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I would go for an Athlon XP system (although the P4 Northwoods are right around the corner). They're the best in price/performance ratio right now. Here are the basic components:

CPU: AMD Athlon XP 1900+ - $236
The 1900+ is the fastest right now, running at 1.6 Ghz. This processor surpasses the P4 2.0 Ghz in virtually every test. You might want to pair it with a good heatsink and fan though, it runs rather hot.

Motherboard: Asus A7V266-E - $130 approx.
This motherboard features the KT266A chipset, the best chipset for the Athlon XP CPU. Asus is a well renouned company and makes solid boards. If you must go for another manufacturer then make sure you get one with the KT266A chipset.

Memory: 256 MB PC2100 DDR RAM @ 266 Mhz - $51
Performs twice as fast as SDRAM. There is also PC2700 DDR RAM @ 333 Mhz ($67) but I don't know the availability of it.

Videocard: GeForce 3 Ti 500 - $285
This card will put a huge dent in your wallet but is currently the best performing 3D videocard you can get. Alternatively you can get a Radeon 8500 ($172) which is also a great performing card for its price.

Soundcard: Sound Blaster Live! Value 5.1 - $30 approx.
There isn't much competition in the soundcard market. Creative's cards have the largest software support and are perfect for gamers.

Hard Drive: X GB 7200 RPM, Ultra-100
The size and brand are up to you to decide. There's from 20 GB up to 120 GB

OS: Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition - $100 approx.
The latest version of Windows

The rest (CD/DVD ROMs, CD/DVD Recordable/Re-Writable, NICs, etc.) is up to you.
 
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