Sound Card: Integrated 8-Channel
Current Cost: $0
Consecutive Guides: 23
Price Change: N/A
There are a few concessions with having mainstream, or even high-end, CPU, video, and motherboard in an entry-level system configuration, and one of them is to make use of the motherboard's integrated audio. Our AMD and Intel motherboards both feature very capable 8-channel audio solutions, and although there is a bit of CPU overhead, current dual core processors make this a non-issue. Soundcards are also one of the most easily upgradeable system components, so by going the onboard route, you can then save up for a higher-end Audigy4 or SoundBlaster X-Fi soundcard and upgrade later.
We also haven't allocated any of our system budget on a low-cost, dedicated soundcard that may need to be tossed afterwards. For our value systems, sticking with on-board sound not only makes sense now, but it is an economical strategy for future upgrades.
Speakers: Logitech X-530 6-Piece Speaker System
Current Cost: $48
Consecutive Guides: 11
Price Change: $0
Buying a set of entry-level gaming speakers should never be an afterthought, and though we're not going to be purchasing a set of high-end Klipsch Promedia speakers, you can still get amazing game audio without breaking the bank. The optimum method of determining your choice of speakers is to actually listen to a few sets, using CD and game music to make the final determination.
The Logitech X-530 5.1 speaker set is an exceptional choice at this price range. The overall power specifications are excellent for the class, with a total RMS of 70W, including a 25W sub-woofer and 45W in Satellites (2 x 7.4 watts front, 15.5 watts center, 2 x 7.4 watts rear), and gaming, movie and music output are all excellent for this class. The Logitech name also means that the X-530 speaker set is available at most of the major online vendors, so you will not have trouble finding it.
Our AMD and Intel platforms both support 8-channel audio, so the Logitech X-530 set is a great match, and now with a small price cut, these can be found at just below the $50 mark. The X-530 speakers also offer a superb combination of value, mid-range power, 5.1 audio support, and great looks, making it virtually impossible to find better gaming speakers in the same price range.
Logitech has introduced an upgraded version of their low-cost 5.1 speakers, in the form of the X-540. The X-540 speakers feature the same RMS power specifications as the X-530, but the units have been restyled and it now includes a wired remote control pod. These are still a bit too expensive for our guide, but for a buyer with a bit of extra cash burning a hole in his or her pocket - or if you can catch one during a sale, it's a viable upgrade.
For our Value Gaming PC, we've taken the advice of our readers and toned down the communications options, in order to make better use of our budget and squeeze out as much performance as possible.
Current Cost: $0
Consecutive Guides: 25
Price Change: N/A
The AMD and Intel motherboards not only include onboard audio, but also have integrated Gigabit LAN hardware as well. Making use of the free onboard LAN option gives us a bit more budget leeway, and allows cash to be allocated towards higher-performance components. This is just smart business when it comes to a value gaming PC, and there is no real difference between a basic NIC and the integrated Gigabit LAN found on these motherboards. Both are fully supported under Windows XP and will more than foot the bill for Internet use or LAN gaming.
We are no longer including a modem in our system configurations, since readers have rightfully pointed out that the majority of gamers already own some of the basic external devices like a modem, printer or scanner, or use DSL or cable Internet access (requiring only a LAN connection), and that the money could be put to better use elsewhere. If you do require a modem, the Creative Labs Modem Blaster 56K is still a great bet.