Affordable All-Rounder May 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$55
MotherboardMSI 770-C45£50$75
Memory4GB 1,333MHz DDR3£100$125
Graphics Card512MB GeForce GTS 250£95$135
PSUCorsair CX400 400W£45$60
CPU Cooler (UK)Akasa AK-876£15NA
CPU Cooler (US)Arctic Cooling Freezer 64 Pro(£15)$30
CaseAntec Three Hundred£45$55
Optical driveSATA DVD-RW£15$20
Storage500GB SATA 3Gbps£40$55
 Overall Price:£450$475

We’re still to see a sub-£100 Radeon HD 5000-series that’s worth getting, with the £110 Radeon HD 5750 only offering the speed of a HD 4850. Meanwhile, Nvidia is still working on more mainstream versions of its ludicrously power-hungry GeForce GTX 480, so your choice for a cost-effective graphics card is a tough one. We’ve stuck with our recommendation of a GeForce GTS 250 card, as this offers a hefty amount of graphics rendering for a reasonable £95.

If you wanted to push things, you could opt for a Radeon HD 5770 instead, as this offers significantly more speed and DX11 support. However, we wanted to present a system that costs £450, and the HD 5770 would have tipped the overall cost over £500.

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

We’ve skimped a bit on the CPU this month, opting for AMD’s 2.8GHz Athlon II X2 240 rather than the 3GHz Athlon II X2 250 of previous months. There’s little difference between the two at stock speeds, and we’ll bet you’ll overclock the CPU anyway, which makes the stock frequencies partially irrelevant. As we said last month, avoid cheap quad-core CPUs, as they lack Level 3 cache and are therefore sluggish.

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

The Athlon 240 is the cheapest CPU on a supported platform. 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 May 2010 Affordable All-Rounder May 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 to try to future-proof ourselves a little.

We played with the idea of using the reference CPU cooler for this system to leave us room for a HD 5750 or possibly HD 5770, 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 comes with 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.
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