First time building - looking for a cheap system I can upgrade

Approximate Purchase Date: ASAP

Budget Range: $600- $800 After Rebates

System Usage from Most to Least Important: Streaming video to TV connected via HDMI, using virtualization to run multiple OSs simultaneously, web browsing, light gaming, VOIP/video chatting.

Parts Not Required: Keyboard, mouse, speakers (assuming it will stream audio through HDMI)

Preferred Website(s) for Parts: No preference

Country: US

Parts Preferences: None

Overclocking: Maybe

SLI or Crossfire: Maybe

Monitor Resolution: No preference

Additional Comments: I'm looking to build my own computer for the first time. The laptop I'm currently using as a desktop is dying, so I'd like to have a replacement fairly soon. But I'd also like to have a computer that will last me a good long time. So what I'm trying to figure out is the best way to have functioning computer built at a reasonable month which can have really crappy components but that I could, by spending a few hundred dollars a month, turn into a high powered machine without taking it apart again. My guess is that means that, at the very least, I need to use a case and motherboard that I'll be happy with for the long haul, and then make do with lower quality components otherwise just to have it working. I can put off an optical drive altogether, for instance, and get a good one later. I'm trying to find a build that will work for me to do this but also find out if there are any considerations I might be missing.
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  1. Best answer
    Judging by your system requirements you don't really need all that fast of a system to begin with. Your $600-800 budget is actually enough to put together a decent system which meets your requirements.

    Case - This one comes down to personal preference in both design and function. Do you favor wild looks or a buttoned down appearance? Is cool or quiet a bigger factor for you? I'd budget $150 for a nice mid-tower.

    CPU - If you're not going to overclock, or at least not more than a couple hunder MHz then the Core i3 3120 is for you at around $130. You can always upgrade later to a Ivy Bridge K series CPU which will allow oveclocking and offer slightly better performance than is currently available for about the same price.

    Motherboard - I'm a fan of MSI, so for you I'd pick the MSI Z68A-GD55. It's $140 after rebate on newegg, has z68 functionality, offers SLI support, good OC options and MSI has good customer support and replacement policies in my experience. It will also support PCI 3.0 in the future as well as Ivy Bridge CPU's.

    RAM - Corsair Vengence Low Profile offes a good mix of performance, price, and not too ridiculous looks. Compatability with MSI boards is also good. 4GB is plenty for you for now, and you can always upgrade later. Figure around $50.

    SSD - I'd go for a 120+GB SSD drive, this will be plenty for a primary boot drive and offer quite a bit of storage space besides. Then add a HDD later. Crucial, Intel and Samsung all make great stuff and this will probably run around $200.

    GPU - You don't need anything serious at this point based on your input. I'd look at going with a Radeon HD 6670 which is the most powerful card you can get witout requiring PCIe power input, you can grab the GDDR3 version for around $60 and the GDDR5 version for $90. I'd go save a few and go with GDDR3 in your case, especially if you decide to go with a nice SLI setup later on.

    PSU - Corsair makes great PSU's. Quiet and efficient. Newegg has a TX750 on sale right now for $90 which is a great deal. I paid almost $150 last summer and it runs my GTX 560 Ti's in SLI with no issues.

    That brings us a bit over budget at $880, but it gives you a solid system to build on. You could also always skimp a bit more on the CPU for now and go with a Pentium G620 for $70 which will bring you a lot closer to your max budget by saving you $60. The Pentium can handle everything on your list, and again can be upgraded later.

    EDIT: Let us know what you would like in a case and we can make some suggestions.
  2. While I'm not gaming now, it's something I might be interested in doing later, and I'm wondering whether the build you're talking about would at least be easy to upgrade to handle a game that might come out a year from now. Bearing in mind that I will never be the person who needs the absolute best frame rate or resolution.

    As for case, I guess I'd prefer one that sticks out, I like the cases that viewing windows and lights, etc. If there's a case that would work fine on a carpet that would be a plus, but I imagine that I'll have to put it on a hard surface. I obviously don't want to feel like I'm in a wind tunnel, but moderate noise and heat won't bother me, so long as it's capable of keeping the components cool.

