Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

System Roundup: What Do You Get?

Build Or Buy? Five Sub-$500 Store-Bought Systems Compared
By

Building a system can be a complex process, especially if it's one of your first. That's why Thomas Soderstrom recently updated his classic How To Build A PC guide.

Doing it yourself isn't just about picking components and slapping them together. You can narrow down the processor interface you want to use. Then you have to pick the right complementary chipset. From there, it's all about comparing motherboards based on that platform and deciding which features are most important. The choices go on and on and on. And it's not just motherboards affected, either. Graphics cards, memory, and power supplies; they can all be found with similar specs and a handful of slight differentiators that require a fair bit of research.

In an ideal world, where system builders always had their customers' best interests in mind (rather than the highest-margin parts), pre-configured setups would include smartly-picked combinations of hardware, taking the guesswork out of the construction process.

Compaq CQ5700YCompaq CQ5700YDell i560-565BNKDell i560-565BNKeMachines EL1850-01eeMachines EL1850-01e

eMachines EL1352-23eeMachines EL1352-23eHP s5704yHP s5704y

We only managed to find five different systems available under that sensitive $500 price point. Bear in mind that this was during an online shopping trip to Best Buy, too. We're not saying there isn't more selection out there, but our goal was to pull systems off the shelf in order to get a real buying experience.


Compaq CQ5700YDell i560-565NBKeMachines EL1352-23eeMachines EL1850-01eHP s5704y
Price $309.99$399.99$299.99$349.99$409.99
Processor2.0 GHz
Athlon II 170
3.2 GHz
Pentium E5800
2.2 GHz
Celeron 450
3.1 GHz
Athlon II X2 255
3.0 GHz
Athlon II X2 250
Graphics Radeon HD 3000GMA X4500HDGMA X4500HDnForce 6150SE Radeon HD 3000
Optical Drive12x DVD+R DVD Burner8x DVD+R DVD Burner8x DVD+R DVD Burner8x DVD+R DVD Burner12x DVD+R DVD Burner
Hard Drive500 GB
7200 RPM
500 GB
7200 RPM
500 GB
7200 RPM
500 GB
7200 RPM
500 GB
7200 RPM
Memory1 x 2 GB
DDR3-1333
1 x 1 GB DDR3-1333
1 x 2 GB DDR3-1333
2 x 1 GB
DDR3-1333
2 x 2 GB
DDR3-1333
1 x 1 GB DDR3-1333
1 x 2 GB DDR3-1333
OSWindows 7 Home Premium 64-bitWindows 7 Home Premium 64-bitWindows 7 Home Premium 64-bitWindows 7 Home Premium 64-bitWindows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
PSU250 W300 W220 W220 W220 W
PCI01000
USB667
6
PCIe x122112
PCIe x1601110


The most obvious deficiency in those systems is graphics performance. Meanwhile, Paul managed to work in a Radeon HD 6850 into his System Builder Marathon setup.

Unfortunately, within this price range, you’re only going to find integrated graphics on the built-up machines. If you want to turn a brand name system into a cheap gaming PC, you need to plan for a graphics card upgrade. Five-hundred dollars doesn't go very far, but if you cap the rest of your system purchase to about $425, you should have enough to buy a Radeon HD 6670.

Compaq CQ5700YCompaq CQ5700YDell i560-565BNKDell i560-565BNKeMachines EL1850-01eeMachines EL1850-01e

Since we ordered these systems online, we didn’t realize that the eMachines and HP desktops were microATX until after we picked them up. Online artwork isn't the best representation of scale, so it’s an unavoidable variable in our story. Fortunately, form factor alone doesn't prevent us from adding a graphics upgrade. The real problem is when top-tier manufacturers try to get fancy with their case designs. Even when we removed the brackets on AMD's Radeon HD 6670 so that we could use it in a half-height configuration, we couldn’t get the graphics card to fit in the microATX systems due to a lack of fan clearance.

While Compaq's CQ5700Y is a full ATX system, it can't take an add-in graphics card because it lacks a PCIe x16 slot entirely. It does offer two PCIe x1 slots, but that's of little consolation to anyone looking for better gaming performance.

Right off the bat, Dell's offering is the only one we're able to upgrade. But even then our prospects aren't very promising. The $399 Dell i560 leaves you about $100 for a graphics card, and since the i560 uses a 300 W PSU that lacks auxiliary PCI Express power connectors, your choices narrow down to only a handful of entry-level cards unless you're also willing to buy a new power supply.

eMachines EL1352-23eeMachines EL1352-23eHP s5704yHP s5704y

React To This Article