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Affordable All-Rounder August 2010

Affordable All-Rounder August 2010

This system is designed to be our recommendation for those looking for maximum performance per pound (we’re British, y’know) on a tight budget. The power of a fast dual-core processor is still perfectly adequate for everyday use and gaming – add a decent amount of memory and as potent a graphics card as you can afford, and you’ll be fine for the foreseeable future on a 1,680 x 1,050 screen.

 Affordable All-Rounder
 ProductUK Price (inc VAT)US Price (ex tax)
CPU2.8GHz AMD Athlon II X2 240£45$50
MotherboardMSI 770-C45£55$80
Memory4GB 1,333MHz DDR3£75$90
Graphics Card768MB GeForce GTX 460£150$200
PSUCorsair CX400 400W£35$50
CPU Cooler (UK)Akasa AK-876£15NA
CPU Cooler (US)Arctic Cooling Freezer 64 Pro(£15)$30
CaseAntec Three Hundred£45$60
Optical driveSATA DVD-RW£15$20
Storage500GB SATA 3Gbps£35$55
 Overall Price:£470$635

New This Month

There's not been much activity in terms of cheap hardware launches this month, but there is a development in the world of memory to make us all smile - it's now really cheap! Last month saw a slight fall in memory prices, but the drop this month has meant we can ditch the old Radeon HD 5770 for a bog-standard 768MB GeForce GTX 460.

While we'd always prefer the 1GB version of the GTX 460 over the 768MB given the choice, our self-imposed limit of £500 means that we just can't afford it for this build. If you're a bit less strict, the 1GB card is worth bagging as most modern games want to use 1GB of video memory and the 1GB card also a bit more memory bandwidth to handle AA and high-res textures more smoothly. With the memory price drop and the new card, the total system cost has only risen by £10, which is great considering the extra gaming performance.

PC Hardware Buyer's Guide August 2010 Affordable All-Rounder August  2010

And The Rest

The new Intel Pentium G6950 may be awesomely overclockable, but it's also £30 more than the AMD Athlon II X2 240. Add in a decent LGA1156 mother, such as the Gigabyte GA-H55M-UD2H and you're looking at an extra £50 to opt for the Pentium over the Athlon. As we say every month, avoid cheap quad-core CPUs, as they lack Level 3 cache and are therefore sluggish.

PC Hardware Buyer's Guide August 2010 Affordable All-Rounder August  2010

The Athlon 240 is the cheapest CPU that fits a current, fully supported socket. The Allendale-core Intel Celeron Dual Core E1500 might cost a few quid less (£36.60 rather than £45), but as an LGA775 processor, it has little future. At least by getting a Socket AM3-compatible CPU, you can buy a Socket AM3 motherboard now and leave yourself a quick and easy upgrade for a year or two down the line.

Speaking of which, the classic MSI 770-C45 is still our cheap AMD motherboard of choice. It’s a decent board with a solid BIOS, so it’s a great buy. Now that AMD is trickling out its 8-series chipsets, we’re on the look-out for an update for the 770-C45, but nothing has surfaced as yet. We pair the CPU and motherboard with 4GB of 1,333MHz DDR3 memory – this is arguably an extravagance as using 2GB is okay, but we like the extra snappiness of having 4GB of RAM.

PC Hardware Buyer's Guide August 2010 Affordable All-Rounder August  2010

We’ve chosen 1,333MHz memory as it’s £20 cheaper than 1,600MHz and won’t limit our overclocking too much. For example, if we were to aim for an overclock of 3.6GHz, we’d have to use a HTT of 257MHz (as 257 x 14 = 3,598) – the 770-C45 has a 4x memory strap, so we can use that to keep the memory within its limits (1,028MHz). Memory rated at 1,066MHz is roughly the same price as 1,333MHz RAM so we may as well get the faster DIMMs to try to future-proof the system a little.

We played with the idea of using the reference CPU cooler for this system to leave us room for a GeForce GTX 460 1GB, but given that we’ll want to overclock that CPU, we needed to invest in a better cooler. The Akasa AK-876 is cheap and quiet and has three heatpipes to cope with a spot of overvolting and overclocking. Unfortunately, the Akasa isn’t available everywhere, so we recommend that our US friends go for the slightly more capable and expensive Arctic Cooling Freezer 64 Pro.

Corsair’s CX400 is a solid 400W PSU that’s easily able to power all out kit, even with a decent CPU overclock. The Antec Three Hundred is a low-cost case, but it’s solidly made and includes a rear exhaust fan and a large roof exhaust fan, so it’ll keep all your hardware cool and survive a good few knocks. Finally, we’ve added the cheapest DVD-RW drive we could find and a 500GB hard disk.

If you haven't got a copy already, you might want to factor in a copy of Windows 7 - if you're confident that you won't be upgrading much, then an OEM copy should be fine, but serial upgraders need the pricier retail version.