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PC DIY Buying Guide - Q3 2010

PC DIY Buying Guide - Q3 2010



The Budget Box (Under S$800)

The Budget Box (Under S$800)

For our Budget Box, we felt that there are two approaches to keeping our budget under the S$800 limit. For who are less inclined to play PC games or who prefer their gaming consoles, integrated graphics makes sense, especially if they are building a PC for multiple purposes like video editing or 3D rendering. The other approach is to go for a low-end dual-core and have a decent discrete graphics solution, which is why we have two options for the CPU/Motherboard pick. In either case, you can expect the PC to handle everyday applications without any issues, including playing HD videos and basic image/video editing.

Click on the links in the table below to find the product/review page on Hardware Zone, or the manufacturer's product page for more information.

The Budget Box Configuration
PC Component
Our Picks
Price (in SGD)
CPU and Motherboard
  • $402
  • $237
Memory 2 x 2GB Kingston DDR3-1333 (CL9)  $136
Graphics Palit GTS 250 512MB (For discrete graphics route only)  $175
Hard Drive  Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB  $89
Optical Drive Samsung 22x SATA Internal DVD Writer  $30
Power Supply Andyson G480 (480W) $65
Chassis Ikonik EN2  $69
Total
  •  Quad-core with integrated graphics (AMD Phenom II X4 955)
  • Dual-core with discrete graphics (with Palit GTS 250)
  • $791
  • $801

 

CPU and Motherboard

As we mentioned, our first approach for the Budget Box is to configure a general purpose PC, one that can be used as a low-cost video editing or 3D rendering machine. It would be suitable for students or amateurs picking the tools of the trade in the burgeoning industries of computer animation, video production or game development. Hence the choice of a decently powerful AMD quad-core, the Phenom II X4 955. This is paired with the Gigabyte GA-880GM-USB3, which uses AMD's latest integrated graphics chipset in a compact, microATX form factor. While there's no support for SATA 6Gbps, there's USB 3.0, which would be useful in the near future, bearing in mind the large file transfers one can expect for video and animation tasks.

The downside is that one has to rely on integrated graphics from the 880G motherboard, which while decent enough for casual and older games, will not be pleasant in more demanding games.

The other route is meant for those looking to play more than just casual games. In this case, we have gone for a relatively cheap Athlon II X2 250, a dual-core with a decent clock speed (3.0GHz). It also means that we can pair it with a MSI 870A-G54 motherboard for native SATA 6Gbps support (via AMD SB850 Southbridge) and USB 3.0 support. It's a board with MSI's patented technologies, some of which, like OC Genie, could be useful to squeeze the maximum out of the system.

 

Memory

You'll need at least 4GB of memory nowadays but prices for DDR3 modules have steadily increased since their historic lows. Since we're on a limited budget, Kingston's Value RAM series should be sufficient. DDR3-1333 will be more than adequate for most users, and while the latency may be a bit higher for enthusiasts, it's not an issue. Hence, we went with two, 2GB sticks of DDR3-1333, at S$68 each. Corsair too has similar memory modules at around S$72 per module should you need an alternative.

 

Graphics

Only our Athlon II X2 dual-core system requires a discrete graphics card, and for this, we chose the GTS 250 from NVIDIA. While it lacks the DirectX 11 support on ATI's Radeon HD 5000 series, the GeForce GTS 250 is simply a faster GPU than the ATI counterparts near its price segment. Palit's GTS 250 512MB  caught our attention with its aggressive, competitive price of S$175, which is why we chose it.

On the other hand, if DX11 is something that you really need, the Sapphire Radeon HD 5670 512MB at S$149 is a cheaper, but slower option. We did however get wind that newer low cost DX11 options from NVIDIA should be coming by not too long now, but it's anybody's guess if it can be as compelling as the Palit option.

 

Hard Drive

The bigger names like Western Digital and Seagate are good and safe choices when it comes to hard drives, but with our budget, we wanted something that could provide the maximum capacity at the least cost. Samsung's Spinpoint F3 1TB fitted this perfectly, with its very competitive S$89 price tag. It may not have SATA 6Gbps support, and 'only' has 32MB cache compared to some of its competitors' 64MB, but hey, it's also much cheaper. While we haven't tested it ourselves, reviews have been mostly positive about its performance and the lower price helps of course.

As for other alternatives, we really don't see any other 1TB drives that come close to this price. You can however choose to get a drive with a smaller capacity from any of the major brands.

 

Optical Drive

In this day and age, does anyone care about the optical drive still? Well, if you're not obtaining your software off the internet, such as buying your games through Steam, then yes, you'll still need one. Besides, how else are you going to install Windows? We picked one of the cheapest drives that we saw, which happened to be the Samsung 22x SATA Internal DVD Writer. If S$30 is still too much, you can either skip this or get a read-only DVD drive to shave off a couple more dollars.

 

Power Supply

While one can probably find numerous power supply units (PSU) from less familiar brands and with lower wattages, we recommend that you don't go for the cheapest products here as a poorly performing or even a faulty PSU can have dire consequences for the rest of your system. But given the budget, the best we saw is the S$65 Andyson G480, a 480W PSU that claims up to 80% efficiency and a 120mm silent fan. It has sleeved cables for easier installation and better cable management.

AcBel's E2+ 470W is a solid substitute at a similar price of S$65.

 

Chassis

Finally, the chassis is a very subjective issue, with everyone having their own preferences. In the end the exterior may matter more to the user than whether there are enough fans within. Again, the limited budget reduced our options quite drastically, which actually made it easier for us to recommend a decent, quality chassis. That turns out to be the Ikonik EN2, which costs only S$69 and deservedly emerged with the Best Value award in our Budget Casing shootout some time back. It was easy to install components in the EN2, with its ample space and its build quality was reassuring.

The other low-cost alternative that we could find is the Cooler Master Elite 334, which features a tool-free design and a simple, neat, no-fuss appearance.