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The Almighty Buck Hardware

Building 2011's Sub-$200 Computer 394

adeelarshad82 links to PC Magazine's recent account (updating a similar quest detailed last year) "to see if a decent PC could put together for less than $200. Turns out that between some great deals, an AMD processor, and a Linux OS, it can actually be done." They actually come out with a decent-enough system for that money — but omitting an optical drive in a full-size desktop computer build seems something like cheating.
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Building 2011's Sub-$200 Computer

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  • by steevven1 ( 1045978 ) on Friday September 02, 2011 @09:05PM (#37293212) Homepage
    You can get an eeePC netbook for $199 RETAIL at Best Buy...Best Buy!!! I know this is talking about desktops, but it just doesn't seem that surprising...
    • by Nemyst ( 1383049 )

      Yeah, but to be fair, a netbook can't really compare. An Atom's cool for low-power uses, but it's such a slow, dated design you can barely run a functioning computer off it. Even the integrated 6100 GPU on this build is better than Intel's crappy offering on there.

      You have to compromise somewhere considering you get a screen, wireless, keyboard and trackpad/mouse (none of which are otherwise covered in this buildup) for that price.

      • by dbet ( 1607261 )
        I don't know, I managed to run World of Warcraft off of a Dell 10v. And I regularly watch 1080p video on it.
      • Why do you need it to be fast? Most people only use a computer for browsing. If a computer was fast enough in 1990, it should theoretically be fast enough today assuming that you don't load it down with bulky and badly written OS and applications. Now if only we had programmers left who cared about efficiency...

        • by Pharmboy ( 216950 ) on Friday September 02, 2011 @11:03PM (#37293798) Journal

          Browsing isn't what it used to be. For many people, browsing means playing Farmville on Facebook, which will eat up a lot of CPU and memory. And no, Zinga programmers don't really care about efficiency on your computer, only on their servers.

        • This is honestly true - an optimized set of applications, and even a real low power chip(like the ARM ones in smartphones) is plenty for browsing and such. However, then we run into things like Flash, which sucks the life out of almost anything.
          Honestly, once we get hardware-accelerated decoding of VP8 available on Linux, and a proper plugin for FF/chrome which allows it to be used with HTML5 video... then that will be less of a problem as *most* youtube videos have webm versions..
          But until then... *sigh*.

        • If a computer was fast enough in 1990, it should theoretically be fast enough today

          For home users, I see little overlap between what computers were used for in 1990 vs now. Most people who own a home computer now did not even own one then - adoption was about 15% [nsf.gov] at the time.

          Even since 2000, although Internet was catching on, the main application of the Internet - video [video-commerce.org] - had barely started catching on.

    • Just a few days ago, there was an HP desktop on woot.com for $299. 3Ghz AMD II 64-bit, 4gb ram, 1tb HDD, Windows 7, and Optical drive. There is really no reason to make big sacrifices to save a few dollars.

      • Seriously. I paid $400 for a new laptop last christmas. I got a dual core AMD with 4 GB RAM and 320 HD. Now that It's back to school season I'm just browsing the deals, for that same $400 I can get a 6GB RAM, Intel i3 dual core, and 640 GB hard drive. To get the equivalent of what I have now, I would only have to pay $250-$300. This is why tablets are overpriced. Anything decent is $500, but for $400 you can have a notebook with some pretty amazing specs.
    • $299 according to their web site.

    • by jtownatpunk.net ( 245670 ) on Friday September 02, 2011 @10:24PM (#37293646)

      Or you can get a bottom-end eMachines dual core 15.4" laptop for $230. It ain't fancy but, unlike the article's $200 desktop, it includes monitor, optical drive, input devices, and even a UPS. And it comes with an operating system that will have support for or be supported by whatever peripherals or software the user wants to add without having to call their weird nephew for help.

  • re: optical drive (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ZankerH ( 1401751 ) on Friday September 02, 2011 @09:07PM (#37293216)

    but omitting an optical drive in a full-size desktop computer build seems something like cheating.

