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Another Ars Ultimate Budget Box 321

Some nice Friday afternoon reading for you; Ars Technica has another go at the Ultimate Budget Box, a cheap no-frills PC for minimum cash output. From the article: "Look around inside most corporate offices, where most computers need to handle a few Office documents and light Internet use. They don't need to be able to burn CDs or handle 3D-intensive games, but they do need to be reliable and affordable. Lots of consumers out there probably want a similar box--an appliance that lets them get onto the Internet, take care of e-mail, and create a few documents. For them, being able to burn a CD-RW would probably be nice, but anything beyond that is an extra. Low-cost, reliability, and quality are key. That is what the Ultimate Budget Box is about: not skimping on components, but not loading it up with features either." The final price? US$525.46
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Another Ars Ultimate Budget Box

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    I AM A FISH!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 24, 2006 @06:36PM (#14797081)
    I don't see how a $500 computer is the 'ultimate budget box' -- seeing as how dell, hp, and your neighborhood shop all sell boxes that "surf the internet" and run office apps for $300-$400.

    Maybe I should have read the article, because I feel like I missed something here....
    • by MoonBuggy ( 611105 ) on Friday February 24, 2006 @06:43PM (#14797133) Journal
      That price is including a reasonable TFT. The box itself is a little under $350, less if you already have mouse, keyboard, speakers etc.

      It also has PCI-Express when many of the cheapest Dell and HPs I've seen don't have any way to upgrade the graphics.
      • That price is including a reasonable TFT. The box itself is a little under $350, less if you already have mouse, keyboard, speakers etc.

        It also has PCI-Express when many of the cheapest Dell and HPs I've seen don't have any way to upgrade the graphics.

        Last summer, my parents bought my brothers a SlickDeals Dell. P4 3.0GHz HT, 40GB, 128MB or 256MB (lowest option, bought cheaper memory elsewhere), integrated graphics. No AGP or PCIe, but for them, a PCI FX5200 was enough. $350 included the 17" LCD.

    • $525 for a budget box? I can scrap together some parts and build a friggin' GAMING PC for that much.
      • by Ravatar ( 891374 ) on Friday February 24, 2006 @06:57PM (#14797235)
        Certainly, you'll rock at games like Tetris and Minesweeper!
        • The grandparent post said they could build a gaming PC for this much (with some scrounging), while the parent post disputed this. I've been playing BF1942 and even Battlefield 2 on a PC I built from scratch 2 years ago for ~ $700. The only components I scrounged were the monitor, keyboard, and mouse. I'll bet I could build the same system today for $550.

          The low-end graphics cards at my local store, Central Computer, have 256MB of video RAM and very capable cores, and now cost well under $80. Here's an OEM R
          • Seriously, I second your motion here. This price is a friggin joke, even with a warranty. You know what I want to see? a return to the dumb terminals. Give me a box with citrix and about 50 cable modem sized boxes for $75 each and a yearly renewable contract. That will be something. This box is overkill.
          • I'm surfing at work on a Pentium II grey box with built in video and audio, with 128 megabytes of RAM, running Windows 98. I can do anything my home box can do, except burn CD's. It works. Current PCs are WAY, WAAAAAYYYY overpowered for office and internet applications. What an office box needs can be wedged into a form factor the size of a pack of cigarettes.
            • Well, I'm glad you think that computers are for surfing and typing. However, there are other people that actually use their PCs for other things.

              Try ripping some CDs to MP3 or OGG on there. It'll take you at least twice as long to rip 20 CDs as someone with a better computer.

              Try doing some real research. It's not uncommon for me to have several Firefox sessions with 10+ tabs in each session. Not to mention having PuTTY up and listening to MP3s. On top of that, I'm running Word to type up my report. Yo
              • Try doing some real research. It's not uncommon for me to have several Firefox sessions with 10+ tabs in each session. Not to mention having PuTTY up and listening to MP3s. On top of that, I'm running Word to type up my report. You could do the same; have fun watching your disk thrash as your pagefile fills up.

                Hmm. I've got a 600Mhz Duron chip and I do stuff like that. Of course I've got 1.5 gigs of ram.

