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Newbie <$200 CPU-mobo-RAM question

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October 15, 2012 4:23:32 AM

Short version:
I'm a frugal newbie who's thinking of adding an AMD3(+) CPU, motherboard, and RAM to some existing components for a basic non-gaming PC. I'd appreciate advice on my choices, especially warnings.

Long version:

Approximate Purchase Date: October 2012

Budget Range: $150-200 (for CPU+mobo+RAM) After Rebates; After Shipping

System Usage from Most to Least Important: web surfing, email, office/homework, (maybe) watching movies

Are you buying a monitor: No (have HP LP2065)

Parts to Upgrade: CPU, mobo, RAM, (existing PSU = Thermal Master 500W TM-500-PSSR-F1)

Parts to Re-use: Monitor, IDE DVD-RW, IDE HDD, Bluetooth USB adapter, case, PSU.

Do you need to buy OS: No (plan to keep using Linux, but might add Windows later)

Preferred Website(s) for Parts: newegg.com, or other suggestions

Location: Madison, WI, USA

Parts Preferences: AMD AM3/3+ motherboards seem to have the best onboard features for my needs (IDE connection, DVI port)

Overclocking: No

SLI or Crossfire: No

Your Monitor Resolution: 1600x1200 monitor, also maybe 1368x768 HDTV

Additional Comments: This would mainly be a kid's homework and entertainment PC (no serious gaming) with possible use for viewing video on a 32-inch HDTV.

And Most Importantly, Why Are You Upgrading: Old PC failed, want to build new one using surviving parts.
- - -

My old hand-me-down PC (P4, D865GLC mobo, Linux Mint 13) developed intermittent power-on failures. I tested the old PSU, and it seemed OK. I found a Cooler Master case & PSU combo at Amazon, where I had enough card points to make it "free", and bought it. I figured I'd test the original motherboard in the new case/PSU, hoping that the problem was in the case switch or PSU. If it wasn't, then I'd have the case for a new build.

The old mobo showed the same bad startup symptoms in the new case, so I'm reaady to give up on it. Because I have a recent-ish IDE DVD-RW drive and HDD in the original PC, I'd like to re-use those in the new one. So I searched for boards that had an IDE connection. I had been using an AGP card for DVI video, and since that's too old to be compatible, and since our video needs will be light, I liked the idea of DVI integrated onboard rather than adding a new video card. Plugging those criteria into a Newegg search gave me a few well-rated motherboard choices in the under-$100 range, all AMD A3(+). That led me to a few Athlon CPUs around $60-70. The items and links are below.


* CPU
AMD Athlon II X2 260 Regor 3.2GHz Socket AM3 65W Dual-Core Desktop Processor ADX260OCGMBOX $59
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
(also its 3 higher siblings, Model #s ADX270OCGMBOX, ADX450WFGMBOX, ADX455WFGMBOX)

* Motherboards (in rough preference order)
ASUS M4A88T-V EVO AM3 AMD 880G HDMI ATX AMD Motherboard $90
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

ASRock 960GM/U3S3 FX AM3+ AMD 760G SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 Micro ATX AMD Motherboard $55
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

ECS A880GM-M7 (V2.0) AM3 AMD 880G Micro ATX AMD Motherboard $60 (-$10 rebate)
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

ASRock 880GM-LE FX AM3+ AMD 880G Micro ATX AMD Motherboard $60
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

* RAM
G.SKILL Value Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10600) Desktop Memory Model F3-10600CL9D-8GBNT
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
(Just guessing here.)

* Case & power supply (already have)
Cooler Master Elite 350 RC350-KKR500 500W Power Supply Mid Tower Case
http://www.amazon.com/Cooler-Master-Elite-RC350-KKR500-...


Yes, I know that IDE is passe, that I could get more future-oriented lines from AMD (& Intel), and that this case & PSU are low-end. The goal here is a basic PC for kid & family things (no demanding gaming), that's usable for a few years, and that won't cost more than $150-200 on top of what I've already sunk into components. If I needed to spend much more than that, I'd order a retail one with new components, warranty, and Windows. I'll admit that I also like to tinker, so the experience of building this is a draw for me.

My maybe-nice/maybe-later list includes running HDMI out to our smallish HDTV (next to the computer desk) for watching videos, adding a wireless card (although the house is well-set for ethernet), and adding a USB3 card if future peripherals demand it. Those things have me leaning toward the ATX ASUS M4A88T-V motherboard, with its integrated HDMI and its plethora of PCI/e slots. It's ~$30 more than the others on my list, but that's what an HDMI video card would cost to add otherwise. I wouldn't aim to run the DVI & HDMI adjacently, just maybe occasionally switching to HDMI. The extra PCI/e and RAM slots also seem to make it more future-flexible.