    I had assumed, but wanted to make clear, that whatever graphics card I use will be able to output simultaneously both to HDMI and a monitor I have yet to buy.

    Is SSD becoming standard? I have one in a laptop, but I didn't realize they were being used in desktops.
  3. Check out, they've got some great looking cases in the $100-150 range that look classy, but come with LED lights and a good amount of fans for cooling.

    SSD's have been making inroads into the desktop market for a while now, but higher capacity ones are just now getting cheap enough to be effective everyday desktop solutions. Since I had to skimp on some of the other components I thought this would abe a pretty good way to make the system still feel highend. This Intel unit is great at 120GB for only $180.

    Basically wht I did was try to go with a nice case, PSU, motherboard, RAM, and an SSD. That leaves room for further RAM expansion, a better CPU, and better/more GPU's at a later time like you said. Now, given your requirements above, you probably don't really need much of anything beyond a different CPU and GPU for gaming which would really only run you another $150-200 or so each for a respectable models at a later date.

    Also, note that while the Pentium G620 is one of the "weaker" CPU's that Intel offers, it's still every bit as fast as the best Core 2 Duo's that Intel had just a couple short years ago which makes it more than enough to power pretty much everything a home user would ever want to do.
  4. Thanks so much for your help.

    I'm looking at the cases and trying to understand the differences. For instance, I see that the Obsidian Series 650D is $140 on NewEgg after rebate. That seems like it's probably the best deal I'm going to get on that kind of mid-tower. But I'm trying to understand what that's getting me above cases like the Graphite 400R or the Antec 900 (which is actually only $70 tonight, but I don't think I'll make the decision quickly enough to get that price).

    I'm just trying to understand the what I'm looking at when deciding. While there are some numbers, they aren't nearly so useful as those on other components, so I'd appreciate any help. I'm thinking the 650D is probably going to be my best bet.

    I'd also appreciate the same kind of information on motherboards, to the extent you can give it to me. I feel that with the other components I am well prepared, with your suggestions as a starting point, to evaluate my options. But when it comes to the case and motherboard I really just have no idea what to look for in making a decision. Links to useful articles on the topics would also be welcome.
  5. The major difference in the Corsair case lineup is aesthetics and added functionality like fans and lights, side panel windows etc...

    For example under the obsidian line up they offer three models, they offer the 300R, 400R and 500R. They've all got the same basic features like grommeted holes for easy building and painted interiors, but moving up the line gets you more fans, slightly different styling, LED's, fan controllers, more FP connectors, etc...

    The Obsidian line you mention is different; those cases have been around a bit longer and don't fit an obvious pattern. The 650D is a mid-tower case which is the normal tower PC size which fits boards using the ATX form factor or smaller (i.e. mini and micro ATX as well). The 800D is a full tower case which is substantially larger and fits E-ATX (large) motherboards. Cases like that are typically used by people with 3+ GPU's or a ton of HDDs in fancy pants RAID arrays. The 550D is totally unrelated and focuses on giving the user the quietest experience possible.

    I can tell you from experience that Corsair cases are pretty sweet. I've built systems in both the 600T and 500R and loved them. The fit and finish is superb, there's a ton of room behind the MB for extra cables so your build looks neat and their customer service and warranty are top notch.

    I've never used an Antec case so I can't speak to how good they are, but they're the most frequently mentioned case manufacturer on these boards and the prices are great from what I've seen.

    The thing you need to watch out for with cases is build quality. Make sure it has the features you want. Going from an el-cheapo case to a case in the $100 plus range gets you panels that fit well, quick side panel releases, painted interiors, more fans, etc…The best thing you can do is find a case you think looks nice and then check out newegg to see if they have a video review or you tube to find someone who does a case review and an actual build on camera. That’s the best way to find the unforeseen stuff that you just can’t anticipate by looking at spec sheets.

    In regards to motherboards again, it's a matter of finding the features you want, for sandy bridge chips the following chipsets are commonly available.

    H61 - Home user chipset, cheapest of the available options. Does not support overclocking, does support onchip CPU video.

    P67 - Former high end, now midrage, does not support on chip video, but does feature tons of overclocking goodies.

