Holiday Gift Guide 2008: Budget hardware

Lists ... if there's one thing that people seem to what at this time of year it's lists. Over the next few weeks I've planned on posting several kit lists for the Holiday season covering a wide variety of different kit.The other day I posted the "high end" hardware list, crazy-priced, sky's-the-limit stuff. Today I'm going for a change of pace and posting the budget hardware list.

Lists ... if there's one thing that people seem to what at this time of year it's lists. Over the next few weeks I've planned on posting several kit lists for the Holiday season covering a wide variety of different kit.

The other day I posted the "high end" hardware list, crazy-priced, sky's-the-limit stuff. Today I'm going for a change of pace and posting the budget hardware list.

NOTE: Each time I come out with a list of kit I always end up fielding a few emails and comments from people wondering if companies have “bought” space on the list. Let me tell you now that the only way for a product to get on this list is to be the best - period. Manufacturers, vendors and PR companies have zero influence over this or any other recommendation that I make.

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CPU - Core 2 Duo E2200

You can get a lot of processing power for under $100. While most sub-$100 processors are AMD silicon, the best bang-for-the-buck comes from the Intel camp.

The budget processor I've picked for this list is the Intel Core 2 Duo E2200. This is a dual-core processor that runs at 2.2GHz. It's an older 65nm part, but it's still more than up to the job of powering a budget PC.

An E2200 should set you back somewhere in the region of $70. If you feel like pushing the boat out a little more then for an extra $15 you can pick up the newer 2.5GHz 45nm E5200.

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Motherboard - Socket LGA 775 - ASUS P5GC-MX

Time to pick a motherboard for out processor. Because I've gone for an Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, that means that we need an LGA 775 motherboard. In the $25 - $50 price range there are a lot of boards to choose from, and I've gone for a brand that over the years I've come to trust - ASUS.

The board I've chosen is the ASUS P5GC-MX. This board, which retails for a few bucks under $50, is pretty basic when compared to high-end boards, but it offers everything you could want from a budget boards - broad processor support, 4GB RAM support, one PCI-Express x16 slot for a graphics card, SATA support, on-board LAN (10/100Mbps, no 1000Mbps though), and a handful of USB ports.

ASUS P5GC-MX - [Read the reviews] [Check price]

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Graphics card - ATI Radeon HD 4350

Many people think that you have to spend hundreds of dollars on a graphics card in order to get a good one. Nothing is further from the truth. In fact, for around $50 you can pick up a good all-round card.

The card I've picked for this list is the ATI Radeon HD 4350. You get a lot for your money with this card:

  • 650MHz core clock
  • 80 stream processor units
  • 512MB or GDDR2
  • DirectX 10.1 support
  • Capability to push out 2560 x 1600 pixels

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Hard drive - Western Digital SE 500GB SATA

When picking a hard drive, it's important to shop around. Prices fluctuate often and you can find a broad range of capacities at each price point.

I've gone for a drive that retails for below $60 - the Western Digital Caviar SE 500GB.

  • 8.3GB/$
  • 8MB cache
  • 8.9ms avg seek, 10.9ms avg write
  • Avg latency 4.2ms
  • Cool operation

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RAM - G.SKILL

I've had a lot of success with G.SKILL RAM so I'm going to pick it for this list. It's not the cheapest stuff that you can get but with the cheap RAM you get variable results at best.

For 240-pin DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) G.SKILL expect to pay the following per module:

  • 512MB - $15
  • 1GB - $20
  • 2GB - $30

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Power Supply Unit - Enermax EG301P 300W

A cheap PSU is a false economy. Not only can it cause crashes and BSoDs, but they usually fail to last a year.

Contrary to popular belief, you don't need a high capacity PSU to power a regular PC. 1KW PSUs are designed for either very high-end systems or for people who want a PSU they can brag about.

A 300W PSU is more than enough power, and for under $40 you can pick up a good brand. I've chosen the Enermax EG301P because these are reliable and last for ages. It's a very basic unit, but as long as you're not building a high-end system, it's more than ample.

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