Aero on the cheap…

I've seen a handful of comments in the press lately about what kind of graphics hardware will be necessary in order to run the new Windows Aero UI features on a Windows Vista computer. So as an experiment, I thought I'd take a few minutes and price out some hardware over on to see how much it would really cost to put together an Aero-capable configuration. Obviously there are many different systems out there that will run Aero just fine, but I thought it would be interesting to price out the lowest cost system I could build.

Here's what I found:

Product Description Total Price
POWMAX 3304 BK Black All metal construction (SGCC) MicroATX Desktop Computer Case 230W Power Supply - Retail
Model #: 3304 Black
Item #: N82E16811145003
Intel BOXD945GTPL Socket T (LGA 775) Intel 945G Micro ATX Intel Motherboard - Retail
Model #: BOXD945GTPL
Item #: N82E16813121294
Intel Celeron D 326 Prescott 533MHz FSB LGA 775 EM64T Processor w/ Execute Disable Bit Model BX80547RE2533CN - Retail
Model #: BX80547RE2533CN
Item #: N82E16819112207
Patriot Signature 1GB (2 x 512MB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 667 (PC2 5300) Unbuffered Dual Channel Kit System Memory Model PSD21G667KH - Retail
Model #: PSD21G667KH
Item #: N82E16820220070
Seagate U Series X 20 ST320014A 20GB 5400 RPM IDE Ultra ATA100 Hard Drive - OEM
Model #: ST320014A
Item #: N82E16822148051
Subtotal: $306.80

Just over $300! Not a bad buy... of course you'd have to BYOKMD, and the hard drive is on the small side, but plenty of room for basic tasks like creating office documents, browsing the web and sending email.

So lets say we added a $129 graphics card, bringing the total to $435.80...

SAPPHIRE 100145 Radeon X1600PRO 512MB GDDR2 PCI Express x16 Video Card - OEM
Model #: 100145
Item #: N82E16814102652 $129.00

What does the better graphics card get you? Better performance in a number of scenarios:

  • In window management scenarios, having more local graphics memory means that the system can handle having more windows open simultaneously, and drive larger displays. You'll see better responsiveness when you move a window or use Flip3D and have more windows open at the same time.
  • Better performance when using applications that make use of your GPU. These could be traditional Direct3D based applications like games, or Google Earth, and also new applications developed using Windows Presentation Foundation, like Microsoft Codename Max.
  • Improved video playback when watching video encoded using any format that benefits from hardware accellerated decoding.

Does this mean  you need a super-high end graphics card to run Aero? No. The system described above uses baseline integrated graphics that are built in on the motherboard, and will run well for traditional Windows scenarios. You will however definitely see much more tangible benefits in the experience of using Windows as you scale up to more powerful graphics hardware with larger amounts of faster local video memory.

Comments (3)

  1. Joku says:

    Which gives more tangible benefits and in which situations, 512 of DDR2 or 256 of GDDR(3)? What about 512 GDDR.. I guess there are bandwidth or atleast latency improvements in the GDDR compared to DDR2.

  2. Rosyna says:

    I was reading the comments on some of these parts and they aren’t exactly getting the best reviews ever.  Especially for that case.

    Not to mention that video card requires a 420 Watt power supply and the one that you link to only has a 230 Watt power supply. So although the total would be $435.80, it doesn’t appear you can actually build a computer that runs with these components at that price.

  3. Kam VedBrat says:

    yep. I didn’t think through the power supply… so really the right thing to do is to swap out the case for this one…

    ASPIRE X-QPACK-BK/420 Black Aluminum 1.0 w/ ABS plastic front panel MicroATX Desktop Computer Case ATX 420W power supply Power Supply – Retail

    …at $85, it adds $50.01 which still gets you a great set up for under $500.

    At the end of the day… you’re not going to build the best system ever when you just go through and find the lowest-cost parts with no other criteria (which is what I did)…

    That said, I think the point still stands that you could get a fine/acceptable system at a very low price that runs Aero really quite well.

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