Cheap desktop upgrade

Finally bit the bullet and did a minor upgrade. After exhaustive research I settled for a very low end system that is still two to four times faster than my old hardware. More on that in a bit. So without further ado, here are the parts:

  • ASUS M4A785TD-V EVO AM3 AMD 785G - $100

  • G.SKILL ECO Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) - $120

  • AMD Sempron 140 Sargas 2.7GHz Socket AM3 45W Single-Core Processor - $33

All other parts were reused from my old system plus a SATA HDD that was lying around. The budget was $300 which I could have come closer to but I’m happy with these choices to hold me over.

Memory prices have increased a lot. September 2009 had four gigs of memory hovering around $50. This was by far the biggest expense but one not worth skimping on. DDR3 was basically a starting point for all other parts. The “eco” series basically runs at a lower voltage for more energy efficiency. Now on to a motherboard and CPU that would support it.

Intel’s Core “i” series are great CPUs but AMD still wins on a cost/performance basis. AMD just released their 880890 series chipsets but they don’t add anything I need. Since my old video card was AGP, it is now worthless in a new system. So, something that is cheap but upgradeable with low-end graphics and dual-monitor support? The 785G chipset! It can easily be upgraded to better graphics later but works fine for now. This was a really tough decision as a cheap Nvidia 210 or 220 would probably work better in Linux.

Then to top it all off, I gambled and got lucky. The cheapest AM3 socket processor based on the “regor” core sometimes allows it to unlock to dual-core. Mine does - basically turning it into an Athlon II X2 235e! Granted, if you truly want dual-core you should spend the extra 25-30 bucks to get it guaranteed. But I was already buying twice my old speed (Socket 754 Sempron 2800+ “Palermo”) with a chance of multitasking…can’t complain either way. Again, this is easily a part that can be upgraded/replaced later for a quad (or even hexa) core processor. The goal of this system was simply a cheap upgrade with room to grow.

Update 06/22/2011: Looking to build now? Get an AM3+ socket motherboard for compatibility with the new Bulldozer/Zambezi processors. You can still keep it cheap by using an AM3 socket CPU for now.