Entry-level PC - August 2015
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 G1840, suitable for web browsing and the usage of office suites.
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.
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 Crucial BX100 is an excellent budget choice.
If you need more storage, you can go with a Desktop HDD from Seagate, with 8 GB of cache. The most importants things will happen at SSD speed. Its big brother, with a capacity of 2 TB, received a Gold Award in our review last year.
A dvd burner isn't necessary anymore, in our opinion. The cardreader is a worthy successor: not only cameras use memory cards, but also many smartphones are upgradeable with microSD. We choose an affordable external USB 3.0 reader from Transcend, which supports microSD and SD. If you also desire CompactFlash compatibility, you should take a look at its somewhat more expensive brother.
If you prefer a DVD burner anyway, we'd recommend the LG GH24NS95 or the Samsung SH-224BB.
Recently we tested Cooler Master's N-series enclosures and came away particularly impressed with the N200. This micro-ATX case cools very well, is easy to use and has a good internal layout. It is not the quietest on the block, but the noise production is still acceptable. A fine choice for an entry level system.
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.
They're not mind-blowing, but the Creative A60 speakers produce very good sound for very little money, perfect for a budget PC.
A good Full HD monitor doesn't have to be super-expensive. We tested 21 affordable 21.5" displays in our Dutch magazine and this Acer monitor turned out to be one of the best choices in this segment. It even sports a VA panel with a high contrast.
|Processors||Intel Celeron G1840 Boxed||–|
|CPU coolers||Intel Boxed cooler||–|
|Memory modules||4 GB DDR3||£33.48|
|Hard disks/SSDs||Crucial BX100 120GB||£49.99|
|Card readers||Transcend USB 3.0 Card Reader||£7.97|
|Cases||Cooler Master N200||–|
|Power supplies||Be quiet! System Power 7 300W||–|
|Keyboards||Microsoft Wireless Desktop 800||–|
|PC speaker sets||Creative A60 Performance Stereo Speaker||£14.99|
|Save as your own wish list||Average total price:||£106.43|