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. However, recently 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.

Despite some notable budget launches this in October, this month we've not made any significant changes to our affordable hardware, bar the replacement of the motherboard, as the previous MSI Intel P35 board has now been discontinued. The HD 4850 is still our graphics card of choice, and is well worth stretching your budget for if you're looking to use your PC for gaming, and the Intel Pentium Dual-Core E5200 is still a fantastic little processor for just over £55 and it overclocks like a demon.

PartRecommended ProductUK PriceUS Price
Graphics CardPowercolor Radeon HD 4850 PCS+ 512MB£132.38 (inc. VAT)$179.99 (ex. Tax)
ProcessorIntel Pentium Dual-Core E5200£55.52 (inc. VAT)$83.99 (ex. Tax)
MotherboardGigabyte EP31-DS3L£45.04 (inc. VAT)$64.00 (ex. Tax)
MemoryCorsair XMS2 4GB kit£45.00 (inc. VAT)$69.99 (ex. Tax)
CaseCooler Master Elite 330£29.99 (inc. VAT)$42.82 (ex Tax)
Power SupplyCorsair VX450£48.19 (inc. VAT)$74.95 (ex Tax)
CPU CoolerAkasa 965 BL£14.99 (inc. VAT)N/A
Hard Disk DriveSeagate 250GB SATA£32.50 (inc. VAT)$45.72 (ex Tax)
Optical Drive (UK)Optiarc AD-7201S£15.95 (inc. VAT)N/A
Optical Drive (USA)Lite-On LH-20A1S-12N/A$26.90 (ex Tax)
Operating SystemWindows Vista Home Premium 64-bit£76.37 (inc. VAT)$109.99 (ex. Tax)
Total £495.93 (inc. VAT)$698.35 (ex. Tax)

Graphics Card

First Choice: Powercolor Radeon HD 4850 PCS+ 512MB
UK Pricing: £132.38 (inc. VAT)
US Pricing: $179.99 (ex. Tax)

The current king of bang per buck graphics card is without a doubt the ATI Radeon HD 4850, delivering fantastic performance for a its price point and even snapping at the heels of Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 260 (the one with 192 stream processors) – which sell for about fifty pounds more than the 4850!

As availability of Radeon HD 4850-based products has improved, we’ve started to see an increasing number of pre-overclocked, custom cooled versions from various board partners. While the Palit Radeon HD 4850 Sonic is our card of choice, availability in the UK is pretty rubbish right now. Because of this, the next best option is the Powercolor Radeon HD 4850 PCS+, which impressed us with its affordability and excellent thermal performance.What Hardware Should I Buy? - Nov 2008 Affordable Hardware - 1

While the price might have risen to just over £130 it’s still fantastic value, and is certainly preferable to the new lower priced Radeon HD 4830, especially as the Powercolor comes prefitted with an excellent aftermarket cooler to replace the ridiculously toasty stock 4850 cooler.

For your £130, you’re getting a whisper quiet, incredibly efficient custom cooler and plenty of overclocking headroom to get the most out of the card. Even at stock settings, the RV770 based HD 4850 is more than enough to play any modern game at 1,280 x 1,024 and 1,680 x 1,050 resolutions in high detail (yes, even Crysis).

Processor

First Choice: Intel Pentium Dual-Core E5200
UK Pricing: £55.52 (inc. VAT)
US Pricing: $83.99 (ex. Tax)

£55 for an Intel 2.5GHz dual-core processor? Yes please! While the 800MHz FSB and 2MB of cache might seem a bit limited, this processor is 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 should mean that there’s a huge amount of overclocking headroom in this little chip; it should comfortably hit over 3GHz and maybe even in excess of 3.5GHz if you're lucky!

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.

Motherboard

First Choice: Gigabyte EP31-DS3L
UK Pricing: £45.04 (inc. VAT)
US Pricing: $64.00 (ex. Tax)

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 3Gbps SATA 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, for the money this board delivers a proven stable overclocking platform with more than enough extras for a mid range gaming system.
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