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Looking to frankenstein myself a budget computer

Last response: in Systems
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July 4, 2011 12:59:42 AM

It's been a long time since I've been 'in to' computers, I put down that hobby for several years in favor of guitar (last I was up on current events, dual core was a big deal), but League of Legends, of all things, kind of has me wanting something a little more powerful than a netbook... My old desktop went down a long time ago, but I think the hard drive might be ok still. Other than that, I'm starting from scratch and I'm broke as can be.

I'm waaaay behind on the latest tech, and too poor to catch up. I'm going to be working with outdated components, possibly used components, and maybe a more cutting edge component or two if it's worth it. I've been having trouble finding info on old stuff, and mostly stumbling upon discussions based on maximizing cutting edge technology, so I thought I'd ask some questions here in reference to this somewhat less common scenario.


So here's what's up:
I need a box that can run simple 3d games (LoL at a framerate of 60 at min settings and 1440x900 rez would be perfect), be able to run flash games smoothly (if that's not an oxymoron... it's not too important), browse the net fast and trouble free (the wife needs it to just work, not crash or take a long time), and stream cartoons on my TV (HDMI input) for the little guy.

Here's what I'm having trouble with:
1) Streaming. What's going to be the most 'bang for my buck' when it comes to the streaming? I don't even know if a graphics card helps that anymore? Is it mostly CPU intensive? RAM? Should I set up Ubuntu or some such OS strictly for net/streaming, or is that more trouble than it's worth when it comes to inexperienced users? (The wife, not me, I can set it up just fine)

2) Solid-State Drives. If I have an old hard drive I can throw in for mass storage, is it worth it to go solid state to get things to boot quicker? The faster the thing boots up and loads a webpage, the happier the family is using it. Or is this going to be a waste of money on a low end computer?

3) Craigslist. I've seen some wicked deals locally... How hairy can buying used components get? What's usually safe? I'm seeing lots of graphics cards mainly, how can I tell if it's been overclocked and fried? Speaking of graphics cards...

4) SLI/Crossfire. I've seen a few opportunities to buy low-end cards in pairs for dirt cheap. I've read a lot of current discussions saying running two cards is barely worth it at best, and only at high rez, but... If it's cheap anyway, is this going to help while running stuff on the TV?

5) Windows XP. I still have the product key from my old desktop. How archaic is XP now? If I'm looking to come in under $500 (preferably $300), should I throw Windows 7 on the list?

Thanks in advance. :) 
a b B Homebuilt system
July 4, 2011 3:32:31 AM

1) you actually don't need much power, a modern dual core (Core/Athlon) over 2.5Ghz would do the job fine. Get at least 2GB of RAM however, and using Ubuntu deedicated for streaming needs a restart and really doesn't offer much benefits.

2)SSDs are nice, but for a low budget they arn't recommended. a new 7200rpm HDD would be a big step up from older ones and managing start-up tasks should speed up boot.

3) its pretty hard to tell whether the CPU/GPU has been OCed, but usually if it works without major problems then its fine. If buying a used system, try a quick furmark+IntelBurnTest stresstest and watch the temps, if it shutdown abruptly with wierd graphics then its a no-go. IMO buying used isn't that bad, especially with local as you can see it in person. The risk is also smaller with mainstream/bargain chips as people who buy it arn't likely to do any abusive OC.

4) In your case its not realistic. Your needs are quite low and dual cards aren't problem free. A viable SLI/CF setup starts around the HD4850 level, while for you perhaps even a 5570 would do the job fine.

5)XP is still in the grand picture but is slowly fading. For a lower specced machine it would still work fine, though without the visual "bling" or windows 7. If budget is an issue, you can stick with it for another 2 years at least.
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