Introduction

Low-end PCs have a reputation for being sub-standard, underpowered, and barely better than off-the-shelf PCs. However, low-end merely refers to the price, and right now companies like AMD, Intel, and NVIDIA are throwing out quality components for prices that traditionally belong with outdated or inadequate hardware. You just have to know what to look for. In this guide we will be taking a look at both the entry-level and budget gaming offerings, with comments and suggestions specifically on stability, quality of components, and - with the budget gaming systems - balancing budget and quality with overclocking and stability.

In the time since our last Budget Guide in April, we have witnessed some major changes to the hardware market that have affected our decisions. Both AMD and Intel refreshed their CPU lineups with die shrinks, simultaneously increasing performance while reducing power consumption. This of course also allowed for further price cuts in the ongoing CPU price war. Both companies are facing imminent product launches, Intel with their Penryn refresh of the Core 2 architecture and AMD with the much-delayed Phenom processor family - including the native quad-core Barcelona/K10.

NVIDIA just recently launched their second generation of DX10 hardware in the 8800 GT 512MB - or should we say, they released a refresh of the first generation that appeared a year ago. The 8800 GT 512MB is a tweaked version of the high-end 8800 GTS/GTX series built on a smaller 65nm manufacturing process. Because of the ability to produce more GPU chips on each wafer, the card comes with a lower price tag and a move to the midrange sector. Especially exciting is that this card is being priced between $200 and $250, cheaper than the 8800 GTS (320MB and 640MB) and GTX (768MB) but with performance almost on par with the $500 8800 GTX. The best part is, at this price, we've managed to create a powerhouse of a budget gaming rig for just a tad over $1000.

With Vista now approaching its first birthday, driver issues are (for the most part) no longer a problem. That means it's finally time to justify the purchase of DX10 hardware if you haven't already, right? Well, yes and no. There are still issues with Vista, ranging from SLI incompatibilities to missing soundcard drivers and the oft-rumored slowdown of performance in Vista vs. XP machines. Indeed, many users chose to revert to Windows XP after encountering stability or performance issues under Vista, while others are arguing that current DX10 titles don't justify the cost of an upgrade. However, is XP still an alternative? Although our inclination is to believe performance is still better in XP - the OS memory footprint is certainly much smaller - we are in no doubt as to the future of Windows, and our choices reflect that.

AMD Entry-level PC
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  • JarredWalton - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    I don't know if the performance is as good in every area, but they are very quiet, cool running, and I have several that have not caused me any trouble. I have plenty of Seagate and WD drives as well. Outside of the Raptor drives (which are LOUD!) I couldn't tell which drive is which without looking at the case or running some sort of utility to look. Reply
  • Martimus - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    Why was the display price $10 cheaper on the Intel build than the AMD build? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    Jonathan originally selected a D-Sub only LCD, and we switched to a DVI model. Missed the price updates, though. It ends up being $20 more for DVI, but it's definitely worth the money in my book. Prices should all be correct now (I hope). Reply
  • Martimus - Friday, November 09, 2007 - link

    The display is still $10 cheaper on the Intel non-gamer build. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 09, 2007 - link

    Ah... I updated the gamer builds and missed the base builds. Fixed. Reply
  • Martimus - Friday, November 09, 2007 - link

    Thanks. I was originally confused as to whether there was a rebate on the monitor if you bought an Intel chip with it or something. Maybe I should do something like this to update my old computer, because it doesn't really need to be top of the line or anything. Reply
  • crimson117 - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    Windows Vista Home Premium OEM costs $112 - that's over 18% of the computer's cost!

    You could cut the price of the computer down to $486 if you used Ubuntu instead of Windows Vista. If you were really cutting costs, you could also get away with 1GB of ram with Ubuntu, although ram is very cheap these days so it wouldn't save that much.
    Reply
  • stmok - Saturday, November 10, 2007 - link

    Yeah, agreed. Its crazy that if you drop Windows in the "Entry-Level PC" category, you can get a more powerful CPU or even a video card instead of an IGP. Reply
  • Zan Lynx - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    I used to use Linux for gaming, until I decided to use Windows again on my newest system. So I can say that while id games are good, and Transgaming Cedega does OK, it is a whole lot easier to use Windows. $112 is 3 or 4 games worth of money. Well worth it to avoid the hassles, in my opinion.

    I also have an opinion on 1 GB RAM. The Linux laptop I am writing this on only has 1 GB and I often curse it for the slowpoke it is. Combined with a laptop hard drive, 1 GB RAM is not enough. Serious multitasking with many web browser windows, an email client, a RSS client, a NNTP client, 10 or 20 terminal windows, BitTorrent, etc, etc, and before you know it, that 1 GB is almost gone and it certainly reduces your file cache, forcing programs to read disk all the time.

    Get as much RAM as you can afford and will fit, I say.
    Reply
  • BladeVenom - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    You can find the Vista Home Premium Upgrade edition cheaper than the OEM version. And it's better for anyone who builds, and upgrades their PC. Reply

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