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Complete Socket 775 box for $375 (starter box)

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May 14, 2007 3:31:17 AM

Hiya-
Right now, I don't really have a decent PC, just an old PIII box limping along. My financial situation improved somewhat recently, enough to piece together something a little more modern. Here's my goal: I'm a gamer, and I've missed out on a lot of good games in recent years. So, I figured I'd build a bare minimum box to tide me over and allow me to play some of the older titles I've missed. Then, I'll migrate to a much more powerful box, and use the starter box as a simple home server (or give it to my mom or roommate or something). The box I'm putting together doesn't need to play Crysis at 120 fps, just allow me to play previous-generation games decently. I'll worry about the God Box later.

Right now, I just want to get all the essential pieces of a somewhat modern system together, and upgrade piecemeal as my budget allows.

So, after battering Newegg's servers, I've come up with the following setup. This is almost bare-minimum stuff, but still somewhat modern, and enough to play, say, Total Annihilation, Half Life, and a lot of other cool games that are a friggin slide show on my current box. (I know, sad. I know.) I think it's pretty darn decent for 375 bucks (sans OS, monitor, and keyboard/mouse, which I already have).

Motherboard: $48
BIOSTAR P4M890-M7 PCI-E LGA 775 VIA P4M890 Micro ATX

CPU: $37
Intel Celeron D 336 Prescott 2.8GHz 256KB L2 Cache

Case: $16
Rosewill R624-P BLK Black SGCC Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case

PSU: $40
Thermaltake TR2 W0070RUC ATX 430W Power Supply

RAM: $38
WINTEC AMPO 1GB 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 667 (PC2 5300)

HDD: $53
Western Digital Caviar SE WD1600AAJS 160GB 7200 RPM 8MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s

DVD: $32
Pioneer DVR-112D

GPU: $110
EVGA 256-P2-N615-TX GeForce 7600GT 256MB 128-bit GDDR3 PCI Express x16

I think that's just about everything. Total of $373.93 as of 5-13-07. Now, I splurged a little on the GPU, but that's a primary candidate for migration to a new system, especially since the mobo has built-in video sufficient for non-gaming purposes.

Keeping in mind the minimalist purposes of this box, I'd appreciate any comments, especially if you have good or bad experience with any of these parts. Or if I've forgotten something.

Thanks,
Drewstre
May 14, 2007 4:18:16 AM

Well if you look at my signature you can see my specs. I can play doom 3 at 60 fps with no problem even when I have a bunch of action on the screen. I also have a hard drive camcorder so I am always rendering video to with out a problem. I have compared my computer with an AMD athlon 3800+ dual core and that system renders a 12 min video 48 seconds quicker than mine. Same software same video clip same camera. It is not enough to make me go out and get a new computer. However if you will have another $300 dollars or so in a few months I would definately wait and get a core2 system.
May 14, 2007 4:53:53 AM

Hiya-
Thanks for the feedback. That's one reason I went with the Socket 775, I plan on dropping in a C2Duo a couple of months down the road. I want to spec in a bare minimum, and upgrade it in pieces as budget allows. For the time being, as long as it all goes together OK, and I can get my UT2004 freak on, I'll be happy. For a while...

Thanks,
Drewstre
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May 14, 2007 5:07:04 AM

Quote:
Hiya-
Thanks for the feedback. That's one reason I went with the Socket 775, I plan on dropping in a C2Duo a couple of months down the road. I want to spec in a bare minimum, and upgrade it in pieces as budget allows.


Bad idea IMO. You should save up and buy a good complete system. You'd be better off buying someone's used system instead too, check the classifieds here. If you still insist...check out barebones deals on sites like TigerDirect.com as well.
May 14, 2007 5:36:53 AM

Hiya-
I'm a little unsure of that mobo as well, but for 50 bucks, it offers a lot of bang for the buck. I found a review of it, and it seemed to be sufficient for this box. My biggest hangups on the board are the 1.5Gbps SATA and the 10/100 ethernet, but both of those can be addressed later with cards. I figure, if it actually performs as advertised, for fifty bucks, it's a heckuva deal.

I thought a lot about the AM2 versus C2D conundrum. From the outset, I realized that this box, in its initial configuration, would be single-core. But I also want to figure in potential future upgrades to dual-core. I don't want to start a platform war, but the prospect of being able to drop in a mid- to high-end C2D chip, which I can then migrate to a better box, is very attractive.

