Market Overview: $1700 Performance Midrange

Many things have changed in the nine months since our last midrange system guide hit the press, some for the worse—a moment of silence, please, for the passing of yesteryear’s RAM bonanza—but most for the better. ATI in particular deserves a nod for raising the bar for single-chip graphics card performance with its Cypress line (and, more recently, NVIDIA for its Fermi parts). All told, a ~$1700 complete system (~$1200 for the base) built around the i5-750 or one of AMD's Phenom II CPUs promises to deliver better performance than last year’s entry in most applications and beat it soundly in gaming and other graphics intensive tasks, all in spite of today’s significantly greater cost per GB of RAM. The icing on the cake? In a climate of ever-increasing energy costs and concerns, the current installment of the performance midrange system is significantly more energy efficient—particularly on the Intel side of the fence.

Our recommendations today skew pretty heavily toward graphics performance, with the single most expensive part—the factory OCed Gigabyte Radeon HD 5850—comprising approximately 25% of the base system cost (or about 18% of the complete system). Though it may be a little over the top for some, one look at graphics card comparison charts will tell you that things drop off rather precipitously after the 5850, with the drops in performance not corresponding all that sensibly to the drops in price. While there are plenty of less expensive cards that will still deliver acceptable performance—for many, at any rate—none seem to offer as desirable a mix of price, performance and future proofing (DX11) as the 5870’s little brother. For our midrange builds today, it feels just about right. If you're not worried about gaming or graphics, feel free to downgrade to something else, but we'd recommend sticking with at least an HD 5670 to get all the latest and greatest video decoding and power management features, or grab an HD 5450 if you're willing to skip out on a few extras like vector adaptive deinterlacing. Or if you don't care about DX11 right now and think CUDA is more important, you might prefer the GT 240.

As usual, we'll have both AMD and Intel recommendations today, with a common set of shared components. The story hasn't changed much when comparing AMD vs. Intel. You can get more cores at a lower price with AMD, but Intel will give you higher performance at the same clock speed (and generally higher clock speeds) along with substantially lower power consumption. If you're interested in Clarkdale over Lynnfield, you might also want to give Lloyd Case's recent article a read. Clarkdale certainly uses less power, but there's no beating quad-core Lynnfield performance. On the AMD side, the big question is whether you want to go with an older quad-core Phenom II, or if you want to spring for the new Phenom II X6. Considering the slightly lower power requirements and AMD's Turbo Core technology, we recommend making the move to X6 if you're going the AMD route.

Now let's get to the specific recommendations; if you're looking for performance comparisons we suggest looking at our Bench results for the recommended processors.

Intel Performance Midrange System
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  • pjconoso - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    $1700? Midrange? This is like PhP 85,000 in our currency and I'd like to think its high-end already.
  • artifex - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    If you think "performance" means primarily number crunching, not gaming, then go with the AMD choice, but just use the integrated Radeon 4290 graphics on the ASUS motherboard and save yourself over $300 by dumping the GPU card. Not to mention that if you can get by with a 19" monitor, there are several to be had for like $150 or less (Fry's actually has a 23" for $200 before rebate, too), etc. Oh, if you dump the graphics card, you probably can get by with a smaller PS, too, and that will save more... And honestly, doesn't that retail Phenom II come with a stock cooler? Knock another $27 off...
  • isrial - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    85.000 PhP !?
    That’s almost 290.000 Nigerian naira! The average nigerian would have to work two full years to be able to afford this system! Preposterous.
    I demand this guide to be renamed into "System Buyer’s Guide: $1700 Super Computer".
  • jleach1 - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link you can tell by the says "PERFORMANCE MIDRANGE"
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    I'm just putting this here so it hopefully doesn't get lost in the discussion below. You'll note that I added a paragraph on the "Base Components" page discussing the SSD/Blu-ray debate and making specific note of the option to downgrade one and upgrade the other. I sort of take that thing as a given, but obviously a lot of you want us to explicitly mention stuff like that.
  • whatthehey - Friday, May 14, 2010 - link

    Just FYI Jarred:

    You struck a nerve by pissing on their "requirement" to have SSDs in any modern system. Now we know why GullLars has been such a prick over here. Of course if you're into competitive benchmarking, SSDs will help out. PCMark Vantage is a fucking joke the way it boosts your scores just by putting in an SSD. "Oh wow... my gaming score got 100% higher by using an SSD!" NOT!

