Entry-level PC - March 2016
Our guidelines for the Entry-level PC category are as follows. The entire computer system, excluding OS, should not exceed $500. Its primary, but not only, function is to provide a smooth and enjoyable online experience. This means that the cheapest processors won’t be enough, as modern web pages and internet applications do demand some processing power.
Additionally, the system has to be able to efficiently perform internet-related tasks. This includes basic photo editing (cropping and resizing to upload or send a photo) and extracting compressed files. At the same time the necessary background programmes need to be active, such as a virus scanner, a firewall, and anti-spyware software. The computer also needs to be able to efficiently run word processing software and administrative programmes.
The cheapest PCs that you can currently buy are good enough for internet use. If you want to do other things, however, then you will quickly notice the limitations of the CPU and graphics processor. More powerful pre-assembled computers often turn out to have one weak component that becomes a bottleneck. Maybe it has a very fast processor, but lacks enough RAM, hard disk space, or a good enough graphics card.
The system we put together won’t break any records performance-wise. Instead, we focus on using quality components that are balanced in terms of performance. This ensures that all components will be fully utilised, and that one doesn’t form a performance-killing bottleneck.
If you’re planning on only chatting and surfing the web, then you can save quite a lot by opting for a mini PC, based on laptop hardware, like an Intel NUC.
Please note: the PC Buyer’s Guide is compiled based on independent component tests performed by Hardware.Info. If no new, superior products are released that should replace one or more of the components, then the component(s) will remain the same as the previous edition.
If you want to know more about how we compile our PC Buying guides, have a look at this article.
An Entry-level PC system won't have the most expensive or high-end CPU, but one that is fast enough for decent general performance. That's the case for the Intel Celeron G3900, suitable for web browsing and the usage of office suites. It's a chip from the Skylake generation with a clock frequency of 2.8 GHz.
CPU cooler - Intel Boxed cooler
The cooler that Intel includes with its processors is good enough for use in a budget system. Our recent test showed that most budget-level coolers have little additional value. You either get a small reduction in noise, or a small reduction in temperature. Either way, it's not worth the extra £15 for this system.
A modern PC needs at least 4GB memory in order to work without long pauses. If you have a lot of browser windows open, you can easily reach the limits of this amount. However, seeing this is an entry-level PC and memory does not grow on trees, we advise the minimum of 4GB. If you can afford a little more, install 8GB directly - you will appreciate it, particularly in the long run.
The switch to Skylake requires a new 100-series mainboard. The MSI H110M Pro-VD is a basic model, but offers enough USB and SATA ports. On top of that, its manufacturer was willing to send us a sample, so we could verify the quality of the VRM. A nice extra: it's the most energy efficient Skylake board in idle we've ever tested.
This board also comes in a VH variant with HDMI instead of DVI, which further is exactly the same.
Graphics card - Integrated
An entry-level PC does not require a dedicated graphics card. The integrated GPU in the chosen CPU can decode HD videos, but 3D gaming won't be possible.
Less demanding computer users won't need much storage, normally. That's why we choose for the best experience, which can only be achieved with an SSD. The OCZ Trion 150 is an excellent budget choice and even its 240 GB version is cheap enough for this system.
The Cooler Master N200 is a solid value choice. This Micro-ATX case offers support for front USB 3.0 ports and is fully black-coated. The Silencio 352 from the same brand is still a good alternative for who appreciates a more silent system, but is a bit more expensive.
Even an entry-level PC deserves a quality power supply. The Be Quiet System Power 300W is competitively priced and achieved fine results in our tests. This 300W version is excellent in terms of efficiency, stability, and noise production. 300 watts is enough capacity for this entry-level system. One downside to this model: it lacks a PEG connector. If you plan on installing a graphics card in the future, get the 350W version, which is minutely more expensive, does come with such a connector and the extra oomph to power a modest discrete graphics card.
It's worth getting a decent mouse and keyboard, even for an entry-level computer. You will use these daily, so it's not advisable to buy the cheapest possible. That doesn't mean it has to get expensive, such as this Microsoft Wired Desktop 800.
The Edifier M1360 sounds pretty good for such a cheap 2.1 set, but don't expect too much. This speaker set goes perfectly with a budget PC.
Recently, we tested a bunch of 21.5" monitors. The Samsung S22E390H stood out of the crowd in a positive way. The display has a Full HD IPS panel and offers HDMI as a digital monitor input. Especially the low price and the good results in almost all tests make this the ideal display for a Value PC.
|Processors||Intel Celeron G3900 Boxed||£32.99|
|CPU coolers||Intel Boxed cooler||–|
|Memory modules||4 GB DDR4||–|
|Motherboards||MSI H110M Pro-VD||£51.79|
|Hard disks/SSDs||OCZ Trion 150 240GB||–|
|Cases||Cooler Master N200||–|
|Power supplies||Be quiet! System Power 7 300W||–|
|Keyboards||Microsoft Wireless Desktop 800||–|
|PC speaker sets||Edifier M1360 Black||£24.95|
|Save as your own wish list||Average total price:||£109.73|