WindowsDevCenter.com
oreilly.comSafari Books Online.Conferences.

advertisement


AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Building the Perfect Budget PC, Part 1
Pages: 1, 2, 3

Optical drive: Lite-On LTR-52327S CD writer

Even the least expensive system needs an optical drive, if only for installing software. If we were really pinching pennies, we might install a $15 ATAPI CD-ROM drive. But spending only a few more dollars to install a CD writer greatly enhances the functionality of the system, so we opted for an inexpensive CD writer as our optical drive. Having a CD writer gives us what we need to back up the system and duplicate audio and data CDs, which we consider worth those few extra dollars.

Related Reading

PC Hardware Buyer's Guide
Choosing the Perfect Components
By Robert Bruce Thompson, Barbara Fritchman Thompson

There are any number of cheap CD writers available, but our pick in this category is the Lite-On LTR-52327S. At $21, it has everything you'd expect in a good CD writer, including high read and write speeds, Mt. Rainier support, and SmartBurn to help avoid coasters. As a bonus, this drive includes an OEM version of Nero Express, a competent CD-burning application for Windows. Lite-On CD writers are, in our experience, more reliable and durable than other inexpensive CD writers.

If we needed to read DVD discs and could afford $40 or so, we'd install a combo CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive. Our first choices in that class are the Teac DW-552G and the Toshiba SD-R1612, although the Lite-On SOHC-5232K and the Samsung TS-H492A are also good choices. If we needed a DVD writer, we'd install the $65 NEC ND-3520A, the standout choice among inexpensive DVD writers.

Case and power supply: Antec SLK2600AMB

The case and power supply for a budget system is one place where it's easy to spend too little. We have seen no-name ATX minitower cases with 300W power supplies advertised for as little as $14. You can imagine how shoddy the case is at that price, and the power supply is worse. For our budget system, we want better. A lot better.

At a minimum, we insist that the case be solidly constructed, with no sharp edges or burrs, and that everything fits and aligns properly. We require a well-built power supply of at least 300W that meets ATX specifications. Realistically, we expect to spend at least $50 for a case and power supply that meets those minimum requirements.

In that price range, the standout choice is the Antec SLK2600AMB minitower case. The SLK2600AMB accepts full-ATX motherboards and has eight drive bays, so there's plenty of expansion room, and cooling is less problematic than it might be in a smaller case. The SLK2600AMB has mounts for two 80mm cooling fans, front and rear, although none is supplied as a standard feature. It also provides several convenience features, including removable side panels, a quick-release drive cage, and front USB ports. The SLK2600AMB includes a 300W Antec SLK300S SmartPower ATX12V power supply that is worlds better than the power supplies bundled with cheap cases. In this price range, it's hard to do better than the SLK2600AMB.

We confess, though, that we might squeeze the budget a bit to upgrade to the Antec SLK2650-BQE (Black Quiet Edition), which is better in every respect. As its name indicates, the SLK2650-BQE is optimized for quiet operation, but that's not the only reason to consider it. For only $10 or $15 more than the SLK2600AMB, the SLK2650-BQE provides an upgraded power supply, the 350W SLS350S, and includes a very quiet 120mm rear exhaust fan as standard equipment. The BQE is also features TAC (thermally advantaged chassis) compliance by providing a side-panel duct to route room-temperature air directly to the processor. The result is a cooler, quieter, more reliable system.

If you're already at the limit of your budget, choose the Antec SLK2600AMB. Otherwise, choose the Antec SLK2650-BQE.

Monitor: NEC AccuSync AS700 17" CRT

A flat-panel display is simply too expensive for a budget system, which leaves a CRT monitor as the only option. Although a few 15" monitors are still available, we consider them too small to be usable, even for a budget system. Comparable 17" models are available for little more money than 15" models, so we opted for a 17" monitor.

Among inexpensive 17" monitors, the NEC AccuSync AS700 is a standout choice. Image quality is excellent for an inexpensive monitor. The AS700 supports an 85Hz refresh rate at 1,024-by-768 resolution, which is optimum for a 17" monitor. Many inexpensive monitors have only a one-year warranty, but the AS700 has a three-year warranty on parts, labor, and CRT. For $120 or so, it's tough to beat the NEC AccuSync AS700.

Although we consider the AS700 suitable for light use, if you're staring at your screen all day you may want to spend another $20 or $30 to upgrade the monitor to a flat-screen, aperture-grill model. If so, choose the NEC FE771SB or the Samsung 793DF/793MB, both of which are widely available at Best Buy, CompUSA, and similar big-box stores. The NEC FE771SB Super Bright feature boosts brightness dramatically, which is unnecessary for routine use but may be helpful for playing games or watching videos. The Samsung 793MB (but not the 793DF) includes a similar feature called Magic Bright. Otherwise, these models have similar specifications and image quality.

