We get a lot of questions here at OCIA.net from users asking our opinion on what hardware they should buy. Many of these questions are fielded in our forum but every now and then someone will e-mail us. The staff here are always happy to answer any questions you may have, but things can get busy at times and it is more difficult to return e-mails than we would like.
For that very reason, we started writing these System Buying Guides a few years back. We have three categories of Buying Guides: Budget, Mainstream and Performance. Our Budget Guide has a spending limit of $600, the Mainstream limit is $1,200 and we allocate $2,400 for our Performance Guide. The systems that we piece together here are designed to give you the best overall experience under the given budget. Obviously, if you are a gamer, you would probably want to spend more money on a video card than other components. Our guides are designed with overclocking in mind, so we often select lower-end processors / memory / video cards to save money, because we know these can be overclocked to equal or outperform higher priced hardware. All of our guides exclude common components such as a mouse, keyboard, monitor, OS, etc., under the assumption that you already own these items.
So, here we go with our August 2008 Budget Buying Guide...
Processor: AMD Phenom 8450 X3 2.1GHz 95W Triple-Core Processor
For our budget build, we decided to go with an AMD processor over Intel for the simple fact that they are cheaper. While not as beefy as Intel's Core architecture, AMD's line of processors are still very respectable. We selected the X3 8450 for the latest AMD features like HT 3.0 and DDR2-1066 support while keeping price and power usage down compared to the full-blown X4. This retail processor comes with the stock AMD heatsink, so that is one less thing needed for the build.
Motherboard: Biostar TF8200 A2+
The motherboard we selected is one of nVidia's latest chipsets, the 8200. Biostar's TForce line are great overclockers and the TF8200
we reviewed incorporates +12v EPS power, chipset/vrm heatpipe cooling, a 16x 2.0 PCIe slot, six SATA RAID ports and onboard 8200 graphics all on a full ATX-size motherboard. This board also supports nVidia Hybrid SLI, which combines the power of an add-on graphics card with the onboard GPU. If you prefer AMD/ATI the TA780G is a great substitute for around the same price.
Video Card: nVidia GeForce 8500GT 512Mb
If you happened to catch our Hybrid SLI
article, you'll no doubt remember we combined the 8500GT video card with the 8200-based onboard graphics and saw some pretty nice gains. While the 8500GT/8200 combo won't play games like Crysis with high detail without greatly suffering in frame rate, slightly older titles will run just fine on a Hybrid SLI setup. If you're looking for modern gaming performance on a budget, go for a card like the GeForce 9600GSO. It will run you almost double the cost of the 8500GT, and you won't be able to take advantage of Hybrid SLI, but you'll have a far better gaming experience in more recent titles. And again if ATI is your preference, check out a nice Radeon HD3450 to go with that 780G chipset board and run AMD's version of Hybrid Graphics.
Memory: OCZ Platinum 2 GB PC2-8500
Just as in our last Budget build, we again went with OCZ's Platinum 2 GB dual channel kit, this time in the faster PC2-8500 speed. This memory operates at 1066 MHz, with timings of 5-5-5-15 and comes with OCZ's lifetime warranty. This is one of the least expensive 2 GB kits on the market, which is why it made the list for our Budget buying guide. Be sure to keep an eye out for rebates on OCZ memory, they can often cut the price of a kit nearly in half! 2 GB is the minimum amount of memory we recommend for a new build these days. This ensures the memory subsystem won't be a huge bottleneck for the rest of the system.
Hard Drive: Western Digital RE2 500Gb 7200Rpm SATA 3.0
In the past we have used Seagate Barracuda drives for their price, performance and excellent five year warranty. Recently however we've have seen a handful of 7200.11 drives fail. While our experiences certainly may not be the norm, for this Budget build we are recommending a Western Digital drive, one of their RE2 enterprise series. These share many of the same features as the Caviar SE drives and are priced just as reasonably, however they're designed for more robust operation and carry a longer five year warranty. Of course if you prefer, the Seagate 7200.11 series remains a great performing alternative.
Power Supply: BFG Tech LS-550
The 500-600 Watt range is one of the most highly competitive size brackets among power supplies today. The BFG Tech LS-550
we recently reviewed makes an excellent choice for a computer system on a budget that still retains good characteristics for future video card and processor upgrades.
Optical Drive: Samsung 22x DVD+/-RW SATA Burner
Our optical drive of choice is this Samsung DVD burner. This drive uses a SATA interface, so we can get rid of those ugly IDE ribbon cables once and for all! The Samsung is one of only a few models that offers the 22x DVD+/-R write speed, coupled with a blazing fast 16x DL burn speed!
Case: Your Choice
This is the segment of the guide that we leave totally up to you, the reader. More often than not, the decision for a case comes down to looks alone. There are a ton of great cases out here with some really good features, but you may not like one case simply because it doesn't fit your style, which is totally fine.
Using our Price Grabber shopping engine to find the lowest prices on each of our components, we come up with a grand total of $507.41 (as of writing). With our budget of $600, this leaves us $92.59 to cover the cost of a case and shipping. The system that we have pieced together here today will serve the average gamer and overclocker very well, and all for a very low budget.