Newbie considering first time build

I’m a newbie who is thinking about building first time rather than just buying a desktop to replace a 5 year old (extremely lethargic) Dell laptop at home. I had been searching for a pre-built (Dell, Lenovo, etc) until I started researching CPU’s and found this forum.
I’m small on budget (would like to top out at $400 - but less won't get any complaints) - I don't need a gaming rig, but want something that operates quickly and smoothly, and wasn't finding what I wanted (or what you guys recommended) in a prebuilt system at my pricepoint..

It doesn't help that I've become spoiled at the office with a Xeon CPU (we do a lot of modeling, rendering and graphics - Autocad, Revit, etc), and I really appreciate the speed of the computer, but don't need (and can't utilize) all of those same programs on my home computer. Would tend to use it for mostly basic stuff.

For more detail, I’ve cribbed from alexnharvey’s posting from several days ago:
Approximate Purchase Date: sometime before July 1, 2011

Budget Range: $300-$400

System Usage from Most to Least Important: Streaming audio/video, autocad/photoshop/sketchup, web browsing, office stuff .

Parts Not Required: Building an entire new system so will need monitor and keyboard (already have mouse, and I’ll probably also refer to tecmo’s Recommended Builds By Usage thread for suggestions

Preferred Website(s) for Parts: Looking for suggesting, but have browsed newegg before.

Country of Origin: USA

Parts Preferences: Would like to try using AMD, and whatever offers some upgradability
Overclocking: No
SLI or Crossfire: Not sure?

Monitor Resolution: not sure

Additional Comments: Basically looking for a smooth operator, get the best bang for my buck and have the option of upgrading components 4-5 yrs down the line. Tecmo’s $400 Non-gamer build from the Recommended builds by usage caught my eye, but wasn’t sure if it was slated as a “budget” or “bargain” and if those components were still most current.
It could be that my pricepoint and what I think I'd want don't necessarily intersect, but if you guys point me in a direction, I would definitely give building a try.
Thanks in advance.
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  1. I don't think you'll need or want an SLI/Crossfire video card setup for what you're planing on using the computer for, let alone for <$400. Definitely check out the Recommended Builds by Usage thread for build suggestions, as tecmo34 has really put a lot of great options out there to start your build ideas on.
  2. Thanks – I guess what I am trying to ascertain is what might be the inherent differences between these two of tecmo’s builds:

    Bargain: $466.92
    CPU: AMD Athlon II X3 445 Rana 3.1GHz Socket AM3 95W Triple-Core Desktop Processor ADX445WFGMBOX
    MOBO: MSI 785GTM-E45 AM3/AM2+/AM2 AMD 785G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard - Retail
    RAM: CORSAIR 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model TWIN2X4096-6400C5 - Retail
    HSF: Sunbeam CR-CCTF 120 mm Core-Contact Freezer CPU Cooler W/TX-2 - Retail
    HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 ST3500418AS 500GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive
    PSU: Antec EarthWatts Green EA-430D Green 430W Continuous power ATX12V v2.3 / EPS 12V 80 PLUS BRONZE Certified Active PFC Power ... - Retail
    GPU: SAPPHIRE 100254HDMI Radeon HD 4650 1GB 128-bit DDR2 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready CrossFireX Support Video Card - Retail
    DVD: LITE-ON CD/DVD Burner - Bulk Black SATA Model iHAS124-04 - OEM
    Case: COOLER MASTER Elite 330 RC-330-KKN1-GP Black SECC ATX Mid Tower Computer Case - Retail
    Thermal Compound: Comes with heatsink.


