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Low Budget Build


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#1 k_woodhouse

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Posted 29 October 2010 - 02:47 PM

Hi, I hope this is the right place to post this (it seemed more appropriate than the buying a new computer forum next door).

(If you can't be bothered to read the whole post: (skip this if you can) There's quite a lot of information below, because I want to get the most out of the experience you guys have, so if you can take the time to read it, great. If you can't, in a nutshell, we want to build a computer for about £500 or less with the best specs we can get for the money. Easily upgraded parts are less important, and we have a few bits and pieces that might be salvageable from an old dell. See below for more information.)

This post contains:
(colour coded for clarity)

1. Introduction
2. What I Want From the Computer (for your information)
3. What I Already Have
(not much)
4. What I Would Like to Know
(the important bit. I have lots of questions about hardware. Please help answer them.)
5. A Rough Budget



1. Introduction
My brother and I are planning on building a shiny new computer. The main reason is for the experience (and for a bit of fun), but we also want to be able to use the result, but, as I'm sure many of you have experienced, choosing hardware is very difficult. There's so many choices, and to the inexperienced (such as myself) it can be really quite challenging trying to work out exactly what you need and where you can get it for a good price. So, I've decided to turn to the ever-so-helpful community here at BC for some advice. You guys have helped me before, and I'm sure you'll help me again.
:)


2. What I Want From the Computer
First, I'll tell you a bit about what we want from this new machine. We don't have a great deal of money, and we know we won't be able to afford a state of the art gaming rig, but we want to try and get the most out of our money, considering that we can upgrade in the future (so things like the motherboard that aren't as easily upgraded as, say HDDs and graphics cards, might be a little more important for now). Below is a quick summary of what we're trying to achieve (mostly just for your information):

Budget:
Approximately £500 (that's GBP, me being English). There is some leeway, because we haven't set out an exact budget. I know this isn't much, but we don't need a fantastic computer and there is room for us to upgrade some bits later, when we have a bit more money. The goal is really just to build a computer (how good it is is kind of secondary).

Main Usage:
It will mainly be used for (roughly in order of importance):

  • Web Browsing
  • Mid to low-end gaming (see gaming requirements)
  • Programming (I'm learning Python at the moment)
  • Video editing (recorded gameplay. Not necessarily HD)
  • Image editing
  • Audio editing

OS Requirements:
To save money - Linux. Ubuntu is the most likely.

Software Requirements:

A quick summary of necessary software:

Gaming Requirements:

Will mainly be used for Puzzle Pirates - a 2D MMO where you're a pirate and you do puzzles to represent piratey activities, like swordfighting. No big hardware requirements.
May also be used for Steam with Source games like CSS. This requires some basic 3D graphics.
Higher-end gaming capabilities may be added at a later date, but for now, the graphics do not need to be particularly good.

Multi-Tasking Ability:

Not much - listening to music while working, or having audio, image and video editing open at the same time. Generally, applications will be closed after use, and most applications would be closed before intensive applications are run, for example, playing a game.

Storage:
Not intended to store much. May store some music, pictures and video, but a small hard drive should suffice.

Peripherals:
We don't have any. We can manage a basic USB keyboard and a mouse, but a monitor is required. For now, we can make do with a spare TV, so this doesn't have to be included in the £500 budget. I'd like (the potential for) a dual monitor set-up, which I believe would affect the graphics card.

Networking:
We already have a wireless home network. Ideally, the system could connect through WiFi to the LAN, to save running cables to it.


I hope that's not too much to take in.



3. What I Already Have
Next, I'll let you know what we have already. I managed to get an old Dell from my parents since they're no longer using it. When I say old, I mean old. It blue-screened about every 30 minutes when it was running XP.
:thumbsup:

It's since been gathering dust (it was dusty enough to begin with). It's a Dell Dimension 8400. Here's a quick summary of what it's got (I just cracked open the case quickly):

  • 1 very old, very dusty, rather ugly case
  • 160GB Maxtor SATA HDD
  • 512MB RAM
  • An Intel Pentium 4 processor @3.20 GHz
  • An unidentified motherboard covered in dust.
  • An equally dusty display adapter (I'm not sure what is).
  • A Broadcom network adapter (an Ethernet port, nothing special, again, I'm not sure the exact model)
  • DVD-ROM and DVD-RW drives (I don't think there's any problems with these)
  • Floppy drive - not been used in a long time.
  • Unidentified PSU

That's all we've got so far.