I'm sure that 8GB of RAM is more than we'd need now, but for the difference between 2x2GB and 2x4GB, and the limit of 2 slots on the microATX boards above, it seems like it'd be worth going with 8GB now to avoid swap-out hassles later. Of course, the ATX board's 4 slots would make me more comfortable with filling just 2 of them with 2x2GB, allowing for additions later. I'm quite ignorant of RAM choices, beyond crudely matching DDR3 1333 to what all the mobo listings say. I'd be really glad to get advice on specs to look for there.

I've read a lot of threads and guides at tomshardware.com, and learned quite a bit while also finding out that there's a lof of expertise that I don't have but that a lot of very helpful forum-dwellers do. I know that my standards and budget are much lower than usual here, but I'd appreciate any suggestions or criticism that might help me make the best of what I have to work with.

So that all leads me to some particular questions:
- Is one of those motherboards or CPUs significantly better than the others?
- Are there any issues with running Linux on these?
- What kind & configuration of RAM would be best?
- What other factors should I consider in choosing all of this?
- Where am I going wrong? (Somewhere, I'm sure)

Thanks very much.
October 17, 2012 12:53:25 AM

Like you said there was a asus board that you seemed to really like and that's a great board for what your using the pc for. Linux will work with it. For the ram you really will never use that much 4 gigs will be great for what you are doing. I think it's a very great build you have .
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October 17, 2012 2:14:32 AM

Well, it looks like the CPU you picked out doesn't actually have the integrated graphics chip you would need in order to forego a discrete graphics card.

If you are able to make some immediate purchases, there are a few promotional deals you could take advantage of and I think would serve you a little better. Take a look:

This Biostar A75MG FM1 Motherboard is only $55 and comes with 8GB of RAM free.

You can then pair that with a newer 32nm Llano like this A6-3670k, which is a quad-core with an integrated Radeon HD 6530D graphics chip.

Then you can replace that yucky IDE drive with this Seagate 1.5TB which is a steal for $50 (sale ends today).

An inexpensive Samsung DVD burner to replace your old IDE model would put you only ~$10 over budget.

It's not exactly what you were asking for perhaps, but it would get you up to relatively modern standards on all fronts and remove some bottlenecks.

If you have absolutely no wiggle room on budget, there are some cheaper FM1 Llano chips to choose from (like the A6-3650 for $8 less on Amazon), or you could probably find a 250GB HDD for ~$40.
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October 17, 2012 3:28:08 AM

@ckholt Hmm, I didn't realize that
> the CPU you picked out doesn't actually have the integrated graphics chip
> you would need in order to forego a discrete graphics card.

I get that the Llano you suggest is an APU, combining a CPU and GPU. What I don't get is why the motherboard would say it supports onboard graphics, when the processors available for it (or at least my Athlon choice) would prevent that. What's the "Onboard Video Chipset: ATI Radeon HD 4250" do, then?

I admit I'm a novice, so if I'm missing something, let me know. I appreciate the alternative suggestions, whcih look good if I switch to that kind of setup.

@ThatMoose When you say a "very great build", were you assuming I'd add a discrete graphics card, or was the onboard video OK in your assessment?

Thanks much.
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Best solution

October 17, 2012 3:37:49 AM

Oh! Actually the mistake is mine. The motherboard you picked has the integrated graphics, not the CPU. That is how they used to do integrated graphics in general, I've just gotten used to the new method of putting it directly on the CPU instead. So your original build would still work without a discrete card, but the solution I proposed will give you a more powerful processor, AND better graphics, AND a shiny new / faster SATA HDD.
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October 17, 2012 3:58:39 AM

Whew - so my read on it wasn't crazy. Thanks for the advice, and the lightning-fast reply. Yes, the build I'd planned would be living in the past somewhat. I'll take a good look at your forward-looking alternative setup before deciding - the free 8GB of RAM is a nice touch.
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October 17, 2012 4:09:03 AM

Happy to help, sorry for the confusion!

But don't look too long if you want to opt for that $50 1.5TB drive, the sale is for today only. You could still get a 500GB SATA drive for around 50 bucks of course, which would probably also be more than sufficient for your needs. Just sayin' :) 
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October 24, 2012 4:04:29 AM

Best answer selected by bobc42.
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