                Actually, the real reason I have so much ram is that I wrote a java program to post stuff to autopr0n.com

          • If you're spending $70 on a video card, I'd rather have this 9600 PRO [newegg.com] from newegg, which I consider to be a very reliable vendor. It's got 256MB of ram, DVI and VGA, and TV out, and can play most (semi-)modern games with no problem (I wouldn't try running FEAR on it and expecting high framerates).

            And you can get the non-PRO radeon 9600 from newegg for $57.

      • Gawd, no kidding. I'm typing this on a 19" panasonic monitor, 2 years old, at 1800 x whatever I got for $5 at goodwill. I bought a $4 really nice server with a P4-75 and put in modern guts I got for $100 at a used computer store, some $1 fans, some $2 video card with a fan on it and an ultra2-scsi3 raid array that set me back a whopping $70 off ebay.

        $300 gets you a new computer all decked out in these parts, but the cases are so cheap and thin and razor sharo (ouch) I'd rather mod old stuff, where old is a
      • by NetFu ( 155538 )
        Honestly, the component prices listed in this article are very, very conservative, but actually RTFA and you get a good idea of what to go for when putting together a SOLID (not CHEAP/CRAP) PC.

        I put together a PC with similar components for my mom, and the final price (not including a monitor because it doesn't make sense to pay to ship a monitor) was $180. In the Silicon Valley I have access to a lot of surplus computer parts places, but anywhere else you could find prices just as good or better through w
  • by conner_bw ( 120497 ) on Friday February 24, 2006 @06:36PM (#14797082) Journal
    ...does it run OS X?


    • No, that doubles the cost.

      Sorry, couldn't help myself :-(
    • In case of the mac mini yes... it is just at that pricepoint.
      • Nope - you forgot to add the cost of a $178 TFT monitor (included in Ars' $525 price), keyboard, and mouse. Also, this ultimate budget PC has an 80 GB HD and a DVD-RW drive. A comparable Mac mini would be $727 for the box (with 80 GB HD upgrade, SuperDrive upgrade, and wired keyboard and mouse) plus $178 for the monitor, for a whopping $905. On the other hand, the quality of the Mac mini hardware would be superior, and the Mac mini would run OS X. Me, I'd buy the Mac mini for the extra $380. But I've been t
  • final specs (Score:4, Informative)

    by prockcore ( 543967 ) on Friday February 24, 2006 @06:39PM (#14797107)
    Here's a quick glance at the final specs:

    80 gig SATA HD
    520 megs DDR
    Sempron 2800
    Onboard GeForce 6100
    15" LCD
    • Re:final specs (Score:5, Insightful)

      by theJML ( 911853 ) on Friday February 24, 2006 @06:44PM (#14797144) Homepage
      I also find it's important to point out that the OS is extra!

      Sure that's cool for people like me that are going to throw gentoo on there, but what about gramma, she doesn't want linux... (yes some are ok with that, but for the majority, it's just not the way for the masses yet!). so we're well over 600 bucks if not more for a full version of something, close to 700. Since when is that cheap or budget?
      • Re:final specs (Score:5, Interesting)

        by AuMatar ( 183847 ) on Friday February 24, 2006 @06:54PM (#14797213)
        Grandma really doesn't care. She just wants it to work. If anything Linux is better for her, its more stable, fewer viruses, and easier to do remote admin on.

        I'm currently in stage 2 of 3 in getting my family off of Windows. They're already using Open Office and Firefox. They're actually happier with them than they were with IE and Office- when I told them I could block ads with Firefox their faces lit up. The next time they buy a computer, I am installing linux on it- just leave them a firefox and an office icon on their desktop and they won't care about the difference in colors. And it'll be a win for them, as I can just ssh into their box if they have problems. I'll just give them a no-privlidges account on it and I'm done.
        • What happens when your family buys a new printer, digital camera, iPod, DV camcorder? I hope you're in close proximity to them, and have spare time.

          To avoid being tech support, I usually recommend a Mac to my family, then they buy a Dell and I refuse to help. Problem solved!

          • Linux printer support for HP is pretty good. They aren't the type to buy ipods. And the digital camera- just have them pop the card in a card reader, and prepare the proper scripts to mount it for them. Attach it to a nice icon and label it "camera". In addition, this happens, at MOST, once a year? Once every 2? Still a huge gain.
        • That can work for some people, but there's quite a few people that want to do more than email, web browsing, and IM. My dad has a digital camera, likes printing up business cards and other printshop kind of things, and works with geneaology. Accomplishing all those things in Linux isn't going to be easy.

