Entry-level PC - April 2018
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. Since Intel added HyperThreading support to its Pentium processors, these are very interesting models for those who don't want to spend too much on a CPU.
If you have somewhat higher expectations, take a look at our Budget All-round PC. That system includes an APU from AMD, which above all offers much better graphic performance.
CPU cooler - Intel Boxed cooler
The cooler that Intel includes with its processors is good enough for use in a budget system. Our 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. However, because we only install one DIMM, the upgrade path isn't too difficult.
To use the chosen processor, you'll need an Intel 300 Series motherboard. Otherwise, the motherboard for this system should be as affordable as possible. We choose the Gigabyte H310M S2H, an inexpensive H310 board that still offers all the features you need. This board also has a m.2-slot, so you can easily install a ssd.
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 really 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 WD Green 240GB is inexpensive and available in the M.2 form factor. Simply plug it into your mainboard and you're ready to go.
Since we are on a budget, we don't spend to much on a case. The Bitfenix Comrade offers decent cooling for its price leve, with front USB 3.0 as a bonus.
If you have some more to spend, the Cooler Master N200 is an attractive choice. 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 9 400W is competitively priced, although it performs quite well. Moreover, the PSU features a PEG connector for adding a discrete graphics card in the future.
This wireless keyboard and mouse set is sufficient for a basic PC. At the top of the keyboard, you'll find eight additional keys for directly controlling media functions like volume.
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.
|Processors||Intel Pentium Gold G5400 Boxed||–|
|CPU coolers||Intel Boxed cooler||–|
|Memory modules||4 GB DDR4||$33.99|
|Motherboards||Gigabyte H310M S2H||$56.07|
|Hard disks/SSDs||Western Digital Green 2018 240GB (M.2)||$49.99|
|Cases||Bitfenix Comrade Black||–|
|Power supplies||Be quiet! System Power 9 400W||–|
|PC speaker sets||Edifier M1360 Black||–|
|Save as your own wish list||Average total price:||$140.05|