Affordable All-Rounder October 2010

This system is designed to be our recommendation for those looking for maximum performance per pound (we’re British, y’know) on a tight budget. The power of a fast dual-core processor is still perfectly adequate for everyday use and gaming – add a decent amount of memory and as potent a graphics card as you can afford, and you’ll be fine for the foreseeable future on a 1,680 x 1,050 screen.

 Affordable All-Rounder
 ProductUK Price (inc VAT)US Price (ex tax)
CPU3.0GHz AMD Athlon II X2 250£45$60
MotherboardMSI 770-C45£50$90
Memory4GB 1,333MHz DDR3£65$70
Graphics Card1GB GeForce GTX 460£170$220
PSUCorsair 400CX 400W£35$55
CPU Cooler (UK)Akasa AK-876£15NA
CPU Cooler (US)Arctic Cooling Freezer 64 Pro(£15)$30
CaseAntec Three Hundred£45$60
Optical driveSATA DVD-RW£15$20
Storage500GB SATA 3Gbps£30$55
 Overall Price:£470$660

New This Month

There hasn’t been an awful lot of change in our budget build this month. In with the biggest chance of shaking things up was the GeForce GTS 450, but as it's significantly slower than a GTX 460 we’ll stick with our current set up. If you were looking to cut some cost our of this build you’d be much better served by downgrading to a GTX 460 768MB than going all the way down to the GTS 450.

PC Hardware Buyer's Guide October 2010 Affordable All-Rounder October 2010

We have, however, changed our CPU from a 2.8GHz Athlon II X2 240 to a 3.0GHz Athlon II X2 250 as the former is going end of life. Given that the X2 250 is identical to the X2 240 in both price and every specification apart from frequency, it's a no-brainer upgrade to our build. As usual there is an argument for getting the super overclockable Intel Pentium G6950 but it's still £30 more than the AMD Athlon II X2 240. Add in a decent LGA1156 motherboard, such as the Gigabyte GA-H55M-UD2H and you're looking at an extra £50 to opt for the Pentium over the Athlon.

Also, as we know Intel move to a new socket soon (LGA1155, for Sandsy Bridge), we're betting that Socket AM3 has a bit more life. AMD typically releases new-generation CPUs that are backwards compatible with old sockets, and Llano (AMD's next-gen desktop CPU) isn't due out for six months even by optimisitic estimates.

As we say every month, avoid cheap quad-core CPUs, as they lack Level 3 cache and are therefore sluggish.

And The Rest

The classic MSI 770-C45 is still our cheap AMD motherboard of choice, its even dropped in price by a fiver this month which is good news. It’s a decent board with a solid BIOS, so it’s a great buy. Now that AMD is trickling out its 8-series chipsets, we’re on the look-out for an update for the 770-C45, but nothing has surfaced as yet. We pair the CPU and motherboard with 4GB of 1,333MHz DDR3 memory – this is arguably an extravagance as using 2GB is okay, but we like the extra snappiness of having 4GB of RAM.

PC Hardware Buyer's Guide October 2010 Affordable All-Rounder October 2010

We’ve chosen 1,333MHz memory as it’s £20 cheaper than 1,600MHz and won’t limit our overclocking too much. For example, if we were to aim for an overclock of 3.6GHz, we’d have to use a HTT of 257MHz (as 257 x 14 = 3,598) – the 770-C45 has a 4x memory strap, so we can use that to keep the memory within its limits (1,028MHz). Memory rated at 1,066MHz is roughly the same price as 1,333MHz RAM so we may as well get the faster DIMMs to try to future-proof the system a little.

We played with the idea of using the reference CPU cooler for this system to keep the price down, but given that we wanted to overclock the CPU we decided to buy a better performing third-party cooler after all. The Akasa AK-876 is cheap and quiet and has three heatpipes to cope with a spot of overvolting and overclocking. Unfortunately, the Akasa isn’t available everywhere, so we recommend that our US friends go for the slightly more capable and expensive Arctic Cooling Freezer 64 Pro.

PC Hardware Buyer's Guide October 2010 Affordable All-Rounder October 2010

Corsair’s 400CX is a solid 400W PSU that’s easily able to power all out kit, even with a decent CPU overclock. The Antec Three Hundred is a low-cost case, but it’s solidly made and includes a rear exhaust fan and a large roof exhaust fan, so it’ll keep all your hardware cool and survive a good few knocks. Finally, we’ve added the cheapest DVD-RW drive we could find and a 500GB hard disk.

If you haven't got a copy already, you might want to factor in a copy of Windows 7 - if you're confident that you won't be upgrading much, then an OEM copy should be fine, but serial upgraders need the pricier retail version.
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