth going with a more expensive, slower, and louder drive, so the Caviar SE16 has become our primary selection. If you favor longer warranties above all else, the 7200.10 is still listed in our alternatives section on the next page.
For our optical drive, we're going with Samsung's SH-S183L once again. There are many more Serial ATA DVD burners on the market today than when we first recommended this drive, but it still looks like a competitive offering. It gets nice reviews on Newegg, too, so we see no reason to change recommendations at this point.
Enclosure and power
We've decided to stick with the Antec NSK 4400 case and power supply bundle we recommended in our last few system guides. The NSK's price tag places it at the low end of quality case/PSU bundles, and it combines a very respectable power supply with a quiet and reasonably roomy case. The case includes three 5.25" bays, two 3.5" bays, three hard drive bays with rubber mounting grommets, and a speed-adjustable 120mm exhaust fan. The PSU is an Antec model rated for 380W that can supply up to 336W (28A) of power via a pair of +12V rails rated for 16A individually. That's more than enough juice for our Econobox, and you should have plenty of upgrade headroom if you decide to toss in a couple of extra hard drives or a second graphics card.
$80 may seem like a lot to spend on what seems like accessories in a budget system. However, a good power supply is an invaluable asset to system stability. You could get a $30 case/PSU bundle from a no-name manufacturer, and you might even end up with a halfway decent case out of the deal. PSUs bundled with inexpensive cases tend to be built from cheap, low-quality components, though, and that often translates into low power delivery, voltage fluctuations, poor stress tolerance, and short life spans. Cheap PSUs can jeopardize system stability, damage sensitive components over time, and potentially even flame out in spectacular fashion, taking several system components with them in the process. For an extra $50, the added peace of mind is definitely worth it.