Entry Level Buyer's Guide, October 2005

by Jarred Walton on 10/14/2005 12:05 AM EST
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  • artifex - Thursday, October 27, 2005 - link

    I helped my mom get a $300 eMachines desktop at Office Depot (after rebates) earlier today. It's got a Sempron 3100+, 256MB Ram, "Unichrome" shared 64M graphics but free AGP slot, 100GB hard drive, DVDRom/CD burner, a 17 inch (16 inch viewable) CRT and some Canon Pixma printer, all in the bundle. And of course, a legit copy of Win XP, home version. I'm not supporting teaching her or my dad how to use Linux, not when this cheaper machine has XP for "free."

    To me, this is entry level for office or home use. Not a gaming machine, but something the average adult person can use to solve productivity needs, do word processing, etc. If she wants to, she can upgrade it to 2GB RAM later, drop in an AGP video card, buy a DVD burner, etc. I don't expect her to do anything except maybe get me to upgrade it over time to 1GB RAM and maybe a DVD burner. After Christmas, that'll be maybe $100 extra, tops. And after all, this is a $300 machine. By the time she really needs much more, in a few years, she'll be able to buy the next OEM deal for $300-400 or whatever, and this will be a secondary machine for my dad, or yet another file/media server for me, or something. Oh, and she'll have another new monitor and printer, too. Does she need PCI-E now? No. She will get more value from buying a new system 3 or 4 years from now than you will get from spending $300-400 to upgrade yours with a faster processor, mobo, and memory.

    Oh, don't forget, the OEM, eMachines in this case, gets to pay to replace stuff for the next year. If I buy entry level parts from mail order or Fry's, I'll have a heck of a time getting someone to replace most of it after 90 days, without lots of mailing of parts at my time and expense. She is taking some of the money she saves to buy another hard drive to back up to, so there is hope she's not totally screwed even if the hard drive dies one day after the expiration, if she and my dad remember to back their junk up. (I have had a few Hitachis and Maxtors throw errors 13 months in, so I assume it will happen. The backup will be a Seagate, of course)

    So anyway, all this rambling hopefully suggests that OEM machines can be a better deal than you think.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 28, 2005 - link

    OEM systems aren't terrible, but they are lowest common denominator. I would hate to use a 256MB RAM system these days. Rebates are also something of an issue, as it can take months to get the larger rebates back, and often they'll make you jump through additional hoops - all in an effort to get you to forget (or miss the deadline for) the rebate. But yeah, a $400 PC will work well enough for many people.

    I have to say that personally, I don't touch such systems. If someone calls with a Compaq, Dell, HP, etc. $500 "special" and says they're having problems, I tell them that I don't work on such PCs. The reason for my stance is that people who purchase such cheap systems don't care about quality, they just want cheap. You "fix" a system like that for someone, and they'll come back to you next time a part breaks and lay the blame at your feet.

    My philosophy is that getting someone to understand more about the computer hardware and buy a better product will result - long term - in a person that is happier with their computer and hopefully more knowledgeable. It's my pipe dream, I know. :)
    Reply
  • Evan Lieb - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    Just thought I'd pop in and say great guide Jarred. Hard to disagree with any of those components save for the speaker system, which will be overkill for a lot of home/home office users. Otherwise a superb guide. You're doing them better than I did. ;) Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    Thanks Evan!

    Good to hear from you - where you at anyway? :p

    Anyway, I like to think that anyone who doesn't want speakers will know that. It's very easy to not include them, and I also mentioned the option of free Logitech speakers with keyboard purchase. I know my office PC has some garbage $10 speakers that get the job done, and I use cheap headphones if I want "quality" (or to isolate myself).
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, October 15, 2005 - link

    Another reader email, which mentioned something I wasn't aware of. Here it is:
    ---------------------
    Congratulations on what I found to be a very good guide - I'm sure anyone in the market for a budget PC would find it to be extremely useful.

    I have just one suggested addition - my understand is that in the Sempron 64 range, the 3000+ model is the lowest one to support the Cool 'n' Quiet feature. Given that this Cool 'n' Quiet doesn't work if the CPU is overclocked, this isn't of any use for an overlocked gaming rig but may be important for those who are building a Media PC or simply would like a quiet PC.

    Thank you for your consistently high quality articles and guides!
    ---------------------
    I hadn't heard about Cool and Quiet not being on the lower end Semprons, though it would make sense. Once you're running the 90nm SOI chips at 1.6 GHz, they only consume about 25 to 30W I'd guess. Total power draw at 1.80 GHz for the 3100+ (whole system) is about 140W, but that's in a 3D intensive application with an X800 Pro GPU. The GPU looks to be using somewhere around 50 or 60W, so without the GPU you'd be well under 100W.

