General-Purpose Computing On The Cheap
System Builder Marathon, Q3 2013: The Articles
Here are links to each of the five articles in this quarter’s System Builder Marathon (we’ll update them as each story is published). And remember, these systems are all being given away at the end of the marathon.
To enter the giveaway, please fill out this SurveyGizmo form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!
Packing a six-core AMD FX-6300 and beefy GeForce GTX 760 graphics card, my gaming-oriented PC on day one of the System Builder Marathon was a potent, no-compromise machine that delivered big value. However, we were still concerned that all three of this quarter’s hardware budgets would simply be too pricey for some folks, or even overpowered for a second entertainment machine out in the den.
So, we wondered, is it still possible to build a competent system if we chopped the least-expensive build's budget in half again? That's just too little money, right? Actually, how does a quad-core processor, 8 GB of RAM, and a 1 TB hard drive sound?
To do this correctly, we had to "cheat" a little bit and capitalize on Newegg's discounts, including a $20 promotional code on AMD’s top A10-series Trinity-based APU. For our Socket FM2-equipped motherboard, we chose an inexpensive platform from MSI with the A75 FCH. A few days earlier, it was available as a combo deal add-on.
When you construct a cheap PC, the basic necessities chew up a good chunk of the budget. Each dollar had to be spent smartly. I knew that, in the end, vanishing promo codes wouldn't count in my favor and my setup would tip the scales. So, I spent an extra $16 on three upgrades that vastly boost this build's appeal for $350.
At this price, I'd typically be thinking about 4 GB of RAM, and it'd be most natural to find a dual-channel kit rather than cripple Trinity's graphics performance with one module. At a much better price-per-gigabyte ratio, I doubled the system memory for $10 by grabbing a low-cost 8 GB Team Vulcan DDR3-1600 kit. Rated at 1.5 V, I thought I could overclock to 1866 MT/s with a slight voltage boost and save $20 off the cheapest higher-speed offerings. Then I started at the least-expensive 3.5" hard drives and found WD's Blue-series 1 TB model selling for cheap. Quadrupling storage for an extra $2 was a no-brainer! Lastly, I knew this rig would sip power. A reliable 300 W supply from Sparkle would be adequate. However, spending $4 more on Antec's VP-450 gives us reserves for a future mid-range graphics upgrade.
|CPU||AMD A10-5800K APU||$130|
|CPU Cooler||AMD boxed heatsink/fan||-|
|Motherboard||MSI FM2-A75MA-E35, A75 FCH||$55|
|RAM||Team Vulcan 8 GB (2 x 4 GB) DDR3-1600 TLAD38G1600HC9DC01||$48|
|Graphics||Radeon HD 7660D (Integrated)||-|
|Hard Drive||WD Blue WD10EZEX 1 TB||$57|
|Case||DIYPC FM08-W Black ATX MidTower||$22|
|Power||Antec VP-450 450 W ATX12V v2.3||$40|
When it comes to a limited budget, sacrifices have to be made. I had to choose from the cheapest enclosures on Newegg to house this system's components. The roomy DIYPC FM08-W stood out because it included two cooling fans for $22. Other competing options had no blowers or a single 80 mm exhaust fan.
Today I'm pitting this $350 general-purpose machine against last quarter’s $400 Spirit Of Mini-ITX PC, a console-sized machine built specifically to play games. Staying consistent, I again omit the expense of an optical drive, although a Newegg combo could have given up this functionality for $11 more. While the final tally sat at $352 in our shopping cart, without discounts, the hard drive and memory kit are now a bit pricier.