Thursday, November 20, 2008

New PC 2008! Budget: Sub-$700

Earlier this month, I built a new PC to use as my primary home desktop machine.  It was the 3rd PC build I've done, with the earlier builds having been in 2004 and in 2000. 

One of my goals for this build was to keep the budget under $700 (not including a monitor).  This is the parts list that I ended up with:

Motherboard Foxconn P45A-S LGA 775 Intel ATX $110
Processor Intel Core 2 Duo E7200 Wolfdale 2.53GHz $80 (on sale)
RAM Corsair 4 GB (2x 2GB) DDR2-800 (PC2 6400) TWIN2X4096-6400C5DHX $26 (on sale)
  Crucial 4 GB (2x 2GB) DDR2-800 (PC2 6400) $30 (on sale)
Hard Drive Western Digital 1 TB SATA2 16 MB Cache $120
Video Card XFX GeForce 9800 GT 512 MB $110
DVD-RW Drive LG|GH20NS15 20X SATA $23 (on sale)
OS Vista 64-bit Home Premium (OEM) $100
Case + PSU XION II Black Steel ATX Mid Tower $60

Total cost of all parts and software: $659

Everything else that I needed either came integrated on the motherboard (sound, network) or else was "recycled" from my previous machine (monitor, mouse, keyboard, UPS, XBox 360 USB gamepad).

Here are the assembled goods, just prior to the build:


I was able to snag the good deals (at least as of this month, 11/2008!) on the processor and RAM via my RSS subscription to; I knew that I was going to be building the machine in November, so when those deals came across Slickdeals in October, I snapped them up.

I also was able to save some money on the cost of the system by putting all of the individual parts on my birthday wish list; I got some of the components for my birthday, saving me from having to buy them.  (Thanks very much Dad, Dad-in-law K., and Jeremy!)

I snapped a few more pics during the early stages of assembling the machine.  The empty case:


The motherboard (Foxconn P45A-S), fresh out of the box, with no parts inserted yet:


The motherboard with the CPU (Intel Core 2 Duo E7200) and heatsink mounted, in the case:


So far, I'm really enjoying 64-bit Vista.  With the 8 GB of RAM and the other parts I put into the system, it runs very smoothly -- as fast, if not faster, than XP ran on my old 2004 machine that was built on a similar budget.  In particular, Vista seems to start up (from a cold boot) noticeably faster than XP used to.  Based on my experience so far, I'd recommend Vista over XP for anyone purchasing a new desktop machine, at least for any machine with better than low-range specs.

I did have an initial issue with the machine bluescreening on a few occasions when I left it running overnight, which I've since resolved; I'll detail my experiences in troubleshooting that issue, and the eventual solution, in a future post.

With the set of hardware in this build, I have a Vista Windows Experience Index score of 5.4 overall:

  • 5.4 Processor
  • 5.9 RAM
  • 5.9 Graphics
  • 5.9 Gaming Graphics
  • 5.9 Hard Disk

This is pretty much in line with my expectations; the nice thing is that I picked out a motherboard which will allow me to upgrade to a faster, quad core, processor in a couple of years should I feel the need to do so.  (With the good deal that I got on the processor that I bought, upgrading from the 2.54 GHz processor I bought to even a 3.0 GHz would have run me around an additional $80 -- double the price of what I paid -- so I'm happy with the deal I got, even if the processor is slightly "underpowered" compared to the rest of the machine.)

In practice, the machine has run very smoothly with several of my older games that I've tried out on it that chugged a bit on my older system, such as Oblivion and Titan Quest; I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the machine also runs Call of Duty 4, a fairly new game which was included with the GeForce 9800 that I bought, very smoothly as well, even on "high" settings.  Hopefully this computer will turn out to be serviceable for use as a gaming machine for at least a few years (in addition to its roles as a hobbyist development machine, and general household use PC)!


  1. How is the 64-bit Vista working out for you? I run Vista Ultimate (32 bit) on my Core 2 Duo laptop for work, and I like Vista fine, but I am chicken to try 64-bit due to compatibility concerns (especially with some of our older dev tools)

  2. @Chris, no significant issues so far!

    When I first installed the game Titan Quest on the machine, it crashed to the desktop with a weird error message when I first tried to run it, but after I patched Titan Quest up with its most recent patch, it worked fine. (I also might have been able to get it working by playing with Vista's application-specific compatibility settings; that actually didn't even occur to me until just now, as I write this.)

    The only dev tool I've been running on the machine thus far is Visual Studio 2008, so I can't tell you offhand whether good old MS Visual C++ 6 is likely to work or not!

    No hardware compatibility issues yet, either. All of my devices have "just worked" so far.

    It does appear that really old 16-bit executables don't work with 64-bit Vista at all, though (again, maybe it would work by tinkering with compatibility settings; I haven't looked into that). I forget exactly what it was that I tried to run -- some very old game? -- but I do remember seeing a message about 16-bit executables being incompatible.

  3. If you want to run ancient executables, I recommend using something like DOS-BOX anyway, it is way better than trying to run on the iron -- especially with Vista.

    I use it to play my old games (which I just can't give up!)

  4. I've used DOSBox as well for running those really old games -- I agree, it's great!

    I'm also all about the old school games. I don't buy many new games these days, but two games that I did purchase recently were Bionic Command Reloaded (a remake of the old NES game Bionic Commando) and Mega Man 9 for the Wii Virtual Console -- a great game, complete with the NES-faithful 8-bit-quality graphics and old-school high difficultly level, albeit in a 2008 release! And for only US $10, compared to the old price of $50 (in late-80s dollars, no less) for this type of game! Awesome!

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