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It’s that time of year again where the students head back to the classrooms or lecture halls. Thankfully I’m past that now – actually closer to sending my own off (yikes!) – but the usual need for PC upgrade to set the year off to a good start is such a common need that we’re all familiar with back to school sales in every shop that’s even remotely associated with education.

But in all the noise of “buy me, buy me, buy me” what do you actually part cash with?

We’ve narrowed down the field into what works best together when building your own PC from components, in various categories from budget to behemoth.

Back-to-School Budget Build!

If you’ve finally chucked out that hunk of beige metal from 1995 but don’t have much cash to spare, then you can still get a powerful machine for all manor of internet, office and picture editing stuffs normally associated with school and collage work. Here’s what we recommend:

AMD Athlon II X2 or X3 CPU: These CPUs have enough raw power to get the job done without costing much at all.  Going for an AMD AM3 socket allows the CPU to be upgraded to a more powerful Athlon II X4 or Phenom II in the future if need be.

ASUS M4A88TD-M EVO/USB3 motherboard: If you decide on the Athlon II X3 above, this ASUS board can unlock the fourth core for free with its simple Core Unlocker switch, giving even better value to your build. Combined with the Turbo Key II we’ve also previously covered the benefits of, it’s an obvious choice for an extra, reliable performance boost at very little effort.

The onboard graphics mean no extra video card is required – although if necessary there’s a PCI-Express upgrade slot available – and combined with ASUS GPU Boost it has enough power for casual gaming and all types of video playback.

The extra SATA 6Gbps and USB 3 is worth it from a perspective of long term investment as it effectively makes the board upgrade proof if you add faster hard drives or USB 3 external peripherals.


ASUS M4A88TD-M EVO/USB 3 motherboard - a great budget buy

4GB DDR3 1,333MHz: Remember – capacity over MHz for budget builds. 4GB of memory is essential to give space to dive into when you need it. It keeps a PC smooth and frustrations low, which is perfect for when the demand on it gets high as school-work kicks up a gear.

500GB SATA Hard Drive: Unless you’ve got some extreme storage requirements for tons of video or games, 500GB is plenty of space to hold the OS, office, internet applications and all the academic work. Plus, they’re pretty cheap too now!

ASUS VW195T-P Monitor: Remember if you’re going to spend long hours staring onto a screen you want a good quality image with great colours. At 19 inches in size and with a 1440 x 900 resolution the ASUS VW195T-P has a great set of spec’s for a budget monitor. If that’s still too small a multitude of documents, MSN and iTunes all in one go, the ASUS VH242H is the 24 inch version, which while a little more expensive but has a much larger 1920×1080 resolution – that’s full HD – and a solid three year warranty.

Antec 300 PC Case: Antec’s 300 is universally renowned for providing the best cost:performance ratio on the market, and it’s solid steel construction will last years.

400-500W PSU: 400-500W is plenty for this build. It’s worth paying a bit more to buy a brand name with a reputation for quality, to make sure you’re getting a good product.

The Gamers Delight!

The work-play balance in life is essential, right? There’s no reason why one machine can suit both builds: one that gets fired up for gaming, yet cool enough for working. It’s the build that will handle video editing and heavy multitasking for those stressed all-nighters when the research load piles up.

Intel Core-i7 930: with plenty of power, the i7-930 can be overclocked well over 3GHz giving even more grunt. If you’re not too familiar with overclocking though, Intel just recently dropped the price of its faster, bigger brother the Core i7-950 as well.

ASUS Rampage III Formula or ASUS P6X58D-E motherboard: While the P6X58D-E is a fully capable motherboard, built for overclocking, reliability as well as SLI or CrossFire gaming, the Rampage III Formula gives the cutting edge in performance and game FPS. It’ll give you the most from the hardware plugged in, as well as innovative features like RoG connect to really tweak and overclock the system to the limit, and SupremeFX X-Fi 2 for the best audio quality on any motherboard out there.

6-12GB DDR3 2,000MHz: While 6GB will suit most people, newer 12GB kits (4GB x3) are now available that offer tons of headroom for heavy multitasking, video editing and gaming. Faster memory also gives more overhead for overclocking too, as well as obviously higher performance.

ASUS VH242H or ASUS VE276Q Monitor: You’ve got to go for at least 24 inch monitor here, or better yet, the 27 inch of the VE276Q. They both have the same resolution, although 27 inch VE276Q has a few more features up its sleeve. Depending on your personal tastes for a finer dot-pitch or more space so things look a bit more spread out, either monitor is a great choice.

ASUS ENGTX460 1GB TOP Graphics Card

ASUS ENGTX460 1GB TOP Graphics Card - Grab two of these in SLI for gaming kicks!

Two ASUS ENGTX460 DirectCU TOP/2DI/1GD5 graphics cards: The Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 is easily the most popular graphics card out there right now, and two in SLI gives an un-matched performance potential, not to mention support for things like PhysX in games and CUDA accelerated applications like video encoders or Adobe CS software.

The TOP series from ASUS already heavily overclocked yet its DirectCU heatsink keeps things quiet even under stress. The 1GB model is worth it over the 786MB for higher resolution gaming on the monitors suggested above.

Lian Li PC-X1000 or Silverstone FT02 case: Something beautiful is an essential cover to a high performance build, and both the X1000 and FT02 have it in spades with their gentle curves and brushed aluminium bits. Mmmm!

Crucial C300 256GB SSD and 2TB Hard drive: Using the ultra fast Crucial C300 SSD as a boot drive gives the system a very nippy feeling. 256GB is the latest Crucial does and its enough for many, many programs and games. We’d still opt for a 2TB drive for mass storage though given the cost per gigabyte ratio. All those videos, music and pictures have to go somewhere.

~1,000W Power Supply: A larger power supply is required to keep all this lot above nicely powered and running stable. Quality here is essential – try looking at Corsair AX or Enermax Revolution 85+ series.

Let us know if those builds are good for you, or what you’ve recently built for a new back-to-school system!

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