With yesterday's launch of AMD's 65W Kaveri APUs, it seemed a good time to give some recommendations for new system builds. We're starting out at the budget end of the spectrum, however, and pricing/availability on Kaveri generally rules it out. We'll keep things short and look at two builds, one AMD and one Intel. Outside of the CPU/APU and motherboard, parts are generally interchangeable.

Budget AMD System
Component Description Price
CPU AMD A6-6400K (2x3.9GHz, 1MB, 65W, 32nm) $65
Motherboard MSI A88X-G41 $73
RAM Team Vulcan 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3-2133 CL10 $71
Storage Seagate Barracuda ST1000DM003 1TB $55
SSD SanDisk Ultra Plus SDSSDHP-128G-G25 128GB  $60
Case NZXT Source 210 S210-001 $40
Power Supply Seasonic SS-300ET 300W 80 Plus Bronze $38
Total (without OS)   $402

The Kaveri APUs provide a decent blend of general and gaming performance, but finding one priced reasonably for a budget system is still a bit difficult (depending on your definition of budget, of course). While the idea of an inexpensive system capable of running games is fine, the cost to go from the A6-6400K we've selected to one of the Kaveri A10 models is more than the cost of a moderate dedicated graphics card like the R7 250, and the A6-7400K and A8-7600 are hard to find – and when you can find them, they're priced $15 higher than the MSRP. If you can wait a bit, the A6-7400K and A8-7600 should become more readily available. In the meantime, the A6-6400K will provide similar performance with a slightly slower graphics configuration.

For the rest of the system, the MSI motherboard can support both existing Richland APUs like the A6-6400K we've selected as well as Kaveri APUs. Similarly, the DDR3-2133 RAM can provide better bandwidth than DDR3-1600 RAM that would only save you a buck. For storage, you've got three options: go pure SSD and have fast storage performance but without a lot of capacity, buy the 1TB HDD and sacrifice performance for capacity, or get both. Personally, I'd go with a pure SSD or the SSD+HDD configuration.

Wrapping things up, the case is a decent looking and not too expensive NZXT Source 210. Cases can be a very subjective topic, and there are plenty of reasonable options, but the NZXT is a good choice for a budget build. You could also drop down to a micro-ATX case and motherboard, and if that's what you're after the MSI A78M-E45 would be a good alternative. For the power supply, the small increase in efficiency offered by 80 Plus Gold isn't really worth the added cost at this price, and Seasonic makes a good 300W unit that will provide good efficiency for a low-power system like this while still allowing for the use of a moderate discrete GPU down the road should you choose to upgrade.

Budget Intel System
Component Description Price
CPU Celeron G1850 (2x2.9GHz, 2MB, 53W, 22nm) $50
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-H97M-D3H $80
RAM Team Vulcan 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3-1600 CL9 $70
Storage Seagate Barracuda ST1000DM003 1TB $55
SSD SanDisk Ultra Plus SDSSDHP-128G-G25 128GB  $60
Case Corsair Carbide Series SPEC-01 $50
Power Supply Seasonic SS-300ET 300W 80 Plus Bronze $38
Total (without OS)   $403

The Intel budget build is going to provide a pretty similar experience to the AMD build overall; single-threaded performance will be a bit higher, but graphics performance will be lower. The price for these two builds is equivalent at around $400 – which includes both a 128GB SSD and a 1TB HDD, so you can shave off $50 by dropping one or the other storage option. The Celeron G1850 is Intel's least expensive Haswell option right now, and while budget CPUs aren't going to win in any performance contests, for normal tasks they're still plenty fast. Paired with a 128GB SSD they can make for a decent home/office system and the price is certainly appealing. Overclocking isn't really a goal of either of these builds, and Gigabyte's GA-H97M-D3H should do fine for stock clocks.

The one other noteworthy change is that we've included a slightly more expensive (and perhaps a bit too gaudy for some) Corsair Carbide SPEC-01 case. It has lots of angles and vents, and while Corsair has made some very good cases opinions on aesthetics are still up for debate. It ships with two 120mm fans for cooling, which is going to be overkill for a budget build like this but will give you room to grow. It also has a case window and red LED lighting for those that want to show off a bit.

Of course we're still missing the OS, keyboard, mouse, and display; these are all commodity items and most people have existing accessories they can carry over from an old PC. Unless you're running a free OS like Ubuntu or some other flavor of Linux, the cost of Windows is going to represent a significant increase in price of nearly $100, putting us at the $500 mark referenced in the title. Adding a 20" to 22" LCD will tack on another $100-$140, and a keyboard and mouse will be $25 combined for a basic set. So all told if you want a complete new PC the price will be closer to $650, but $500 for the core system and software is a good starting point. You can also find some mail-in rebates on quite a few parts that might drop the price a bit, but as those change regularly I haven't included any in the above tables.

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  • Peeping Tom - Saturday, August 2, 2014 - link

    I say don't skimp....just save up even a bit more and you can build a way better system.

    I built a Xeon quad-core with 8GB ECC memory on a SuperMicro motherboard (lots of pro features), Kingston HyperX SSD, NVIDIA GPU, and RAIDMAX case w/PSU for about $600. I probably could've chosen a non-server MB and saved some $$$ or gotten even better value.
  • WatcherCK - Saturday, August 2, 2014 - link

    One question, would the AMD build be adequate for a Debian distribution to do some steam client gaming on? Or is the kernel support for AMD still inferior? Phoronix posts on the issue don't paint a rosy picture.

    If you used the difference Jarred left for the OS price could you double your RAM (thinking would be, being able to run a VM for windows if it became an issue, ala Office :)) and add a basic gaming Nvidia card to the Intel system? Linux Mint 17 looks like a reasonable Microsoft replacement according to a recent Ars article. And yes I realise if you want to BF4 then the above build wont work for you but hey try new things right?

    Build prices do vary between countries down under I wish we had access to the same hardware at the newegg prices I see posted on anandtech :/ look at some of the prices on pricespy co nz for an eye opener...
  • wumpus - Sunday, August 3, 2014 - link

    "unless you're pirating Windows, you need to buy the OS and that's $100."

    By 2014 you would think people would have heard about open source, and that Microsoft's monopoly isn't as absolute as it would like.

    You need windows if you are playing games (extreme fans of kerbal space program and civilization V wonder why), but you also need far more GPU power than these machines have.
    You need windows (or maybe OSX) if you need Office (and far too often you need Office, LibreOffice just doesn't cut it). Cough up another ~$100.
    You need windows if you job requires Internet Explorer. Presumably your IT department wants to hand out their data to everyone, not just NSA & China.
    You need windows if you need that one piece of software that requires windows. Gods help you if you need to run photoshop lightroom on this hardware. Oddly enough, the one job I had where the company used Linux (the engineering side anyway, marketing and contracts ran macs), I was stuck as the only windows user as there wasn't a Linux port of Altium. Wine might help, but *never* trust wine to run any program correctly.

    The amount of time modern users spend in chrome and/or firefox is shocking. I have to admit, I don't think I would be remotely happy having to learn Linux + mostly new apps for want of $100, but it is a far cry from "you need to buy their OS and cough up ~$100".
  • jonkimsr - Tuesday, August 5, 2014 - link

    That's $500 total waste of money.
  • jonkimsr - Tuesday, August 5, 2014 - link

    $450 i5 laptop. Take $50 and buy yourself a steak. Do realize how useless this is. Conclusion should have been Desktop is dead. Love live the iPad.. or i5 stinking laptop.. your pick..


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