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The Econobox Lite
As tight as it gets—but with room for more

What's this? We priced out an ultra-compact "Mini-Econobox" with an Atom processor in our last system guide, but we were curious to see if you could get a faster, more upgrade-friendly desktop for the same price. Turns out we can. While it has a bigger footprint, the Econobox Lite packs far better components than any Atom rig—and you can easily upgrade it with a speedy dual-core processor and a state-of-the-art graphics card.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Celeron 430 $39.99
Motherboard Foxconn M7VMX-K $43.99
Memory 2GB Kingston DDR2-667 $28.99
Graphics Integrated $0
Storage Western Digital Caviar SE16 320GB $59.99
Samsung SH-S223Q $26.99
Audio Integrated $0
Enclosure Antec NSK 4480B w/380W PSU $79.99
Total Buy this complete system at Newegg. $279.94

We've dumped the Intel Atom N230 in favor of the Conroe-based Celeron 430. Think of this chip as a 65nm Core 2 Duo with one of its cores lopped off, much of its L2 cache disabled, and a 35W power envelope. The Celeron 430 won't blow your mind with its multitasking abilities, but it should perform far better overall than anything in the Atom line. This CPU uses the same LGA775 package as Intel's fastest desktop CPUs, too, so we can pick a more full-featured motherboard to go with it.

You generally shouldn't expect much from sub-$50 motherboards, but the Foxconn M7VMX-K looks surprisingly compelling for the price. This board's GeForce 7050 "motherboard GPU" should beat the pants off cheaper Intel integrated graphics, and its PCI Express x16 slot can accommodate a full-blown graphics card. (By contrast, Atom Mini-ITX motherboards typically feature a lone PCI slot.) Best of all, the M7VMX-K supports Core 2 processors with 1066MHz front-side bus speeds, so you should be able to pop in something like a Core 2 Duo E7300 or a Core 2 Quad Q6600 if that Celeron starts feeling too slow. On the flip side, though, Foxconn only includes a VGA display connector.

We haven't tried this board ourselves, but the customer reviews on Newegg look quite encouraging overall. Yes, we know—some of you might be about to jump in the comments section and say Newegg readers are clueless. Think about it this way, though: while Joe six-pack might not be able to appreciate the finer points of motherboard design, if 86% of Newegg users are giving this board four- or five-star ratings, we can probably discount show-stopping problems and major flaws.

With memory prices the way they are, 2GB is a great place to start for a budget system. Our recommended mobo apparently has a single memory channel, and Foxconn says it supports DDR2-800 RAM only by overclocking, so we're playing it safe with a single 2GB module of DDR2-667 RAM. We're going with a Kingston DIMM here because it's the cheapest one Newegg has, and because it comes from a trusted manufacturer that offers a lifetime warranty and 24/7 technical support.

Western Digital's 7,200-RPM hard drives tend to be fast, quiet, and cheap. This one is no exception. We actually recommended the 320GB Caviar SE16 for our $500 Econobox system in many previous system guides, and now that it costs just $60, we think it complements the Econobox Lite nicely.

On the optical side of things, Samsung's SH-S223Q gets our vote because of its low price, solid feature set, and positive user reviews. If previous drives from the same series are any indication, this one should be pretty quiet, too.

Enclosure and power
We went a bit crazy here and picked the Antec NSK 4480B case and power supply bundle we usually recommend for our Econobox. Bear with us, though. If you're buying a $300 system, we expect you'll hold on to components like the case and power supply for as long as possible. The NSK 4480B will last not just because Antec uses quality components to make it, but also because its 380W EarthWatts power supply and roomy insides can accommodate much faster hardware (and more of it).

Besides, we think even a $300 system deserves a quality PSU. Cheap, bargain-bin units might look appealing, but their manufacturers often embellish specifications and cut corners where they shouldn't. In the end, a cheap PSU can jeopardize system stability, damage sensitive components over time, and potentially even flame out in spectacular fashion, taking several system components with it in the process.

Incidentally, this is the black version of the NSK 4480. We picked it because Newegg inexplicably charges more for the silver-bezeled model we usually recommend.