    It's 2011, dammit, why do people still use optical drives?

    • by Trepidity ( 597 )

      I use mine mainly to rip audio CDs.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      My optical drive broke down about 3 years ago. I've never had to replace it. So I agree, for some, it might not be needed at all.

      • I've used a 3.5" floppy drive more recently than I've used an optical drive.

        Slow Down Cowboy!

        Slashdot requires you to wait between each successful posting of a comment to allow everyone a fair chance at posting a comment.

        It's been 6 minutes since you last successfully posted a comment

        Dear Slashdot Janitors,
        Is there a reason why you make it so unpleasant and troublesome to contribute to your site?

        • You must be rather young. You obviously don't remember the good old days, back when this site first started and was overrun with spam and trolls.

      • My optical drive broke down about 3 years ago. I've never had to replace it. So I agree, for some, it might not be needed at all.

        Then you're not a gamer. Not every game is available on Steam.

    • by Nos9 ( 442559 )

      Because the people that put out content for the computer ship on them. A cheap 4G mem stick is ~$4, to press 4.7G DVD costs them pennies. Until there is a useful way to allow customers to DL onto their own memory sticks, optical will stick around.

      • People also have boxes of CDs and DVDs. You don't need a burner but you definitely need a reader.

        • In the 80s I had boxes of floppy disks. I don't regret that I don't use them anymore, even though I believe I must still have these boxes somewhere.
      • What content are you talking about? Last time I checked, all I needed for my Linux distro was available from Internet. Oh, maybe you were talking about content for that non-free operating system starting with "win" and ending with "dows"? But that's not the default on that computer, so why should we care?
        • Local backup is useful, especially for data you don't care to publish or have anyone overwrite. Fiscal data and GPG keys, for example, can be usefully stored on permanent media.

          • Re: optical drive (Score:4, Informative)

            by GPLHost-Thomas ( 1330431 ) on Saturday September 03, 2011 @03:01AM (#37294734)
            CD / DVDs aren't at all a reliable media for backups. I wouldn't recommend anyone to do that, especially for financial data. If you need a backup, do it with a USB hard drive for the local one, and also send an off-site backup over the wire. That is, at least 3 copies (if you include the one you are working on).
    • by DesScorp ( 410532 ) <DesScorp@noSpAM.Gmail.com> on Friday September 02, 2011 @09:19PM (#37293284) Homepage Journal

      but omitting an optical drive in a full-size desktop computer build seems something like cheating.

      It's 2011, dammit, why do people still use optical drives?

      Because they want to.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I can unequivocally say no. We sell a lot of little desktop computers without an optical drive. They come with Ubuntu usually and maybe 1/3 of our customer base gets one. They are extra. The minimal configured systems are without keyboard, mouse, monitor or optical drive and run $249. People are not renting DVDs any longer and most have never watched a DVD on the computer in the first place. Some areas have a higher than usual younger user base (Portland) and there is more demand for an optical drive (or at

      • I would not mind having more external optical readers. But I've found that most of them are junk. Expensive, loud, and hot compared to internal drives. But if you do have a nice external drive then you don't need on one your new computer.

        The drive is not there for movies or music, but for archived backup disks you created in the past, old applications, old games, etc.

    • I know I did not even blink about missing an optical drive from my latest build. Even MS supports creating a boot-able USB drive with Windows 7 on it! Granted you need an existing copy of windows but still. I cast my vote firmly in the fewer moving parts camp.
      • Even MS supports creating a boot-able USB drive with Windows 7 on it!

        Somehow, I had missed that little bit of "trivia". I have to say, "About time!" I remember my early days with Windows, trying to work around a bad CD-rom in some cases, or a scratched up CD in others. And, trying to get someone's driver installed by way of the floppy drive which was often full of lint and dust. Yes, it's about time that MS actually SUPPORTS a boot-able USB. Take all my headaches, multiplied by all the people worldwide who had to work around that limitation, and you most certainly have

      • MS may support it, but I burned myself a DVD anyways. Sometimes you really do need something to be on a WORM disc, I'd hate to think what would happen if I forgot what was on the disc and reformatted it.

