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now companies like AMD, Intel, and NVIDIA are throwing out quality components for prices that traditionally belong with outdated or inadequate hardware.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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  • BladeVenom - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    I have no problem with using those ultra low end power supplies for integrated graphic solutions, there's no way I'd use a 400 watt Allied power supply for a gaming machine.

    The smell of blown capacitors and electrical shorts is non to appealing to me.
    Reply
  • BladeVenom - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    Allied is made by Deer; do you want to see another Deer psu in action? Here's a PowerTek also made by Deer.
    quote:

    Overall the load testing portion of the Powertek review was the worst seen to date. The unit proved to be incapable of even producing half of its rated output at 45c within the ATX12v specifications. In addition, when the unit failed it failed on the AC side damaging part of the testing equipment which is a mixed blessing since at least Kill-A-Watt's are cheap.

    http://www.hardocp.com/article.html?art=MTMzOSwxMi...">http://www.hardocp.com/article.html?art=MTMzOSwxMi...
    Reply
  • BladeVenom - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    quote:

    the Allied exploded. And I'm not talking about the quiet pop of a blown fuse either, this was something to make one holler things like, "Incoming!"

    http://www.jonnyguru.com/review_details.php?id=129...">http://www.jonnyguru.com/review_details.php?id=129...

    Reply
  • DeepThought86 - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    Am I the only one that yearns for more vertical space and hates widescreens below 20"?? Reply
  • Parhel - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    I don't like widescreen monitors in general. For the type of work I do, it doesn't help at all. For my home PC, I bought a Dell 20.1" 1600x1200 LCD, and I'll keep it until it dies if I can't get 4:3 monitors anymore. Reply
  • neon - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    You are not the only one. There are plenty of 19" to 21" 4:3 monitors that look great, and require less scrolling in business/web apps. I disagree with the assertion in the article, "As far as we're concerned, the sooner 4:3 displays die out, the better." They still have legitimate uses.

    However, the widescreens do seem well suited for budget gaming purposes. They have lower surface area, and so are cheaper to produce.
    Reply
  • BigLan - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    I'm not a fan of smaller widescreens either. The nice thing is you can put them in portrait mode to see more than one page at a time in word or adobe. Reply
  • Sunrise089 - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    Agreed - at 22" and up, widescreen is superior, but a 19" widescreen is too small on the Y-axis. Reply
  • srenken - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    Like the title says. The Intel entry level PC table is switched with the AMD gaming system table. Reply
  • soydios - Thursday, November 08, 2007 - link

    yep, check the tables on pages 3 and 4 Reply

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