RAM: Go For 1 GB

First and foremost it’s important to equip your system with more than 512 MB RAM, because Windows needs a lot of memory for itself and your applications. The Celeron D system on the socket 775 platform requires DDR2-533 or DDR2-667 memory ; the latter being the faster.

It also a good idea not to purchase RAM that is too slow, but you can also invest in faster memory later since RAM is backwards compatible.. The motherboard manual will indicate what type of RAM you can use.

There are numerous memory vendors and lots of brands that you probably don’t know. We recommend going for a brand that you feel confident in or that others recommend. A-Data, Buffalo, Corsair, Crucial, G.Skill, Infineon, Kingmax, Kingston, Mushkin, OCZ, Patriot, PNY, PQI, Transcend... they all provide memory that will serve its purpose in our low-cost systems.

You will find huge price differences, though. These depend on the parameters a particular memory product can operate at. Timings have an influence on performance, and all you need to know for now is that lower latency values are faster than higher ones (CL3-4-4-8 is better than CL5-5-5-15). Performance is also dependant on clock speed, meaning that memory that runs at a high clock speed at low timings is extremely expensive. The differences are negligible for a $300 PC, though enthusiasts pay a lot of attention to memory latency and clock speeds.


AMD Platform : Foxconn WinFast K8M890M2MA

Now that we found a suitable AMD Sempron processor, we had to get a motherboard that offers a great bang for the buck. The product of our choice is a WinFast K8M890M2MA by Foxconn. We found it for as little as $55, and it comes with everything your PC will initially require.

This motherboard is based on VIA’s K8M890, which is a low-cost AMD chipset with integrated graphics. It is ready for Windows Vista, but only for the basic edition, which means that you cannot run all options of Vista Home Premium or Vista Ultimate. The reason is its Chrome9 IGP graphics subsystem, which doesn’t have any dedicated video memory and is only compliant with the initial specification of DirectX9 (it does not support Shader Model 3). Yet it is more than sufficient for an office or multimedia PC, but you shouldn’t consider this as a great choice if you intend to upgrade to a quad-core or high-end graphics.

This is a MicroATX motherboard, which partly explains its attractive price. The smaller the motherboard, the fewer components you can fit on it. There are still enough options for an average user, though ; two PCI slots will accept add-in cards, and one x16 PCI Express slot is ready for a dedicated graphics card. And there is a single x1 PCI Express connector for additional hardware such as TV cards, certain network adapters or other expansion cards. You can attach two Serial ATA hard drives and up to four UltraATA/133 devices. The two memory sockets will accept two 2 GB DIMMs maximum. There’s a sound system and a 100 Mb/s network interface as well. Memory support depends on the processor used. In case of the Sempron 3400+, it’s DDR2-667 memory.