Keyboard/mouse: Logitech Internet Pro Desktop keyboard and mouse

The choice of keyboard and mouse is very personal. Still, we had to make reasonable choices for a keyboard and mouse, if only to avoid leaving a hole in the table. We use and recommend only Logitech and Microsoft keyboards and mice. Our goal was to spend no more than $20 to $25 for a decent keyboard and optical mouse. In this price range, Logitech clearly offers better value than Microsoft. The $18 Logitech Internet Pro Desktop includes a decent keyboard and a surprisingly good optical mouse. If you prefer Microsoft keyboards and mice, consider the $24 Microsoft Basic PS/2 keyboard and mouse.

Speakers: Creative Labs SBS260

Even a budget system deserves a decent set of powered speakers. You can buy a cheap, no-name 2.0 speaker set for less than $10, but spending just a few dollars more on the Creative Labs SBS260 buys you noticeably better sound quality. At 2.5W RMS per channel, you're not going to rattle the walls with the SBS260, but that output suffices for listening to music. If you need more power, consider upgrading to the Creative Labs SBS270, which doubles output to 5W per channel.

Component Summaries

Table 1 summarizes the components we chose for our Budget AMD system. With the exception of the memory, which we priced directly from Crucial, the prices shown for all components were obtained from NewEgg in late January 2005.

Component Product Price
Processor AMD Sempron 2400+ processor (Socket A), retail boxed $63
Motherboard ASUS A7N8X-VM/400 nForce2 IGP motherboard for AMD Socket A CPU $78
Memory Crucial PC3200 DDR-SDRAM DIMM, 256MB $43
Hard drive Seagate ST340014A 40GB 7200-rpm ATA hard drive, OEM $53
Optical drive Lite-On 52X32X52 CD-RW drive, model LTR-52327S, OEM  $21
Case & power supply Antec SLK2600AMB midtower case with 300W power supply $54
Display NEC AccuSync AS700 17" CRT monitor $120
Keyboard/mouse Logitech Internet Pro Desktop keyboard and mouse $18
Speakers Creative SBS260 2.0 speakers $13
$463

Table 1. AMD component summary--base configuration

Starting with the base configuration, we decided to see how much it would cost to make some significant improvements, shown in Table 2. We decided to upgrade the hard drive to 80GB, replace the CD writer with a DVD writer, and upgrade the case to the Antec SLK2650BQE. With all of those upgrades, the total price came to $526--more than we'd budgeted, but not by much.

Component Product Price
Processor AMD Sempron 2400+ processor (Socket A), retail boxed $63
Motherboard ASUS A7N8X-VM/400 nForce2 IGP motherboard for AMD Socket A CPU $78
Memory Crucial PC3200 DDR-SDRAM DIMM, 256MB $43
Hard drive Seagate ST380011A 80GB 7200-rpm ATA hard drive, OEM $62
Optical drive NEC ND-3520A DVD±RW drive, OEM  $63
Case & power supply Antec SLK2650BQE Quiet Black midtower case with 350W power supply $66
Display NEC AccuSync AS700 17" CRT monitor $120
Keyboard/mouse Logitech Internet Pro Desktop keyboard and mouse $18
Speakers Creative SBS260 2.0 speakers $13
$526

Table 2. AMD component summary--enhanced configuration

Table 3 summarizes the components we chose for our budget Intel system. As is usually true with Intel systems, we paid a slight premium: $30 in this case.

Component Product Price
Processor Intel Celeron D 320 processor (Socket 478), retail boxed $72
Motherboard Intel D865GBFL motherboard (Socket 478), retail boxed $99
Memory Crucial PC3200 DDR-SDRAM DIMM, 256MB $43
Hard drive Seagate ST340014A 40GB 7200-rpm IDE hard drive, OEM $53
Optical drive Lite-On 52X32X52 CD-RW drive, Model LTR-52327S, OEM  $21
Case & power supply Antec SLK2600AMB midtower case with 300W power supply $54
Display NEC AccuSync AS700 17" CRT monitor $120
Keyboard/mouse Logitech Internet Pro Desktop keyboard and mouse $18
Speakers Creative SBS260 2.0 speakers $13
$ 493

Table 3. Intel component summary

Making the same enhancements to the Intel system that we made to the AMD system, our cost again increases by $63, to $556. Whether those enhancements are worth the expense, only you can say.

AMD versus Intel

Although the overall performance level of these two systems is comparable, each has minor advantages and disadvantages. The AMD system has better 3-D graphics performance. Although you won't be running Doom 3 on it, the AMD 3-D graphics are fast enough to run older 3-D games. The Intel system has better 2-D text quality, at least to our eyes. We also prefer the integrated Intel audio and networking, particularly if the system will run Linux.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article, where we'll build the AMD budget system and find out whether our concerns about Linux compatibility were warranted.

Robert Bruce Thompson is a coauthor of Building the Perfect PC, Astronomy Hacks, and the Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders. Thompson built his first computer in 1976 from discrete chips. Since then, he has bought, built, upgraded, and repaired hundreds of PCs for himself, employers, customers, friends, and clients.

Barbara Fritchman Thompson is a coauthor of "Building the Perfect PC" and "PC Hardware in a Nutshell." She runs her own home-based consulting practice, Research Solutions.


Return to the Windows DevCenter.