Building a sub $300 PC (May 2013 edition)

Building a sub $300 PC (May 2013 edition)

Summary: Sometimes you just want a cheap and cheerful PC to handle some simple tasks. This build – excluding Windows, a display, and peripherals, comes in at under $300.


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  • (Image: AMD)


    Let's start by looking at the heart of the system — the processor. In this case, the processor is not going to be just the CPU, but also features a built in GPU. This makes the build both cheaper and easier.

    For this build, I've chosen AMD's A4-5300 Trinity APU. This is a 3.4GHz — 3.6GHz when in Turbo mode — dual-core part, which also comes equipped with a DirectX 11-enabled Radeon HD 7480D.

    Price: $55

  • (Image: MSI)


    The AMD Trinity APU needs a motherboard with a Socket FM2 connector for the processor. I've chosen the MSI FM2-A55M-E33, which is a cheap, yet fully-featured board.

    Along with the raft of stuff you expect from a motherboard, this board offers some other cool features:

    • OC Genie II: Auto overclocking to boost performance in 1 second

    • ClickBIOS II: Easy-to-use UEFI interface

    • Super Charger: Fast charge iPad/iPhone/smartphones.

    Price: $50

  • (Image: Western Digital)

    Hard drive

    Simple drive, nothing special.

    The Western Digital WD Blue WD5000AAKX 500GB offers a decent amount of speedy storage at a reasonable price. It is a 7,200RPM, SATA 6.0Gb/s unit featuring 16MB of cache.

    Price: $60

Topics: Hardware, Processors, Storage, PCs, DIY

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  • What OS?

    and price?
    • Well, he lists all of the component prices separately,

      and I'm guessing if you add up the cost, and plan on using Linux instead of Windows (and I would think that would be a wise move!) then his estimate is pretty reasonable.
      Richard Estes
    • Linux

      Linux is free and very powerful.
      • Make me laugh

        and then forget about the best software available.
        • ha!

          Like what? Photoshop? There is gimp. Cad? There is blender. Steam? Thee is also steam on Linux. ITunes? Its called a CD, they are way cheaper than buying individual songs. Not to mention that most windows programs will run with wine. Oh plus there is the fact that most Linux distributions use less ram than windows, in fact my laptop uses 150 megabytes at idle compared to an entire gigabyte with window$ 7. Plus there are very very few viruses on Linux. Plus linux is extremely customizable. For real man, there is no logical reason to sticking with windows. What you are experiencing is fan boy syndrome.
          • Really?

            First, I'll need to mark this day on my calendar as the first time I have EVER seen a Linux proponent say there are "very very few viruses on Linux" (as opposed to it being IMPOSSIBLE to get any form of malware on Linux).

            Second, it is good news to hear that Linux Office replacements now come with all of the add-ins and VBA support that I need for work, and support for the VMWare client that I need for school. No? But they work with WINE right? So I still have to buy the programs I need, then figure out how to make them work with WINE? And a CD...really? Why use a CD when I have perfectly good mix tapes somewhere in the basement?

            I use Linux on a regular basis (mostly Mint at the moment), so I am no Windows fanboy. However, it irritates me to no end when someone tells me that I don't NEED Windows or other non-free, non-Linux supported software. I use the right tool for the job, not just any tool that I can force to kinda make it work.
          • lol take it easy

            This is a discussion about a budget PC build man, there is nothing a budget PC should be trying to do that cannot be easily done purely with Linux. That was my point, along with its security. And it is impossible to get malware on a STOCK Linux system. End users get on and start messing with stuff, opening ports, etc that's where the problem is. Why would I lie and say there is no way to hack Linux? I said very very few viruses because most people don't understand the difference between different types of malware. Trojans are possible on Linux, but they are very rarely dealt with in the wild, mostly just with physical access to the computer or network.

            Seriously though, there is no need for windows. If you buy a program for windows and hate trying to configure wine for it to work, hey that's your problem. All I'm trying to say is there has always been a Linux form of anything I have needed to do, but if I had a job that used windows at my workstation, I'm not even going to try doing it in Linux. But VBA man, really? You do stuff for work that REQUIRES visual basic...that was the first language I learned, and started learning Python before I even finished learning that long winded language. I began translating my programs to Python and was pleasantly surprised to find that they were smaller and took way less time to write.

            Lastly bro, when was the last time you listened to a cd? The quality of CDs are amazing compared to MP3 from the internet, and I mean amazing. And yes there are iTunes clones on Linux as well but I don't know any specifics about them.
          • Let's do vinyl, too...

            The quality of vinyl is nearly as far beyond a CD, as a CD is beyond an mp3. After all, LP's are ANALOG, with no inherent frequency cutoff.

            ...As the workable scriptability of Linux or even DOS is, beyond that of windows.

            We humans periodically perfect a tool, and then sell it off it to someone who, in their thirst for profits, "tweaks" the workability out of it and calls that an upgrade...
            Lightning Joe
          • Not sure About Wine

            I am testing OpenSUSE on a netbook and laptop and have installed Wine 1.5 on each. In the past, regardless of what I tried, I could never get what is a core program only offered on Windows to work other than somewhat.

