When Budget Build is NOT Worth the Money
It is not too often you will hear me ditzing on a budget build, however you need to understand that the word cheap is just politically correct for junk in many cases. With this being the case I have seen a few budget builds of late that fall into this category. In some bizarre effort to drop the price of a computer build a few dollars the person doing the build has allowed components that are not really of great quality into the build for the sake of price. Sacrificing quality for price is not frugal it is stupid.
I have seen builds of late, so called budget gamer builds that from the use of a decent video card for one a few steps lower. Specifically in one case they used a 4650 and called the system a budget gaming build. Now while they did save money they also left the system limited to 1024×768 for quality gaming and future games will be hard pressed to play at any decent detail level. This is even odder of a choice when you realize just a $10 bump to a 4670 gives a pretty nice performance boost.
The build went further limiting the system to an old Athlon X2 processor and 2 gigs of DDR2 ram. A simple bump of about $30 in the budget could have moved the system to an Athlon II x2 which is quicker and has more upgrade potential and also moved the system into 4 gigs of RAM. When you realize we are talking about a build of around $500 this means that for a 10% price bump we could have gotten a much nicer than 10% quality bump.
It is not even just in whole builds, many times it is hardware companies with specific parts. Antec produces an amazing value gaming case, the Three Hundred. The case has great potential cooling, a dust filter and has a good ability to hide cabling. For the price there is no case to touch it, you can usually find this case for around $60. Now enter round two, the Antec Two Hundred. The idea was to take the Three Hundred design and make it even less expensive…
The Antec Two Hundred from the outside looks a bit like the Three Hundred that had cosmetic surgery. While the basic lines are the same the face has been made up. The plain, simple lines of the three Hundred are replaced with some angular elements. Two different people I know said it comes off with a Star Wars type feel. The finish is still the same as is the open HD bay area where two 120mm fans can be placed for air intake.
When you open the case you see the similarity to the Antec Three Hundred is much more than skin deep. The basic layout is identical to the Three Hundred case until you notice the big hole in the motherboard tray. That hole is in place to allow for easy swapping of high end heatsinks.
This is not the only concession to higher end features, the 3 1/2” bay on the front of the case actually conceals a 3 1/2” SATA removable drive bay. This makes it simple to add another HD for backup or read from old drives. Even use this as a multimedia drive add-on.
However all is not perfect with this new case. Like the Three Hundred this case comes with a removable front bevel to allow for easy installation of two 120mm fans for cooling. Also like the Three Hundred the front bevel houses a filter to keep dust intake done. THIS is where the first failing of this case is. Instead of an easy to remove and clean filtering system like the Three Hundred has, Antec chose this as a place to reduce cost and used a foam filter held in place by metal tabs and two screws. (I tried to get a good picture of this but was not able to get a clear close-up)
The metal tabs will break under repeated bending to remove the filter and the while you can remove the filter without the tabs being bent it will tear easily. The result is a filter system that you might get one or two uses out of and then it will begin to have issues.
Another issue I found with this case was in it’s stand-off layout. The case is targeting at budget builders and yet only has standoff ability for full ATX motherboards. In the picture to the right you will notice the two rows of standoffs in place for a full ATX motherboard. The two black dots are where a micro–ATX board has standoffs on it’s bottom edge.
This picture was sent to Antec along with an explanation to find out why this was done. The reply was as follows:
Veronica Feldmeier (Senior Media Coordinator): “We want to thank you for pointing the mounting points issue out to us. This was an oversight due to the accelerated pace of development for this product. It was the first time that we went from conception to production in a very short time (about four months) and somehow we missed that in the final QC check. Future production will have this corrected.”
When I reviewed this case I started with the mindset that this case was meant for pure budget builders. I mean dropping $10 below the price of the Three Hundred, an excellent case, must have been to get to people that care only about the bottom line right? However as I reviewed this case and found it’s features I realized this is case without it’s own identity. It tries to do all that made the Three Hundred a great budget case but then it sticks in higher end features.
The typical uber budget builder is not going to be swapping out heat sinks often enough to need a tray cutout. Nor are they likely to need the ability to use swappable HD bay. Especially when you consider most budget builders do not touch the BIOS and you need to set the HD controller to AHCI to allow for this to be used to hot swap correctly.
Plus features that the budget builder would make use of are poorly implemented. The dust filter will not stand up to any kind of regular use and the missing standoffs for micro-ATX boards, the boards of choice for budget building, is a huge oversight.
Now this is not to say the case is totally bad. I did a quick dirty build as you can see when I was doing my initial testing of the Intel i5. The case did provide some solid cooling even without the front fans. Adding two 120mm fans in the front however gave the case a nice boost.
Even with the front fans, Antec Tri-Speed 120mm, the case was very quiet with all fans on low.
The case is currently the home, permanently that is, of an Athlon II X4 gaming system with a 4850 for video. The system runs very cool under heavy gaming load and is next to silent. I know how loud it is BTW because it sits on the floor right behind me, if it was noisy I would be so aware.
Despite the good I can find in the case I feel the bad out weighs it when being looked at for a first time or purely budget build. For $10 more the Antec Three Hundred might miss a few features but is a much better built case for budget building. The air filter alone for me makes it worth the extra money but my concern is first time builders dealing with a motherboard that has missing stand off support. While not a big deal to an experienced builder, a new builder, one of the targets of this case, could easily find themselves damaging a motherboard trying to put in an expansion card or connecting cables due to the lack of support under the motherboard.
With that being said once Antec addresses this and gets out a new run with the standoff holes the only draw back would be the filter and that is one that would be up to the individual to deal with.
Overall I feel that for the target audience Antec missed the mark. The Two Hundred has a few nice features for experienced hobbyists and a few flaws that will make it a potential mess for their target demographic. The Three Hundred remains in my eyes the better choice still.
Sometimes saving a few dollars is just not worth it.
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