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$500-600 build for non-gamer, engineering student

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Last response: in Systems
May 3, 2012 6:36:38 AM

Hi all,

I am looking to build my first PC, as my old laptop is getting really slow when it comes to multi-tasking. It still runs alright though, so I have no reason to toss it away. Also I'd like to build a new PC to learn more about computers.
I'm an engineering student, so most of the time I'll be doing web-browsing (multi-tabs), reading multiple pdf files (scientific papers), and running multiple MS programs. Those are just light programs, but when it comes to multi-tasking, my old laptop just can't handle it. Also I occasionally work with Matlab and some engineering programs. I'm also into photography, so will want to work more with Photoshop. I haven't played games for a while, but wouldn't mind if the PC can play FIFA or FIFA Street (would just be a bonus, not a necessity).
If you guys can help with some suggestions, that'd be great. Also, I'd really appreciate if you could explain on why picking that particular part (esp CPU, RAM, motherboard). I'd like to know what specifications I'd need for my purpose so I'll know what to watch out for. I'm in no rush for it yet, so can probably wait for good deals on parts.
I'm really new to PC hardware, so any help/advice is much appreciated!


Approximate Purchase Date: within 1 month from now

Budget Range: 500-600 Before Rebates

System Usage from Most to Least Important: Multi-tasking web-browsing, pdf and MS office works, Matlab and some customized Matlab-based programs, Some data analysis programs, Mathematica, Movies + video streaming, Photoshop

Parts Not Required: price above excludes for monitor, keyboard, and mouse. I can allocate approx. $150 for them, and am also looking for suggestions.

Preferred Website(s) for Parts: newegg, amazon, but basically anything but microcenter (no nearby store)

Country: USA

Parts Preferences: none for now

Overclocking: Maybe

SLI or Crossfire: Maybe

Monitor Resolution: not sure, but 1920x1080 seems to be very popular now?

Additional Comments:

More about : 500 600 build gamer engineering student

May 3, 2012 7:12:34 AM

general ideas:
get a new IB (ivy bridge) processor (the biggest one you can afford if you want to matlab, but an i5 will do fine for everything else mentioned), and an h7x motherboard (ASRock, or ASUS). An i3 Ivy Bridge processor would be better suited to your use, but they are not out yet.

Use the onboard video card to save on money and power requirement (should be good enough to play most games at moderate settings)

8GB of ram (2 4GB sticks), DDR3 1333 or 1600, 1.5V, no particular difference in pratical speed for your uses. You could get by fine with 4GB of ram if the budget demands it

Case with a bottom mount power supply space, but do not buy a case that has a power supply unless you are ready to replace it (cooler master Elite and Thermaltake V3 are both good entry level cases)

~350W power supply for a basic system, 450W if you plan on installing a GPU down the line. If you have a particular GPU in mind for down the road then visit the manufacturers website and see what the reccomended system power should be and stick with that. 80+bronze should be a minimum requirement, and the only trustworthy 'cheap' brand is OCZ.

1080p is popular, and great for most things, but I personally like 1200p better for web browsing and producivity work.

for keys, mouse, and speakers go with Logitech, they are both inexpensive and the best quality you can get (unless you want something exotic like cherry switching keys or something)

CD drive all equally suck, so just get a cheap one

HDDs are terrible for everything except for bulk storage and playback, so try to get an SSD if possible (may not work for your budget). If you cannot get one, then plan on upgrading to one down the line.

sorry, no time to pick parts, but this should at least get you started.
May 3, 2012 7:21:16 AM

if gaming is not an issue, and since you're an engineering student, i'm assuming you will be using CAD programs, so what you want to aim for in a build is more or less processing power. the new ivy bridge lineup with intel hd graphics 4000 is strong enough to fit the most basic needs.
Related resources
May 3, 2012 7:25:04 AM

Thanks CaedenV!
I'm seeing a deal for Intel Core i5-3570K (Ivy Bridge) at $209.9 (after rebate). Would this be a good-valued processor? Also, can you explain why i3 would be better suited to my use?

Thanks!
May 3, 2012 7:34:01 AM

Mech eng? Chemical? civil?
May 3, 2012 7:38:21 AM

Biomedical engineering.
Frankly, I haven't really used AutoCAD or design software. Might need to use them some day, but wouldn't be my priority for now if they require a big upgrade (on video card i suppose?).
May 3, 2012 10:35:50 AM

Ah, so you're the one designing all those cybernetics that eat your soul ;) 

Anyway, at a $500 budget (+150 for mouse, keyboard, speakers, and display), you're probly looking at a low-end ivy bridge or possibly a Llano build. for an OS, I think microsoft still offers the Student Discount on Windows 7 Pro for $30.

AMD's Llano (and upcoming trinity) is a weaker processor than ivy bridge, though still 'good enough' for casual use, with a better built-in video card.

May 3, 2012 11:02:51 AM

here's a suggested Llano build:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboDealDetails.aspx?Ite...
this kit will have everything you need. the built-in thermaltake power supply is a 'good, not great' model, but plenty for this build.

add $30 for Win 7 Pro, Student discount and its $432 before the rebates.

add this Mushkin 60 GB SSD for $75
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

total is $507 before rebates.

For a keyboard, I'll suggest this Rosewill for $10:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

and this mouse for $7
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

and this monitor with speakers for $110
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
May 4, 2012 12:22:05 PM

Thanks ScrewySqrl!
Haha, I wish I could be doing something as meaningful as that ;) 
I'll keep your suggestion on the Llano build in mind.

Actually, my budget is $500-600 after rebate, and I am also in no rush. If required, I could splash about at most $200 more if that could get me a better alternative. I'd like it to last at least 4 more years without major upgrade.
So if you guys could suggest another alternative (say, with Ivy bridge), that'd be really helpful!

Thanks!
May 4, 2012 5:02:00 PM

I am a drafting student and i use CAD all the time. All autodesk products are very cpu heavy, so if anything i would go with a 6 core processor or an eight core, the newer fx models are great.

fx 6100= $140

and with the money saved you can get a decent workstation card, i would reccomend one of the fire pro cards, or a card with 2gb of GDDR5