    I guess some people would like to have added power savings, but really we're talking about $20 per year for cutting power draw by 30W, and that's running 24/7. :)

    Regards,
    Jarred Walton
    SFF and Guide Editor
    AnandTech.com
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    I received the following email from a reader, and thought some of you might find it useful, along with my response:
    --------------
    Am in the market for a low end PC so found your http://www.anandtech.com/guides/showdoc.aspx?i=256...">latest review very
    interesting.

    Am wondering if you happened to note the capacitor mfrs on the mainboards
    you tested.

    Am asking because of cap problems http://www.badcaps.net/forum/forumdisplay.php?f=6">with even "Good Mfrs".

    FYI http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capacitor_Plague">this is the most complete listing I have found so far concerning "Bad
    Caps".
    --------------
    Hi [reader],

    No, I didn't look for capacitor brands - in fact, I don't have most of the parts listed in this article. It's a Buyer's Guide based off of what's on the market and prices, and performance results are not included for a reason. We have tested many of these components individually, but the parts are likely scattered across the AnandTech staff.

    As far as leaking capacitors, the majority of cases occurred back in the Athlon XP/P4 and earlier days. I had at least two Pentium 3 and one Athlon XP board fail due to leaking capacitors. (The last was 18 months ago, and the first was over three years ago.) A few of those boards are still out there and are only now failing, but I haven't encountered problems with any of the Athlon 64 of socket 775 boards. Gigabyte, DFI, Biostar and ASUS should be relatively safe choices. If the board were to fail within 3 years, I believe all four companies provide at least a 3 year manufacturer warranty. (Someone else may have specific details, though.)

    Regards,
    Jarred Walton
    SFF and Guide Editor
    AnandTech.com
    --------------
    Reply
  • mino - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    I'l definetely stick to 2500+/2800+ fo OC setup.

    256k IS really usefull, and I know, the benchmarks say othewise. But try doing some multitasking or any really new software titles-the newer the SW, the bigger the cachesize it is generally optimised for...
    Also low multiplier is no issue if You stick to nf4 infinity where 350MHz+ base speeds are standard.

    Other than that quality of Your BG's climbing steadily with time.

    Keep it this way and there may soon be no place to improve:)
    just kidin'...

    BTW Jared:
    what about to do a an multitasking test of the budget CPU's ? AT did las budget CPU test in april and roundup a bit before. Roundup of possible options that appeared snce (higher grade Semprons&Celerons + 2500+).

    I will list the CPU that will be nice to have tested:

    AMD
    s754: 2500+,2600+,2800+(the budget trio) & some higher Sempron grades
    s939: 3000+Sempron, 3000+A64 & 3700+SanDiego,3800+X2 for comparison

    Intel:
    s478: 310
    s775: 331,351 Cellys & 506,521,630 P4's & 820 PD

    as a GPU try something in the 6600/X700/X1300 range

    also an 2500+@2.1GHz and 310@3.2GHz to show what budget OC could bring one
    It will also show what 800FSB would give to 351 cellys and what difference 1MB cache makes.
    I believe the 3.2/256/533 vs. 3.2/256/800 vs. 3.2/1M/800 could be very interesting and also pretty unique.

    You should also mention that s478 Cellys start at $60 since there are sold big numbers o those and some good boards are available for 478 at bargain prices.

    Power consumption test should be also present since at these prices the power consumption make huge part of the TCO.
    Reply
  • mino - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    Reduced test suite would be perfectly OK here also.

    We all know it takes _much_ time to test all those configs, but at least for Semprons You would need just one 128k&one256k chip setup thanks to lower multis option :)
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    I'm actually trying to get an overclocking article put together using a Sempron 3100+ base. Maybe I should buy a 3000+ as well, to cover the 128K variant? Hmmm... about 100 more hours of benchmarks if I add the 128K, unfortunately. :( We'll see what I can manage. It might be more than a month before I can get it all finished up. Reply
  • mino - Sunday, October 16, 2005 - link

    Huh, 100+ hrs is huge..

    even so I believe that some comparison of 128k/256k 754 + 512k/1M 939 at points like:

    1.6G, 2.0G, 2.4G would be really nice and pretty sufficient to show many trends.

    The Celly 310@3.2G I was asking for is just to be able to see what 1M L2 and 1ML2+HT means for Prescott. Everything other being equal.