    Non-Gamer: $402.93
    CPU: AMD Athlon II X4 640 Propus 3.0GHz Socket AM3 95W Quad-Core Desktop Processor ADX640WFGMBOX
    MOBO: ASUS M4A785TD-M EVO AM3 AMD 785G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard
    RAM: CORSAIR XMS3 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10666) Desktop Memory Model TW3X2G1333C9A G
    HSF: None Required
    HDD: SAMSUNG Spinpoint F3 HD502HJ 500GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive
    PSU: Antec Antec EarthWatts Green EA-430D Green 430W Continuous power ATX12V v2.3 / EPS 12V 80 PLUS BRONZE Certified Active PFC Power ... - Retail
    GPU: None Required - This system will use on the onboard video, since graphic power is not a priority.
    DVD: SAMSUNG DVD Burner Black SATA Model SH-S223L LightScribe Support - OEM
    Case: COOLER MASTER ELITE 335 RC-335-KKN1-GP Black SECC Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case
    Thermal Compound: Whatever comes with the stock cooler

    I have no qualms about going a bit over $400, but again, is it what I need? The reason I was shying away from the bargain builds is the upgradeability. Are there things you might suggest I swap out of the above bargain build if I am trying to hybridize between the two build styles?
    And how would you classify the Non-gamer - as a budget or bargain?
  3. Personally, I'd probably go with the Non-Gamer rig but with 4GB of RAM instead of 2 (I'm a multitasker and DDR3 is cheap now. You can get 1 x 4GB module for around $40 so you've got 3 more slots you can use to upgrade later). That way if you decide later that you want to play some games or you do need to do some 3D work at home, you can put a little money into a good video card instead of using the onboard video. Also, I'd splurge on a 2TB HDD llike the Spinpoint F4 series (~$90) so you don't wind up hitting the storage wall and have to spend more money to replace the 500GB one down the line. This may put you up to almost $500 initially (I can't do the actual math right now), but should allow for some decent upgrade options.
  4. Welcome, newcomer, to Tom's hardware. Your first build is alwyas an exciting experience and usually the most rewarding. The good news is: you can get what your are looking for close to your price range.

    I feel, however, the need to be just a little bit pessimistic, so your expectations are set realistically. First, the upgrade options are going to be very limited - this will be pretty much a one and done build with 2nd tier technology. Next, be aware that Tecmo's AMD bargain build has some gaming in mind, and does not include an Operating System. If you want Win 7 then you are looing at an extra $100, or making sacrifices in other areas to get into that $300 to $400 range.

    Also, I see that you are interested in buying up to four and a half months from now. In terms of builds, that is forever away. Anything we recommend to you today will not be current in June. To get the lowest prices, you need to be ready to buy immediately - For example, here is a Newegg shell shocker that would fit into a build you would be interested in: ASUS M4A77TD AM3 motherboard and A-DATA Gaming Series 4GB RAM for $97 after rebate this deal is offered only until 4:00 PM Eastern time today. This is just and example, so don't worry - stuff like this comes up all the time, and when you are ready to purchase, something similar will be avaiable.

    Now for a couple of the recommendations to get even lower than Tecmo:

    1) Skip the dedicated graphics card and purchase your video integrated with the motherboard. Tecmo's mobo recommendation has HDMI built in, and if you are not gaming, then this omission should be fine.

    2) Skip the aftermarket heatsink, and do not attempt to overclock - you can always leave that for a later upgrade if you like.

    Ok, question for you: do yo have a MicroCenter within easy driving distance? They have good deals on CPU/motherboard combinations if you can purchase in store.
  5. eloric & r-
    thanks for the clarifications. I knew as soon as I posted that the purchase date was kind of pointless (there are evenings when I sit in front of my laptop cursing and want to pull the trigger that minute). Frankly, I'll probably be buying in within a month (tax refund!).
    I also realize I need the OS and probably another $100 for a monitor (and I just gave an unused Dell 18" flatscreen to the future in-laws).

    Still a little confused about the AM2+ - AM3 stuff - I thought I had it straight somewhere about the future compatibility of mobos, but is there a preferred way to go?

    I did consider looking at mobos with integrated video. Not attempting, nor have I even begun to understand the overclocking (saving that for a rainy day).
    And YES - I do have a Micro Center near me - about 30 miles. I've always wished it was closer.

