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Even if you have built your own computers before, things change so fast, and there are thousands of parts to choose from. We've configured a systems for a variety of purposes and budgets. Go with them as is, or use these recommendations as starting points for a more customized build. Either way, we found the best available hardware needed to deal with a particular user in mind, and kept the budget as low as possible.
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Getting It Done on the Cheap
Sometimes, you just need a computer. Your kids have to do homework, you want to send pictures to relatives and surf the web. Maybe your employees are having trouble getting work done because their computers are too old for even basic tasks. There's no reason to spend a fortune in either case. You want something cheap, but something that needs to be replaced or repaired often is by no means cheap in the long run.
At this performance level, If you know what to look for, you can get all the parts for a reliable PC for under $300. It won't be running the latest games or Computational Fluid Dynamic applications used by aeronautical engineers, but that would be far more expensive.
If you have several computers in your home or office, particualrly if they are entry-level models like the one above: you may want to get a Shared File Server. We configured a file server with 2TB of storage, in a safe, fast Raid 5 setup, for under $800. It will scale to 3 or 4TB for under $1000 or approximately $1100, respectively. Add it to your network and worries about the little drives on all the other computers or employees sending sensive information to eachother by unencrypted email can be reduced or eliminated.
Gaming PCs are legendary for eclipsing the costs of mundane home and office PCs. We did, however, find that you could build a killer gaming rig, with a Phenom II CPU and ATI 4870 graphcis card, for under $750.
If you can get that much for under $750, gamers with a little more scratch will have their eyes falling out of their heads when they check out our guides for gaming machines for over a thousand dollars.
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Reasonable Price = Outstanding Performance; Exorbitant Price = Insane Performance
Having seen what you can get in a $750 PC, you might wonder why you would want to spend more than that. That's like being at a great restaurant and saying no to the dessert menu because you just ate. Something might tempt you, and you might at least get something to take home (or, in computer terms, get an upgrade later).
Dropping $1000 on a gaming PC will get you similar performance, but twice the storage, a Power Supply that is ready for serious upgrades, and a nice CPU cooler for sweet overclocking.
Our $1500 dollar gaming rig takes the graphics to a whole new level. We're now at a price point that lets us step up to not two, but three GPUs, by combining a 4850 X2 card and standard single processor model. Hard drive storage is still 1TB as above, but we add a small SSD for better boot and load times. We also went with a full 8 GB of RAM, a good piece of future proofing with such low DDR prices. We also get a nice Antec 900 case.
Spending $2500 on a gaming PC is getting extravagant, and the part list is indeed an optimisitc Christmas wish list to most. The Cooler Master Cosmos S case is one of the best in the game, and we're running 2 4870 X2s for an almost absurd 4 GPUs. That sucks a lot of juice, but we have 1Kw of Thermaltake power. We also up our Phenom II to a Black Edition for better overclocking.We're still at 8GB RAM and 1TB bulk storage, but we swap out the tiny SSD for 300GB of 10k RPM goodness from a WD Velociraptor. Its almost as fast and now you have room for all your games on it.
We've also added Blu-Ray. Of course you could squeeze Blu Ray into a much lower budget, but these are gaming PCs. For gaming and media use, the $1500 dollar system would still be a killer gaming rig with only two GPUs, and get Blu-Ray for HD movies.
If $2500 is no compromise, than our $5000 gaming PC parts list is almost a money is no object scenario. We have most of the same goodies as before, but we've switched the 'Raptor for a Intell SSD. More importantly, we stepped up to the Core i7 X58 platform, including 12 GB of DDR3 RAM. We're actually not sure if this is a gaming PC or a professional graphics workstation, but the point is: good luck finding something that will make your frame rate stutter.
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Build or Bespoke PC?
Even if you can't build your own PC, there is a first time for everything. If you're looking for a hobby that saves money, it's a great choice. You can learn how to build a PC here. That series is very detailed and has plenty of pictures to help you through the process. If you don't have the time or inclination, that doesn't mean you are doomed to pricey or underperforming off the shelf PC. Just about any place that will sell you the parts will assemble them, and even offer their own warranty and customer support, for a fee.