Upgrading your PC need not be a $1,000+ activity - with a few well-placed upgrades you can give your PC a new lease of life while not hammering your wallet!
Here I'm going to look at two different upgrades packages - one a basic package of components that when put together will offer excellent all-round performance, and a second package that is ideally suited to those who want a super overclocker package, but without a super price tag!
Each package will consist of a CPU, motherboard and graphics card. Depending on your current system configuration (in particular, age) you many need to upgrade other items such as RAM and PSU.
Note: As far as gaming goes, unless you've got a really powerful graphics card you're going to have to make some compromises. The best place to get information on the settings you should and shouldn't mess about with is TweakGuides. This is an excellent resource that all gamers should add to their list of favorites.
UPDATE: Several of you have asked about what RAM to get. For a budget system like this (even a system that you're going to overclock) you need stable RAM rather than fast RAM. I'd go for Crucial or Corsair DDR2 800 RAM for therse systems.
What i wanted here was a package of components that offered good, all-round performance for around the $200 mark. For this price you're not going to get a system that can churn effortlessly through Photoshop tasks, or run games such as Crysis with the graphics amped up to the max, but you do get a very capable PC that's ready to face most of the tasks that the average users will put it to.
Here are the components I've chosen:
CPU - AMD Athlon X2 4850e
Intel might rule the high-end CPU market, but when it comes to the lower-end of the power spectrum, AMD has some good pieces of silicon on offer.
There's a lot to like about the Athlon X2 4850e. Not only do you get a very capable dual-core piece running at 2.5GHz, but you also get a cool CPU because the 4850e has a TDPof 45W. The 4850e is more than enough to handle Vista with ease, along with a generous number of other applications running concurrently.
Price: Around $55
Motherboard - Foxconn A7GM-S AM2+/AM3
When building a all-purpose PC you want a motherboard that's cheap, yet robust and offering a decent range of features.
The Foxconn A7GM-S motherboard does all this. Not only is it a cheap board, it's very stable and has a good offering of ports - SATA, USB, Ethernet, HDMI and so on.
Great performance at a great price.
Price: Around $80
Graphics card - NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GSO
Now comes the tough part - choosing a graphics card that good for casual gaming, but not insanely priced. For this build I've gone for the NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GSO which is available from a number of different vendors but the cheapest is probably EVGA.
The GeForce 9600 GSO is not a powerhouse GPU, but it does represent excellent value for money and is probably the cheapest graphics card that anyone considering casual gaming should invest in.
The idea behind the super overclocker package is to squeeze as much performance out of your components, s rather than spend crazy money on the latest quad-core extreme pieces from Intel, you take a much more lowly piece of silicon and amp it up to super levels. Sure, you don't get all the benefits that a $1,000 CPU offers, but you get more than your money's worth!
For this package I set out with the target of keeping the price of the components under $400.
CPU - Intel Core 2 Duo E7300
The E7300 is an excellent CPU. It's a 2.66GHz part based on Intel's 45nm Wolfdale architecture. But that's not the reason I've chosen the E7300 for this package. I've chosen it because it is highly overclockable.
You can get this CPU up to 4GHz easily (Google is your friend) where it will run 100% stable. This puts an enormous amount of power at your disposal!
However, to get the most from the E7300, you'll need a motherboard that offers you plenty of overclocking potential. But don't worry, I've chosen one that's perfect for the job!
Price: Around $130
Motherboard - BioStar TForce TP45HP
In the past I've not been a big user of BioStar motherboards, but as of late the company has come out with some very decent boards indeed. The TForce TP45HP is one such board.
The TP45HP a good all-round board that offers plenty of options in the way of USB, SATA, Ethernet and so on. It's also another example of a rock-solid board that shouldn't give you any problems in day to day usage. But the reason I've picked this particular board for this package is that it's a great board for overclocking. In fact, I'd go as far as to call it an overclocker's dream board.
Price: Around $110
Graphics card - NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GT
The NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GT is great performer. In fact, for the price point it's by far the best card you could choose for the job. It'll happily run the likes of Crysis, Far Cry 2 and Fallout 3 and deliver graphics that are more than acceptable as long as you keep the settings to a modest level.
Brand wise, I suggest you look at the 9800 GT offerings from EVGA or XFX.