Intel CPU: Core i5-2300 (2.8GHz) w/ Bundled Cooling
Current Cost: $178
Turning to our Intel CPU recommendation, we're sticking with the 2.8GHz i5-2300 Sandy Bridge processor. With 6MB of L3 cache and 256KB on each of its four cores, this quad-core processor offers an ideal balance of power and affordability.
AMD Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-990XA-UD3 AM3+ (AMD 990X)
Current Price: $130
Our switch to an AM3+ motherboard in last month's guide helped prepare us for this month's switch to the FX-6100 as the processor in the AMD build. The Gigabyte GA-990XA-UD3, with an AMD990X chipset, offers three PCI-E slots (one at x16, one at x8 and one at x4), two PCIe 2.0 slots, two PCI slots, two USB 3.0 rear-panel ports and four rear-panel USB 2.0 ports. Also included are Gigabit LAN, 8-channel audio and six SATA 6GB/s connections.
Intel Motherboard: MSI P67A-G43 (P67)
Current Price: $115
Our motherboard selection for the Intel build is once again the MSI P67A-G43, which offers a P67 chipset, two PCI-E slots, two PCIe 2.0 x16 slots, four memory slots (with support for up to 32GB of RAM), two USB 3.0 ports, eight USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit LAN, integrated 8-channel audio and two SATA 6GB/s connections.
Memory: Kingston HyperX Blu 4GB KHX1600C9D3B1K2/4GX 2 x 2GB kit
Current Price: $24
For memory, we decided to go with a 4GB (2x 2GB) DDR3-1600 kit from Kingston this time around. This dual-channel kit will leave two memory slots available in each of our builds, so users who find themselves needing (or just wanting) more will have room to grow.
Hard Drive: Hitachi HDS721050CLA362 500GB (Bare Drive)
Current Price: $85
While hard drive prices have been coming back down, they're still not where they'd been prior to the shortages created by the widespread flooding in Thailand this past year. As such, the 7200rpm 500GB Hitachi HDS721050CLA362 remains our choice for this build. Though its price has inched up to $85, it still offers the best balance of price and performance for our entry-level system.
Optical LG 22X Super-Multi DVD Burner GH22NS90B (OEM)
Current Price: $16
For our optical drive, we're sticking with the LG 22X Super-Multi DVD Burner (GH22NS90B), which dropped slightly to $16. It has a 1.5MB buffer and offers read speeds of 16X on DVD-ROM and 48x on CD-ROM. Its burning speeds go up to 22X on DVD+r and DVD-R, 48X on CD-R and 32X on CD-RW.
Video Card: DIAMOND 6770PE51GB Radeon HD 6770
Current Price: $100
While we're sticking with our recommendation of an HD 6770, we decided to look at one of Diamond's offerings in this go-around. The DIAMOND 6770PE51GB Radeon HD 6770 model offers one HDMI port, one DisplayPort and two DVI ports, and the video card can be had for just $100.
LCD: Acer S211HLbd 21.5" 5ms 1920x1080
Current Price: $120
The best monitor we could find that fits our budget remains this 21.5" model from Acer, which can still be purchased for about $120. It offers a 5ms response time, 1000:1 contrast ratio and 1920x1080 resolution. Connections include an analog connector and a DVI port.