Introduction

You are probably wondering about the strange dollar amount of $825 as the high mark for our Entry Buyers' Guide. If so we have a very pleasant surprise for you. To this point our under $800 systems have centered on some great motherboards with on-board graphics. That $800 budget just couldn't support a graphics card - let alone a truly decent graphics card - and stay under $800 with an LCD monitor, speakers, input devices, and OS.

Things have changed a lot in the two months since we published our last Entry Buyers' Guide. We can now accomplish what seemed impossible just two months ago at the $800 price point and include a dedicated GPU in the Budget AMD and Intel systems. This is not just any GPU either, as it made little sense to include a cheap video card that was hardly better than on-board graphics. Both budget builds now include the exciting new ATI 4770 graphics card we reviewed just a couple of weeks ago.

Our graphics and motherboard editors have been raving about the value the 4770 brings to the video card table, so our quest was to build balanced, full-featured, complete systems that include an HD 4770 and an HD LCD monitor for $800. It was not OK merely to squeak by; we wanted to build a balanced and powerful $800 general purpose and gaming system that would blow away anything you could buy from an OEM at a similar price. To do that we went over our budget just a little bit - to $813 and $819 - but we were unwilling to further compromise the components in the systems to drop the price. If all you need is a basic box, the price for an ATI HD 4770 system is even more enticing at around $530. To see what $825 can buy you in the new high-value builds, turn to our new budget AMD and Intel systems on pages 4 and 5.

For those of you looking for a basic but competent system for your kid, parents, grandma, or yourself, if you're really on a tight budget, look at our Entry Intel and AMD systems. For the first time the basic box actually broke through the $300 barrier in one of the builds. The rest of the components are also better than ever in this category including the latest motherboards with Intel G43 and AMD 780G/SB710 chipsets. They also include a larger, more capable LCD monitor, better speakers, and Microsoft Vista Home Premium, for a complete system price of under $550.

These aren't stripped entry systems or the lowest CPU power we could find; they are capable complete systems based on the best bang for the buck we could put together. We could definitely put together even cheaper systems, but these systems represent a nice blend of performance, flexibility, and expandability that we would actually build for our own kids or relatives, budget-minded friends, or ourselves.

This guide takes a closer look at the complete systems you can build for less than $825 these days. Each component table for the complete system includes a subtotal for the basic system without speakers, keyboard/mouse, monitor, or OS. With a quick glance, you can see the cost to build a basic box that many would consider in a system upgrade. You can also see the total to build a complete system with all the peripherals needed for a balanced brand new system.

Low-end PCs have a reputation for being sub-standard, underpowered, and barely better than off-the-shelf PCs. That certainly was true in the past, but with the continuing drop in component prices, you can get a lot of PC today for your $299 to $825. About a year ago it would cost you about $700 to $750 to put together an Entry system. Today you can build a similar but more powerful system for about $250 less. The worldwide economic slowdown isn't the sole cause of the increased value. It is also the fierce competition between Intel and AMD on the CPU front, and AMD/ATI and NVIDIA in the GPU market. These price, performance, and value wars have made it possible to buy quality components for prices that previously belonged to outdated hardware. You just have to know what to look for.

The Entry System Buyers' Guide is always one of the most read and referred to articles on AnandTech, and it is easy to understand why. Whether it's your first system build or number 1000, the hardest choices are where every penny counts. Value is never about the cheapest price, but about getting the most for the money you do spend. We hope you agree that this Buyers' Guide details some of the greatest value computers we have ever presented in our System Buyers' Guides.

AMD Entry-level PC
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  • Gary Key - Wednesday, May 20, 2009 - link

    early June.. ;) Reply
  • bupkus - Tuesday, May 19, 2009 - link

    Could you list a Crossfire motherboard option for those who think of a budget system as one that would allow a second HD4770 for future upgrade? Reply
  • Gary Key - Wednesday, May 20, 2009 - link

    Hi,

    Unlike the AMD side, there are not any standout CF boards that fit within our budget guidelines for this article. That said, I like the DFI BI P45-T2RS at $107, ASRock P45XE at $90, Biostar TForce TP45HP at $100, and my favorite P45 board, the Gigabyte GA-EP45-UD3P at $130 but $110 with a rebate right now.

    With the last BIOS update, the DFI LP JR P45-T2RS at $110 is an interesting choice as it is an uATX format and works well in a SFF system, especially with two HD4770 cards. I have not tested the ECS BS P45T-A, but it seems to have positive comments around the forums (looking at price compared to performance/quality) for $82 with the MIR.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, May 19, 2009 - link

    For an AMD CPU there are lots of good Crossfire X motherboard choices. One geed choice is the Asus M4A78 Plus which sells for just $79 so it still fits the budget very well.