4. What I Would Like to Know
What I need now is a list of the parts I'll need to finish the project and roughly how much I should expect to spend on each part. Then I can look at individual parts. Here's what I've come up with so far:

  • Motherboard: Size isn't much of a restriction (dependant on the case). Is there an advantage for AMD or Intel? What features should I look for? I'll probably choose a processor first.

  • Processor: Again, AMD or Intel? The AMD Athlon II X2 250 seems to be passable for it's price, but the Intel Core i5 750 might be better suited to our purpose. Recommendations?

  • CPU Cooler: Presumably the retail CPUs will come with a heatsink and/or fan? What should I look for if I get an OEM CPU that doesn't come with one?

  • Thermal Compound: Would this come with the processor/cooler? What would be best if it doesn't?

  • Memory: I was completely overwhelmed by the types of RAM available. Presumably it depends on the motherboard. Any help choosing a good amount and type?

  • Case: Anything will do. Cheap is preferable, but should be large enough to fit everything, with a bit of room for expanding. Mid-tower? It should be able to house the MoBo, a fairly decent graphics card (when I can afford one) a few HDDs and a DVD drive or two, the PSU, and enough fans to keep the whole thing cool. Should I consider a built in PSU?

  • Power Supply: Quality is important here, from what I've read. I don't really know how to determine how much power I would need, but I saw a 430V Corsair supply for £36. Any good? Again, is a PSU built into the case worth considering?

  • Disk drives: I've got the old dell DVD drives, but I think it's fairly easy to pick up a decent one for less than £20.

  • HDD: Again, I've got an old 160GB Maxtor HDD from the dell, but then I see 1TB for £50. Maybe a new HDD is a good idea.

  • Video Card: Another overwhelming choice. Are there any preferred brands? NVIDIA vs. ATI? What would you recommend for my purposes? High-end gaming isn't necessary. Dual monitor capability is preferred. I've seen cards from £30 to £1000. :huh:

  • OS: Linux.

  • Monitor: Any suggestions? I can make do with a spare TV for now, but a monitor would be nice. If you see any good buys, I'd love to know.

  • Network Card: This might be necessary to connect to WiFi. Does this Edimax PCI-E adapter look any good? I guess this also depends what PCI/PCI-E connections are available on the motherboard.

A lot of questions, but any help is much appreciated.



5. A Rough Budget
I've drawn up a rough budget of what I might expect to spend on each component. Let me know if this looks alright.

  • Motherboard: £100
  • Processor (and cooler): £100
  • Memory: £80 (depending on size and type, but I saw 4GB for £70)
  • Case: £30
  • PSU: £40
  • Disk Drives: £20
  • HDD: £50
  • Video Card: £60
  • Network Card: £20
  • Total: £500

Hopefully this budget is realistic enough to work towards. I guess I could expect to pay a small fortune in delivery costs as well.


Sorry about the huge wall of text above. I wanted to let you know as much as possible to help you help me. B)

What I'd like to know now: any suggestions for what I should look for in the hardware, any specific component suggestions, and anywhere I could buy them for as little as possible (remember, I'm in England and I use pounds B)).

Thanks in advance for any help or advice you might give me. I look forward to hearing what you guys think.

(finally the end) :huh:

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#2 DJBPace07

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Posted 29 October 2010 - 10:01 PM

Ohh!!! Pretty colors!!!

I'll start with section four.

1. Unless you are going for high-end number-crunching or very high-end gaming machines, AMD is usually best as it offers excellent value versus performance. As for the motherboard, I would buy a standard ATX motherboard and not one of the smaller micro or mini ATX motherboards due to heating issues. At your budget level, motherboards are usually the same. With AMD-based motherboards, go for one that has an 8 Series chipset. It will say what it is in the board name, such as "AMD 870" or "880G" or "890FX". The 870 is a value board that will suit most people's needs quite well, 880G, or the 890GX has low-end graphics built-in, and 890FX is the flagship model. As for Intel, there are a number of CPU sockets and chipsets, but for the i5 line, the P55 motherboards would work nicely. For all motherboards, I suggest MSI, Asus, ASRock (For non-overclockers), XFX, eVGA, and Gigabyte brands. If you go AMD, get a motherboard designed only for AM3 CPU's. AM3-only motherboards are newer, but also require DDR3.

