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Econobox alternatives
We couldn't keep Sandy Bridge out of the Econobox completely, now could we?

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i3-2100 3.1GHz $124.99
Motherboard Asus P8P67 LE $139.99
Asus M5A88-V EVO $129.99
Graphics Asus GeForce GTX 460 1GB $159.99
Storage WD Caviar Black 1TB $89.99

Intel's Core i3-2100 might only have two physical cores, but this Sandy Bridge specimen slightly outpaced AMD's Phenom II X4 840 overall across our test suite, and it did so with lower power draw—especially under load. (See our latest CPU review for the data.) On the flip side, the i3-2100 costs a few bucks more by itself, and so do matching motherboards with the same features as our primary pick.

The Asus P8P67 LE admittedly isn't the cheapest P67 motherboard around. However, it serves up a similar set of features to the M4A87TD EVO from the previous page, and it throws in Asus' excellent UEFI firmware, which is much better than all the other attempts at next-gen BIOSes we've seen to date.

If you were hoping to see a Z68-based motherboard recommended here, well, you're as disappointed as we are. Turns out Z68 mobos with similar perks cost quite a bit more than their P67 siblings, so they don't really belong in a build like the Econobox.

What's the Asus M5A88V-EVO doing here? That board won't work with the Core i3-2100, but it's an alternative worth considering for our AMD processor for a couple of reasons. First, this board's AM3+ socket will accommodate Bulldozer processors when they come out later this year. (We'd have been happier listing a cheap, 870-based AM3+ board on the previous page, but the pickings are slim right now.) Second, the M5A88V-EVO packs Radeon HD 4250 integrated graphics with a trio of display output options, which makes it a worthy choice for non-gamers. Otherwise, this board's feature loadout closely resembles that of our primary pick, the M4A87TD EVO.

The Radeon HD 6850 got the nod in our primary picks because of its higher overall performance and sweet dual-fan cooler, but the GeForce GTX 460 1GB is very close in both performance and price. We recognize that some folks are partial to Nvidia-specific features like PhysX, as well. The point is, you can't go wrong with either card—flip a coin. If it comes up tails, consider picking up EVGA's GeForce GTX 460 1GB. This card comes out of the box with higher-than-normal clock speeds, just like the Radeon we singled out earlier.

Although the SpinPoint F3 is easily the best all-around value in a desktop hard drive, it's missing one little thing: a five-year warranty. Like just about every other desktop drive, the SpinPoint is covered for just three years. Only premium models like Western Digital's Caviar Black 1TB offer five years of coverage.

Of course, the Black also has a premium price and higher noise levels than the SpinPoint, which is why it's an alternative rather than the primary recommendation. The Caviar is a little bit faster overall, but that's not enough to tip the scales in its favor.