        That being said, we've hit the point where it's sufficient to have on external optical driver per household.

    • Not including the optical drive seems like future proofing to me :-p.

    • "Optical drive"? Is that the slidey thing you put those sort of shaving mirror thingies into? I remember we used to use something like that in the olden days.

      • "Optical drive"? Is that the slidey thing you put those sort of shaving mirror thingies into? I remember we used to use something like that in the olden days.

        It's the slide out thingie that you set your coffee mug on.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's 2011, dammit, why do people still use optical drives?

      Possibly because, just because it's 2011 doesn't mean all past cds/dvds are magically converted into usbs.

      Dammit archaeologists, it's 2011! Why are you still reading clay tablets!

    • Because I have close to 100 CDs and 30 DVDs. Yeah, I'm old school. Ripping them onto my hard drive would take up too much space.

      • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

        Only 30 DVDs? That's not going to take much space at all. Certainly not much at all by modern HDD standards.

        Even the drives that come in cheap low profile machines (nettops) are probably large enough to accomodate all of that.

        30BD's would be another matter though.

        • But the point isn't the space, but that you have the disks for archive. They're cheaper and more reliable for archive purposes than a hard drive.

        • With all of the features, each DVD would be 3-4 gigabytes, so 30 would be 90-120 gigabytes. That would be quite a bit of my Linux partition.

      • 100 CD + 30 DVD (if they are all full, and all your DVDs are 9 GB, which I both don't think reflects reality) would add up to 340 GB. I really hope that this new computer has an HDD bigger than 340 GB, otherwise, many people will complain about it!
    • by Hatta ( 162192 )

      I don't have an optical drive in my desktop. When I want to burn a CD to playon my Sega Saturn I have to boot up an old P3 box. That's about all I use it for.

    • I have not put an optical drive in any of the computers I have built for myself or family for a couple of years now.
    • I've got 1 USB DVD burner that I swap between computers as needed. I don't use it a whole lot, but sometimes it's nice to have a CDROM or DVD for moving files around or short term back ups.

      But, most of the time I use it to rip my CDs and DVDs to disk.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      > It's 2011, dammit, why do people still use optical drives?

      Because the lightning fast internet connection that (I'm assuming) you have isn't available in every household on the planet.
      It's hard to feel 2011 when you have a 1997 internet connection at home.

  • no, it's time. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Friday September 02, 2011 @09:08PM (#37293226) Homepage

    "omitting an optical drive in a full-size desktop computer build seems something like cheating"

    Optical disks? How quaint! :)

    • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

      While I can't imagine installing an optical drive in a computer an external one is handy for software that still ships on optical media as well as ripping the occasional cd or dvd. I use my external drive less and less but I know if I didn't have it I'd have to borrow someone else's sooner or later.

    • by vux984 ( 928602 )

      Optical disks? How quaint! :)

      You do realize people still buy software, and that it still comes on optical disks.

      Not everyone has a broadband yet.

      Optical discs aren't even close to dead yet.

      Maybe you don't need one, that's just fine, good for you.

      • Re:no, it's time. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by JanneM ( 7445 ) on Friday September 02, 2011 @09:36PM (#37293358) Homepage

        "You do realize people still buy software, and that it still comes on optical disks."

        This is a Linux system they built, though. Shrinkwrapped software is very rare, verging on nonexistent, for that OS.

        • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

          There's still other types of software: CD, DVD & BD.

          Although for a "cheap" system, removing the optical drive is at least an understandable trade off versus more expensive products.

        • by vux984 ( 928602 )

          This is a Linux system they built, though. Shrinkwrapped software is very rare, verging on nonexistent, for that OS.

          Good point. Frankly the whole article is a bit sketchy though... I mean... they assume you have a keyboard, mouse, and monitor already... doesn't that imply you already had a computer previously?

