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The Econobox
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.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Pentium E2160 $85.99
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-965P-S3 $102.99
Memory Corsair 2GB ValueSelect DDR2-667 $73.99
Graphics eVGA GeForce 8600 GT $114.99
Storage Western Digital Caviar SE16 320GB $74.99
Samsung SH-S203B $31.99
Audio Integrated $0
Enclosure Antec NSK 4480 w/380W PSU $84.95
Total Buy this complete system at Newegg $569.89

For the first time ever, we've selected an Intel processor as the main recommendation for our Econobox. It's not that AMD doesn't offer any good sub-$100 chips anymore—even with the Athlon 64 X2 3600+ now discontinued, the faster Athlon 64 X2 4000+ is still a fine budget contender. However, with Intel's Pentium E2160 now available for just $85.99, there's little incentive to stick with AMD. Judging by the numbers we've seen around the 'net, the E2160 should not only be faster overall than the 4000+, but it should be a better overclocker, as well. An LGA775-based system also offers a more attractive upgrade path than one based on Socket AM2; Intel plans to introduce desktop 45nm Core 2 chips in November, and the first glimpse we've had of the performance of AMD's quad-core processors doesn't suggest it will retake the performance lead.

The Pentium 2160's only real downside is the "Pentium" name, which evokes slow and power-hungry chips of old. Fortunately, the E2160 is essentially a Core 2 Duo with less L2 cache than usual, so there's no need to worry about the Pentium name's Netburst-plagued pedigree.

We've selected Gigabyte's GA-965P-S3 motherboard to go with our Intel processor. This board costs just $102.99, but it packs an Intel P965 Express chipset and has a fairly solid reputation as far as overclocking goes. We'd be happier if the GA-965P-S3 offered chipset-level RAID support, but that's an omission we're inclined to forgive considering the price tag and the fact that this is a budget system.

Chipset and overclocking aside, the GA-965P-S3 delivers passive chipset cooling, six 300MB/s Serial ATA ports, Gigabit Ethernet, and a full array of PCI Express and 32-bit PCI slots.

Corsair's 2GB ValueSelect DDR2-667 kit makes a comeback in this build. At $74.99 for 2GB of RAM, this kit is an absolute bargain. DDR2-667 is plenty fast for this system, too, and it shouldn't impede overclocking provided you make use of the Gigabyte GA-965P-S3's memory dividers.

Nvidia's GeForce 8600 GT graphics card launched with a recommended price range of $149-159 five 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 recommendation for the Econobox. We're still passing on Seagate, since the Caviar has a lower price tag, higher performance, and lower noise levels than Seagate's 320GB Barracuda 7200.10. 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, though, 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, the Samsung SH-183L model we recommended last time seems to have disappeared, so we're going with Samsung's SH-S203B. This drive is both cheaper and faster than our old recommendation, and it sports a Serial ATA interface, so it looks like a great choice.

Enclosure and power
We recommended Antec's NSK 4400 case and power supply bundle last time, but it, too, seems to have been discontinued. In its stead, we've selected the NSK 4480. Like its predecessor, the NSK 4480 includes three 5.25" bays, two 3.5" bays, three hard drive bays with rubber mounting grommets, and a speed-adjustable 120mm exhaust fan. As far as we can tell, the only difference between the two cases is that the NSK 4480 comes with a high-efficiency EarthWatts power supply, whereas its predecessor was outfitted with a less efficient New Solution-series model. The EarthWatts is rated for 17A of power delivery on each of its two +12V rails—1A more than the New Solution model. That's only a minor upgrade for the NSK 4480, but it's nonetheless an improvement over the already solid NSK 4400.

As always, the price of our recommended case and PSU bundle 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 $55, the added peace of mind is definitely worth it.