Packages are too inflexible and don't provide competitive differentiation,
but custom-built solutions are too slow [to develop] and costly.
System integrators are starting to offer next-generation pre-built solutions. - Gartner Research
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CPUID - x86
CPU, motherboard, memory, system details.
Building Business Class Desktop On a Budget (UNDER $300)
by Zoran Zaev, 2009-01 (January)
While few years ago, it may have cost $1,000 to $1,500 and
more to purchase or build a basic business class desktop
computer, prices have fallen greatly in the last 5-6 years, so
that it is possible to obtain all the parts that you need and
put one together for as low as ~$200-$300, plus your monitor!
following components were purchased from few vendors:
(or see their
TigerDirect.com. Prices may vary
now, as specials come and go, but still the price ranges ought
to be similar and with time even lower. You can always customize
to your own needs, by adding features and parts where your
special needs require and taking away from areas that are not
necessary for you. I still hope that this will show you how easy it
is to put together a business class desktop, whether for your
own business needs at work, or for your home as a great weekend
project, without breaking your budget.
Note: if the links don't work anymore, simply go to the
particular store's web site and search for similar products by
keyword or component type & brand. Products model numbers
come and go often and change frequently.
Case ($48): Xion Solaris ATX Computer Case with
450W Power Supply
web site and specs. This case is well built, simple to
put together, looks nice (see picture to the right) and it
Biostar G31-M7 TE 775 mATX (MBs @
even for $10 extra you could get built-in 1Gb NIC and
DVI) This Biostar motherboard with built-in G31 (Intel 3100 video
chipset/ Intel(R) G31 Express Chipset for North Bridge) video card that has quite fine performance with up
to 256MB of shared video memory, Intel(R) ICH7 for South
Bridge, 4 SATA ports, 5.1 channel
surround sound, 10/100 network card, 1 IDE port for up
to 2 drives, 2 DIMM memory slots for up to 4 GB of RAM (Win
XP 32-bit edition cannot even use that much, only little
over 3 GB, which is still plenty), 1 VGA port, 4 USB, 1 PS/2
keyboard, 1 PS/2 mouse, etc. Biostar motherboards are one of
the easiest to setup and put together. See
manufacturer's web site (Biostar).
CPU ($70): Intel Core 2 Duo E4500 (CPUs @
CPUs @ TigerDirect,
CPUs @ NewEgg)
Comes with a heat sink. However, you will need some grease
such as the Arctic Silver
Arctic Alumina Premium Ceramic Thermal Compound 1.75 gram
Tube, $3 (Micro-Center).
For more tools & downloads and other links specific to the
Intel Core 2 Duo family of processors, you can see
Keyboard ($15): Rosewill RK-7310 Black 104 Normal Keys
7 Function Keys USB Super Slim Multimedia Keyboard (NewEgg).
Great Scissor-Key structure, just like what is found in
Mouse ($10): Standard Microsoft Optical Mouse (ex.
Since I already had a hard drive from my old computer, plus
keyboard/ mouse and speakers, I paid only $226!
Optional items: I had considered these optional items. However, in your case
you may select optional items that would be more beneficial to
Backup/ UPS ($45): APC Backup UPS 200W, at
Micro-Center, but $40 at Wal-Mart! (you local office
supply or supermarket stores may have good deals on these
too, as they are heavy for shipping).
Mouse/ Pointing Device: I didn't include a mouse,
so you may pick one up, if you don't have one already! Since
you saved a lot on the whole computer, now you may be able
to buy the mouse you always wanted! Here are couple of
Ergonomic Mouse ($50): Microsoft 72Q-00002S Silver 5 Buttons
Tilt Wheel USB Wireless Laser Natural Mouse 6000, (NewEgg)
If you hand suffers from holding a regular mouse for too
long, this is a great alternative. It takes a bit to get
used to it (few days) and using a wireless mouse is not
ideal as the mouse is heavier due to its batteries, over
a wired mouse. But, it is works fine and it will help
your wrist rest from a regular mouse. I alternate
between this one and regular wired mouse.
Tablet ($63): Bamboo (Small)
Pen Tablet with Pen Only (Amazon)
Great for drawing, but also just using instead of a
mouse. Feels like holding a pen.
Operating System ($100): you can use Linux for free,
keep your old PC OS (for ex. Windows XP, which runs fine and
even better than Vista!), or buy and OEM copy of Windows
Vista Home Premium for (NewEgg).
Extras Total: $253 (assuming you will buy both
the tablet and the tilt mouse). Of course, depending on your
needs, you may decide not to go for the type of extras that I
found beneficial, but go for better surround sound speakers (ex.
2+1 speaker set by Altec Lansing for $30 at
Micro-Center or these 5+1 speakers by Inland at
Micro-Center for $30 also) or some other peripheral
component. Together with the extras given here, the total comes
My total cost in Jan, 2009 was $188.
