Prices of PC components are falling weekly, and $350 will buy you a lot more horsepower today that it would a few months ago.Let's look at what sort of all-purpose barebones PC system you can put together for around $350 - we want a system that'll be tough enough to handle Windows Vista and Windows 7 yet not cost the earth.
Let's start with the CPU. The trick with budget builds is to get a good, solid CPU without overspending. The ideal price range is somewhere around a quarter to a third of the overall budget you have planned.
Here I've gone for Intel's 2.5GHz E5200 (Wolfdale) dual-core CPU. If you're into overclocking then you should be able to get this CPU to 3.0GHz and beyond, but even if you keep it at stock speeds you have a good performer for well under $100.
For this build I've chose the ASUS P5N-EM HDMI board. This is a good quality board which features the NVIDIA GeForce 7100/nForce 630i, supports 4GB of RAM, PATA/SATA and SATA RAID hard drive connectors, HDMI, 4x USB and on-board audio.
To top off the features, this board comes in micro-ATX form-factor so it'll fit into a small case, making it suited to home theater use.
The ultimate dilemma ... do you go for an ATI or NVIDIA graphics card?
Here I've gone to ATI for a mid-range card ... but don't let the price tag fool you, this card really kicks pixels!
The HIS Hightech H467QS512P Radeon HD 4670 features 320 stream processors, 512MB of GDDR3 memory, DirectX 10.1 support, and HDMI. It's not exactly a 4870 but it delivers enough performance for anyone other than a hardcore gamer.
The Hitachi Deskstar T7K500 offers 320GB for $50, which works out at 6.4GB per $. This driver isn't going to win any speed contests but it will offer reliable storage and good capacity for a decent price.
A PC like the one outlined above doesn't need a mini-nuclear reactor to power it. We can get away with a 300W. Also, in the interests of the environment and overall running cost, it's worth getting a PSU that's 80 PLUS certified. I've gone here for the SeaSonic SS-300ET 300W PSU.
Total build price: $345 ... all that's left to do is add your own case (starting at about $20).
There's a fair bit of wriggle room in the price of this PC. If graphics aren't important to you and you want to save $80 then you can get rid of the Radeon HD 4670 and rely on the on-board graphics. Alternatively you could by a budget card.
There's also wriggle room in the price when it comes down to the CPU.