    Z68 - Combines H61 and P67 benefits, supports on chip video, overclocking, switchable graphics, and intel SSD caching (only useful on small 20-30GB SSD's). Some boards are also PCI 3.0 compliant. Most expensive of the three available chipsets.

    If you don't think you're ever going to OC then you can save a couple bucks by going H61, and if you don't need on chip video and don't want the Z68 features then P67 is the way to go for a bit cheaper.

    The next step is choosing a form factor. How many PCIe slots do you need? Do you need legacy PCI slots or any other legacy ports? How many USB ports do you want, how many fan headers will you use?

    For most people who dont' need legacy ports but want 2 or 3 PCIe x16 connectors it comes down to a nice mATX board, which is what I chose above. This enables you to crossfire/SLI in the future and puts enough room between the PCIe x16 slots from dual slot cards to work great.

    In general pay attention to layout. Two empty spaces between the primary and secondary PCIe slots means there's an empty spot between two graphics cards for good air circulation. Placement of the SATA headers on the motherboard is also important. MSI mounts there's so that they connect off the right hand side of the board instead of orthogonal (90 degrees) from the plane of the board. This means that long GPU's won't interfere with you connecting a HDD/SSD. A power button the MB is also a super handy tool that not everyone includes, as is a diagnostic LCD (not common until you spend $250+ on a MB).

    Let me know what you need in a MB and I'll be happy to make some more suggestions or provide some links. It's really just a matter of assessing what you want and what you need and then finding something you can afford.
  6. If I'm going with a case like the Obsidian 650D I mentioned before, I notice that one of the complaints is that the front USB 3.0 ports are pass through, but I'm finding conflicting information. Will cases with the same model numbers have different features like that? In either case, what do I need to have on the motherboard to make sure that it is compatible with the ports built into the case? And is there anything to making sure it fits well beyond matching up ATX to ATX?

    As for the motherboard generally, but I don't really have specific needs. I have no legacy cards I plan to use or anything beyond USB ports, which there seem to be enough of. My main concern is that if a new game comes out in a year or two I'd like to be able to play it (even if not at the best settings) without removing the motherboard, even if I need to upgrade the processor or video card. If a motherboard is solid enough for that, I'm really good to go.

    In looking at the motherboard you recommended in your original post, I notice that it says it has no video chipset, but it does have HDMI and DVI outs. Would I be able to use this motherboard without a video card if I wanted to put that purchase off? I realize it won't run as well if it can run at all. I also noticed that the specs say it's an ATX, but I thought (and I might have misunderstood) you had said it was mATX. Is there a difference between the two I would care about?

    Lastly, I can't find the processor you recommended anywhere. I realize I'm probably emphasizing processor too much, but I am wondering how much of a difference I'd see if I spent around twice as much on something like the i7-2600. I'd particularly like to do this if I can put off the video card and not need to upgrade the processor for a few years, but I guess it might be better to keep to something cheap until Ivy Bridge comes out.

    Thank you again, so much, for your time. You've been amazingly helpful.
  7. No problem at all. Researching a build is half the fun. To answer your questions...

    1. I've also seen mention about the Obsidian 650D having both pass through and internal connection. The pass through cable basically means that you have to string a USB cable from the front panel, through the case, out the rear panel and into a USB port on the back of the case. It's ugly but it works. The internal version of the cable just connects to an motherboard header like normal USB 2.0 ports do. In regards to matching things up, motherboards sizes and screw positions are standardized so no problems there. The only real issue to watch out for on MB is clearance between the top of the case and the motherboard to allow large air cooling heatsinks. Both the MSI board I listed and the case have been designed with this in mind and will fit large dual fan 120mm heat sinks with no problem if you decide to go that route. If you go the 650D route it will be a crap shoot which version you get, it will depend on how new the retailers stock is. Go with a high volume seller if you want the best chance at the newer internal connection version.

    2. In regards to the motherboard, there's no way to gaurantee future compatability, if Intel decides to switch away from LGA 1155 then that's up to them. They have however announced that Ivy Bridge, the next gen of CPU's, will use LGA 1155 which means you'll have a couple year window to upgrade without having any problems with availability.

