After talking with some buddies of mine about budget builds, we were looking at upgrading my old pile of garbage and making it something usable. The idea I'm going with is to just worry about the baseline right away, and upgrade to decent components as the money comes in - I could save $800 for everything all at once, but I don't like the idea of dumping that much money into a computer all at once, because what happens if the car breaks down or I get laid off? Not smart to not have something in savings these days.
PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant / Benchmarks
CPU: Intel Celeron G530 2.4GHz Dual-Core Processor ($48.57 @ Amazon)
CPU Cooler: Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus 76.8 CFM Sleeve Bearing CPU Cooler ($19.99 @ Newegg)
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z68A-D3H-B3 ATX LGA1155 Motherboard ($84.79 @ NCIX US)
Memory: G.Skill Sniper Low Voltage Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($49.99 @ Newegg)
Case: Corsair 300R ATX Mid Tower Case ($75.84 @ Amazon)
Power Supply: SeaSonic 520W ATX12V / EPS12V Power Supply ($79.99 @ Newegg)
(Prices include shipping and discounts when available.)
(Generated by PCPartPicker 2012-05-10 04:06 EDT-0400)
So the basic idea is this: get a good quality motherboard and PSU to build on, and get the real CPU and GPU later on. As you can see, there's no HDD or GPU listed - I'll be reusing my existing components, and I'll get a copy of Windows 7 (R.I.P., WinXP) on my own. The HDD is... well, I can't remember the brand offhand, but it's SATA and 236GB, which is large enough for right now.
The GPU is pretty old, a Radeon HD 4870 512MB. Obviously, this is where the bottleneck will happen and it'll be the first part to be replaced; the plan is to replace it with something like a 6870 or 7850 depending on availability. Obviously the 4870 is operating on an older variation of PCI-E, but the motherboard should be backwards compatible so it shouldn't be an issue.
The Celeron is honestly just amazing for the price. I'm currently using a decrepit E4300 Core2Duo, so even just a different dual core CPU is going to be night and day. The Hyper 212+ isn't exactly necessary for the Celeron (stock cooling will work fine), but I'm planning on overclocking the i2500k I'll be upgrading into, and that's going to require decent cooling.
The case is a pretty simple, mid-range Corsair case. The Cooler Master HAF 912 is $20 cheaper and is about the same, feature-wise, but it's an ugly ricer piece of crap. I'm willing to spend $20 more for a case that doesn't look like dogshit.
Memory is pretty simple - lower voltage means tighter timings, 8GB will be plenty to start with, G.Skill is a reputable brand, and it's 1600. I've heard that the Celeron might not actually be able to support 1600, but that's fine; it'll slow it down if necessary, and the i2500k will have no issues with 1600.
Lastly, the PSU is a SeaSonic, it's bronze certified, it's large enough to support my planned system (calculated draw will top out just under 500W, which gives an extra 20W of safety), and it's modular. I don't think that can be beat.
Any suggestions for improvements on this base? I don't see much anywhere where fat can be trimmed, but it'd be nice to be able to get a fresh HDD right away instead of adding one later.