2. Those two CPU's are very different, it's like comparing apples to oranges. A closer comparison between those CPU's would be AMD's Phenom II X4 955 or 965. Athlon's are more mainstream whereas Phenom's have more features designed for overclockers or people who push their systems heavily. The Phenom II X5 965 is a good CPU, but it is probably overkill for your uses. By the way, the 965 and 955 are nearly identical, only the price and the clock speeds are different, they are both Black Edition CPU's making them easy to overclock. I suggest getting an Athlon II X4 630 or above if you want a quad core model, for a dual core, your original choice is excellent. Unless you do any rendering or more complex gaming, a dual core would probably be sufficient.

3. CPU's come with heatsinks in the box. Some people choose to get aftermarket coolers, but unless you overclock or highly stress your equipment, the stock cooler will work.

4. Almost all heatsinks come with thermal compound pre-applied. Arctic Silver is usually the way the to go with thermal compound.

5. You will probably be getting an AMD system, for all of their systems, DDR3-1333 (a.k.a. PC-10600, PC-10660, PC-10666) is the way to go. You could get faster RAM but you would not see much of a difference. There are several RAM makers that are good, G.Skill, A Data, OCZ, Patriot, Kingston, Corsair, Crucial, and Mushkin.

6. A Mid-ATX case is usually good enough for most users, they allow for standard ATX motherboards and decent sized graphics cards. Consider a Full-ATX case if you are going to use the very high-end graphics cards which are huge. A built-in PSU is rarely ever any good, it is best to just buy your own. Aluminum cases are usually higher-class cases, side vents and fans will also make the case more noisy. I usually like Lian-Li's aluminum cases, they're plain, but well-designed. However, aluminum will cost more. Find one that suits your needs and doesn't look flimsy.

7. Very true, the PSU is the beating heart of the PC, quality is important. Corsair makes very good power supplies, as does Seasonic, PC Power, Silverstone, and Thermaltake. I suggest at least a 500W power supply if you want to use a dedicated graphics card. That wattage will allow for most mid-level graphics cards.

8. You probably can reuse your old Dell drives.

9. If your old Dell drives are SATA and less than five years old, I would reuse them, keeping in mind you would still have to reinstall the OS. Otherwise, go for new drives. I suggest not putting everything on one large drive but using two or more just in case one fails, you can at least use the PC or still have some of your data left over. Use one drive for the OS and applications, the other for data.

10. Take a deep breath. Nothing gets computer geeks going quite like graphics cards, except maybe CPU's. Both ATI, now renamed AMD since they were bought, and Nvidia cards do the same thing. It ultimately comes down price, bundle, and compatibility. For what you are doing, a Radeon 5770 would be best, if you want to splurge, the Radeon 6850. In the Nvidia camp, the GTX 460 is a highly thought of card, but that may be overkill and most of Nvidia's options just below that (GTS 450) are either on-par with a Radeon 5770 or the 6850, usually, with the 6850, they are below it and with the 5770 they are equal at standard gaming resolutions.

11. Have you used Linux before? I suggest dual booting with a current machine to see what it is like before fully committing.

12. Asus makes very good monitors. I'm partial to LED backlit monitors, they use less power and have better contrast.

13. If you want wireless, you will probably need a card. I've never heard of that brand, I use D-Link or Netgear. Having used wireless with a desktop PC for the past few years, I'm considering using powerline networking due to all of the signal issues I have, but your experience may vary.

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#3 k_woodhouse

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Posted 08 November 2010 - 10:26 AM

Thanks for replying :) More questions...

Processors - AMD it is. The performance is much better for the price. I think the Athlon II X2 265 looks quite good. Highest clock speed of the dual cores for less than the lower end quads. I don't need the machine for many CPU intensive multi-threaded processes, so it should definitely be good enough for stable performance, and for a little over £50.

