questionslooking for advice for a cheap-ish desktop (large…

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My answer is the same that I always give everyone:

Look local. Ask around if anyone you know builds PCs or knows someone who does. Check Craigs List for people building PCs. Watch the listings for a couple weeks and you'll likely see similar ads from people who are building PCs and selling them there.

Obviously, you need to do some homework. Ask questions. Make sure you check the person out and feel comfortable with them.

When you find a local independant person not only will you get far better pricing but you will also gain a quality PC built with better hardware than you'll find in prebuilt units and you'll have someone local you can take it to if you have problems!

I've always bought mine local. For comparison, here's the unit I just purchased for $650 back in April:

AMD Phenom II X6 Thuban 2.8Ghz
ATI Radeon HD 5770 Juniper XT 1GB GDDR5
8GB GSkill RAM DDR3 1600
1TB 7200RPM HDD
680 watt PSU
DVD/CD RW DL
Win7 Pro 64 bit
Office 2007
Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro
Pshop Elements

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You should probably aim around $500, and skip the hard drive, since you seem to have some available to use.

CPU: ~$100
Mobo (+onboard sound): ~$100
RAM: ~$30
PSU: ~$80
Case: ~$50
Optical Drive: ~$20
Video card: ~$100

That's kind of the general range that I'd be looking in for the parts. It's based on what I remember of recent-ish prices, but they're just off-the-cuff, so don't take them too seriously.

If you are planning on professional CAD work, something like an NVidia Quadro card can easily cost several times the price of the rest of the computer, so I'm assuming a mid-range gaming-level card would be sufficient, and my estimates reflect that.

The cost above also doesn't include a monitor. Keep an eye out for perhaps a 22" around $100-$125, and look at the reviews.

Things that need to match up:
Socket on the CPU and motherboard
Video interface on video card and motherboard (PCI-E)
RAM speed and pin-count to motherboard
SATA HDD and optical

Just some basics. Hope it helps.

vote-for4vote-against

Keep checking woot or moofi.woot. I picked up a real nice one recently for $370... it was a referb though

This one to be specific: http://deals.woot.com/deals/details/8e526158-4ad2-4bcf-804e-38a5eb74823e/hp-p7-pavilion-desktop-with-quad-core-and-1tb-hard-drive-refurbished#23

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I'd like to note the difference between CAD and gaming cards.

CAD cards are great at pushing through huge numbers of polygons with simple texturing and lighting. They also have a higher precision of calculation. Game cards do smaller numbers of polygons, but are optimized for more complex effects. Slightly less precision can mean a lot more speed for them (this is all internally-speaking).

Also, if you're only doing simple models/diagrams, you won't need a very powerful card. If you're doing pro-level stuff, you might look into an expensive-ass workstation-level card.

Final advice: You could just replace whatever died in your current machine. Get the closest part you can, stick it in, fire 'er up. That's been the nature of the last 2 upgrade/repairs on my own box.

vote-for1vote-against

Bang for the buck ... $350 for a Dell Vostro 260, i3-2100 Sandy Bridge, 2GB ram, 250gb HDD.

http://configure.us.dell.com/dellstore/config.aspx?cs=04&dgvcode=ss&c=US&l=EN&oc=bvctbpd1&dgc=BF&cid=7420&lid=197374&acd=10549103-227502-F01204A00C272267C0A00272267A0A01A0A0N29
Add $50 for the i3.

One aspect that I often see folks exclude in their build is the OS, which a legit copy of W7 will run $80-100.

Upgrade the ram and the video card yourself from Newegg or something. Our CAD stations at work run with $50-class video cards, as most of our work is still 2D. System memory is where there's never too much of.

Yeah yeah, it's a Dell, but honestly, we've always been well served by the Small Business division for the few times we've had warranty aspects. Dell Home, OTOH ... ugh.