AMD Platform: MSI K9AGM2-FIH
The performance difference between a low-budget motherboard and a premium model typically is very small unless you intend to overclock the system. At stock speeds, no one can tell the difference between any current motherboard model, so we decided to stick to the most-important features. We picked MSI's K9AGM2-FIH for the AMD Athlon X2 system, since its retail price starts at only $ 75. It also comes with all the important features - including integrated graphics with an HDMI output, which you might appreciate if you want to hook up your $500 Gaming Rig to an HDTV.
The K9AGM2-FIH is a MicroATX motherboard based on AMD's 690 chipset, which is a simple, but efficient mainstream chipset with integrated ATI graphics. It supports all socket AM2 processors in between the Athlon 64 3200+ and the current Athlon 64 X2 6400+ Black Edition. And you will certainly be able to deploy a Phenom X2 or X4 processor once they finally become available, which will hopefully be at the end of this year. The motherboard has an x16 PCI Express slot, which you need to run the Radeon HD 2600 XT graphics card described above. If you want to save your money and assemble a PC for multimedia use, or wait for faster graphics cards to become more affordable, just drop the graphics card and stick with the integrated graphics processor. It obviously is not the best choice for 3D gaming compared to what even a low-end graphics card can offer, but it can handle Vista.
There is an additional x1 PCI Express slot for expansion cards, two 32 bit PCI slots for legacy add-on cards and four SATA/300 ports. This should all be sufficient for two hard drives and two optical drives such as a DVD burner and an HD DVD or Blue-ray drive in the future. Be careful with your memory selection, as this board only has two DIMM sockets for DDR modules. If you don't want to replace the two 512 MB DIMMs we selected for the $500 Gaming Rig, go with two 1 GB DIMMs right away. This should be doable, since this motherboard is slightly cheaper than the one we selected for the Intel platform.