          Doesn't that imply you had software for it? Software you might want to use on the new one? In which case going with linux was a bad move...

          On the other hand... if your dismantling your old desktop to b

          • Doesn't that imply you had software for it? Software you might want to use on the new one? In which case going with linux was a bad move...

            You are assuming the former computer was running windows, some people have been using linux exclusively for well over a decade.

      • People still use dialup too, I certainly wouldn't be putting a dialup modem in a modern computer by default either though.
      • Translation: "I don't have decent broadband in the backwater where I live, so I have to select the special 'ship me a CD' option and pay extra when I buy software.... [whine, whine, whine]"

        I don't have any stats handy, but the percentage of software that is distributed on optical media has been plummeting in recent years. The software that isn't available for direct download is dwindling fast. Yes, I buy software, and I buy most of it online, and download it on the spot. My broadband is kinda sucky too,

  • I can't wait until these sorts of things are possible with commodity ARM (or other architecture) chips as well, especially for overall power consumption.

  • I've used my optical drive probably twice this calendar year, once to install an old game and once to install MFC printer s/w that's not available for download. For the most part I can do without one.

  • Probably more important than an optical drive

    • you're right, that IS cheating not to have those. A new usb keyboard and mouse from several place on eBay can be had for $11. But the monitor is a killer, for young eyes could squeak by with a 15 inch that sometimes is under $100, but at my age that's going to cost unless buying used or refurbished. I'm on a 23" widescreen samsung now that was $250 refurbished with warranty. but there goes a cheap computer budget.

    • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

      They are also completely interchangeable after market parts.

  • I've bought 4 USB thumb drives over the past 5 years and so far, 2 have failed. These little bastards weren't cheap either. I've also got CDs I burned about 7 years ago that still work fine. Not ONE failure. Therefore, everything gets backed up to DVDs.

    The car stereo also doesn't play MP3s (2007 model, factory stereo) so I can either A: spend about $200 on an aftermarket mp3 adapter or B: burn CDs.

    • by nuggz ( 69912 )

      Realy? I've fond hard drives to be cheap and effective.
      1TB of storage is a monsterous stack of DVD's or a small hard drive. 2TB is even worse.

      As far as hard drive reliability, make 2 or 3 copies. 3 2TB hard drives is pretty easy to handle, DVD's pretty darn difficult.
      I don't have a blu ray drive, but I dont' see it being momumentally better.

      Optical is dead, and flash drives aren't reliable.

      • Good point. I have already started using an HD for backups but I still back up to optical too, just in case the HD dies. It certainly is a chore to make several DVDs to back up several GB of files but at least if one or two go bad, I have more backups. If a HD goes bad, I'm screwed.

        However, even more to your point, the price per GB falls every year and capacity increases. Behold HD size in rough terms:

        1985: top-of-the-line HD had MAYBE 10MB. It also cost about $5000.
        1995: about 8-10 GB. Cost: I honestly don

        • But what the hell does someone do with 100 PB? As is the case with CPU speeds, we will eventually hit a ceiling. Except in this case, the ceiling will be what is practical vs. what is possible. I can't imagine someone ever using that much HD space except for perhaps a company that never destroys old customer data.

          You lack imagination then. I can easily think of someone using that much without even breaking a sweat, like e.g. many people like to keep a pristine collection of their music files as FLAC files, and those tend to take a lot of space. Similarly, many people like to keep 1:1 copies of their movies and animation and TV series, and even at 1080p those tend to eat space like crazy. And just think about it: in 2020 1080p will be really low resolution and movies will likely weigh in at about 200Gb even with reas

        • But what the hell does someone do with 100 PB?...
          ...I can't imagine someone ever using that much HD space except for perhaps a company that never destroys old customer data.

          It seems to me I remember sometime along in the early 90's arguing with my wife about whether to put a 40MB HD in our new comp, or an 85MB HD. The wife couldn't imagine ever filling up 40MB, much less 85 MB.

