In the last few weeks we've looked at almost all the components you would need to build your new PC. This includes motherboards, memory, cases and power supplies, video cards, displays, and storage. Now it is time to put all these parts together into a couple of systems buyers' guides.

Since we have already covered component classes and individual items in detail in the recent component guides, you will find those a useful reference to the components chosen in these system guides. This guide will take a closer look at several complete systems you can build for $500 to $1000 these days. Next week, we will look more closely at midrange systems in the price range of $1000 to $2000.

Low-end PCs have a reputation for being substandard, underpowered, and barely better than off-the-shelf PCs. That certainly has been true in the past, but with the continuing drop in component prices, you can get a lot of PC for your $500 to $1000. About a year ago it would cost about $700 to $750 to put together a decent "entry" system. Today you can build a similar but more powerful system, for about $200 less.

The fierce competition between Intel and AMD on the CPU front, and between AMD/ATI and NVIDIA in the GPU market, have made it possible to buy quality components for prices that used to be reserved for outdated hardware. You just have to know what to look for. The closeouts and "gotchas" are still out there, but armed with a little knowledge you can navigate the components offered and end up with a really powerful computer for the money you spend.

In this guide we will be looking at three common categories of systems you can now buy for under $1000. This includes the Entry-level PC, which is the best value for a complete system costing around $500. The bar is then raised to the upper end of our budget price range with Budget PCs that feature the most bang for the buck closer to the $1000 price point. It was a bit of surprise to find you could build very capable AMD and Intel machines, complete with keyboard, mouse, operating system, video card, 4GB of memory, and 19" wide-screen monitor for less than $850, leaving room for a monitor or graphics upgrade while still remaining under $1000.

Finally, we put together basic HTPC computers to deliver video content to your Home Theater. HTPC builders have normally already selected a display/TV for video and have a sound system, so we did not include either the display or speakers in the basic HTPC component selections. That is a subject for another article.

In the "Under $1000" PC market it really does not matter if you select AMD or Intel for your CPU. Performance across both lines is very competitive at the same price points in this category. That is why both AMD and Intel systems are presented at each price point. If we were choosing a high-end system at this moment the only real choice would be Intel, but with Phenom II around the corner that may soon change.

While the Intel i7 is a recent introduction and Phenom II is coming in about two weeks, both new processors will have the greatest impact at the upper middle to the top-end CPU offerings. The impact on the sub-$1000 category should be very small, consisting mostly of minor price cuts on "outdated" hardware and platforms. PCs in the "under $1000" category also frequently utilize onboard graphics, and there is no expectation for a new blockbuster IGP chipset on the horizon. While change is a constant in the computer industry, you can build PCs for less than $1000 today with some confidence that the system will continue to provide competitive performance for a reasonable period of time.

All of our recommendations are also upgradable, so you can add the latest video card and turn the system into a reasonable gaming or graphics processing system if you choose (provided your PSU is up to snuff, of course). GPUs deliver exceptional performance at the lowest price points seen in many years. The storage recommendations may seem overkill to some, but there is little reason to choose a smaller hard drive when you can buy 500GB of hard drive storage for $59 and a 1000GB (1TB) drive for just $110. Now let's get to the recommendations.

AMD Entry-level PC


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  • naveensn - Saturday, March 28, 2009 - link

    I built the AMD budge computer with more or less the components that you had in your article. This was the first time I did this and was much easier that I thought it would be.
    The computer is up and running and I installed Ubuntu also on that. Thanks for the info.

  • HHumbert - Friday, January 9, 2009 - link

    I copied the article and friggen Newegged everything on here. Here goes nothing, as I've never built a PC before. Which is funny, because I majored in Electric Engineering, and I've had Investment Banker friends put together PCs, and I have lacked the testicular fortitude to do so.

    Finally. Thanks for this very well-written guide. I'll come back on after it arrives and let you know how it goes. Any idea how long it takes to slam together one of these things?

    I took the path of putting together the INTEL Budget PC with the Radeon 4870 GPU.

    My situation is that I have an Inspiron 1520 laptop that I've been gaming on (COD:WaW), Crysis 2 (when I get a more powerful computer, but it's getting long in the teeth, even with a dedicated GPU on the laptop.

    So, I'm building this first one for our weekend house and want to get it to play movies on the home theatre (I also ordered LG BR/HD drive for it).

    If that goes well, I'll be buying another one of these systems for the downtown house so I can have dual setups.