    Choosing an Intel board with dual PCIe x16 slots is a lot more difficult. I have asked Gary Key, our Motherboard Editor, to comment on an Intel choice.
    Reply
  • PC Reviewer - Monday, May 18, 2009 - link

    id change the video card to an hd 4890 if you could throw in the extra money..

    http://pcreviewer.org/new-radeon-hd-4890-video-car...">http://pcreviewer.org/new-radeon-hd-4890-video-car...
    Reply
  • Lunyone - Monday, May 18, 2009 - link

    As the previous poster stated that the Gigabyte g41 mobo listed has only 2 DIMM slots and not 4 as pictured in the article. This is one of the main reasons I prefer AMD mobo's over most Intel based mobo's. AMD's mobo's "usually" have more options included for a given price (usually less than Intel based ones). This isn't always true, but I'd say that 80-90% of the time it is true.

    Anyone know of any good links to the Sigma 500w PSU?? I'm just curious how well it does under testing or in real world situations. I try and keep up on good PSU's and I'm having a hard time finding reviews for the Sigma PSU listed in this review. I've read some on their other offerings >650w, but can't seem to find one for the 500w level.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, May 19, 2009 - link

    We had the correct Gigabyte G41 photo in the images, but the wrong link. THat has been corrected and you will now see the small image with the two dimm slots, which is all available on the $65 G41 MB.

    The 2 dimm slots can easily handle our recommended 4GB of memory. If you want more than 4GB you will need a more expensive motherboard.
    Reply
  • Shocker1322 - Sunday, May 17, 2009 - link

    I happen to be specing out a computer that is also using the GA-G41M-ES2L, however the picture posted looks to be that of a GA-EP45-UD3R. A key difference is the 4 DIMM slots on the GA-EP45-UD3R vs the 2 DIMM slots on the GA-G41M-ES2L. Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Friday, May 15, 2009 - link

    I know the main point of this article was main system recommendations, but I would suggest you do some basic research before recommending some of the other bits to go with it.

    The recommendation of the Logitech EX110 wireless keyboard and mouse set literally left me open-mouthed. Just because it has the Logitech name doesn't mean it is a quality product. I had an EX110 for a day. The keyboard was DOA, and the mouse both felt and acted like the very cheap optical mouse it was (when left stationery, the mouse pointer slowly creeped to one side, and sometimes the mouse pointer jumped to the edge of the screen). And that's before the batteries. The EX110 is known to eat batteries very quickly, so you should add the cost of some NiMH rechargeables (and the charger if necessary) to the system build cost. My overall impression of it (the keyboard didn't work but I still got a feel for how the keyboard felt) was that it was bargain-bin no-name product, which Logitech have foolishly stuck their name on to capture some of the low-end market.

    Spend a touch more on the keyboard and mouse and you can get products which perform much better, like the LX-6 mouse which can run off a single AA cell for two or three months of heavy use (or you can put two in for double the life as they are connected in parallel), instead of using two of them in a week or so. As for the keyboard, any RF wireless keyboard with sufficient range should be fine as even the cheap ones don't eat batteries (there is no potentially power-draining LED or laser needed on a keyboard), and an HTPC is unlikely to be used for serious typing duties.

    Apart from that small point about what I guess was a blind "this is cheap and is wireless from a good company" recommendation of the EX-110, it was an excellent article.

    Ah yeah, one other thing made me smile: on the page 3 (Intel entry-level) about the Asus P5QL-CM mobo:
    "It is not an overclocking demon with our E5200/E7200 being limited to the 345FSB range due to the chipset, but that is more than enough headroom (4.16GHz with the E5200) for most users."
    This is the entry level system costed at around US$300 for the base system, and you feel the need to mention the recommended CPU with that mobo will probably not be able to be overclocked beyond 4.16GHz from its stock 2.5GHz! Good grief, if it were an overclocking-system guide, then you might mention that, buy you are talking about what is an over 70% overclock limitation in what is an entry-level box! Seriously-- a 70% overclock limitation because of the mobo in an entry-level box.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Monday, May 18, 2009 - link

    We have bought 3 of the EX110 sets for student computers here at work. All have worked on arrival, and none eat batteries excessively (couple months per charge). The keyboard isn't the highest quality, but my biggest concern for HTPC use would be the range. They seem to be limited to a few feet, which would mean the receiver would have to be buried in the couch or something. Reply

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