Motherboards - Socket AM3. Other than that, I don't really know what to look for. Is there a big difference between the 8 series chip sets (say, is 890 better than 880, and by how much?)? Are there any other features that you would look for in a motherboard?

Memory - Single, dual, triple socket... What do they mean, and which should I chose... 4GB is the maximum amount of RAM addressable with 32-bits, and it's not too expensive, so this seems like a nice amount. This 4GB Corsair RAM looks good for £56.

PSUs - This looks ok. What is a 'modular' power supply?

Graphics Cards - It seems the same card is made by lots of different manufacturers. What manufacturers are good? The graphics card I go with will depend on the cost of everything else, as long as it all stays around £500 or less.

Linux - I have used it before. I used to dual boot Ubuntu and I currently use a Virtual PC running it to learn Python. I would change completely if it the big developers like Adobe supported it. Not having Photoshop, Premiere Pro, After Effects, etc. is what keeps me using windows. Anyway, the new machine isn't going to be my main computer, more just an experiment in building that I can use every now and then, so Ubuntu just shaves £100 off the cost.

All done, for now... :)

#4 s1lents0ul

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Posted 08 November 2010 - 11:25 AM

A Modular PSU means, that you can remove unused cables, and or attach more cables to it for added power connector options. The basic cables, like the 20 pin Mobo connector and a HDD an sys fan wires are built into it, but the rest is all up to you.

The difference in ddr ddr2 and ddr3 is just how much and how fast your system can address and use the available RAM, with ddr3 being the faster of the 3, and since the price of 4gb sticks of ddr3 has greatly dropped recently, a single 4gb stick will be prefferable for you. make sure your motherboard supports the RAM though. the physical appearance is different with each one an cut differently as to not be put in the wrong slot or in backwards.

On your mobo, you should look for a product with good reviews in the area which you need to support your CPU. see what others have to say about it, some mobos come with alot of problems or require a bios update to get on par with recent tech. you dont need a mobo with 6ram slots, unless you want to change to 64bit, with your single 4gb stick, a mobo with 2 slots would be fine, you can either use 2 2gb sticks or a single 4gb stick its up to you if you can find one cheaper then the other. a mobo with on board video might be good for you if you dont want or cant afford a seperate video card.

you can save money on the disk drives and hdd if they still work, reformatting the hdd and installing that new OS is fairly simple. that will open up some cash for other parts.

Edited by s1lents0ul, 08 November 2010 - 11:27 AM.

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#5 DJBPace07

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Posted 08 November 2010 - 03:16 PM

That's a good CPU for most people, only gamers need more. The RAM you chose will work, but, if you work with image or video editors, something which uses lots of memory, installing a 64-bit version of the OS and more RAM should be considered. There is dual channel and triple channel memory, these are technologies that are implemented on the motherboard. Current AMD motherboards use dual channel memory. You do not have to worry about this unless you install more than one stick of memory. In dual channel motherboards, sticks should be installed in pairs and in triple channel motherboards, threes. That is dual channel memory you've got there, which is two identical sticks. Read the motherboard manual to determine which slots the RAM should be installed in to enable dual channel. If you go for the Radeon 5770, for instance, you have a number of manufacturers to choose from. All are largely the same with the exception of bundles, warranties, and other value adds, such as a high performance cooler. Most card manufacturers tend to follow the reference design from Nvidia or AMD/ATI and only make very minor alterations.

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#6 k_woodhouse

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 03:29 PM

Thanks for the help. I know it's been a while, but I think I've chosen all the parts I need now:

Total: £470.95

The prices are just taken from Scan.co.uk. I plan to shop around a bit first to find better prices for each part.

Now I'm just looking for an opinion on these specs, in case I've included something particularly awful, or you think there may be a better choice.

Any suggestions on places to buy will be very useful, and suggestions for peripherals such as monitors, mice, keyboards, speakers, etc. are welcome.

Thanks again, you've been pretty helpful :)

EDIT: Epic table fail... tidied it up.

Edited by k_woodhouse, 07 December 2010 - 04:20 PM.


