Can you build a decent PC on a budget of $500?

Can you build a decent PC on a budget of $500?

Summary: Can you build a decent PC on a budget of $500? Let's find out!


Can you build a decent PC on a budget of $500? Let's find out!

Rules of the game

I'm being realistic here. I don't expect to be able to build a monster PC that'll be able to handle 3D games or render video for $500. If building a PC on a budget of $500 I'd be looking at a PC that can hook up to the Internet, handle email, word processing and spreadsheets and play and burn DVDs. However, even on a budget as low as $500 you don't need to cut corners and skimp - by buying the right components you can still expect reliability.

So, let's see what we can get for $500. All components here are sourced from and prices are as listed today (5/29/07). Price will not include OS (I'll get to that at the end).

Motherboard - ASUS M2NBP-VM

MotherboardThe trick to building a cheap PC is to get the foundations right. You need a motherboard that's got it all integrated - audio, video, network. The ASUS M2NBP-VM has it all, and at a good price.

This board handles our audio, video and network, saving us a bundle on the overall end price of the PC. The audio and network support will be adequate for most needs (the audio support offers 6 channel output and the LAN supports 10, 100 and 1000Mbps) and if you later decide that you want to dabble in a little gaming, you can always fit a separate PCI-E card into the x16 slot instead of the onboard NVIDIA GeForce 6 GPU.

The board also supports 4 sticks of RAM up to 8GB, 2 x PATA channels (ATA100), 4 x SATA channels (RAID 0/1) and for the price you get 2 x USB 2.0 and both D-Sub and DVI video output. Nice.

Price - $74.99

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Processor - AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+

AMD CPUI thought long and hard as to whether this PC should have at its heart an AMD or Intel processor. In the end I chose AMD because I feel you get more bang for your buck at the lower end of the spectrum.

The 2.0GHz dual-core AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ is a pretty decent CPU, and given the remit of this PC it will handle everything the user is likely to throw at it and have power to spare.

In this retail package you get both the CPU and a heatsink. Not the best heatsink in the world, but since overclocking is likely to be kept to a minimum, it's not an issue.

Price - $79.99

RAM - 2 x 512MB 240-pin DDR2 667 (PC2 5300)

RAM1GB is the minimum amount of RAM I recommend for a new PC. Putting any less into a system is folly and is just going to result in disappointment.

Newegg sells Kingston ValueRAM at a decent price so I'd pick up 2 x 512MB for $37.98. I'd be tempted to add more, especially if the system was going to be running Windows Vista, but 1GB is a good starting point.

Price - $37.98

Hard drive - Western Digital Caviar SE 160GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s

Hard driveYou have to be canny when buying hard drives, especially on a budget since spending a few dollars extra (and I do mean just a few dollars) can make all the difference. For example, if you set you look around the $49 mark, all you find are 80GB drives, but boost your budget up by a few dollars to $53 ($52.99) and you can pick up a 160GB model.

Here I've chosen the Western Digital Caviar SE WD1600AAJS 160GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s drive. This model has 8MB of cache and boasts an average latency of 4.2ms and average seek time of 8.9ms.

Price - $52.99

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Optical drive - Lite-On 20X LH-20A1S DVD±R SATA Model

Optical driveChoosing the right optical drive is pretty subjective. I went for the Lite-On LH-20A1S because it offers decent speed (20X DVD+/-R) and a SATA interface (which offers nothing more than a way to keep the cabling tidy).

Price - $32.99

Case - Rosewill R103A 350W PSU

CaseWhen building a budget PC you don't want to blow too much dough on a case, but on the other hand you don’t want a case that's flimsy or a PSU that's going to go China Syndrome on you.

Rosewill is getting some pretty decent reviews and for the price it seems unlikely you'll go wrong.

Price - $25.99

Monitor - ViewSonic Optiquest Q7B-3 17 inch 8ms

LCD flat-panelTwo criteria - it's gotta be a flat-panel LCD and it's got to be 17 inch or better. For a budget we're looking at whether you can pick up a decent 17 inch flat-panel LCD screen for under $150.

In the end I went for the ViewSonic Optiquest Q7B-3 17 inch, a panel that's ideal for home/small office PC that'll be easy on the eye and able to give good output with digital photos and video playback.

Price - $146.99

Speakers - Logitech S-100

SpeakersNothing spectacular here. Just a cheap Logitech S-100 set.

Feel free to spend more or less as your budget (and ears) dictates.

Price - $11.99

Keyboard/Mouse - Microsoft Black Basic Keyboard and Mouse

Basic setup, but OK for the price. Keyboard/mouse

I find the cheap Microsoft keyboards to be pretty responsive and not too bad on the fingers. As for the Microsoft mice, again, no complaints for the price. If you don't like Microsoft stuff, then choose something else.

Price - $16.99

TOTAL PRICE - $480.90 (excluding shipping)

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A word on operating systems

I wouldn't really say that this system is Vista capable. It would run Vista Basic, but not spectacularly. Now I know Microsoft wants us to feel that Windows Vista is the way to go these days and that XP is now obsolete, but it really isn’t. Personally, if I were building a system like this I'd stick XP on it (Pro would be my choice because I like the networking and remote desktop options, but Home would do for most).