    3. The board doesn't feature onboard video, but the majority of Sandy Bridge chips include it on the CPU so that's where your onboard video comes from. If you go without a discrete card then make sure the chip you buy states that it has Intel HD Graphics onboard. The i3 2120 I list above has this. Beware though. It's enough for everyday tasks and BlueRay, but will fail miserably in any sort of modern game.

    4. mATX just refers to the size of the motherboard. It can mean either mini-ATX or micro-ATX, but typically refers to mini-ATX. ATX boards are standard and include 7 expansion slots (PCIe or PCI). Mini-ATX boards are smaller and have 4 expansion slots, and mico-ATX boards are smaller yet and only have 1-3 slots. All three board types will fit into ATX cases.

    5. CPU. I had a typo, it's the i3 2120 you want not the 3120. I'd stick with cheap for now on this one since Ivy Bridge is right around the corner and will feature CPU's at the same price points which will be 10-20% better and more efficient to boot. You might even consider holding off a month or getting a Pentium G620 and going for Ivy Bridge in a couple of months. The G620 is actually a great CPU and is nearly as competetant as the top of the line Core 2 models from about three years ago.

    Hope that helps, let me know if you need anything else.
  8. I understand there can be no guarantees. I guess I worded that poorly. What I'm really trying to make sure is that I'm not buying something so cheap that the next round of hardware coming out will inevitably break it. I'd rather wait and not build now than to make something that won't be worth upgrading within a 2 years. But I feel like you're recommending pretty solid stuff.

    Okay, so here's where I'm at right now, for you to look at generally for problems (even though it's basically your build), with some bolded questions. I'm thinking that if this build works I'll be able to come in under $800 even with a cheap monitor, with the plan to add a discrete graphics card and optical drive later, along with upgrading the CPU when the Ivy Bridge series is released.

    Case: Corsair Obsidian 650D - $140 after rebate

    CPU: Pentium G620 - $70

    MB: MSI 768A-GD55 - $140 after rebate

    RAM: Corsair Vengence - $25 One of my issues is I'm really outdated in my knowledge about hardware. It seems like there was a time when RAM had to be done in pairs. Will using only one stick be a problem?

    SSD: A couple of options. I'm seeing SATA II and III on products, should that matter to me? I assume SATA III is the better option, but I don't know whether anything matters in terms of compatibility.
    - Corsair Force Series GT CSSD-F120GBGT-BK 2.5" 120GB SATA III Internal Solid State Drive (SSD) - $170
    - SAMSUNG 830 Series MZ-7PC128D/AM 2.5" 128GB SATA III MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD) Desktop Upgrade Kit - $200 Do I need some kind of desktop kit like this, or just the drive?

    PSU: Corsair TX750 - $90 after rebate

    If I had all of these components (plus a mouse, keyboard, and monitor), I'd be able to build and get a working machine up and running, right?
  9. Yes.
  10. RAM should still be done in matched pair kits if possible, but the performance difference between single and dual channel mode in everyday computing is nil. There is an impact during high res high detail gaming though. So, while it would double the cost it's something to think about. Also, if you plan on mounting a large air cooler for your upgraded CPU in the future you might consider the Low Profile memory instead. Here's a link...

    You are correct, SATA III SSD's are typically faster. This probably has more to do with them being a newer generation of product though since SATA III has only been common for a year or so. Between the two you've listed the Samsung is the better drive by far, but I've had such great customer service experience with Corsair stuff that I'd be torn between the two. The Samsung however is quite a bit faster and uses a proprietary controller which is reportedly far less prone to failure than the Sandforce based Corsair drive. So I'd probably go Samsung in this case. The upgrade kit Samsung is talking about is pretty standard fare with SSD purchases these days, but isn't really necessary since the Corsair case you're looking at accepts 2.5" drives anyways so no worries there.
  11. I couldn't find the link earlier but here is the one without an installation kit. Am I correct in understanding that I don't need the mounting hardware that comes in the kit? I have no need for Norton Ghost.
  12. Right, the design of the Obsidians HDD caddy's allows for installation of 2.5" or 3.5" drives, so no need for the mounting kit.