            With 1.5 things have changed. The app installed as easily as installing it on Windows. It works perfectly. Then the challenge, Lotus Notes. Both 8.5.3 and 9.0 with no problems whatsoever. Don't laugh, my favored office suite WordPerfect X5 professional also loaded and runs. None of these could I get to run on the earlier versions of Wine. Next test will need some of my tax software. On the laptop there is no perceptible lag while on the netbook there is. Lotus Organizer that crashes on Vista and less so on Windows 7 so far has need rock stable on both installs. This program will not run under and of the compatibility modes in Windows for some reason.

            I have some additional testing to do but, as it stands it looks like I'll be leaving Windows if the upcoming BlackBerry Bridge for BB10 Playbook will run.

            I have no complaints about Windows but grew up with Xenix/UNIX and just prefer that environment or as close as I can get to it though I am not a techie by any means. Yeah, I suspect you figured that out by the list of programs I mentioned as important to me.
          • Actually...

            VMWare has a Linux client.

            As for VBA support, Microsoft keeps trying to get rid of that in Office, so I wouldn't expect that for long.

            I don't know what other add-ins you might be using, but the Linux (and Mac OS versions) have plenty of features built-in, such as PDF creation, etc. that the Windows versions don't.

            That being said, Crossover is a simple and easy to use system to get Windows programs to run. Additionally, there are Wine Bottlers that make it easy to create a bottle with your App and run it just like any other Linux or Mac application.

            Bottom line is it will do the job and do it well, if you put the effort into it. Personally, I go for the Mac, which is why I mention them running on the Mac.
          • Inadequate

            Gimp? Really?? Gimp sucks bollocks, you must know that. Fun to make little things yeah but forget piles of work. And what is your placement for ArcGIS? "Real men," as you say, are more interested in getting the job done than whether or not people think they are cool, hip individuals.
          • Time to learn Linux -- NOT FREE!

            I've used Linux. Ubuntu was my preferred flavor and I really liked it. But the amount of time it took to figure out how to update the system and the time it took to find the right software applications to use was enormous. In the end it was well worth the money to buy Windows and spend my time getting things done instead of trying to figure out the OS. So I'm not a Linux hater, but I do wish it was easier.
          • ?

            Hard to update Ubuntu? I'm so sorry that ONE CLICK of your mouse and typing in your password to update EVERYTHING on you system is top hard for you.

            I do understand what you are saying though, there was a huge learning curve. But now I'm so used to the environment when I am in windows it irritates me to no end when stupid things happen, for instance when I skit down and it informs me that it is going to install a gazillion updates. Really? You couldn't have even ASKED me if I wand to install now or next time? I just want to power off my laptop so I can go that what you guys are looking for? Having your PC treat you like that? UFO don't want updates installed on my Linux boxes, they don't get installed, and my boxes damn sure don't do it without asking me permission first. And no, I don't hate windows because of the updates, our really lack there of, that was just an easy example.

            I do use windows, a but more often than I would like to admit, but mostly just for games. That's what windows has become, a gaming OS.
          • CAD

            If you're using Blender as a CAD, you're doing something terribly wrong.
        • well

          I use linux every day at work with no issues. I customized it the way I like. Its very fast and stable and smooth. I do a million things with it at once and I can quickly google for software on linux with no issues. Any time I do have an issue I just simply look for a windows software which does usually run fine in WINE.
      • Yes - if you have the exeprience to install, configure, ...

        ... and use it effectively it, Linux is very powerful. Be prepared though to give up commercial software almost entirely. No Quicken. No TurboTax. No Microsoft Office (thought there are some "near-compatibles".

        Lots of free open-source solutions with funny names - some of which may have to be recompiled to run on your Linux distro. (Almost all of which are also ported to Windows and require no tweaking to install and run.)

        In the end, Linux is "free" provide that you need no end-user support. Time is money. How much is your time worth?
        M Wagner
      • Yes, Linux is very powerful ...

        ... and scalable but it is not really "free" unless you know what you are doing. Linux is not a consumer OS. Anyone can buy a computer system with a pre-installed version of Windows and not really have to know very much.

        That same consumer, with just a little bit of knowledge, can install Windows and get along just fine.

        The same cannot e said about Linux. Linux requires a lot of "special knowledge" that consumers just don't have. Supporting Linux without that special knowledge is a nightmare for the typical consumer.

        Still, Adrian is assuming his reader is not the typical consumer. You can acquire (or even write) whatever OS you want to run system. The same is true for your applications. Me?

        Yeah, I've done my stint as a UNIX specialist and I have installed and run Linux but, when it comes right down to it, I'd stick with Windows because there is a lot less work to installed Windows on generic hardware than there is installing Linux.
        M Wagner
    • He is not offering software of any kind with this bar bones system

      It is up to you to acquire whatever OS and software that you prefer.
      M Wagner
  • I have a question

    I would build a Linux, no Windows, system. Is the UEFI deal on the motherboard going to cause me grief? Can you link me to info describing how that gets handled?

    Great series, by the way. Thanks
    • All you have to check ....

      All you need to check is that UEFI has a DISABLE option in the BIOS.

      I would not purchase a UEFI only motherboard if you want to install Linux.