          Pretty much same argument happened a few years back, arguing over whether to put a 250GB HD in a new comp. That time, *I* was th

  • Kind of tangentially on-topic (wink-wink), but ... I am planning to upgrade my home server machine, which has been humming not so quietly since 2003. Sadly, I have not much dabbed in PC hardware since then -- do you guys know any online references with example configuration for decent, quiet machines to use as a starting point? My basic requirements are ecc registered ram, a terabyte or so of some kind of raid, a quad CPU and a well-supported video running Linux and, very occasionally, an odd windows instan
  • by Khyber ( 864651 ) <techkitsune@gmail.com> on Friday September 02, 2011 @09:56PM (#37293478) Homepage Journal

    I built a better system (WITH A VIDEO CARD AND OPTICAL DRIVE, PCMAG) for $189 on Pricewatch.


    But you forget about monitor pricing.

  • Its not my dream rig or anything, but picking off just about the cheapest item in each category yields $184 from newegg.

    CPU $42 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819103888 [newegg.com]
    Motherboard $38 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813153181 [newegg.com]
    RAM $25 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820134635 [newegg.com]
    Case & PSU $30 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811162059 [newegg.com]
    HD $34 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822148698 [newegg.com]
    DVD $1
    • Your CPU: 2.8GHz single core
      Their CPU: 3.4GHz dual core

      For the extra seven bucks, loss of a dvd drive, their computer's performance beats the pants off yours.
    • by jmorris42 ( 1458 ) *

      I had to leave newegg for a cpu to do it but here is what I did in ten minutes:

      CPU ADO3800IAA5CU AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core Processor 3800 2.0GHz AM2 OEM $21 + unknown shipping from a vendor called StarMicro I picked up from pricewatch.

      Foxconn KS188-ISO450 Black / Silver SGCC MicroATX Mini Tower Computer Case 350W Power Supply 39.99+9.99 shipping, newegg

      Foxconn A76ML-K AM3 Ready / AM2+ / AM2 AMD 760G Micro ATX AMD Motherboard $49.99 newegg, free shipping. Cheapest I could find with onboard video supported

  • by CaptCanuk ( 245649 ) on Friday September 02, 2011 @10:03PM (#37293520) Journal

      - keyboard
      - mouse
      - network cable
      - monitor?
      - USB key to install from
      - Friend to copy OS onto your USB key
      - taxes (for those lucky to have them)

    I think the real cheat is any budget that involves a mail-in rebate.
    The article starts out about financial difficulties and then provides a price that doesn't reflect the walk home price. 3-6 weeks you might make that money back IF you are lucky that the rebate was honored.

  • by atomicbutterfly ( 1979388 ) on Friday September 02, 2011 @10:03PM (#37293526)

    I'm currently on a bit of a "get legit" roll when it comes to my media. All my software is acquired legally via the net so that's OK, it's just stuff like movies and music that I still require an optical drive for. Why?

    1. I like my music in FLAC format. There are very few digital music stores which sell in this format. My favourite by far is http://bandcamp.com/ [bandcamp.com] but they don't have much mainstream/big-artist stuff.

    2. Even if I didn't have a preference for FLAC, there aren't any legal digital music stores around which service my needs with at least a high-bitrate MP3. I don't want to use iTunes because I don't want to deal with AAC (I can convert them but I don't want a dependency on iTunes anyway). Amazon still hasn't, for whatever reason, opened an MP3 store here in Australia yet despite promising to open up to the world many years ago.

    3. You can forget about any legit digital movie stores selling non-DRMed stuff either.

    So what do I do? I buy music CDs and rip them to FLAC. I buy DVDs and use HandBrake to convert them, or just play them directly with VLC. Both of these cases require an optical drive, and until such a time occurs that physical sales of media are completely abolished, I will continue to do this. UNLESS... a suitable online store apears in my area which sells non-DRMed music AND video of what I want, in my preferred format. At this rate that's going to take a very long time (if ever), so I do what I can to stave off piracy.