    If the price difference is only a couple of bucks and you like the idea of Norton then go for it, otherwise skip it.
  13. I'm assuming I don't need an aftermarket fan for the processor?
  14. It won't be necessary. The one that comes with the Pentium chip is plenty. If and when you upgrade later and you plan to overclock the CPU then you'll want to invest in a good aftermarket heat sink or sealed loop cooler.
  15. Great.

    I ordered the build discussed here. I did everything from NewEgg except for the Samsung SATA III SSD drive, which I found for $170 on Amazon with no kit (NewEgg didn't seem to have it without a kit).

    I also got a ASUS 23" widescreen monitor for $144.99 after rebate. NewEgg total was $687.57 (for some reason only the motherboard charged for shipping) and I have $70 of MIR, making that $617.57, plus $169.09 for the SSD, giving me a total of $786.66 for everything but software. I'm probably going to dual-boot Ubuntu and Windows, and will probably be using the Windows 8 consumer preview until the actual OS hits the market. Over the next few months I'll be adding an optical drive, HDD, and graphics card as well as upgrading the processor.

    If shipment tracking is to be believed, I should have everything by the end of tomorrow. Any tips or favorite guides on assembling everything? NewEgg has a how-to video using this specific case so I'll definitely be watching that.

    Thanks again for all of your help.
  16. The guide here on Tom's is actually pretty good.,2601.html

    You can also google it or try YouTube and find some stuff from newegg as well. I'd just avoid the videos of random 16 year olds giving an instructional. Honestly it's all plug and play these days, there isn't a whole lot to scratch your head over, the fun part is figuring out how to route all your cables so everything looks all neat and tidy (which won't be hard in your new Corsair case).

    Other than that, best practice is to work on a non-conductive wooden surface if available, and always touch the case with your body before touching it with hardware. That way static will be discharged between the case and your hand instead of between the case and hardware. Never place the motherboard on top of the anti-static bags they come in. They're conductive by design on the outer surface and can cause a short. CPU insertion is the most delicate part, drop it in straight, mind the indicator arrows, and never touch the bottom pin surface. Make sure you do a dry run on the locking mechanism so you understand how it works before closing it on the CPU, and make sure the CPU is seated well before closing it or you'll bend pins and or ruin the CPU. When applying thermal paste, more is not better. Here's a good link for that...,3058-9.html

    You may not need this one though, I think Intel actually preapplies it on their in-box heatsinks.

    Other than that, enjoy! I'll bet $20 you crap your pants when you see how fast Windows loads with that SSD.
  17. Unfortunately the USB 3.0 ports are pass throughs. On NewEgg's video, the guy recommends a workaround if the motherboard comes with a USB 3.0 front panel bracket or PCI bracket, you can use that and plug it in internally. The motherboard I got doesn't, but is that something I can buy separately?
  18. I wasn't going to look into overclocking until I upgrade my processor, but I see the motherboard has a button that does it automatically (OC Genie). Should I use that?
  19. I am not sure since I have never heard of OC Genie.
  20. talleymj said:
    I wasn't going to look into overclocking until I upgrade my processor, but I see the motherboard has a button that does it automatically (OC Genie). Should I use that?

    OC Genie does work, I've got on my Z68A-GD80. I know in my case it takes my i7 2600K from 3.4GHz up to 4.2GHz. Unfortunately it also jacks up all the system voltages to their max or very close to it, so I prefer to do it the old fashioned way with BIOS settings. I can't find it now, but Tom's had a good article on the various auto-OC methods different vendors use and OC Genie faired pretty well against the competition.

    If you ended up going with the Pentium G620 it would be interesting to see what happens when you press the button since that CPU doesn't really allow overclocking.
  21. I am proud to say that I am posting this on my newly-assembled system. It was a huge rush when it booted for the first time, and you're right, the SSD makes a huge difference. Windows loads so fast. I can't wait to see how the system performs when I add a video card and upgrade from the G620.

    Thank you, again, so much for your help, 87fivenineone. Probably wouldn't have tried this without it.

