High-end performance inside a limited budget? It's possible, as our best budget PC build shows.
A budget system shouldn’t limit you to just surfing the net, but when limited by funds, you have to be smart picking your parts. This system is a little gaming-orientated, as the FM1 APU has a substantially better 3D engine than Intel’s. If you wanted to build a system for video playback or conversion, a Sandy Bridge system would give you slightly better performance in that area.
Core System: $572
PRICE DROP -- CPU: AMD A8 3870 Quad Core Fusion Black Edition - $149
AMD has spent a lot in terms of R&D creating the FM1 APU, and in 3D apps (read games) this really shows. The GPU is the equivalent on the 3870 of a HD6450 (though they class it as a HD6550D), and you have the ability to add a lower-end 6xxx video card and run it in a form of CrossFire.
CPU cooler: Stock - $0
This is a budget system, and the only reason for upgrading the stock cooling is if you plan to overclock. This is something this system will handle very well, so it's something to think about. If your budget permits, a good cooler wouldn’t be a bad investment.
Video card: APU HD6550D (on chip video card) - $0
The GPU in the FM1 responds very well to lots and lots of memory bandwidth. At stock speeds it's more than 2x faster than the GPU in Sandy Bridge chips, and the more bandwidth you can feed these chips the faster the video performance becomes.
Motherboard: ASUS F1A75-M-PRO - $120
ASUS’s flagship mATX FM1 board, offering all you’d expect from an ASUS pro board. AMD A75 chipset, 4x DDR3, HDMI, DVI, D-Sub, CrossFireX (both hybrid and full CrossFireX support), SATA3, GbLAN, 8CH, USB 3.0, mATX and a 3-year warranty.
NEW -- Memory: G.Skill Ares F3-2133C9D-8GAB 8GB 2,133MHz (2x4GB) DDR3 RAM - $95
90% of benchmarks for the above chips come out faster than an i3. It also overclocks very well, with reported speeds up to 4.9GHz. This memory should facilitate these sorts of speeds. But most of all, the chip responds to memory bandwidth. It’s almost free CPU horsepower.
Hard drive: WD Caviar Blue SATA 3 Hard Drive 500GB - $89
Due to recent natural disasters, hard drive prices have gone up. This drive is pretty much the cheapest available on the market today. Being a blue drive, it’s also very reliable, and relatively fast. All 500GB drives should be around the $90 mark, but prices are tipped to drop down again soon.
Case: Cooler Master Elite 335U with 420W - $79
It’s a good-looking slab of metal with a half-decent power supply. I know this is a budget system, and there are cheaper cases and power supplies available, but I couldn’t bring myself to pick anything less. Typical Cooler Master quality, good ventilation, big enough to hold a hyper 212 HSF (so most tower 12cm HSFs, which is an issue in most budget cases), but it is not a USB 3.0 case.
Optical drive: DVD burner - $25
Anything will do really, and chances are once you’ve installed Windows you’ll never use it again. Optical drives are cheap, and I’ve never had any real issues with any brand on the market. Whatever your personal preference is will do.
Cooling: Zalman FM3 120mm fan - $15
This case doesn’t ship with any case fans, and although this setup won’t produce a lot of heat (unless you start playing around with overclocking) a decent case fan is still a very good idea. The Zalman FM3 is a personal favourite of mine, due to its cheap price and large airflow, and will move enough air to cool the system on its own. Add a HSF if budget permits and you’ll have a nice fast system.
Core System Cost - $572