Cheap and cheerful Vista-capable PC for $260 plus change

The other day I received a challenge from a reader. Put together the parts list for a cheap and cheerful PC. The criteria were pretty straightforward:- Cheap- Good quality- Be able to run VistaHere's what I came up with ...
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

The other day I received a challenge from a reader. Put together the parts list for a cheap and cheerful PC. The criteria were pretty straightforward:

  • Cheap
  • Good quality
  • Be able to run Vista

Here's what I came up with ...

Parts gallery here

Note: As always I start these builds with a disclaimer. The prices I list here do not take into account the ups (discounts, offers, rebates, bundles ...) or downs (taxes, shipping ...) of life. I'm also not including a monitor, peripherals or OS in the price list.

Also, I've chosen Newegg.com as the price benchmark, but that should not be taken as meaning that I endorse any one outlet over another. You should shop around and find the best deals you can yourself.


I wanted to build this system around a decent but low-priced CPU. For around $70 you can pick up an Intel Pentium E2180 "Allendale" 2.0GHz dual-core part, which is a very nice piece of silicon. However, I wanted the CPU in this build to be under $50. There aren't that many Intel processors at this price point, but there are some good AMD CPUs that you can pick up.

I chose the AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400+ 2.3GHz Socket AM2 dual-core CPU for this build. Sure, it's going to get thrashed by pretty much every other processor available when it comes to benchmark tests, but it is nonetheless a reliable piece and perfectly capable of delivering excellent results.

Price: $46.99


Because I'd chosen the 4400+ AM2 CPU, I now needed a cheap and cheerful AM2 motherboard.

I had a few requirements for the motherboard:

  • Good quality.
  • It needed to be Vista-capable - when buying at the low end it's easy to buy something that's too cheap, which means that you have to buy twice. Not smart!
  • I wanted a semi-decent on-board graphics solution.

The board I finally picked was the ASUS M2A-VM. This is a Micro ATX board equipped with the AMD 690G chipset. In addition to all the features that you'd expect a motherboard to have (gigabit LAN, stacks of USB ports, decent audio), this board is also HDCP compliant and the Radeon X1250 graphics chip will let you play HD-DVD or Blu-ray (if you fit the right drive in the system). This board also features a VGA and DVI-D ports, so supports dual screens out of the box!

Price: $64.99

Alternate reality: A few of you have asked me what motherboard would I have chosen if I'd gone with the E2180 "Allendale" 2.0GHz instead of the AMD CPU. Well, it probably would have to be the ASUS P5N-EM - This board features on-board NVIDIA GeForce 7100, nForce 630i chipset and HDMI output. However, it is $75, so with the CPU this adds some $35 to the final price. You can find cheaper boards but I like this one.

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Nothing special here - just 2 x 512MB of A-DATA 240-Pin DDR2 800.

Even for a cheap build I'm steering clear of cheap, no-name RAM.

Price: $25.99

Hard drive

I had three criteria that the hard drive had to fulfill:

  • SATA support
  • Cost under $50
  • Have a capacity of 160GB or greater

The drive I chose - the 160GB Western Digital Caviar SE WD1600AAJS - was perfect for this build.

Price: $43.99

Optical drive

A cheap LG Black combo burner fits the bill here nicely. 

Price: $19.99

Power Supply Unit (PSU)

This PC doesn't need a a lot of power, but I'm not going to start cutting corners here and adding a no-name piece of junk that'll be lucky to survive 3 months.

I've chosen an Antec EarthWatts EA380 380W PSU for this build. This PSU is a high-quality, quiet and efficient (certified 80 Plus design). It also offers plenty of spare power in care of future upgrades.

Price: $29.99


I hate choosing a PC case, so for this build I picked a cheap Linkworld MicroATX Mini Tower that's cheap, but ideal for this kind of build.

Price: $21.99

CPU cooler

Since the CPU is an OEM part and not a retail boxed part we need a CPU cooler.

The MASSCOOL 5T568S1H3 is a ideal cheap and cheerful cooler and perfect for the CPU chosen.

Sure, there are better coolers, but for the price this one is hard to beat (especially since I couldn't find a retail CPU part).

Price: $7.99

Bottom line ...

Total system cost: $261.92


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