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The Econobox
Because speed doesn't have to cost a fortune

Instead of being the cheapest possible combination of parts, the Econobox fills in as our affordable gaming and general use system. You won't find too many fancy extras here, but we've tried to select a balanced mix of peppy, reliable components with headroom for future upgrades.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Pentium E5200 $75.99
Motherboard Asus P5QL-E $106.49
Memory 2GB Kingston DDR2-800 $28.99
Graphics Sapphire Radeon HD 4830 $109.99
Storage Western Digital Caviar SE16 640GB $69.99
Samsung SH-S223Q $27.99
Audio Integrated $0
Enclosure Antec NSK 4480B w/380W PSU $69.99
Total Buy this complete system at Newegg. $489.43

Intel's 45nm dual-core processors have finally trickled down well under the $100 mark, allowing us to select one for the Econobox. The Pentium E5200 totes a pair of 45nm Penryn cores clocked at 2.5GHz with 2MB of shared L2 cache and an 800MHz FSB. Considering the clock-for-clock performance (never mind the overclocking potential) of Penryn CPUs, that's an excellent starting point.

We've spent a little extra here and upgraded to Asus' P5QL-E motherboard. While it's technically based on a lower-end chipset (the P43 Express) than our previous P45-based recommendation, it's only slightly more expensive, and it features FireWire and Serial ATA ports at the back, plus a somewhat roomier layout—useful if you're into huge CPU coolers, and the like.

You'll also find Serial ATA RAID, compatibility with Intel's latest Core 2 Quad processors, and an eight-phase power delivery system. The P43 chipset's only real downside is its lack of support for multi-GPU configs, but P45 mobos with RAID-capable south bridges in this price range don't have multiple PCI Express graphics slots, anyway.

In light of Windows Vista's memory demands and current prices, 2GB of RAM has really become the minimum for a modern PC. Our 2GB Kingston DDR2-800 dual-channel kit is one of the cheapest in its class at just under $30, so it easily fits in the Econobox's $500 budget. Kingston should have better quality control and customer service than you can expect from no-name module makers.

Since AMD's Radeon HD 4830 delivers better overall performance than Nvidia's GeForce 9800 GT for a similar price, that's what we've selected—a Sapphire Radeon HD 4830, to be precise. This card should comfortably handle the latest games at intermediate resolutions like 1680x1050 with graphical detail turned up and perhaps a dash of antialiasing. In some cases, the 4830 performs very closely to the pricier Radeon HD 4850. If you'd rather pay slightly more for a GeForce with better warranty coverage, have a look at our alternatives section on the next page.

This Caviar SE16 hard drive from Western Digital simultaneously delivers a 640GB storage capacity, excellent performance, very low noise levels, and a bargain-basement price. What's not to like? Well, some folks won't be too enamored with the drive's three-year warranty. For that reason, we're recommending the more expensive Caviar Black as an alternative on the next page.

As for our optical drive, Samsung's SH-S223Q fits in just fine here. A Serial ATA interface should make it reasonably future-proof, and we like the combination of positive user reviews and low pricing.

Enclosure and power
Antec's NSK 4480B case and power supply bundle remains our case of choice for the Econobox. This bundle has everything the Econobox needs: a quality, high-efficiency power supply that provides a little upgrading headroom; a roomy case with good cooling; and a reasonable price tag.

You might find cheaper possibilities out there, but we don't think you'll be able to save a whole lot by going with lower-quality components. Besides, bargain-bin power supplies generally have inflated specifications, and a cheap PSU can jeopardize system stability, damage sensitive components over time, and potentially even flame out in spectacular fashion—taking system components with it in the process.