          I have switched him over to Firefox and Thunderbird, and he seems quite happy with those. I don't plan on switching him to linux since Windows 2000 does just about everything he really needs.
        • ....The next time they buy a computer, I am installing linux on it....

          It's wonderful for your family that they have such a great computer expert like you at their beck and call. What about all the families that don't have a built in IT person to get them out of the inevitable jams they get into. For them it's either a cheap Dell with Windows or a Mac Mini. If money is really tight, a working CRT monitor can be gotten used for very little or even for free. A Mac mini is definitely a better system for anyone
          • THe problem with Linux for the average newbie isn't that its hard to use- its that its hard to setup. I wouldn't trust the average Joe to install it. Of course, I wouldn't trust them to install Windows either. Luckily, the PC manufacturer does that for them. If there was a company out there selling preconfigured Fedora boxes, I'd say that would meet their needs better than a Mini or a Dell box.
      • Re:final specs (Score:3, Insightful)

        by prockcore ( 543967 )
        I also find it's important to point out that the OS is extra!

        That's because this machine is targetted towards businesses. The businesses already have site licenses.. they don't need to buy the OS.
      • Gentoo is free.

    • 520 megs? Congradulations for finding the elusive 260 megabyte DIMM...
  • by budartagnan ( 931831 ) on Friday February 24, 2006 @06:39PM (#14797113)
    If all I want is CD burning capability, internet surfing, and word processing, for myself or, more likely, for a family member... Dude, they're getting a Dell.
    • Yeah, but it's a lot easier to RMA a part to New Egg and switch it out yourself than to try to deal with Dell Customer Support if anything goes wrong.
    • Yeah but watch the shipping price?

      $399!.... but with a $250 shipping charge. Hmm
    • It depends on who you're getting the system for.

      In a corp. environment having a single system monoculture means you can easily roll out an image with everything preconfigured the way you like. Dell's lower end offerings seem to have some capacitor and hard disk issues from time to time, so getting a sub-500 system is asking for problems.

      As for Dell's home offerings, their tech support will ask you to jump through an hour of troubleshooting before sending a $15 part. Not including reinstall media (make i

    • That's what I'm thinking... why bother building your own machine when you can order a pre-built, warrantied machine for at least as inexpensively through Dell? Of course, Dell is Intel-only, but when we're talking about a non-gaming rig, it doesn't really matter. This is one of the lamest news items I've seen on Slashdot in a while.
  • $500US?? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Cervantes ( 612861 )
    Craaaap, I say. I can build budget boxes for $500 CDN.

    Admittedly, I haven't RTFA, but I really don't care to. Just seeing that price tag is enough to make me believe it's another piece of overpowered crap. If you just want net browsing and occasional burning, then a Sempron 2xxx + is more than enough for you, and anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to screw ya.
    • Re:$500US?? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gfxguy ( 98788 ) on Friday February 24, 2006 @07:11PM (#14797318)
      You know, I don't understand what people mean by budget box anymore. One of my computers at home is an 800Mhz Duron with 256MB and it does everything they "require" from their budget box, it's the computer my wife uses to email, surf, etc. when one of the kids is playing on the "good" box. She hasn't complained. I use it when I crawl out of my office.

      Eliminating games and high end applications (like video editing), you could do with a lot less of a machine than that one, even.

      I mean, come on... maybe they are used to XP or something, because I remember upgrading my Win2K box a couple of years ago to 512MB specifically to do video editing, and now they are saying you can't do with less than 512? With prices so cheap, it's definately worthwhile, but to claim that you need more than 256MB... to do what? Surf? Email? You've got to be kidding me. That's like saying you need an SUV to do grocery shopping... on the other hand, it seems a lot of people really do believe that, too.
  • by mythosaz ( 572040 ) on Friday February 24, 2006 @06:44PM (#14797146)
    They keep listing these at ~150 for the board and processor. Fry's regularly sells (in their mid-week ad) a $69 board AND processor with video. This weekend's "better" Sempron + Processor + Video (x200) is $119.

