Buy A Decent System For $325 (Part 1) : , Zoostorm Desktop PC, Primo 6000i, HP Compaq DC7900 SFF, Dell Optiplex 745 MT

1/9/2013 5:58:10 PM

We put his bargain-hunting hat on, and wears the confident air of someone who thinks they can buy a decent system for $325.

I’ve been sent some amazingly expensive equipment to review over the years. Some things I’ve greeted with a quiet envy that I don’t own something that brilliantly conceived and constructed, while some things have left me wondering who in their right mind would buy it.

For exactly that reason, I wouldn’t blow a huge budget buying a PC, because the turnover of parts and technology will relegate it to the status of also-ran in the blink of an eye. It’s a hard truth that the majority of branded PCs currently leaving the factory are already obsolete, in the strictest application of the word. The pace of change is unlikely to slow down anytime soon, though, which leaves us all wondering what the best plan is.

Well you could be tempted by those brands that go on about ‘future proofing’ which, in their context, means spending excessively on their most advanced products. Or, you could work on the basis that a PC is concurrent for about 3-4 years, and on those timescales you’ll buy something new and cheap to replace the cheap and cheerful system you previously purchased. That might not seem especially friendly to the environment, but it will be lighter on your pocket.

That begs the question exactly how inexpensive can a system be? Well, if you’ve pulled it out of a skip, very inexpensive, but for the sake of this article I’m going to talk about buying systems.

I’ve given myself a budget of $325 to see what I can achieve, and I’ve decided to look at a range of computers that you might use to do typical office chores. If a system costing $325 lasts four years then the cost of ownership, excluding power consumption, of just $80 per annum seems a remarkably good deal.

What’s important to understand about many of the systems I’m talking about is that, by definition, they’re not the very latest hardware. That doesn’t preclude them from being useful pieces of equipment that will run the latest version of Windows, though, or that they’re incapable of performing many of the tasks that you need a system to perform.

First up let’s look at some cut-price desktop systems, where I found some surprisingly pokey gear inside my $325 budget.

Desktop Choices

Given all the parts you need other than the computer to actually work, I’m going to take the general assumption that you will have a monitor, and possibly a mouse and keyboard too. So given that we’re just talking about a base unit, what exactly can you buy with $325 burning a hole in your pocket?

Zoostorm Desktop PC ($325 from Ebuyer)

This system is based on an Intel H61 chipset and offers the Intel Pentium DC G645 2.9GHz that, as the ‘DC’ suggests, is a dual core CPU. Amazingly for this price this system also comes with 8GB of RAM, a DVD Writer and a 500GB hard drive.

Zoostorm Desktop PC

Zoostorm Desktop PC

The processor uses socket 1155 (also called H2), so you can replace it with something more impressive when your budget allows. This is an original Sandy Bridge chipset, but in theory accepts new Ivy Bridge processors. It also has a PCI Express x16 slot, so you could put a discrete video card in here too. The only caveat to that plan is that the mATX Tower case only comes with a 300 watt PSU, so there are limits to how much expansion the system can reasonably handle.

On the plus side it has a PS/2 keyboard port, lots of USB 2.0 (no USB 3.0), Gigabit LAN, six channel audio, and both VGA and DVI video output. It also comes with a 1 year collect and return warranty, and incredibly the price is inclusive of warranty.

What you do need to add, other than the obvious peripheral items is an operating system, because the Zoostorm is shipped devoid of one. Those wanting to stick to the $325 budget could use a wide range of Linux distorts, or you could buy an upgrade version of Windows for another $65, or a full OEM license for $114.

Primo 6000i ($317 from Overclockers UK)

The Primo is a low cost PC that Overclockers will configure however you’d like it, but the basic system comes for under $325. So what do you actually get for that price?

Primo 6000i

Primo 6000i

This is another Intel H61 system, like the Zoostorm, except in his model they’ve used the Intel Pentium G620 2.60GHz CPU, which is slightly slower than the G645. They also only provide 4GB of RAM, though upgrading to 8GB costs you only $20.

Included in the base model is a 500GB hard drive, a 24x DVD+RW SATA writer, and eight-channel audio.

There is probably slightly more legroom for expansion in the Primo as, while it is a microATX Case and motherboard, it has a 500W PSU to handle a much more powerful graphics option. The video you get as standard is the Intel GMA X4500 that’s part of the CPU, which is fine for 2D work and video playback, but hardly sufficient for fluid high resolution 3D gaming.

There is no OS installed as standard, but Windows 7 can be added for $80, and they’re offering a Windows 8 upgrade to that for just $24 until January 31st.

HP Compaq DC7900 SFF Desktop PC ($273 from Misco)

It appears that HP entirely miscalculated how many business systems it would sell a couple of years back, and the DC7900 is still being shifted because of that. As sold at this price, this is a rather old design built on the Intel Q45 chipset that first came out in 2008. Basically, this is a four year old computer!

HP Compaq DC7900 SFF Desktop PC

HP Compaq DC7900 SFF Desktop PC

That said, the Core 2 Duo E8400 processor it comes with was a sterling performer, and you do also get 2GB of RAM and an 80GB hard drive in the small form factor box. But these aren’t really the big selling point, that’s the fact that you also get Windows 7 Professional on it.

This is old technology, but if speed isn’t critical this is a very competitive price for a fully working built for business system that comes with a 12 month warranty.

Dell Optiplex 745 MT ($293 from Microdream Ltd)

This won’t be a big surprise to learn that this system isn’t coming from Dell directly, who stopped selling this particular type of Optiplex some time ago. These systems are sold as ‘Refurbished’ by Microdream, and as such they come with no small amount of caveats.

Dell Optiplex 745 MT

Dell Optiplex 745 MT

My experience of buying refurbished hardware has swung wildly from items that looked entirely new to those that had definitely seen better days. It’s a gamble, but those that win can get good hardware for a song.

If you decide you are willing to take that chance, then in this example you get a Core 2 Duo E2160 1.8GHz CPU, 4GB of RAM, an 80GB hard drive, an Nvidia GeForce GT 610 video card, and Windows 7 in the bundle.

For another $11 they’ll provide a mouse and keyboard, and a 12 month warranty for $48. If you don’t take that last option then it is only covered for 3 months, barely enough time to really test it properly.

This system is sold as ‘Gaming Ready’ which given the capabilities of the GeForce GT 610 I’d strongly suggest is an oversell, but I can’t deny that the combination of a workable solution and a Windows 7 license is an attractive one.

This is just one of the many system that Microdream are shipping currently, and they can even offer you a system with a monitor for less than $325 if you are happy with refurbished equipment, and the very limited warranty that it comes with.

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