With the total budget of $500 set, we have adopted the "room to grow" mentality, which gives us a firm foundation to economically satisfy immediate needs but also allows us to expand and improve the system down the road.
Be advised of the ground rules as we see them. We set out to choose parts based on price and availability as of right now. This isn't intended necessarily as an endorsement of each specific model or brand. They are merely good representatives of what is currently available for the money. We took a fairly realistic approach to this process by selecting one very popular online retailer as the source. Bigger bargains are to be had if you are willing to pore through the online pricing Websites and source your parts individually from the far reaches of the known world. But, we feel most people are probably more comfortable buying from a few select and trusted retailers (I have my list narrowed down to five now) and we wanted our budget to reflect that common practice.
Plus, in a lot of cases, you can save yourself some shipping money by buying from one retailer when everything is purchased at the same time. We were also careful not to select any parts that were under any "special deals" or rebates at the time. We also left out input devices, such a keyboard, mouse or monitor, since we are focusing simply on the box itself.
The key starting place is to decide your platform (motherboard/chipset and CPU) because it sets the stage as to what other components you can consider. The strategy here is to scoop up technology one generation before oblivion but is still able to serve up decent performance so we get the best power to dollar ratio and some reasonable thought for the future. The perfect platform that fits into this sweet spot seems to be the AMD Socket 939. The Socket 939 CPU's will be relevant for some time enabling upgrade choices. The particular board we selected also gives us maximum support for various video and storage options.