    I guess I need to keep up on the latest with regards to tecmo's suggestions on motherboards and will probably post my shopping list to get a final sign off when the time comes.
  6. OK, here is what I would purchase today:

    CPU: Athlon II X4 640 3.0GHz for $95. Quad core processor - it'll work fine. This is an AM3 processor. AM2 and AM2+ are previous technologies that you might be able to find cheaper, but why make the sacrifice?

    Motherboard: GA-880GM-UD2H Socket AM3 880G mATX for $75. Combine this with the CPU and take another $40 off

    RAM: 4GB DDR3-1333 for $40

    HDD: Spinpoint F3 500GB for $45 If you wait, you can often find the 1TB version of this for $55.

    Power Supply: COOLER MASTER 500W eXtreme Power Plus for $36 After Rebate

    DVD: Asus DVD burner for $18 after promo code. Good until 2/23, but this seems to be a pretty standard price.

    Case: Elite 430 Mid Tower Case for $35 Good size, right price. Used one in my last build, and would do it again. It only comes with one fan - I put in a bunch of extras and a controller for superior airflow. I recommend at least a few of these: $3 generic 120 mm fan

    Heat sink: Hyper 212 Plus Universal for $23 OK, this is a really good price, and I am throwing it in because it is easier to build it out the first time, rather than going back later. It will give you a cooler system than what comes with the CPU, and enable overclocking (on that rainey day).

    OS: Win7 Home Premium 64 bit OEM for $95

    Total after rebates and promo codes: $445. Sales tax applicable to the MicroCenter purchases for $282 still keeps you well under $500.
  7. Well done, eloric. The only change I would make would be going with the bigger hard drive, but that's because I'm a data-hog. I have upgraded hard drives so many times that I now have a small army of drives that aren't big enough to really use efficiently. I figure if you're gonna spend $45 now on a 500GB drive, you might as well spend twice the cash for 4x the space. Just my 2 cents. You still get the thumbs up!
  8. Guys-
    Thanks for the info. It's been a couple of days since i was able to look at your posts again, so I wasn't able to take advantage of a couple of those last-minute deals. No problem, now that I think I am going the right direction.
    I see the wisdom in going with the larger hard drive. I think a 1TB drive was listed for only $10-15 more.
    As for the motherboard/CPU combo - I glanced at the website and didn't see anything on there about it. Is that one of the MicroCenter in-store deals you were talking about that I might be able to take advantage of?

    I may make some time this weekend and do an excursion to my nearest MicroCenter to pick up a few of these things that I might be able to get a deal on in-store, so if there's anything else I might want to consider buying in person, let me know.
  9. I saw the $40 off for an AMD CPU/motherboard combo in Microcenter's On-Line catalog, page 29. Before you go, make sure you check to make sure your local store has the items in stock. Their on-line inventory (at least at my store) is usually very accurate. You can also pre-order from the website, and they will have it at the counter when you arrive.

    Other items that I buy from MicroCenter are USB thumb drives - they seem to have the cheapest around. Don't know how you feel about showing off your case, but I have a UV case light, and LED fans in mine. One other item I have is a fan controller, but I have 5 extra fans that are 75 cfm/35db each, which are really loud at full speed. The ones I recommended to you are lower volume and quiet, so the controller is not really necessary.

    Last but not least, a couple of notes on your build with the Elite 430 case - attach the heatsink to the motherboard before you install it in the case, and install the motherboard before you put in the top fan(s).

    Good luck!
  10. OK guys,
    Despite another winter storm here in Cleveland, I plan on venturing over to Micro Center tomorrow. I've hybridized the recommendations you all made and have pre-shopped on the website just so I knew what was available and here is the line-up:

    CPU: the Athlon II X4 640 isn't in stock at the local store, anything else you would recommend (AMD) or just buy online? I'd like to take advantage of the discount on CPU/mobo combo but if there's nothing else that fits the bill, I might

    Motherboard: GA-880GM-UD2H Socket AM3 880G mATX

    RAM: 4GB DDR3-1333

    HDD: decided to upgrade to the Spinpoint F4 2TB 5400 RPM SATA

    Power Supply: COOLER MASTER 500W eXtreme Power Plus

    DVD: also this store did not have the Asus DVD burner - doesn't even look like Micro Center carries that brand.