  • Get a $15 optical drive then.  Whatever.

    You do realize optical drives are shit, right?
  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Friday September 02, 2011 @10:14PM (#37293590)

    you could of gotten a amd board with a newer ATI chipset with DVI for about $15 more and for like $30 more a AM3+ board.

  • by pbjones ( 315127 ) on Friday September 02, 2011 @10:14PM (#37293592)

    It fails because you need to load an OS from somewhere, from something, so you need to include the cost of the USB stick and time/cost of downloading Linux. I didn't see the cost of HD cable either. CPU Heatsink? Minor stuff but it all adds up. 2 GB of ram? pfft. Why have a HD at all? boot from USB and use Network storage.

    • I've done it that way for fun but usb boot/system disk and internet storage are too dang slow.

      but you don't need to worry about install media, just borrow from your local bsd or linux evangelist. I loan out cd or usb stick, and have done installs for friends and coworkers on their personal machines. wish I had some stickers of dead microsoft colored butterfly men that I could put on case of my laptop every time I kill a windows install. hmmm, that could work as a web page too....

  • Don't like the idea of useing a cheap PSU with a case for under $30 much less a under $30 psu.

  • From www.tigerdirect.com I bought one of their "kit" computers with an AMD Quad Core CPU, 2gb of Ram, a 500gb HD, a DVD r/w, and Ubuntu. I added a kb with a touchpad that I already had around the office and "viola!" a sub-200 desktop *with* optical drive. I haven't done a thing to it since... and I'm posting from it now.

  • Beagleboards [beagleboard.org] are 149.00USD and Pandaboards [pandaboard.org] are 179.00USD you then just need an SD card 4G or better. I run a pandaboard myself for some D-Star ham radio stuff.

  • by dnorf87 ( 1082671 ) on Saturday September 03, 2011 @12:51AM (#37294268)

    I've done quite a few system builds using this AMD bundle deal that Micro Center has had going on for some time now. Every single system works flawlessly, even the ones with the Powerspec case/power supply (more business if the PSU does fail, and I haven't seen one take a motherboard out yet.)

    Phenom II X2 560 Black edition: http://www.microcenter.com/single_product_results.phtml?product_id=0347369 [microcenter.com] $87.99
    Biostar A780L3G AM3 760G mATX Motherboard: http://www.microcenter.com/single_product_results.phtml?product_id=0351634 [microcenter.com] $FREE
    Western Digital Caviar Blue 500gb SATA 6.0gbps: http://www.microcenter.com/single_product_results.phtml?product_id=0352164 [microcenter.com] $49.99
    Micro Center branded 2x2gb of DDR3 1333: http://www.microcenter.com/single_product_results.phtml?product_id=0353218 [microcenter.com] $19.99
    PowerSpec TX-381 Micro ATX Computer Case: http://www.microcenter.com/single_product_results.phtml?product_id=0330536 [microcenter.com] $24.99
    Cooler Master eXtreme Power Plus 500w PSU: http://www.microcenter.com/single_product_results.phtml?product_id=0295037 [microcenter.com] $37.99
    Samsung 22x SATA DVD-RW drive: http://www.microcenter.com/single_product_results.phtml?product_id=0293049 [microcenter.com] $21.99
    Grand Total of $255.10 after tax.

    You have an overclockable dual core CPU (I wouldn't push too far with the stock heatsink and with that motherboard, but a little bump to 3.6 GHz shouldn't be an issue.), better graphics than the system in the article, twice as much system memory (4gb vs. 2gb), an optical drive, an actual decent power supply, a case with a handle on it, and I could probably go on, but i'd hope you all get the point. A whole $45 more before tax, not including the lame $8 mail in rebate for the power supply. Definitely worth every penny, and this is all something you could pick up and have together in a couple hours assuming you have a store close to you. Most would likely pay $40+ for the convenience alone. I also didn't shop around too much. Better might be possible.

Loose bits sink chips.