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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  • countdooku2028 - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    I just decided to build a new computer for my workplace. I saw that Microcenter was giving me the motherboard with the purchase. Let me tell you I am extremely satisfied with my purchase. I opted for the ASUS motherboard.

    I put 4GB of Corsair Ram and my old P128 SSD. This machine is incredible for my needs..... we do a ton of Corel Draw layouts for our trophy shop.

    Only thing missing is a dedicated video card...... once a 560 GTX or 6870 goes way down I will slap it in there. Oh and I will unlock the additional cores when I have the proper cooling.

    Oh and my old machine was a Dell Vostro 200 which I had dumped an old Raptor drive into. It was zipper than the original 7200 drive...... but now my machine kicks ass.

  • flpxjs - Saturday, November 12, 2011 - link

    H61 1156?
    Too funny!
  • TGIM824 - Sunday, November 13, 2011 - link

    The table for Intel motherboards lists socket as 1156, and should be 1155.
  • Artas1984 - Friday, November 25, 2011 - link

    Intel Celeron G530
    Gigabyte GA-H61M-S2V-B3
    Kingston Value DDR3 1333 MHz C9 4 Gb
    Kingston SSDNOW v100 64 Gb
    Tacens Radix 4 450 W

    Advantages: cheap build, MB has DVI, power supply is 10 dBA & 80+ E.

    I do not recommend neither Antec or Corsair power supplies, because they are too expensive for a budged system+ they are not silent + less than 80+ E.
  • Saikii - Thursday, June 12, 2014 - link

    I think Intel should have changed the name of their budget CPUs, Celeron. Most people still think Celerons are crap, but the newer Sandy-Bridge- based dual core Celerons are actually great. They are very good CPUs for the value. I have an Intel Celeron G530 (2.40GHz, dual core, 2MB L3 cache) paired with a GTX 650 (1GB, OC edition), 8GB RAM and a 450W PSU (don't know the model). All I can say is that I'm very happy with this bugdet rig. It performs great in everything...from regular tasks to intensive gaming. I tried many games...from older games such as WoW, to Crysis 3 (on low --> 30-35 fps). I get decent FPS in ANY game, on medium-high settings.

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