If I wanted to build a budget Vista rig I'd increase my budget price from $500 to $600 and add 1GB more RAM and a cheap and cheerful graphics card (probably a Radeon X1650). That would turn a budget system into a Vista capable budget system. As prices fall over the coming year I'm pretty sure that a Vista capable budget system will fall to sub-$500.

Alternatively, go for a free open source OS like Ubuntu.


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Topics: Hardware, Microsoft, Windows

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  • I notice you don't add in a price for the OS

    Newegg has XP Home and Vista Basic for $90, though I'm sure you could shop around and save $10 or so. But adding a cost for any OS (even a retail Linux if you wanted the support) would put you above the $500 cost.
    Michael Kelly
    • lol

      How about this:

      "Can you build a decent Vista Ultimate PC on a budget of $500?"

      Jack-Booted EULA
      • Vista PC on a shoestring.

        Sure. In about 5 years whsn ram is about $10/gig and you can get a processor just for opening a checking account! LOL
    • USD90 for Windows OS?

      So putting the cheapest Windows onto Adrian's budget PC would increase the price
      by 20%. Other than the USD147 monitor, the OS is the most expensive part yet is
      probably far and away the cheapest component the manufacture.

      Incidentally, in Australia Windows Home Basic is AUD385 (about USD315) which
      nearly doubles the price of the PC it's running on.
      Fred Fredrickson
      • Add USD199 for Windows Home Basic

        Windows is USD90 for the [b]upgrade[/b], if you build a box you are up for a full
        version which will cost around USD199 (or a lot more outside the US).
        Fred Fredrickson
        • If you're building a box

          you qualify for the OEM version, which is $90.
          Michael Kelly
          • Yep

            ... OEM version is cheaper.
            Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • he's probably thinking you'll use ubuntu

      I would
      • Actually, He Says That On Page 4

        On the last page, he admits that to make it minimally effective under Vista, it's going to cost another $100 USD. And I still don't think he's including the OS in his total, since he's recommending the use of XP if possible and doesn't add that into the total.

        And as a final option, he says you can use something like Ubuntu.

        Not bad for someone who just spent two articles slamming the Linux community.
        • I slammed?

          "Not bad for someone who just spent two articles slamming the Linux community."

          I thought I was rather reserved ...

          I left the OS blank ... choose your own.
          Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • Add your own OS`

      ... serve yourself!
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • How do you count?

        But that will rais the cost, will it not?
        So what will you drop to get the OS into the bill(pun not
        Or will you use a OS that will fitt you bill?
    • "Linux support?"

      The only time I've had to call Microsoft support it was because of their license manager screwing up, and their advice on how to fix it was wrong... I had to go to Usenet to get the straight dope. Since that's not an issue for Linux, why would you pay money for support for it?
      • Good Choice

        This seems the exactly what im running, but for less than half the cost. "Canadian funds". Good job.
  • Open Source ...

    You already have a very well equipped PC for Linux. You should throw Sabayon on there just to break things up from the recent Ubuntu festival. Sabayon has Beryl eye-candy installed by default:
  • For me

    I built a PC capable of gaming for just under $500. Of course I didn't buy a monitor, keyboard or mouse though as I already had them. The video card was a 2 year old model but still enough to game with and the processor was decent but not top of the line. Also I only went with 512 MB of Ram. Since I had a retial copy of Windows 2000 I didn't need the OS either. So for about $450 I got PC after a Power supply fried my old one. I've since upgrade this unit to something significantly more powerful. I blame Half Life Episode 1 for that.
    • I just don't know....

      My grandmother use to harp on me about the frugalness of cooking at home
      rather than eating out. But I've never been about to cook anything even a basic
      sandwich that tastes as good as something someone else makes for me. Now I'll
      grant granny that "IF" I did not go out as much as I do I would save but first I'd
      have to LEARN to cook. Get all the equpment to do so. Take the time to cook and
      then Arrrrrggggghhhhh clean up after wards again time and effort. So it's not
      likely goingto happen. Same thing with building my own computer...Now I already
      have done this time and again use to do it alot in my work and occasionally at
      home. So I've already saved myself some steps but no matter how hard I try I can't
      for the life of me make anything as tasty as a new Mac (Opinion here only) I just
      could never find the enclosure for say an iMac in the build your own PC world.
      (That is one cool computer....opinion again) besides it's the whole time thing.

      Pagan jim
      • And you can't because...

        ... drum roll please...

        Apple won't let you!
        Confused by religion
        • Well even "IF" Apple allowed some sort of clone building

          do you think I'd be able to make one as cool as the iMac? I mean look at the PC
          world home made clones have been around for years but I don't see a lot of what I
          myself have considered cool out there mostly some form of box or tower granted but
          beyond that not much that I know of.

          Pagan jim
          • I'm sure you could find a translucent white enclosure...

            ... somewhere, but why bother if you can't duplicate the other Mac elements?
            Confused by religion