Since Intel's launch of the Core 2 Duo in 2006, AMD has relied primarily upon two strategies to stay relevant as a CPU producer: competitive pricing and more cores at specific price points. While the recent launch of AMD's Bulldozer CPU architecture has for some purposes narrowed the gap between the two chipmakers, it seems AMD will continue to compete mostly on pricing for the low-end and mid-range segments of desktop CPU markets. But does the recent launch of Sandy Bridge architecture Celerons by Intel threaten AMD's reign as budget king? The possibility of increased competition at the lower end of CPU performance leads to the question, "How low can prices go?"

Fortunately for consumers the answer is arguably lower than ever before—though not necessarily with CPUs. SSDs continue to drop in price, and DDR3 prices remain very low with sales regularly hitting the less than $5/GB threshold—even without rebates. As GPU development has slowed in the past year, graphics cards are exhibiting longer lifespans; older cards are becoming less expensive but not necessarily less capable. Until the recent flooding in Thailand, hard drive prices were holding low, with 500GB drives usually available at $40 and sometimes even less; it is unclear how hard drive prices will change in the short-term.

The kind of computing experience these budget systems are capable of delivering is as important as the absolute cost of components. While enthusiasts are always interested in the latest and greatest technology, many people rely on a smartphone and/or a netbook for most of their computing needs. That is, the average user does not need a particularly powerful computer anymore to perform basic tasks like shopping online, checking email, playing games on Facebook, and producing office documents. The components discussed in this guide are all more than adequate for the average home and office user.

It's important to keep in mind that prices on these parts fluctuate wildly and rapidly. We present in this guide a wide array of products representing all of the desktop component classes—the more price alerts you set on more websites, the more likely you are to be able to score killer deals on computers for friends, relatives, or perhaps yourself. Also keep in mind that with the rise of mobile OSes such as Apple's iOS and Google's Android, more people are increasingly comfortable learning a new operating system—so while all of the builds detailed in this guide include the cost of Windows 7, it's worth considering saving $100 or so by going with a user-friendly free OS like Ubuntu Linux.

All that said, the next page provides a few benchmarks comparing Intel's and AMD's $60 CPUs as well as AMD's $70 APU, which will set the tone for overall system performance. Once we've covered the performance expectations, we'll move on to the actual component recommendations.

Battle of the Budget Processors
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  • Hubb1e - Tuesday, November 8, 2011 - link

    I really don't understand why these Llano chips sport such low clock speeds. The Llano has shown to overclock at stock voltage over 3.5ghz and yet they sell this A4 at 2.5ghz. Wouldn't this be a better chip at 3ghz? I suppose they would use more power at 3ghz but not THAT much more. I have a hard time justifying a 2.5ghz Phenon II speed chip, but at 3 ghz and above coupled with the 160 radeon cores this would be a decent performer. I just don't understand it at all. The chips will run faster and on a desktop who cares about an extra 5W at load. I'm just confused as hell. It feels like AMD is shooting themselves in the foot. The Llano chips could be really good with some extra mhz.
  • Prosthetic Head - Tuesday, November 8, 2011 - link

    The gaming section compares the fusion part to a reasonable discrete GPU in a way which I think is slightly misleading. It the competing systems are to be upgraded by addition of a discrete GPU then the fusion system should also be upgraded with a discrete GPU in hybrid crossfire (or whatever they are calling it now) or to the top end A8 part. Otherwise you are comparing substantially more expensive systems to the low end fusion system at a price point where very little money goes a long way in terms of upgrades.

    Other than that a good article with some sensible recommendations, thanks.
  • just4U - Tuesday, November 8, 2011 - link

    I was disgusted at recent pricing on hard drives. Seagate has been low man on the totem for some time.. and their drives typically ran for $39 (500G) and $54(1T) here in Canada.. Now though? HAH.. $99/$130 respectively. I've been meaning to send a 500 G WD Black in for RMA and at these prices.. I certainly will.. (it's at $140 GAH!!!!)

    I tell you, SSDs don't look quite so expensive right now.
  • Taft12 - Wednesday, November 9, 2011 - link

    Good lord man, read a news site once in a while!
  • mino - Wednesday, November 9, 2011 - link

    What you mean by that.

    THE ARTICLE was published with _completely_ obsolete HDD prices. Now you bitch about a reader noticing it for being "uninformed"?
    Yeah, sure.

    With those HDD prices OEM systems start looking all the more appealing ...
  • bgclevenger - Wednesday, November 9, 2011 - link

    a lot of good info here concerning hardware choices, but what about software? since these are budget builds and not gaming machines, install linux instead of windows and save $100.
  • scubba85 - Wednesday, November 9, 2011 - link

    70$ for a hdd?
  • mino - Wednesday, November 9, 2011 - link

    more like $100 these days ... :GRRR
  • madmachinist2 - Thursday, November 10, 2011 - link

    Were the power consumption measurements taken with the discreet GPU's installed in the Celeron and Athalon? if not, is it possible to find out what the correct power consumption ratings would be?
  • Schmich - Thursday, November 10, 2011 - link

    I know that gaming was named but in my opinion Linux should be named as well. For those who don't game then using something like Ubuntu would be a lot better.

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