    Anyway, keep on track.
    Reply
  • Rocket321 - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    Is 100 hours an exaggeration or near the true testing time for that type of article? I guess that would leave lots of time to write an article to go with the numbers.

    Just curious.
    Rocket321
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    Read the http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?...">Venice overclocking article. 100 hours isn't really an exaggeration, if I'm thorough. It's about 5 hours per complete benchmark run, assuming it doesn't crash or fail at some point. (Or just get stuck - WinStones can do that, even on a stable system. It just sits at some point where the script got stuck, and you have to manually restart it. That sucks when you start the benchmark, leave, and come back five hours later to find that it only ran for 5 minutes before getting stuck.)

    So, 1.8 GHz to 2.6 GHz is five configurations, and two RAM choices makes for 10 benchmark runs. Given the amount of time there are glitches to address, 100 hours is probably about right. Luckily, I don't have to be sitting at the PC the whole time. Heheh.
    Reply
  • mino - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    Well, as usuall. Someone clearly stole some letters here and there. I apologize for him :)
    just one addon:

    This guide IS one of the best(if not the best) one could find around. No irony here.

    I felt my comment was not clear enough on that matter.
    Reply
  • yacoub - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    http://forums.anandtech.com/messageview.aspx?catid...">http://forums.anandtech.com/messageview...amp;thre... Reply
  • noxipoo - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    while it is a good guide for the price, I think the price targets needs to be revised or followed better. it is the same issue I had with the mid-range system guide. 1200-1500 is just not mid-range for me. kind of feels like the guy that told me 55 grand for a car is mid-range because there are ferraris that cost a lot more... Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    A few quotes from the summary page:

    "You might not realize this, but I actually pick the parts that I want to include and only then tally the cost. As long as I'm within about $100, I usually stick with it - if I overshoot the budget, it's because I really don't feel that it's a good idea to cut corners any further just to shave $50 from the total."

    That should explain my philosophy. Others disagree with it, but if you can spend $500, you can also spend $600. This budget guide is cheaper (for the non-gaming setups especially) then the last one. I also offered advice on how to cut costs of either system:

    "If the $500 price point is really important, dropping to 512MB of RAM and getting rid of the speakers will get you close."

    As well as:

    "Our gaming configurations exceed the target $750 price by a bit more, though there are additional opportunities for cutting costs. Getting the less expensive options on the RAM, HDD, DVDR, display, and speakers will cut the price of each system by $90 without really affecting performance or features much (other than the noticeable change in display size)."

    The tables are quick summaries of 7000+ words of text, and as such they cannot even begin to convey all of the options that are out there. That's what all the extra writing is for, to explain why the final choices were made.

    And of course, for every person like you who feels the price is too high, there are several others suggesting upgrades like a better PSU, an LCD, a different case, etc. Catch-22. If you can actually put together a complete PC for $500 that people on here would really consider better, I'd be more than surprised. Feel free to post such a system, though, and ask for comments from others. :)
    Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    I don't think dropping down from 2x512MB of RAM to 1x512MB of RAM would be a good idea on the AMD gaming system, despite it being a S754 CPU with asingle-channel memory, as it would only save $48 at the prices listed. Many games these days require a minimum of 512MB to run acceptably, and having 1GB makes a big difference with many. And then there's BF2 which likes more than 1GB, and others will follow soon.

    Rather than drop down from 1GB to 512MB and cause stuttering in the latest demanding games, you'd be better off saving a similar amount of money by getting a cheaper graphics-card like a standard 6600, or an X700Pro. Let's face it, the sort of games that need more than a 6600 or X700Pro, are also going to need more than 512MB of system memory to run smoothly, so the money is better spent on double the memory rather than a faster graphics-card.

    Apart from that, a good article. Putting together systems on a tiny budget isn't easy as you're always having to weigh the consequences of shifting a few dollars from one area to another.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    Actually, the 512MB RAM comment was for the office systems. For the gaming, I'd just go with the cheaper options (listed in the office configs) for every part, other than the GPU. $95 RAM vs. $87 RAM, $169 CRT vs. $127, etc.

