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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 $44.99
Graphics EVGA GeForce GTX 560 1GB $164.99

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 well equipped 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.

The FX-4100 supports higher memory speeds out of the box, so if you're choosing it over the Core i3-2120, then you might want DDR3-1600 RAM. This Crucial Ballistix combo only costs a few bucks more than the 1333MHz kit we recommended on the previous page, and it also has a 1.5V signal voltage and a lifetime warranty. Crucial dresses up the modules with slick-looking heat spreaders, too.

Nvidia appears to have discontinued the GeForce GTX 460 1GB, which we used to recommend as a slightly faster, higher-priced alternative for the Econobox. In its place, Newegg now stocks a GeForce GTX 560 SE, which has fewer ALUs, a narrower path to memory, and clock speeds too low to make up the differences in fill rate and memory bandwidth.

Yeah, we're not thrilled with the substitution, either.

For lack of a better alternative, we're giving a bona-fide GeForce GTX 560 the nod. It's a bigger step up in price, but it also represents a sizable performance jump—both over the Radeon HD 7770 and over the now seemingly defunct GTX 460 1GB. EVGA's version of the GTX 560 is clocked slightly above the reference speed and comes with a three-year warranty.