Whenever Microsoft releases a new desktop operating system, users inevitably ponder the purchase or assembly of a new system. Although Windows 8’s controversial interface changes and obvious accommodations for mobile hardware may cause die-hard desktop users to approach the new OS with trepidation, Windows 8 offers many enhancements worth an upgrade.
First and foremost, Windows 8 is streamlined to perform well on lower-end hardware than its most recent predecessors. Its minimum requirements are similar to Windows 7, but Windows 8 uses less memory, consumes less disk space, and its UI elements aren’t as graphically rich.
Windows 8 also leverages most GPUs to accelerate more OS elements in hardware than does Windows 7. All of these changes in Windows 8 culminate in an operating system that simply doesn’t need high-end hardware to run well.
Knowing that, we set out to build a speedy Windows 8-ready system for under $500. With such a limited budget, dedicating a significant amount of money to any single component isn’t a possibility. With the right balance though, half a grand should be plenty of cash to put together a nice Windows 8 system with minimal compromise.
Choosing our components
Let’s get what’s probably going to be the most controversial decision out of the way first: The heart of our sub-$500 Windows 8 system is an AMD A8-3870K APU, or Accelerated Processing Unit (basically a CPU + GPU combo). The 3870K sports a quad-core CPU running at 3.0GHz and an integrated, on-die Radeon HD 6000 series GPU.
We chose this APU for a few reasons. First off, even though Intel’s desktop processors offer better overall performance, AMD’s integrated GPUs are superior to Intel graphical processors in terms of performance, compatibility, and driver support. The A8-3870K’s four CPU cores may not be as fast as Intel’s most affordable quad-core processor, but they’re plenty...