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Econobox alternatives

The preceding selections round out our low-end system, but we've come up with a couple of suggested alternatives, should you wish to tweak the formula a little bit. These alternatives will allow you to step up to better performance for a little bit more money or save a little without too much pain.

Component Item Price
Processor AMD Athlon X2 5200+ $77.00
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H $89.99
Graphics Diamond Radeon HD 3850 $119.99
Storage Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 320GB $67.99
Audio Asus Xonar DX $94.99

The Athlon X2 5200+ likely outruns the Pentium E2180 in our primary config overall, but we find the AMD socket's upgrade path considerably less appealing. Still, the Athlon is a decent choice for folks who don't overclock and don't care about upgrading to a quad-core CPU down the road.

Our AMD chip won't plug into our primary system's Intel socket, so we've selected a matching motherboard based on AMD's new 780G integrated graphics chipset. The 780G is blessed with a surprisingly competent Radeon HD 3200 integrated graphics processor, which can run fairly recent games as long as you can live with lower resolutions and detail levels. Cinephiles will be glad to know that the Radeon HD 3200 can accelerate high-definition video decoding to facilitate buttery-smooth Blu-ray playback.

We have plenty of experience with Gigabyte's GA-MA78GM-S2H motherboard, which we featured in our initial review of the 780G, so we're confident that it's a good match for our Econobox alternatives. The S2H also seems to have more positive Newegg user reviews than any other 780G board.

As a side note, we should mention that Nvidia's GeForce 8200 and 8300 series integrated graphics chipsets are trickling onto the market, and that they're certainly interesting alternatives to the 780G. However, based on our experience with the GeForce 8300 (stay tuned for a full review soon), we still favor the 780G.

Gamers with tight budgets should find the Radeon HD 3850 to be a decent alternative to the GeForce 9600 GT. The AMD card costs less, doesn't produce much noise, and comes with an AMD driver control panel some users may prefer. With an asking price $20 lower than our recommended 9600 GT, Diamond's Viper 3850PE3512O fits the bill as a cheaper alternative to the GeForce.

If you care more about warranty coverage than noise levels and performance, Seagate's Barracuda 7200.11 320GB is the drive for you.

Sound card
Those who've read our review of the Xonar DX will likely understand our motives for picking this as our optional sound card. Compared to Creative's similarly priced X-Fi XtremeGamer, the Xonar offers superior sound quality, useful features like real-time Dolby Digital Live encoding, and a PCI Express x1 interface. It also does a nice job of emulating Creative's EAX 5.0 positional audio effects, ensuring compatibility with a broad range of games.