The PSU seems like a steal. The Thermaltake brand gets mixed reviews around the 'net, but again, I'm willing to take a moderate leap of faith at this price point.

I have only the 'net on which to base my decisions, as I have been out of the system building thang since my finances took a dive. I've read that Rosewill PSUs are spotty, in that you can't really know if you get a good one 'til you get it. Similar deal with ECS mobos; they don't appear to have a very enthusiastic following. But [regarding the Biostar mobo and the Thermaltake PSU] the price is good enough that I'm willing to pick one up. If it sucks, eh, so be it. If it works, heckuva deal. That's pretty much this whole box in a nutshell.

Thanks,
Drewstre

[edit: clarification]
May 14, 2007 6:12:06 AM

Hiya
Man, I know. I should sock away some cash, and build a decent box. That's absolutely true. But, truth be told, I wanna play. Every day I read about games that are so cool, and I haven't played any of them. I just want to get in on the ground floor. Upgrading as I go is OK; the potential for reused parts is good enough (roommate, parents, secondary box, mediocre home server, etc.) that taking a fifty dollar chance on a part is reasonable. That's why I lowballed this box. If a part honks, I'll know better when it comes to building the real deal. If it doesn't, watta bahgin!

As for used boxes, I just dunno. It's a personal thing, I just never trusted used stuff. I don't trust people to treat their hardware with the same kid gloves that I do. The only used things I buy are cars. That's a threadjack waiting to happen. Please no.

I looked at the barebones on Tigerdirect. I surf them regularly looking for deals. I like to be able to spec each part; I might like the case, but I might not like the PSU. That kinda thing usually knocks barebones out of the running, especially when equivalents can be found. I think the system I put together could go toe to toe with any budget barebones box.

Thanks,
Drewstre
May 14, 2007 3:52:24 PM

You're right about TD compiling crap with good parts to sell the crap. :-P

As for saving and building a better box, I'd recommend starting out with a better brand name board. If half of ECS's mobos arrive dead then you're 50% risk of having to spend $8 sending it back to get a replacement. Better to just spend another $15 or so and get a better board IMO. I think that even though Core2Duo's are a better chip the AM2 X2 procs are just about as good and nobody really knows what the future is going to hold yet. AMD's chips are slightly better price/performance wise, and you can pickup a low end Athlon that will do you wonderfully for very cheap. If you really want to game, any X2 paired with an 8800GTS will play any game out right now and it might be your best deal. Spending a tiny amount of money is no good if it's not future proof. You're buying yesterday's hardware already. If I was on a limited budget I'd buy an X2 3600 or 3800, the cheapest 2 gigs of DDR2 ram I could find (reasonable speed ram), and an 8800GTS 320mb card. It should last you a good 2 years and if you want to play DX10 games you can by adding Vista.
May 14, 2007 4:46:02 PM

I agree with a x2 3600+, it may be more money with the ddr2 800 but u'll be able to play any older game at max
May 14, 2007 4:48:47 PM

Looks like some good options. Truth is you just can't build much machine for $400, but if you can scrounge up at least $600 you can get a lot more. The video card is the big thing, there really isn't any point in buying anything but an 8800 right now.
May 14, 2007 5:19:09 PM

Personally, I'd stay away from the Pentium D. To me anyway, the extra few buck for the 3600+ and Tforce 550 would be worth it.

If you're set on going for a C2D soon, is it really worth it to spend the money on outdated parts now?

I mean, if all you want to play is Half-Life, Doom, BF2, CS:S, I have my old 6600gt I could sell you cheap. Use the difference saved there to buy a 4300/(d)s3 combo, and when you get the money, upgrade the gfx to an 8900/9800 3900xt or whatever is out.

I just don't see the sense in spending the money on parts that you'll no longer be using in 2 months (and you won't, I think, be happy with the 7600gt for very long).

Just my $.02
May 14, 2007 5:27:55 PM

Like other people have mentioned, you should really be aiming for a low-cost AMD dual-core rig... it might stretch your budget by a few dollars, but nothing you can't save by skipping a fast food meal or two. Honestly, that Celeron will be a dog at games.
May 14, 2007 6:14:20 PM

Ditch that mobo you're gonna have problems upgrading with that thing.

