Affordable All Rounder
No everyone can afford, or needs a Core i7 or Phenom TWKR!!!11oneone CPU - but how about a nifty dual core setup for under £400? We've nipped about £10 off last month's build, although unfortunately for our US friends, prices have been going up in this area on almost every part.
However, this is the most competitive end of the market for manufacturers and competition for sales is now even more furious than ever. Prices can fluctuate massively, especially with the added issue of the weakened pound as we’ve seen prices shift by literally £20 inside of a month.
We've worked with CCL to get you the best prices for the chosen systems this month, but as always it’s worth checking around the bigger e-tailers in search of bargains and special offers.
Graphics CardFirst Choice: ATI Radeon HD 4770 512MB
UK Pricing: £79.64 (inc. VAT)
US Pricing: $119.99 (ex. Tax)
Despite the fact it's hard to find, the Radeon HD 4770 is still our budget weapon of choice. The wallet friendly end of the graphics market is now well and truly in AMD's hands, as the ATI Radeon HD 4770 is now the third different AMD card to have occupied the spot of recommended affordable graphics card, following in the footsteps of both the Radeon HD 4850 and HD 4830.
The HD 4770 isn't just a refresh though, as the RV740 GPU at its heart is manufactured using the latest 40nm process from TSMC, thus making the GPU itself smaller and less thermally demanding, while also lowering power consumption too. We also found the stock model to be a champion overclocker
, with a whole lot of extra performance ready to be opened up with a little patience and luck.
The models we were given for review seem few and far between on e-tailer shelves however, and most are selling the HD 4770 using a block aluminium cooler rather than the dual slot, dual heatpipe model we tested. Nevertheless, stock performance remains the same and the HD 4770 is able to at least match, and for the vast majority of tests it betters Nvidia's competing 9800 GT in every game we tested.
It's a wonderfully capable card at lower resolutions, especially at 1,280 x 1,024 or 1,680 x 1,050, and is particularly capable when you start to crank the anti-aliasing settings upwards, which can really help image and visual quality at these lower resolutions. For a mid-range gaming system, there's not much that can touch it for the price.
ProcessorFirst Choice: Intel Pentium Dual-Core E5200
UK Pricing: £54.04 (inc. VAT)
US Pricing: $69.99 (ex. Tax)
Despite the fact we rate the Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition, or even the Athlon II X2 250 as great CPUs, we've kept the Intel Pentium Dual Core E5200 here because neither AMD can match Intel for the budget of CPU, P43 motherboard and 4GB of DDR2.
The real beauty of this 45nm Wolfdale CPU though is the low FSB and high 12.5x multiplier, giving it a huge amount of overclocking headroom - with a retail chip from Novatech, we've been able to hit 4GHz with a good P45 board, so a P43 should easily top a healthy 3.5GHz and even a novice will be able to crack 3GHz with little effort using only basic air cooling – not bad for £54!
Even if overclocking is as foreign to you as a razor is to Joe, at stock speeds the E5200 is still more than capable of tackling modern games while remaining very cool and consuming very little power thanks to its 45nm Wolfdale core. Going the AMD route is a more viable alternative than ever now, it's just a shame there are no good AM2+ overclocking motherboards out there.
UK Pricing: £59.52 (inc. VAT)
US Pricing: $79.99 (ex. Tax)
The Gigabyte EP43-DS3L is a worthy stand in when we can't stretch to a P45. The P43 chipset is paired with the solid ICH9 southbridge to yield six SATA ports offering plenty of upgrade potential, although this board still lacks CrossFire or SLI support needed for multi-GPU configurations with its single PCI-E x16 slot. However, on a budget we always
recommend a better single GPU over two mediocre ones.
Nevertheless, the board layout is still very good and the quality of the BIOS remains high, making overclocking intuitive and simple, although it does lack the ability to save BIOS setting profiles. We've spec'd the EP43-UD3L for our US friends because the DS3L is more expensive and harder to find in the States, yet, the UD3L is actually slightly newer with a better spec as well - you lucky devils!
While it’s worth mentioning that for just $10 more you can get yourself a Gigabyte EP45-DS3L based on the enthusiasts' favourite P45 chipset, for the purposes of our budget and overclocking our E5200, the EP43 is still a fine choice.