    The Deskstar 80 is nice, but 250 Deskstars have been as low as $49 after rebate, and there are currently 200 gig drives that are free after some rebate-price-matching -- See places like Fatwallet.com.
    • If you're shopping with rebates as an option you can pick up a cheap laptop for around $500. Honestly, if you want an inexpensive computer with Windows installed you just can't beat the big vendors on price. The discounts they receive from buying in bulk are impossible to compete with.
  • Cough (Score:3, Informative)

    by Reality Master 101 ( 179095 ) <RealityMaster101 AT gmail DOT com> on Friday February 24, 2006 @06:46PM (#14797160) Homepage Journal
    One click onto Dell's home web page, and I see:

    2.53Ghz Celeron, 533 FSB
    512MB RAM
    XP Home
    80 GB Drive
    CD-RW drive
    15" Flat Panel LCD

    The price? $399. Why, again, would I pay $525 for this "ultimate" budget box?

    • If you see this post [slashdot.org], You'll notice some differences:

      * Sempron is AMD, while Celeron is (eew) Intel.
      * Dell doesn't include an Onboard GeForce 6100, does it?
      * Dell sells you a CD-RW, not DVD+RW. DVD drives are a necessity today.
      * XP Home is practically a fraud. I'd go for XP Pro instead.

      • If you see this post, You'll notice some differences

        The premise of the article is BUDGET BOX for surfing, reading e-mail and a few documents. The article doesn't even include a CD writer. This $399 box is already way overkill even for the premise. Sure, you can load more features in, but who's arguing that you can't? The point is that their $525 box (which doesn't even include the freaking OS) is way inferior to this $399 box.

        • The point is that their $525 box (which doesn't even include the freaking OS) is way inferior to this $399 box.

          I should have said "way inferior for the stated purpose, which is the lowest possible cost."

    • True, but if you want that shipped without Windows, they'll charge you an extra $150, so the price ends up about the same.
      • because you don't know how to format a drive?

        serously, it's like looking at two pretty equal cars, and not choosing the one thats 25% cheaper because it comes with something you could throw away when you get home.

    • because that is a piece of shit dell, and is using a celeron. pull your head out.
    • So does this mysterious $399 include $250 for shipping and handling? Hmmm
    • Re:Cough (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jmorris42 ( 1458 ) *
      True you can get the approx $80 WinXP Home bundled into the Dell for about the same price. But there are some downsides also.

      1. P.O.S. onboard Intel video vs the Nvidia in the Ars machine.

      2. P.O.S. system. Dells are plastic crap, even the power supply is non-standard. This doesn't matter to some, but to those who have been burned. Quality parts cost more but you get what you pay for. Ars wasn't claiming to be putting together the cheapest P.O.S. they could, that is what Dell is for.

      3. Dell appears t
  • dell... (Score:2, Informative)

    by atarione ( 601740 )
    http://configure.us.dell.com/dellstore/config.aspx ?c=us&cs=19&l=en&oc=DB110RF1&s=dhs [dell.com]

    celeron D 325 / intel extreme graphics 2 /512MB DDR / 80GB HD/ 15in flat panel /XP home

    however one huge and lame problem would be only 3x PCI slots (no agp or PCI express slot for video upgrades)

    but if you didn't need a gaming pc.. this thing is like $437.94 shipped (free shipping right now) when it comes to low end pc's ... I usually steer clients towards OEM boxes ... because It is impossible
  • 10 years ago, I would've said to build, rather than buy, a new box. Today ... I cannot with good faith say the same thing to anyone asking from an 'end-user' point of view. Generally speaking nearly every black box PC on the market is quite usuable and is well within 'appliance' price ranges. I noticed the other day at BestBuy that 'cleaning' a PC costs $250, whereas you could purchase the 'coupon computer of the week' for about $50 more.

    Simply put, for end users, just about any black box PC is going to be able to compete with a system like this, and probably come with more than you need for the same price. Just my 2 cents.

  • by chmilar ( 211243 ) on Friday February 24, 2006 @06:55PM (#14797221)
    Most of the big vendors (HP, Dell) offer system "bundles" that offer similar specs for $100-200 cheaper.

