Two years ago I posted "Cheap PC - Build a Vista Premium Ready system for under $500 including the OS". I can't believe that was two years ago already! Anyway, the original premise of the post was to point out that you could build a "cheap" PC for under $500 that included and could run Windows Vista with "Aero" Glass Enabled. After I wrote that post I decided that I would try to remember to write a post like that every year to serve two purposes: 1) chronicle what kind of PC $500 can buy you, and 2) to help other people realize that it's possible to build a custom pc for cheap that isn't total crap. Well, it seems I skipped a year, so here's the "Cheap PC 2009" post.

One thing I decided to change from the previous post is I'm going to factor the shipping into the total price. So basically when "all said and done" the overall total price you'll pay for what I list will be No More Than $500 (US).

Total Cost: $491.48 (this includes shipping)

Now for the parts breakout:

Motherboard - $49.99 - ASUS P5N73-AM LGA775 with Integrated GeForce 7050 Graphics

Processor (CPU) - $119.99 - Intel Core 2 Duo E7400 Wolfdale 2.8Ghz 65W Dual-Core

Memory (RAM) - $39.99 - G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) F2-6400CL5D-4GBBPQ DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Memory

Hard Drive - $49.99 - Western Digital Caviar SE 320GB SATA 3.0Gb/s WD3200AAJS

Optical Drive - $24.99 - LG 22X DVD±R Burner SATA Model GH22NS30

Case - $26.99 - Rosewill R222-P-BK Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Case

Power Supply - $49.99 - Rosewill RP500 500W ATX Power Supply

Operating System - $99.99 - Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit OEM

A couple things to note:

There are a couple things I want to note about the parts I spec'd out above, and I want to explain my reasoning a little bit.

  • One thing I did differently this time is I spec'd out the Case and Power Supply seperately. The reason for this is when you buy a cheap case, most times you'll get an even cheaper power supply included that is essentially not the most reliable. I have actually gotten bitten in the past by the super cheap power supply that came with my case burning out and having to buy a new one. On the other hand I have had super cheap power supplies that have lasted for years. It's better to be on the safe side and buy a power supply seperately to make sure you get a much better one that'll last; at least it should last.
  • To save on cost a little I only spec'd a 320GB hard drive. To many that may seem a little small, but it is on par with the likes of Dell and others.
  • The amount of Ram that I've spec'd (4GB) is actually twice that of what I've seen comparable systems from Dell come with. From my experiences 4GB of Ram is pretty much the sweet spot for Windows Vista where it performs the best and you still have plenty of Ram for the things you want to do.
  • Integrated Graphics Really? I chose a motherboard in this spec that has integrated GeForce 7050 Graphics. The reason for this is because it makes the build cheaper, and the GeForce 7050 does support DirectX 9. Plus, the motherboard does have a PCI-Express 2.0 x16 expansion slot, so you'll be able to upgrade to a better dedicated graphics card at some future point if you want.

Also, this "system" Will run Windows 7 perfectly. The reason I know this is because it'll run Vista perfectly, and Windows 7 will (when it comes out) require less Processor Power and Memory to run the operating system; at least the Beta currently does!

Upgrading Notes

If you are thinking of upgrading an existing system (rather than build a completely new one), remember if your system is only a few years old you may be able to save some money by only upgrading the parts that need it.

Here's an upgrade scenario:

"I bought a "pre-built" system from the store a couple few years ago. It only has a single-core processor, 1GB of Ram and is running Windows XP. My hard drive space is sufficient and the DVD drive in it works fine."

In this case, you really only need to upgrade the Motherboard, Processor (CPU) and RAM. You'll be able to reuse all your other hardware (Hard Drives, CD/DVD Drives, Case and Power Supply).

One thing you'll really need to make sure of first, though, is that the case is a standard ATX (Mid or Full) case. From my experience most are, but some aren't. If it isn't a standard ATX case, then you'll need to buy a new Power Supply and Case for your new system.

Also, if the case is a standard ATX case, then you'll also need to verify that the power supply is sufficient. Generally with the system I've spec'd above, you'll want at least a 400 Watt (W) power supply; the bigger the better. In the spec'd system above I have a 500W power supply liste, this is because you may need more power if you add more hard drives or even if you use this system as the basis for a future upgrade.

Happy System Building!