#7 babicz

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 05:32 PM

Eh, you could save a chunk of money moving down from 1TB to 500GB. 500GB is a lot more than people think, but then again, it's up to you!

#8 tg1911

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 06:40 PM

I would seriously consider what DJBPace07 said, in post #2:

9. If your old Dell drives are SATA and less than five years old, I would reuse them, keeping in mind you would still have to reinstall the OS. Otherwise, go for new drives. I suggest not putting everything on one large drive but using two or more just in case one fails, you can at least use the PC or still have some of your data left over. Use one drive for the OS and applications, the other for data.

If that 1TB drive fails, you run the risk of losing everything.
A better setup would be; a smaller drive for the operating system, and your programs, and a larger drive for your personal files (pics, videos, Word docs, etc.).
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#9 DJBPace07

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 11:46 PM

That looks good, though you did not need the network adapter since the motherboard comes with it on-board.

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#10 k_woodhouse

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Posted 08 December 2010 - 11:24 AM

Eh, you could save a chunk of money moving down from 1TB to 500GB. 500GB is a lot more than people think, but then again, it's up to you!

Good idea - I might need more than 500GB over time (video takes up a lot, and I plan to use it for editing some), but for now, I'd rather save £40. If I need a bigger drive later, I can buy one.

I would seriously consider what DJBPace07 said, in post #2:

I already plan to use the 160GB drive, but that's still only one drive. I need to buy another one to make it up to two drives.

That looks good, though you did not need the network adapter since the motherboard comes with it on-board.

Oh... I should've checked. A saving of £20 :)

So, after looking at what I didn't really need, I've made some changes. Cost is a pretty major issue, so I went for a cheaper graphics card, 500GB hard drive and no network adapter, for a pretty awesome saving of £92.20. The new parts are below. Again, let me know if anything is obviously wrong.

That brings the total down to £378.75 - a pretty good deal compared to what I could get from Dell for the same price. That said, I still need to buy Windows (my brother doesn't like Linux) and peripherals like a keyboard, mouse and monitor, but I can sort that out.

Thanks to all of you for your help, especially DJBPace07 - you've helped me from the start. If all goes to plan and the build is successful, I'll let you know how it went.

Edited by k_woodhouse, 08 December 2010 - 11:30 AM.


#11 RainbowSix

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Posted 08 December 2010 - 02:08 PM

Do NOT get a Radeon card for Linux. The drivers are terrible.

Edited by RainbowSix, 08 December 2010 - 02:08 PM.

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#12 k_woodhouse

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Posted 08 December 2010 - 02:15 PM

I still need to buy Windows (my brother doesn't like Linux)


Thanks for pointing it out though, in case I was sticking with Linux. Out of interest, could you suggest an alternative card for use with Linux?

#13 RainbowSix

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Posted 08 December 2010 - 09:06 PM

Sorry I was late to the topic and didn't read all the posts.
NVidia (anything) has much better Linux support.
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#14 gazjd

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Posted 09 December 2010 - 05:11 AM

hi, i built my first pc afew months back and your right it is fun! :)
looking at the prices your paying i think theres alot of money to be saved there! have a look on overclockers.com alot of "budget" stuff there that in reviews is coming up trumps to more expensive alternatives, also i only have experiance with windows os (currently 7ultimate) do you not have any friends with a copy of xp or 7 you could use rather than going for linux? << iv never used it so it could be great :)
(INSERT SOMETHING FUNNY HERE<<<<<)

#15 k_woodhouse

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Posted 09 December 2010 - 05:39 AM

hi, i built my first pc afew months back and your right it is fun! :)
looking at the prices your paying i think theres alot of money to be saved there! have a look on overclockers.com alot of "budget" stuff there that in reviews is coming up trumps to more expensive alternatives, also i only have experiance with windows os (currently 7ultimate) do you not have any friends with a copy of xp or 7 you could use rather than going for linux? << iv never used it so it could be great :)


Do you mean using different parts, or buying them from different places? Are there any specific recommendations you could give? I'll check out the website anyway, thanks. :)

As for the OS, I did say I'm now planning to get Windows, since my brother doesn't want to have to learn linux (even though it is great :P).

Thanks for your help :)




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