    Thanks again!
  • Ryphil - Monday, January 26, 2009 - link

    If this is your first assembly, be patient and don't cut corners. Plan for a few quiet, uninterrupted hours for the task at hand. So assuming you don't run into any problems that can't be fixed on the spot, you should be able to slam this together in 30 minutes to two hours. And don't forget thermal compound for the processor's heat sink! Let me know how this went for you if you get a sec. Reply
  • Mozee - Friday, January 9, 2009 - link

    Here's a question, since I'm building a system with very similar specs to the AMD Budget System. If you increase the video card from the ATI HD4830 to an HD4850, would you still be able to use the 400W power supply, or would that require a higher powered psu? Reply
  • Malachi9 - Monday, January 5, 2009 - link

    Be careful with cases containing an Imon LCD - Silverstone, Anatec, Thermatech. There is a serious bug which connects and disconnects the USB hub causing pauses in games e.g PES 2009. I have the LC16M and have to physically disconnect the LCD to play games. Reply
  • djhunt - Saturday, January 3, 2009 - link

    First, I wanted to say thanks for these buyer guides. I used the mid-range guide four years ago to build my first system. For someone who can't keep up on all the latest hardware, these guides are a great starting point.

    Now I'm looking to do a replacement based on the Intel budget recommendation. I've tweaked a few items to get a quieter system (my current system whines like a jet engine), but I'm stuck on what to do for a video card. I don't have serious video requirements (minimal gamer, no HTPC) but would probably like something a little above onboard video. Since the GIGABYTE GA-EP45-UD3R doesn't have onboard video, what should I get? I'm currently looking at the ASUS EAH4350 SILENT/DI/512MD2 Radeon HD 4350, but not sure if it's any good. Recommendations under $75 or so?
  • bearxor - Sunday, January 4, 2009 - link

    Thought about one of the newer GF9400 Motherboards?">
  • Wesley Fink - Saturday, January 3, 2009 - link

    The Asus Silent HD 4350 sounds like a good choice in line with the requirements you describe. It is not nearly as powerful as the Powercolor HD 4830 at $85 that we selected, but since silence is your major requirement the Asus will likely meet your needs better. Reply
  • Martin84a - Saturday, January 3, 2009 - link

    Hi, you don't mention a lot about the ram which is a shame, because a lot of these guides are read by people that have been away from the hardware scene for a while, eg. like me. I haven't upgraded my PC since 2003, but know i felt it was the time. But while it is fairly easy to read a CPU review and compare the results, it is a jungle of chipsets and motherboards out there, and they of course affect your choice of RAM.

    I was actually going with an Asus P5Q Pro, because of good reviews and its Loadline Calibration, which eliminates the Vdrops that happens under load. See">
    But now i see your EP45-UD3R recommendation..

    Gigabyte - Asus
    AWARD vs AMI bios.
    1x PCI-E vs 2x PCI-E (Can do crossfire as well)
    Realtek ALC889A soundchip vs Realtek ALC1200
    3x PCI vs 2x PCI
    Not sure about EP45-UD3Rs warranty, but the P5Q Pro has 3 years of warranty.

    Then there is the matter of how good BIOS and driver support there is, and when it will stop. No clue here though :(

    But overall, the Asus P5Q Pro is a bit cheaper, and comes with 2x PCI-E, and i just love that Loadline Calibration, i mean look at that straight line. Would you still pick the Gigabyte?

  • SleepyItes - Thursday, January 1, 2009 - link

    The HTPC truly is a "very personal machine", and I'm glad that you mentioned this in the beginning of the HTPC segment. I just finished a budget HTPC for under $400 (granted I used an existing HDD, TV Tuner, and OS license) and I can say that the choices in this market segment are vast, and require careful evaluation of particular requirements and considerations. I toyed around with various configurations and price ranges before I finally found the balance that was right for me. Home theater organization, TV resolution, gaming needs, and budget all played a role in component selection.

    I started with a case that would fit nicely with my A/V rack, the Antec NSK 2480. I found an excellent deal on a CPU/Mobo combo at an unnamed local vendor. I was building this for a low-ish resolution TV (1280x768) so I chose not to go with blu-ray, which saved me a bundle. I wanted discreet graphics to be able to do some casual gaming. However, since I have such a low resolution TV (and such old games), I did not even need a mid-range card. Instead, my focus was on power consumption, so I decided to go with a Radeon HD 4670. Sure, for $10 more (after rebate) I could have gotten the 4830, but it uses a lot of power, runs hot, and takes up a lot of space (which is at a premium in an HTPC case).

    I'm just reinforcing the notion that building an HTPC is not about pure performance, features, or bang for buck. It's about building a system that fits into your entertainment center and satisfies your particular needs.

    Fantastic guide! I cannot wait to read next week's.

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