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Econobox alternatives
Want a faster processor, more RAM, or an Nvidia graphics card? Read on.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i5-2300 2.8GHz $179.99
Memory Crucial 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1333 $44.99
Graphics EVGA GeForce GTX 460 1GB $159.99

The Core i3-2100 in our primary picks is a fine processor, and thanks to Hyper-Threading, it can juggle four threads at once. For heavy multitasking and heavily multithreaded applications, though, nothing beats a genuine quad-core processor like the Core i5-2300, which is Intel's most affordable Sandy Bridge quad.

The i5-2300 does have a lower base clock speed than the i3-2100 (2.8 vs 3.1GHz), but it also has Turbo Boost, a feature Intel kept out of the i3-2100's bag of tricks. The i5-2300's top Turbo speed is the same as the i3-2100's base speed—3.1GHz—so the quad-core offering shouldn't be handicapped in single-threaded tasks. In fact, the i5 might actually have an advantage in such tasks thanks to its larger L3 cache.

For the reasons we noted on the previous page, we don't feel comfortable recommending one of AMD's Llano APUs, even in our alternatives section. AMD's A-series chips are simply too expensive, too power-hungry, and saddled with CPU cores that are too underpowered. That makes them wholly unappealing for a build like this one, in which integrated graphics performance isn't a priority.

RAM is so cheap right now that, if you have a few bucks to spare, you might as well grab this 8GB Crucial DDR3-1333 kit instead of the 4GB bundle from the previous page. Windows 7 puts extra memory to good use as a disk cache, so you should be able to enjoy the additional four gigabytes even if you don't edit high-definition video or juggle huge Photoshop files.

The Radeon HD 6850 got the nod in our primary picks because it's slightly faster than the reference GeForce GTX 460 1GB for the money. However, higher-clocked versions of the GTX 460 like this EVGA model are available for not much more, and they have perks of their own. Nvidia did a much better job of promptly providing drivers optimized for Rage and Battlefield 3 than AMD earlier this month, which bodes well for this year's other upcoming releases. We recognize some folks are partial to Nvidia-specific features like PhysX, as well.