    Adding up the total cost of the "value gaming", you could get:

    AMD:
    Sempron 64 (754) 3000+ - 128KB 1.80 GHz Palermo 75
    DFI Infinity nF4X 77
    Patriot Signature CL2.5 2x512MB 87
    eVGA GeForce 6600GT 128MB 138
    Hitachi 3.0Gbps 80GB 7200RPM 8MB Deskstar 7K80 57
    NEC 3540A Black (OEM) 41
    Foxconn 3GTH-002 plus 300W PSU 70
    Envision EFT720 17" CRT 127
    Logitech X-230 2.1 Speakers 37
    Logitech Internet Pro Desktop 23
    Bottom Line $732

    Intel:
    Celeron D 331 - 256KB 2.66 GHz Prescott 79
    Gigabyte GA-8I945P-G 113
    Patriot Signature PC-4200 2x512MB 74
    eVGA GeForce 6600GT 128MB 138
    Hitachi 3.0Gbps 80GB 7200RPM 8MB Deskstar 7K80 57
    NEC 3540A Black (OEM) 41
    Foxconn 3GTH-002 plus 300W PSU 70
    Envision EFT720 17" CRT 127
    Logitech X-230 2.1 Speakers 37
    Logitech Internet Pro Desktop 23
    Bottom Line $759

    The display is still a big compromise, IMO, but everything else on that alternative gaming setup is almost as good as the higher cost version. I still prefer to spend the extra, particularly on the case/PSU, speakers, CRT, and HDD. The RAM and the DVDR upgrades are less critical.
    Reply
  • RandomFool - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    Not to nit pick but if you're going to make a budget system and set a target price of 750 you really shouldn't go over that by more than 20-30 bucks. I realize gaming systems need more oomph but it is a budget system. You could cut back on ram grab some normal 2.1 speakers (i don't think 5.1 is required at all.) and be alot close to 750 before OS that is.

    Also the price of an OS should be included because without one all you have is a box that wasted electricity.
    Reply
  • flatblastard - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    I couldn't agree with you more. The trend here lately seems to be to blow the budget by $100 or more. The rigs in my newegg wishlist would probably have made better candidates for the entry-level and mid-range price guides of late, and they don't cost more than the budget I originally set for them either. Reply
  • i am getting angry - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    As most of you known, I'm usually a big fan of Anandtech, however this time I couldn't disagree more!

    A "cheap/no name/ POS" PSU is an open inventation to every problem possible!

    Very good PSU's can be had for under $30!

    Cheap, but Good PSU's! [url]http://www.hardforum.com/showpost.php?p=1027898523...[/url]

    I am "davidhammock200" however I couldn't login as me!
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    "A 'cheap/no name/POS' PSU is an open inventation to every problem possible!"

    It depends a lot on how high-end you go with parts. I've got a system sitting two feet from me with that MGE case and PSU. It's running at 2.70 GHz with a Sempron 3100+, and it's been running that way for three months. Did I get lucky? Maybe. More likely, people are just a little too concerned about power supplies and budget systems. $30 more would be enough to upgrade the 19" CRT to a 17" LCD - which do you think most people will choose?

    I personally have never encountered instability that I would attribute to a PSU. I've had PSUs fail on numerous occasions, but in every case all it required was a new PSU. I've heard the stories of PSUs taking out the entire computer, and it's certainly possible in theory. I've never actually seen it happen, though.

    Maybe I just care for my PCs too well? I do try to give them a good dusting every 3 months, which does wonders for fan life. I also don't try putting high-end builds with low end power. Low end parts with a low end PSU is exactly what you get from Dell and the likes, though. I've got a P4 2.8C Dell at my corporate job that has a 150W PSU. Amazing, eh? And it's been running 24/7 for over two years.
    Reply
  • bldckstark - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    If you want to get PO's about an article take a look at this one that is posted on THG. This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever read. They put together a MAJOR POS, don't use any logic, then also don't have any benchmarks to show what a piece it is. Take a look @ http://www.tomshardware.com/howto/20051014/index.h...">$500 gaming rig from THG
    You may disagree with some of the picks here, but that whole system is crap. But at least they stayed in budget! I used to love THG, but now it is ridiculous. They have become a system buyer site, instead of a system builder site. It's like PCWorld bought them or something.

    If you were going to build a system for $750, and you found you could build a significantly better one for $100 more wouldn't you do it? Hell, that is only 13%. I recently did the exact same thing. I got an SLI board cuz it was only $20 more. I got a 3200+ on a deal cuz it was only $15 more than the 3000+ on a package deal. I got a 6600GT even though they cost more than I originally thought. I got 512MB OCZ Platinum Rev2 ram cuz I can buy more later instead of 1GB of value ram now. I got a 300GB SATA drive cuz it was cheaper per GB than a 250, but it cost more too. Any project of any kind should have built in 10% contingency plan. In my lonely opinion Jarred is only liable for grief on the 3% over that. So here it is WAAaa.......... (3% of a whine).
    Reply
  • bgladwyn - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    It seems odd to include a speaker package with a subwoofer for an office setup when headphones would do. Similarly, flat panels are useful in the office because of the desk space they liberate. Lose the $37 speakers and shell out $199 for the cheapest 17" TFT on PriceGrabber and you have $33 well spent. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    When I say office in this guide, I mean "home office" as opposed to an actual workplace computer. For a workplace, speakers are generally frowned upon. There are many ways to get to an LCD, but quality is a bit more important than price if you're going that route. I'd forget about 15" LCDs and put 17" as the minimum, with a DVI input being preferred. Still, $200 for a 17" LCD isn't bad. $250 will even get you a 19" model, possibly with DVI.