    I recently purchased an HP CTO bundle through CompUSA. After rebates (yeah, I know, rebates suck) it was $300 + $89 (shipping/handling) + tax. The specs are very close to the Ars system (faster CPU, no DVD burner, 40G drive). It would have cost an extra $30-40 to upgrade the optical drive and hard drive, but the ones I got are all I needed for the "appliance" tasks I an using the machine for.

    Plus, I didn't have assemble anything (not like that's difficult, though).
  • by acoustix ( 123925 ) on Friday February 24, 2006 @07:05PM (#14797281)
    Nevermind the fact that they don't include tax and shipping on those parts.

    I can get a Dell Dimension 3100 through Dell Small Business for $500 (+ $24 shipping) with the following:

    Processor: P4 Processor 521 w/HT Technology (2.8GHz,800FSB)
    OS: Genuine Windows® XP Home Edition
    Memory: 512MB DDR2 SDRAM at 400MHz -1 DIMM
    Dell Service & Support Plans: 90 Day On-site Economy Plan
    Keyboard: Dell USB Keyboard
    Mouse: Dell® 2-button USB mouse
    Hard Drive: 80GB Serial ATA Hard Drive (7200RPM)
    Single Drive: 16X CD/DVD burner (DVD+/-RW) w/double layer write capability
    Monitor: 17 inch E176FP Analog Flat Panel
    Video Card: Intel® Graphics Media Accelerator 900
    Sound: Integrated 2.0 Channel High Definition Audio
    Network Interface: Integrated 10/100 Ethernet

  • $500!?!?!? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nmaster64 ( 867033 )

    Seriously, $500 is RIDICULOUS for a PC of that calibur (unless your talking laptops). I can build a moderate gaming computer for that. A no-frills-just-types-prints-and-surfs PC should be possible at around $300.

    Why do you need 80GB for internet and word processing again? These people are idiots, and I feel sorry for people that really do just want the basics and go out and build this thing...waste of money...
    • Seriously, $500 is RIDICULOUS for a PC of that calibur (unless your talking laptops). I can build a moderate gaming computer for that. A no-frills-just-types-prints-and-surfs PC should be possible at around $300.

      Keep in mind that the quoted price includes a 17" LCD.
    • Sure, no one needs an 80GB drive, but that's about the bottom of the market today, sizewise. You could go smaller, but you'd probably not save more than $10 or $20.

      For example, Newegg has a 40GM SATA150 Maxtor for $49, and an 80GB SATA150 Maxtor for $57.

  • I'm sure you guys are making them plenty of money from Shopping.com right now. :) I bet they are happy.
  • That's what I bought. Did get 1GB RAM though. For that price you get the OS, and AppleWorks which will do for most people.

    Very silent, very reliable. Highly recommended.
  • There are several VERY important things to consider when buying a cheepo Dell.

    Yes it will essentially do email and web just as well as the ars box but....

    1) The dell probably has onboard video and NO AGP OR PCI-Express slot so you can upgrade the video


    2) The CPU will not be upgradable.

    I bought a Dell for my mother and did'nt realize that the motherboard did'nt have an AGP slot on it (big bummer).

    The ars box can be upgraded with faster AMD socket 939 processors if needed and can upgrade the video card. So
  • You see this mentioned:


    Unfortunately it appears that the supplied passive northbridge heatsink does not provide enough cooling for the integrated graphics processor, at least as it arrived from the factory. Any extended us of the 3D acceleration capabilities will result it a system crash. This is in a large server case with good airflow.

    Hmm, if you can't rely on this bare bones 3d then it might not be worth it. I wasn't thinking gaming but a modest rig that can handle xgl once nvidia releases linu
  • The cheap box sounds more useful as a home pc.
    I put my office computer through far greater processing punishment than my home computer.
  • A friend at work bought a Dell laptop that seemed pretty capable just before christmas. It seemed nice, had a good looking screen, built-in wireless, a CDR+DVD-ROM combo drive, and XP home. He paid $499. It was about $575 with shipping and everything.

    If they can sell a laptop for that, I'm sure a modest desktop could be a lot cheaper.

    I built a pretty decent machine for a friend last year. I think the total was around $400 with a legal Windows. It had 256M RAM, a CD burner, and a 17" CRT monitor.

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.