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Econobox alternatives
We're happy with our primary selections, but not everybody will want a triple-core processor or discrete graphics. Since users' needs will invariably, er, vary, we've gathered a list of alternatives and extras below.

Component Item Price
Processor AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition $102.00
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-MA785GM-US2H $79.99
Memory Crucial 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2-800 $54.99
Graphics Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 1GB $144.99

For folks wishing to save a few bucks, stepping down to the Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition will trim the Econobox's price by around $20 without taking away the unlocked multiplier and Socket AM3 upgrade path. You might even get better performance in single- or dual-threaded apps like games, since the X2 550's cores run at a higher clock speed than the X3 720's. This processor is also based on quad-core silicon, so the unlocking trick we talked about on the previous page might work here, too.

Don't play demanding games? Then why not skip the $105 Radeon and move down to integrated graphics? Gigabyte's GA-MA785G-US2H can accommodate either the Phenom II X3 720 or the Phenom II X2 550, and it features AMD's new 785G chipset with the very capable Radeon HD 4200 integrated graphics processor. That integrated GPU can handle casual games just fine, and it features AMD's latest high-definition video decoding logic. Many users don't need much more graphics horsepower from a $500 PC.

This board also happens to have a nice set of features, including external Serial ATA, FireWire, HDMI, and Realtek's ALC889A audio codec, which can do on-the-fly Dolby Digital Live and DTS encoding. It only takes DDR2 memory, however. Keep reading for our matching RAM recommendation.

Our selected 4GB Crucial DDR2-800 memory kit completes the dual-core, 785G, and DDR2 budget trifecta. Because DDR2 still costs a little bit less than DDR3 right now, going with our alternative budget parts can shrink the price of the Econobox to around $430 overall. Not bad, right?

Some may need more graphics power from the Econobox, not less. In those cases, we suggest taking a look at the Sapphire's Radeon HD 4870 1GB. Don't let the low price fool you; the 4870 1GB is actually the second-fastest single-GPU product in AMD's DirectX 10.1 lineup, and it's a big step up from the 4850. We're choosing the 4870 over Nvidia's GeForce GTX 260 because, in the wake of AMD's recent price cuts, the cheapest GTX 260 cards are more expensive than the Radeon and not really any faster. We're also passing on an XFX-branded Radeon here despite the nicer warranty—sadly, the XFX 4870 1GB we used to recommend is now discontinued, and its replacement has a worryingly small cooler.

Some might question whether our recommended power supply can handle this card. Well, our tests show that the stock 4870 1GB actually draws fewer watts under load than the Radeon HD 4850 512MB. We're tempted to attribute that to the 4870's use of GDDR5 memory, which is supposed to be more power-efficient than GDDR3.