    Case: Elite 430 Mid Tower Case

    A few of the $3 generic 120 mm fans

    Heat sink: Decided to go with the Hyper 212 Plus Universal

    Here's a list of in-stock CPU's that they do have:
    AMD Athlon II X2 255 3.1GHz Socket AM3 Boxed Processor
    10 new in stock: $62.99

    AMD Phenom II X6 1075T 3GHz Socket AM3 Boxed Processor
    3 new in stock: $189.99

    AMD Phenom II X6 1055T 2.8GHz Six-Core Boxed Processor
    11 new in stock: $169.99

    AMD PHENOM II X4 840 Boxed Processor HDX840WFGMBOX
    20+ new in stock:$99.99

    AMD Phenom II X2 560 Black Edition Boxed Processor
    0 new in stock: $99.99
    1 open box from: $79.96

    AMD Phenom II X4 Quad-Core Processor 955 Black Edition Boxed
    1 new in stock: $129.99

    AMD Phenom II X4 970 Black Edition Boxed Processor
    5 new in stock: $169.99

    AMD Athlon II X2 250 Dual Core Boxed Processor
    17 new in stock: $57.99

    If anyone's got a recommendation on the CPU, I think I can have most of this wrapped up this weekend!
  11. Forgot to ask whether the Spinpoint F4 being 5400 RPM is going to be better/worse than the F3 7200?
  12. Nice try, but the F4 is going to be worse, and would be noticibly slower than the F3 as a primary boot drive. You can always add more hard drives later - they trend lower in price over time, and there is not an issue fitting more drives into your case. If you are like me, you will not fill up that 1TB for some time.

    To get the $40 combo discount, you need to purchase this one: AMD PHENOM II X4 840 Boxed Processor HDX840WFGMBOX 20+ new in stock:$99.99

    That CPU is only $5 more and it is a Phenom instead of Athlon. Don't get an x2 - those are have only two cores. The X6 chips are really expensive, and there is not much call for the extra cores. The quad core BE chip is also expensive at $159, so stick with the $100 option.

    The stuff that you cannot find at MicroCenter like the DVD drive - that was a newegg reference. I think I directed you to Newegg for Win7 too. You can save a few dollars if you order on-line for those few items, but if you want to build this weekend, well......get the cheapest DVD burner you can find, and make sure the OS is Win 7 64 bit Home Premium OEM - their rack that hold the disks is very confusing (At least the one at my store in Atlanta). The MicroCenter version is $10 extra.

    Good Luck!
  13. Ladies and Gentlemen!
    Just like the Death Star, I have a fully operational battle station!
    Pre-ordered about 80% of the components, which makes the trip a lot easier. I went with a $19 LG DVD writer, $14 Kensington keyboard (the $4 one's space bar was just way too loud) and also picked up an Asus 18.5" monitor for $94. Also just deciced to bite the bullet (instant gratification) and get Windows 7 for $109.
    My total (without factoring in a couple of rebates) including tax was like $638.

    Spent part of Saturday evening getting everything unboxed and had everything built except installation of the mobo. Sunday morning tried to familiarize myself with what connections needed to be made where and trying to minimize cable routing. Biggest issues seemed to be just locating pins for some of the smaller stuff (front panel connections and fans) and of course grounding myself about every 8 minutes (extremely dry house). I probably spent double the amount of time I could have reading the installation guide that came with each component and tracking it against the building guide thread on this forum). Probably spent a total of about 4 hours in build mode, but it was on and off over the two days.

    Got everything set and had successful initial boot! Spent part of Sunday evening installing the OS and most of my programs, and let me say that this machine is pretty slick!

    Now my daughter wants to know if I can build her a laptop! LOL

    Thanks again for all the advice and info. You guys rock!
  14. Congrats! Welcome to the club.
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