I think it will be very unlikely to find such a
powerful system at such an affordable price, with such great
Note: all prices were given with taxes and/ or shipping &
Assembly is very straight-forward. Follow these basic steps:
After the CPU is securely positioned and fastened, apply
the thermal grease properly (not too much of it, follow
instructions from Arctic Silver grease manufacturer).
The thermal grease ought to be done in a simple one line from
left to right (when looking on top of a CPU which has the
corner dot/ clipped corner in the bottom left of your view).
If you have to remove old thermal grease, as I had to do,
just use some Q-tips and rubbing alcohol.
Mount the heatsink on top of the CPU according to
its instructions, making sure that the legs/ clips go all
the way in and clip fully. The fit has to be done well, so
that there will be no overheating of the CPU. It may seem
that the heatsink will bend the motherboard or even break
it. While, we have to be careful to not crack or break the
motherboard, a slight twist of the
motherboard is possible to occur and that is fine. I had initially not assured that the heatsink is tight on top of the CPU and I had an overheating
CPU for a brief time - I fixed it by simply clipping the
heatsink on all sides fully.
Overheating tips: it is good to monitor your CPU
temperature, especially when under load (this can be
simulated with software). This can test how well you have
installed the CPU heatsink and thermal grease. Web sites
that are dedicated at the hobby of over-clocking your PC
(not recommended, as it can lead to crashes and other side
effects if not done properly), have a tool from Intel called
Intel Thermal Analysis Tool (TAT), but Intel does not make
it available on their web site anymore. Another tool that works on
AMD and Intel CPUs is
(reports temperature only, if you want to know how high the
temperature may be at load, use a benchmarking tool and have
it loop in its CPU test, ex. such as
3DMark05, Free Edition). Also, your motherboard software
may already come with utilities that would report the
temperature of the CPU. Another tool that can generate CPU
stress and report its temperature is
CPU Burn In.
A commercial tool exists called
Tester Pro and it sells for about $20.
CPU temperature for around idle time should be around 30-40
degrees for properly configured systems, and up around 60
degrees for running around 100% time for prolong time.
Temperatures above 80 degrees can lead to system damage,
especially if kept for longer time and usually indicate
improperly mounted heatsink or thermal grease not being
applied properly. There is a
Core 2 Quad and Duo Temperature Guide at Tom's Hardware,
that you may like to review.
Attach the motherboard to the case and attach
the case connectors following the motherboard and case
installation instructions. The motherboard has additional
USB plugs, but the extra connectors don't usually come in
the package and would have to be purchased separately. If
you like to do this, you can check
Connect the memory by firmly pressing the memory
blocks, assuring the the gap matches correctly, connect
hard drives with the Sata cables (assure that you have
good Sata cables, old or broken Sata cables can lead to some intermittent problems), connect the DVD drive, in the
same way as the hard drives, just make sure they are in the
Sata #2 or later position in the motherboard (the Sata
numbers are marked on the motherboard). Connect any extra
cards that you may have and power up the computer. The first
thing you notice is the motherboard test and showing you the
memory information, hard drives being detected, etc.
If needed, you can enter into the Bios (usually
F2, F12, or DEL at boot up), to edit certain features of the
system, such as boot order (best to have CD/DVD drive first,
then the primary hard drive), enabling/ disabling features
(for example, if you don't have a floppy drive you can
disable that feature;). Just follow your motherboard manual
as a simply guide for this purpose (included with
motherboard or you can use the link above).
Install your operating system of choice. I
installed Windows XP Professional. Just hit SPACE bar at
boot-up (the screen usually tells you that briefly) to boot
from CD/DVD and follow the instructions that Windows gives
you. After Windows has installed, you will need to install
the various motherboard related drives (ex. for the built in
video card, sound card, chipset drives, etc) - you do this
but running the setup program on the included BioStar disk.
You can optionally run Windows XP 64 bit edition
to gain the benefits of 4GB or more RAM. This will tend to
run faster and 32-bit applications are run within the WOW64
subsystem. Certain tests with PassMark PerformanceTest
showed certain operations being much faster with XP-64 bit
edition, such as: CPU integer math 164% faster, CPU floating
point math 29% faster, CPU image rotation 166% faster,
Memory large RAM over 100% faster, with overall CPU
improvements of 23%, overall memory improvement of 10%,
overall graphics improvement of 16%, but overall disk
performance was down 15% (this may be due to the performance
testing program optimization, or application optimization
being primarily for 32-bit apps, further research ought to
be done). The overall system performance up 16%.
This system is way more than enough for a regular desktop user,
who utilizes Office applications, web browsing, email, and
similar applications, even if
this is a power user, keeping many windows open at the same time.
System performance is primarily a function of the speed of the
Hard Drive, Video Card, and CPU (assuming sufficient memory,
which in our case is more than enough). In our performance
overview we use
figures (CPU, Video), or
Tom's Hardware Hard-Drive Workstation I/O Test. Compare our
system with some other reference systems (for the higher
performing ones, consider the cost and see if the cost/ benefit
ratio would be beneficial to you).