Affordable Hardware

Tim proved a few months back that you can just about buy a half decent gaming rig for £400, although you will have to cut a few corners to do so.

Recently though, hardware and software prices have been going up rather than down, especially for high demand components like AMD’s ATI Radeon HD 4850 and even Nvidia's GeForce 8800 GT 9800 GT.

However, even with fluctuating prices and a tight budget for a full system, you can still pick up some phenomenally impressive hardware more than capable of running modern games and if you’re looking for a reasonably priced upgrade, this is where you should start looking.

PartRecommended ProductUK PriceUS Price
Graphics CardPowercolor Radeon HD 4830 512MB£90.73 (inc. VAT)$99.99 (ex. Tax)
ProcessorIntel Pentium Dual-Core E5200£56.29 (inc. VAT)$79.01 (ex. Tax)
MotherboardGigabyte EP31-DS3L£53.41 (inc. VAT)NA
MemoryCorsair XMS2 4GB kit£43.49 (inc. VAT)$56.99 (ex. Tax)
CaseCooler Master Elite 330£32.54 (inc. VAT)$51.59 (ex Tax)
Power SupplyCorsair VX450£60.40 (inc. VAT)$73.49 (ex Tax)
CPU Cooler (UK)Akasa 965BL£9.99 (inc. VAT)N/A
CPU Cooler (USA)OCZ Vendetta 92mm£18.88 (inc. VAT)$22.31 (ex Tax)
Hard Disk DriveSeagate 250GB SATA£38.29 (inc. VAT)$49.35 (ex Tax)
Optical Drive (UK)Lite-On IHAS120-30£16.59 (inc. VAT)N/A
Optical Drive (USA)Lite-On IHAS422-0 DVD±RWN/A$29.99 (ex Tax)
Operating SystemWindows Vista Home Premium 64-bit£84.95 (inc. VAT)$99.99 (ex. Tax)
Total £486.68 (inc. VAT)$562.71 (ex. Tax)

Graphics Card

First Choice: Powercolor Radeon HD 4830 512MB
UK Pricing: £90.73 (inc. VAT)
US Pricing: $99.99 (ex. Tax)

Usually we'd recommend the Radeon HD 4850 here, but recently its price has become a bit of a joke, with cards we originally reviewed priced at £120 now selling for closer to £150. While the 4850 is still a standout graphics card, and delivers excellent bang per buck, with the recent price increases it's no-longer as attractive as it once was, especially as it's moved further and further away from that coveted £100 price tag.

Enter the Radeon HD 4830. When we originally looked at the card, the 4850 was still riding high and a lot cheaper - the 4830 seemed like something of a unnecessary addition to ATI's lineup. Now however it's a lot more interesting, especially as custom cooled stock models of the card can be had for under £100, almost £50 (or $80) less than last month's recommended Powercolor Radeon HD 4850 .

What's even better though is that, as we found in our recent mid-range testing, that whopping 35 percent saving equates to only a ten percent drop in performance. For such a big saving, we're willing to take a (relatively small) hit in performance, especially as wallets might not stretch so far these days.


First Choice: Intel Pentium Dual-Core E5200
UK Pricing: £56.29 (inc. VAT)
US Pricing: $79.01 (ex. Tax)

£55 for an Intel dual-core processor clocked at 2.5GHz? Yes please! It might have gone up by a a bit in price since first launched, but this processor is still worth every penny. While the 800MHz FSB and 2MB of cache might seem a bit limited, it's a full £25 cheaper than similarly clocked chips with 1,066MHz FSB and 3MB of cache, making it fantastic value.

There’s obviously going to be a slight performance gap in comparison to a more expensive processor with a higher front side bus and cache, but the beauty of this 45nm Wolfdale CPU is the low FSB and high 12.5x multiplier. This means that there's a huge amount of overclocking headroom in this little chip; comfortably hits over 3GHz and Rich even managed 4GHz from the retail chip we got from Novatech!

Even if you’re not interested in overclocking it, at stock clock speeds it’s more than capable of tackling modern games while remaining very cool and using as little power as possible. Simply put, for the price to performance ratio, there’s not much that can touch Intel's Pentium Dual-Core E5200 at the moment.


What Hardware Should I Buy? - Feb 2009 Affordable Hardware - 1First Choice: Gigabyte EP31-DS3L
UK Pricing: £53.41 (inc. VAT)
US Pricing: N/A

Tim gained some extensive experience with this board while overclocking our £400 PC and found it a fantastic board for the money.

While it's limited to just four SATA 3Gbps thanks to its relatively weak ICH7 southbridge, it supports processors with a front side bus of up to 1,333MHz and has a very intuitive BIOS in which it's easy to overclock your processor and get a whole lot more performance out of it - perfect for overclocking our low FSB E5200 processor.

The EP31-DS3L was also rock solid when overclocked and while only boasting one PCI-E x16 slot, making CrossFire or SLI setups impossible, this board delivers a proven stable overclocking platform with more than enough extras for a mid range gaming system.
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