What computer offers me the best bang for my buck?
June 29, 2009 6:07 PM   Subscribe

I've got $500.00 to spend for a new computer. I want to get the most bang for my buck. My needs are: - Play music - Edit and view photos - Edit and view videos - Create DVDs & Surf the Internet. My past history has been in PCs. I am open to building my own computer. So what should I get?
posted by jserdula to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have an old computer? If so, it is possible to upgrade it or reuse some of the old parts to stay within budget.
posted by @troy at 6:32 PM on June 29, 2009

I posted a similar question a couple of months ago. I bought an Acer Aspire One, that little teeny thing that looks like a baby laptop. It cost me around 400 bucks Canadian, I don't know what it is in the USA. It seems to do a lot. However both the screen and the keyboard are tiny. I solved these problems by getting a full size keyboard and mouse at the Salvation Army for 5 bucks, and a free 17 inch monitor off Freecycle. Now my Acer cranks away but I never actually look at it or touch it except to turn it on.
Play music - yes, although the speakers are kind of lame. I assume you could get better speakers and connect them.
Edit and view photos - no problem.
Edit and view videos - I've never edited videos, but I view them on the internet with usually no problem.
Create DVDs - no DVD or CD drive, you'd need to attach an external.
Surf the internet - no problem.
Hope that helps.
posted by crazylegs at 6:34 PM on June 29, 2009

Yeah, building is definitely the way to go, and is now very easy. I built an awesome desktop earlier this year with $500 in components from NewEgg. Find an old case lying around somewhere and reuse that, although you will probably want to get a new power supply. Don't go too old; I used a gigantic case for an old 386 that I found in my basement and ended up having to add custom mounts for the motherboard and cut holes through the steel shell for the fans. The end result is awesome, but took a lot of work. If you have room for it, keep in mind that a large (22") inch CRT monitor will have better resolution (and possibly color) than an LCD and will probably cost you $20 on Craigslist. With my $20 monitor budget I got a 22" Sony that is absolutely amazing and probably started its life in some architect's office.

There are plenty of websites with current $500 DIY build guides. Use the google.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 6:35 PM on June 29, 2009

Derive has it to build your own. Some links to get you started at slickdeals and anandtech
posted by palionex at 7:03 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ars Technica guides. They've been the best advice on this for about a decade now.


I wouldn't worry that much about your specific processing requirements. Any modern/new PC is going to feel great to you. You can spend a bunch more for a faster processor, and you'll probably only get a 25% or so improvement in actual video processing or whatever.

Just build the rig they recommend and move on ...
posted by intermod at 7:07 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

There are barebones PC kits online, if you aren't comfortable piecing things together. See here for some examples. They typically have everything you need minus a video card.
posted by kensch at 7:08 PM on June 29, 2009

You can also keep an eye out for excess sales if you're near any colleges. You can pick up some great hardware for dirt cheap.

Also if you're in the DC-VA-MD area, mefi mail me. I know someone who routinely sells off pretty good setups for a good price.
posted by cloax at 7:16 PM on June 29, 2009

I'm going to offer contrary device. At a 500 dollar pricepoint (monitor included?) I think you are way better off just grabbing a low-end Dell. System building is for fun and customization. I'd like to see someone price out something with these specs on newegg for less than 500.
posted by traco at 7:24 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

traco: The $500 system I built back in February is a quad core AMD 9600+, 4 gigs RAM, 1 TB hard drive, with a last generation 1 gig EVGA video card. Plays Left 4 Dead and other newish games on high settings, great for my GIS work, would be great for the OP's reqs, etc... more to the point, it's more powerful than the one you linked to. I lucked out on sales for the processor and hard drive, but the savings were maybe $50. Also, did I mention that this is nearly half a year ago? The cost would have risen if I'd bought a new monitor and case, but sources like Craigslist and your friends' basements are great for turning up such things. Sure, behind my flat screen is about a foot and a half of CRT monitor, but it looks better than an LCD. If I'd managed to dig up someone's old copy of XP, it would have been a $400-ish system.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 8:23 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm forgetting what my motherboard is, but it was a basic yet well-featured $65 model that will be upgradeable for the next few years.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 8:28 PM on June 29, 2009

There are many decent laptops that do all that very handily, within your price point.

If you want to do any sort of media editing, it's tremendous to be able to do it on the go, or even just for working anywhere in your dwelling you might please to.
posted by Scoo at 9:03 PM on June 29, 2009

I can't tell you what to buy, but I'll second New Egg as a place to get very good prices.

My husband put together a fairly fast computer from a barebones system he got there, and added the box, chip & heat sink, and memory, all for under $300. (He already had a monitor). He doesn't game on that machine, so no video card, but the chip is stupidly fast.
posted by jb at 9:53 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Actually, it may have been in the low $200s - we can't remember. All we know is it was crazy cheap for what we got.
posted by jb at 9:54 PM on June 29, 2009

Or maybe just check out this laptop at New Egg - under $400, and does so much more than the one I bought three years ago for $1000. (Stupid UK prices).
posted by jb at 10:00 PM on June 29, 2009

Or maybe just check out this laptop at New Egg - under $400, and does so much more than the one I bought three years ago for $1000. (Stupid UK prices).
posted by jb at 12:00 AM on June 30

My thoughts exactly -- you can easily find a laptop that easily does all you need done for less than $500 without having to look hard at all. Most weeks you can pick one up on sale at one of the larger box retail stores for $400. Why re-invent the wheel, why build something when you can take the thing out of the box and start banging on the keys immediately? And you can bang on those keys are a coffee shop or wherever else, to boot.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:04 PM on June 29, 2009

jb and dancestoblue: Yes, laptops have the advantage of portability. However, depending on what level of photo and video editing the OP is doing and how much they care about whether the photo or frame they are editing on screen will resemble the actual print or film, an inexpensive laptop might be a bad fit for them. I have yet to see a cheap laptop with a nice, high resolution screen that accurately reproduces color. Also, the particular refurbished model linked by jb is only about $50 cheaper than it was new at the end of last year when it got roundly panned for terrible performance. If the OP goes for a refurbished laptop, they should shop around first.

It would help if the OP would clarify whether they are interested in laptops, desktops, or both.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 10:37 PM on June 29, 2009

Response by poster: My preference is a desktop since I've been using laptops for the past 10 years and they always seem to slow down and crap out on me after 2 years. The monitor doesn't have to be included in the 500.00 since I already have one.
posted by jserdula at 5:23 AM on June 30, 2009

In that case, building is the cheapest way.
posted by jb at 5:47 AM on June 30, 2009

Response by poster: THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUGGESTIONS! I appreciate it.
posted by jserdula at 6:47 AM on July 2, 2009

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