Get this one instead, it's just $5 more.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

and of course ditch the celeron and get an X2-3600. For a total of just $35 more you get better performance and an upgrade path to quadcore.

Also, you should buy 2 stix of RAM, definately want at least 800mhz ram too. These will do:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

If you MUST only buy one stick now, then buy something that's going to be around months from now so you can buy a matched stick to run in dual channel mode.
May 15, 2007 12:12:09 AM

Hiya-
Thanks to you all for your suggestions. I looked at all of them. There were several places where I could've added 30 or 40 bucks, but I wanted to spec this box as low possible, without (unreasonable) compromise. A lot of suggestions regarding going to AMD to get dual-core. My only problems with that:

(1) most of those suggestions for AMD also involve getting an ECS mobo. I've read and heard enough things about ECS to be extremely wary of them. Like a friend told me, "they put the 'heap' in 'cheap'". I have no personal experience with them, other than one friend's disappointment.

(2) This box has one main function: to be an extremely inexpensive machine on which I can run old games, which I can upgrade piecemeal. I just want _something_ that can run some decent games. Think of it this way: the only machine I currently own that will play _any_ games is a G4 iMac. Yeah. GeForce 4MX. Yeah. It'll barely run UT2004 @ 800x600 with all options bottomed out. It'll run Age of Empires II OK, until more than a couple dozen units hit the screen. Then it's a slide show (and I've played for hours that way). As long as this starter box will do better than that, as well as be a somewhat upgradeable system, that's all I need. And dual-core frankly isn't a concern, since most old games won't improve with the presence of a second core. (right?) And the Celeron 2.8GHz with 7600GT will at least be able to run, say, UT2004 and AoEII decently, yes?

I picked the 7600GT with this in mind: once I put together the real box, the one with some cahones, I plan on using the 7600GT as a secondary (non-SLI) card. This box will then use its onboard graphics for its role as a simple home server, or if I sell or give it away, they can do with it as they wish.

If a few of you folks have ECS boards and can report good experience with them (well, better than Biostar, anyway), I would definitely reconsider.

Thanks again for all your input. I really do appreciate it, you've given me a lot to consider, and will keep you updated, for the fellow penny-pinchers in the crowd.
Drewstre
May 15, 2007 12:44:49 AM

I too have had several bad experiences with ECS, but I must admit that those experiences were 8 years ago. 8 years is an eternity in terms of technology so I accept that my previous personal experiences are now invalid. Perhaps you should make sure your friends are providing you with current opinions and not ones that should have passed. Just a thought... even if going with ECS is a risk, that risk FAR outweighs the certainty of going with a Celeron... that will always leave you with a frown on your face. If ECS is a coin flip, well so be it.
May 15, 2007 3:33:24 AM

You got some nice picks. I like your Biostar with the VIA chipset. It compares very well to other non overclocked solutions, and it is $50! Nice! This motherboard will serve you well. I have Biostar and VIA products. They just work!

I fail to see anyone's logic in buying AMD. You have to pay more to get a low end AMD, and the upgrade options are crap. With intel, you pay less for a low end solution, and you could upgrade up to a superior dual or quad core solution with the same $50 motherboard. And it will work! What is AMD going to do for you?

The things I do not like, but fully understand why you picked them is the CPU, and the memory. The cpu is upgradable, and I know it is temporary, and for the price, is good enough. The memory, however is too little. Get 2 gigs now, I say this because you only have 2 slots on the motherboard, you might as well fill the slots with 2 gigs now.
May 15, 2007 4:23:11 AM

You should still consider putting money towards something faster. You can spend $$ on a processor that can be beat by a processor that is cheaper. What I'm saying is an new Athlon64 will kill a Pentium 4 and cost less. Doing what you're talking about is kind of crazy. I can sell you my P4 2.2ghz system with PC2700 2-256mb modules of ram, a brand new ASRock motherboard with a PCI-E slot, and a 400w PSU for a couple hundred. It's got onboard video and if you want, I'll sell you my X1650XT for about $115 as well.
May 15, 2007 4:55:47 AM

Definately look at used systems.

What you are putting together is quite old and I'm sure ppl are almost giving those types of systems away.
!