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

Component Item Price
Processor AMD FX-4100 3.6GHz $109.99
Motherboard Asus M5A97 $94.99
Memory Crucial 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $45.99
Graphics Gigabyte GeForce GTX 460 1GB $139.99

AMD advertises the FX-4100 as a quad-core processor, and since the chip runs at 3.6GHz, you might be misled into thinking it's far superior to the Core i3-2120. That isn't quite the case. Our sense is that the FX tends to be faster in some applications and slower in others.

We prefer the Core i3 because of its lower thermal envelope, but that doesn't mean the FX-4100 isn't worth a look. The AMD offering costs slightly less and can be paired with a more affordable motherboard without sacrificing functionality. Also, AMD touts the FX-4100's unlocked upper multiplier, which facilitates easy overclocking (provided the chip has a decent amount of clock headroom, of course). Just keep in mind that, unlike the Core i3, the FX-4100 doesn't have integrated graphics.

Asus' M5A97 is richly adorned despite its sub-$100 asking price. This motherboard has six Serial ATA 6Gbps ports, dual physical PCI Express x16 slots with CrossFire support (in a x16/x4-lane config), USB 3.0, passively cooled CPU power regulation circuitry, and Asus' excellent UEFI firmware. Newegg shoppers have given this mobo rather good reviews overall, too. Provided you don't need integrated graphics, this board should be a fine complement to the FX-4100.

RAM is so cheap right now that, if you have a few bucks to spare, you might as well grab this 8GB Crucial DDR3-1600 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 7770 got the nod in our primary picks because of its low price, solid performance, and power-sipping 28-nm GPU. If you'd be more partial to an Nvidia card, then a GeForce GTX 460 with higher-than-normal clock speeds, like this Gigabyte model, ought to make you happy. The GeForce costs more but should perform slightly better than the Radeon. We've found Nvidia tends to provide better driver support for freshly released games, too. Other than the price, the GeForce's only real downside is its higher power draw.