Affordable All Rounder
Not everyone can afford, or needs an expensive quad-core CPU - but how about a nifty dual-core setup capable of 3.5 to 4GHz with a graphics card that will handle the latest games at 1,680 x 1,050 or even 1,920 x 1,200 if you pair it with a good value 24in monitor?
ATI still hasn't nailed the budget graphics card deal with its Radeon HD 5000 series in our opinion. The Radeon HD 5750 1GB is too expensive considering Radeon HD 4850s and GeForce GTS 250 512MBs are still around, costing less performing similarly (or better) in some circumstances. The most recent HD 5670 1GB
isn't quite fast enough either, hence we recommend three cards - HD 4770, HD 4850 and GTS 250 - despite being older, they're still the most capable value products for our most budget build.
The All Rounder backbone is still the MSI 770-C45
and Athlon II X2 250
combo for yet another month. We're aware the Athlon II X2 255 has launched at 3.1GHz, but for the £10-20 price premium and only 100-extra-MHz it's just not worth it.
The ATI Radeon HD 4850 512MB is still our budget card of choice, along with the Nvidia GeForce GTS 250 512MB
Please don't be tempted by the Athlon II X4s; cheap quad-core CPUs are not the bargains they appear to be
- concentrate on obtaining MHz over just cores, such as the Phenom II's with their L3 cache which benefits general multi-tasking much more and the Phenom II X2 and X3s can have their hidden cores unlocked, allowing even more value. The Phenom II X2 550/555 Black Editions are prime alternatives here.
While this computer is not designed for heavy multi-tasking, it will still be happy to do a few things at once. The Athlon II X2 250 should stretch to nearly 4GHz if you're lucky, and 3.5 to 3.7GHz will take only a little effort on a decent motherboard.
MSI's 770-C45 motherboard
The latest Intel Pentium Dual-core G6950 and low end Core i3s are still just outside the budget for this PC in our opinion - it's not just the cost of the CPU you have to factor in, but the motherboard too. That said, if you can afford it, a Core i3-530
and Gigabyte GA-H55M-UD2
will get you a lot more performance.
We've popped in 4GB of 1,333MHz DDR3
memory that should be found around £80-85 for a decent branded kit. As usual we've also included the excellent Antec Three Hundred
case, Corsair CX400W PSU
[/b] and coolers from either Akasa or Arctic Cooling that offer a bit more performance and less noise over the stock HSFs. Don't spend more money on a bigger cooler to overclock cheaper CPUs at this level, the next CPU upgrade is only £10-15-20 more and will itself overclock just as far giving more performance.
Finally, throw in a DVD-RW SATA optical drive
and your choice of 500GB SATA 3Gbps hard drive
for £15 and £35 respectively and you've got the basis of a solid machine. In the office we'd recommend the Western Digital Black or Blue, Seagate 7200.12 and Samsung F3s in the 500GB flavours.