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

Component Item Price
Processor AMD A10-5800K 3.8GHz $129.99
Motherboard ASRock FM2A85X Extreme6 $99.99
Storage OCZ Agility 3 64GB $64.99
Samsung 830 Series 128GB $89.99
Graphics PowerColor Radeon HD 7850 1GB $169.99
Asus GeForce GTX 660 $239.99

As we said earlier, some folks may find that the A10-5800K fits their needs better than the Core i3-3225. This AMD APU performs better overall in non-gaming applications, and its integrated graphics are clearly superior—not just because they're faster (and they are, by quite a bit), but also because game compatibility tends to be better with AMD and Nvidia graphics solutions than with Intel IGPs. In other words, if you're someone who plays games infrequently, you can skip the Radeon HD 7770 without forfeiting your right to a nice round of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or some Skyrim dungeoning every now and then.

Of course, the caveats we outlined on the previous page are still worth keeping in mind. The A10-5800K sucks up a lot more power under load than the Core i3, is slower in games with a discrete GPU, and doesn't have much of an upgrade path.

Why aren't we recommending the FX-4300? Well, that chip costs the same as the A10-5800K, and while it has 4MB of L3 cache, it also has a lower Turbo speed than the A10. We haven't had a chance to test both processors side by side (and we can't find many comparisons out on the web), but in our experience, Bulldozer-derived offerings need as high a clock speed as they can get to perform well—especially in single-threaded tasks. The FX-4300 also lacks integrated graphics, which makes it harder to justify as an alternative to the Core i3.

There's a surprising dearth of Socket FM2 motherboards with full ATX layouts out there. One of the few offerings bucking that trend is ASRock's FM2A85X Extreme6, which is pretty decked-out for its $100 price tag.

This mobo features three physical PCI Express Gen2 x16 slots (which can be arranged in x16/x8/x4 or x8/x8/x4 lane configurations), seven 6Gbps Serial ATA ports (including one eSATA port), four USB 3.0 ports, an 8+2 power phase design, a CMOS reset switch on the rear port cluster, and slick black heatsinks that belie the low asking price. ASRock also includes plenty of display outputs for the A10-5800K's integrated graphics, including DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort, and good-ol' VGA.

The Econboox may benefit more from a graphics or CPU upgrade than from faster storage. However, the advantages of a speedy SSD can't be overstated. Boot times, application startup times, and game level load times will all shrink noticeably with an SSD, and your system will feel generally snappier and more responsive.

A cheap way to get on the SSD bandwagon is to snag one of OCZ's 64GB Agility 3 drives, which should have enough storage capacity for your Windows 8 installation and a handful of games and apps. Performance should be solid, and for $65 or so, the Agility 3 doesn't break the bank.

However, we strongly recommend paying a little more and getting a 128GB Samsung 830 Series. 830 Series drives are some of the highest-performing SSDs we've tested to date, and the extra storage capacity will be more than welcome. 64GB can feel a little constricting with today's multi-gigabyte game installations. Of course, you're probably still going to want the 1TB Spinpoint from the previous page, both for mass-storage duties and as a spillover drive in case your games and apps don't all fit on the SSD.

Getting a Radeon HD 7850 1GB instead of the 7770 is well worth it if you can afford the upgrade. Stock 7850 1GB cards like this PowerColor model handily outperform even higher-clocked variants of the 7770, and they're also quicker than hot-clocked versions of Nvidia's new GeForce GTX 650 Ti.

In fact, the 7850 1GB can handle most games at 1920x1080 with the detail settings cranked up. The only exceptions are titles that couple very high levels of antialiasing with high-res textures, like Skyrim, in which case a 2GB graphics card like the GeForce GTX 660 might be a better bet.

At $239.99, Asus' GeForce GTX 660 DirectCU II OC is a little pricey for the Econobox. However, it's almost on the same level as AMD's Radeon HD 7950 in our 99th-percentile scatter plots, and it's more power-efficient than the comparatively slower Radeon HD 7870. This is a very powerful card—one that won't bat an eye if you ever pick up a 27" monitor and try to play games at 2560x1440. To top it off, this particular Asus model has an extremely quiet cooler. Slap this puppy into the Econobox, and you'll have one heck of a budget gaming rig.

By the way, the Econobox's 380W EarthWatts PSU should have enough juice to power the GTX 660. The card has only a single six-pin PCI Express power connector, and when we tested it on a much faster machine with a higher-wattage CPU than either the Core i3-3220 or the A10-5800K, total system power consumption under load peaked at only 232W. The EarthWatts PSU, for reference, can feed a combined 336W through its dual 12V rails.