    I think I'm going to hold off on trying to overclock until I get a new processor with a better cooling system.
  22. Best answer selected by talleymj.
  23. talleymj said:
    I am proud to say that I am posting this on my newly-assembled system. It was a huge rush when it booted for the first time, and you're right, the SSD makes a huge difference. Windows loads so fast. I can't wait to see how the system performs when I add a video card and upgrade from the G620.

    Thank you, again, so much for your help, 87fivenineone. Probably wouldn't have tried this without it.

    I think I'm going to hold off on trying to overclock until I get a new processor with a better cooling system.

    Awesome, glad to hear it went together well. Enjoy! Also, pics or it didn't happen.
  24. Well, it was working fine and now I'm having an issue. As I said before, one of the primary purposes of the machine to to do HDMI output to a TV. This was working perfectly after the OS was installed. But as I was going through and installing and updating drivers, after one of the reboots I could not get it to output through the HDMI at all. Still can't. I've tried uninstalling all of the drivers I put in one by one to find a cause, but nothing seemed to work.

    Any ideas?

    Also, do people generally take pictures? Of just the finished product?

    ETA: It has twice also shown a non-existent VGA monitor when I look at connected monitors. It's never shown any indication that the HDMI monitor is there since it stopped working.
  25. I would start by visiting MSI's website and finding the appropriate BIOS update. I don't see it mentioned in the release notes specifically, but there have been a number of revisions since release so if you're BIOS is more than a couple versions out of date it would be worthwhile anyways (Current revision is 22.8). Next, I would grab the latest Intel HD Graphics drivers from Intel's website. Use this link to visit Intel's update utility which will automatically check and number of chipset drivers and the GPU drivers for being up to date in let you download/install the appropriate ones afterwards.

    If you're still having issues after all the drivers are up to date then it would be best to contact MSI with your problem and see what they recomend. I can't find any record of other users complaining about the same problem, so it can't be too common. I would also start a new thread in the Motherboard/Memory section where you'll get more visability than this thread since it already has an answer selected.
  26. I've tried downloading all up to date drivers and BIOS. It works fine for MSI stuff, but Intel unfortunately blocks drivers on anything but the intended OS. I've tried modifying the drivers so they'll install, but then they're unsigned, which Windows 8 (at least the consumer preview) won't allow. I haven't tried contacting MSI, and I will, but I won't be surprised if they're less than helpful because I'm using a pre-release OS. Plus, I imagine the problem is generally on Intel for the driver, and I don't think they're going to release anything before Windows 8 is RTM. It's not that I need to use Windows 8 before it's released, I just plan to get it and it's the only free 64-bit OS I have access to in the meantime, so it would seem silly to spend money on an OS now that I'm going to upgrade in 6 months.

    I also have more money this month than I was expecting, so I'm thinking about just getting a video card. nVidia is already releasing drivers and it should fix my issue. I started a thread about that choice: Be sure to let me know, on either thread, if you have any thoughts on my choice of graphics card.
  27. Ahhh, I forgot about you saying that you're on Windows 8. In that case, my only advice is to uninstall the Intel driver and just let Windows use whatever generic driver it decides to, which is what was probably going on when you first had it working.
  28. For future reference, what considerations are there for adding more memory? Like could I leave my 2 4GB sticks in and add 2 8GB sticks? If so, what considerations should I have? Do they need to also be 1600? Do they need to be the same brand?
  29. Modern memory is pretty tollerant of mismatches. In situations where speed and hence overclocking is important a completely matched set of memory is the rule. But for the average home user if it fits then it runs.

    In boards not supporting memory overclocks mismatched speeds will limit you to the speed of the lowest clocked module, this is usually means 1333MHz. In boards with memory overclocking you can always clock all the modules up regardless of default speed on any given module.

    Pairs matched in size and speed should be used when running dual channel mode is permitted. But, if your board has four slots then you could still have your matched 4GB sticks, then put two 8GB sticks of the same speed and timings in the remaining two slots and be fine.

    It would be hard to cover all the scenarios here, but like I said, if it fits it runs and using pairs of memory sticks is best whenever possible.

    The only other thing I'd advise is to watch the voltage rating on the RAM. For Sandy and Ivy Bridge 1.50V is ideal, 1.65V is doable, but not preffered and 1.35V (low voltage sticks) should be avoided.
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