    Like I said in the displays section, the only reason I didn't include an LCD was to get closer to the $500 price. I highly recommend anyone that can should spend more money on the display, with 19" LCDs being the ultimate goal.
    Reply
  • bgladwyn - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    Fair play, I've read all the article now(!) and can see that you'd already considered this point. Reply
  • ceefka - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    Any expectations on integrated DVI graphics?

    quote:

    If at all possible - particularly for a business setting - we'd drop the CRT and get a decent LCD instead.


    I think that a 17" VGA LCD like the Samsung 710v (think it was 12 or 16ms) is quite OK for office use. Granted it is more expensive than a "comparable" CRT. It uses less juice, produces less heat and occupies less space, plus you actually work on that screen. My latest experience on a CRT was that after some time the numbers danced before my very eyes :D Just weigh that in and draw your own conclusions.
    Reply
  • pcmatt1024 - Saturday, October 15, 2005 - link

    quote:

    Any expectations on integrated DVI graphics?


    i believe the new 6150 from nvidia (basically the higher end version of what was used on the amd office board) will have dvi out. boards should be out in the next few weeks.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, October 15, 2005 - link

    I can say for sure that the ATI Xpress 200 and Intel 915G both *can* support DVI output. The problem is that no motherboard manufacturers actually have such support so far. (I know that it's possible because I have two SFF cases with those chipsets, and they both have DVI ports.) Basically, DVI is a "high-end" option and IGP is often "value-oriented". It's sort of like the problem with uATX motherboards: no one makes an "enthusiast uATX" design; they're all built for value. And yes, there are some people that would like a high quality uATX mobo. Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    LCD panels are certainly getting better and I know for a fact that my next display (when this Mitsubishi DP 2070SB fails, which hopefully won't be for several years) won't be a CRT as there is already nothing available as good as it.

    If you were having problems using a CRT, then the refresh-rate was almost certainly too low. Windows 2000/XP defaults to 60hz which is unusable for most people for extended periods with a CRT monitor, and that is probably what you were using. Any half-decent CRT monitor will support at least 85hz at the ideal resolution, with which most people have no problems. Really good CRT monitors will support 100hz or more at their optimum resolutions, but unfortunately those really good CRT monitors can only be bought second-hand now as all the best manufacturers have switched to LCD panels.
    Reply
  • grimdeath - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    good choice on the samsung 997df monitor, i bought mine for the same price at best buy as well around 2 years ago. its still crips, clean and bright :) im not sure how i hear more ppl voting for other brands after looking at this compared to others(though NEC seems decent) Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    I also own an NEC FE991SB that I purchased for $260 or so 18 months back - maybe even two years ago? Overall, I prefer it to the Samsung, but the Samsung has a higher resolution. Both of them cost more now than they did a year ago, though, which pretty much sucks. Sadly, the new NEC CRT models aren't even equal to the old Samsung monitors. Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    An entry level gaming graphics card is Geforce 6600GT?? Sheesh. My friends who are "Hardcore Gamers" have Radeon 9800 Pro/XT. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    I look at "Entry Level" gaming in terms of price, not performance. To me, that means $100 to $150 is ideal, and the 6600GT fits that requirement quite nicely. You can play many games on a slower graphics card, but usually with lower detail settings. Why not spend the extra $30 and get a decent performance boost?

    You can also think about it another way: how much does a current game cosole cost? $150 or so, right? Take a budget PC - because many people will want a PC in the home for other uses - and you can suddenly have a respectably gaming PC for the same amount as a console. The good news is that a 6600GT will play every game currently available at 1024x768 resolution without difficulty. Many games will even handle 1280x1024 or 1024x768+4xAA.
    Reply
  • DrZoidberg - Friday, October 14, 2005 - link

    I agree, if u play games regularly the minimum card a gamer should get now would be a 6600gt or 9800pro. A 6600gt is only slightly faster than 9800pro so they both similar cards. Most brand new 9800pro (not crappy se edition) on newegg is selling around $120, so its not much cheaper. Reply

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