    Maybe everyone from AnandTech should go over there and piss in their forums for a while? Except, I know from being around here quite a while that the people here are of much higher caliber material than the idiot ORB-Penis worshipers at XtremeSystems.

    So GullLars and pals, if you come back again, let me wish you a fine PISS OFF. Someone posts an informed guide that doesn't cater to your every whim by recommending a $200+ upgrade to a reasonable SSD and you tell people to come over here and complain. Real nice. And you can forget that 32GB SSD garbage... just my Windows and Program Files directories use up 20GB, and I don't have a ton of stuff installed! I doubt most mainstream users want to deal with telling every Tom, Dick, and Harry application to put files somewhere other than C:. I still spend 10 minutes on every tech support call trying to get people to open Windows Explorer and browse to a specific location. Those that know how to deal with multiple HDDs, changing user documents default location, etc. are more than capable of determining on their own whether or not they need an SSD without you pushing them as the be-all, end-all of computer performance.
  • Bipedal Humanoid - Thursday, July 1, 2010 - link

    To those who complain: Before you post in a renowned place such as anandtech, make sure you know what you are talking about. You obviously have NO idea.

    This is a HARDWARE website not a MONEY website... Need more clarity? Ok then, Performance midrange means that in terms of the currently available hardware this guide hits the sweetspot between PERFORMANCE and cost.

    If you still don't understand, I'd recommend you go buy yourself a Dell.

    And to isrial: You can't make such demands, this is still a free country the last time I checked, your demands are reflecting poorly on your country mugu.
  • Phate-13 - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    1. I absolutely agree that this is NOT a midrange pc, but that it is high end. You can play (almost) any game at its maximum with that config, how can you call that midrange?
    2 . Please make up your mind internally, about ssd's:
    "Though the time for suggesting the purchase of an SSD boot/OS disk in this segment appears to be drawing closer, prices just aren’t there yet." And that's it in this article, while over a year ago:

    I still believe that a SSD is the single most effective performance upgrade you can do to your PC; even while taking this behavior into account. While personally I wouldn’t give up a SSD in any of my machines, I can understand the hesitation in investing a great deal of money in one today.

    @ The SSD Anthology: Understanding SSDs and New Drives from OCZ
    @ 3/18/2009

    And even later explicitly:
    Title: Why You Absolutely Need an SSD
    The SSD Relapse: Understanding and Choosing the Best SSD @ 8/30/2009

    Over half a year ago you absolutely needed an SSD and now all of sudden the time isn't just there yet?
    And on the other hand, you do put an Blu-ray player in it.

    In general I really do like the articles on Anandtech, but personally I think this one is a swing and miss.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    The old "my midrange is not your midrange" argument rears its ugly head again. The classification is technically "Performance Midrange", which means it's closer to high-end than entry-level (as opposed to Entry Midrange, or Mainstream, or whatever you want to call it). You can, as someone above pointed out, make many changes--quite a few of which we mention in the text--to get the price lower.

    As for the SSDs, Anand loves them. He also loves Macs. And he happens to have far more available spending money than the vast majority of people... plus he gets them for free. Personally, I've used systems with and without SSDs and I don't feel the difference as much as Anand. For $100 I can get a 1TB hard drive. For the same $100 I can get a dumbed down 30GB or 40GB SSD. It will handle random file access a lot better, but you will fill up a big chunk of it with just your OS and Office.

    Personally, I am fine having all of my documents, images, movies, etc. reside in C:\Users\Jarred. At present (and with much of my pre-2009 data moved to backup on a different drive), my user folder checks in at nearly 60GB of data. 12GB is just for the 2009/2010 AnandTech stuff, and another 12GB or so is for family pictures. I could store it in a different location, but I prefer not to as I like being able to open Explorer and get straight to my pictures with the link in the top-left.

    Is Anand wrong? Nope. And neither am I. It's merely a case of different priorities. For the cost of a reasonable sized SSD (160GB is the smallest I'd be okay with), I can get a lot of other performance upgrades that will matter more to me.
  • Phate-13 - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    Thanks for the quick reaction. But when you state that you don't feel the difference that much, then I can hardly imagine that you can actually feel the difference between the WD black and other 1TB HD's. Which makes it hard to justify going for the faster WD Black.

    And by shaving off those additional costs + switching out the Blu-ray for a normal dvd writer, I can fit in an Intel Postville 80GB for only a small extra.
    Because you used newegg as reference, I'll use it as well:
    HD: (-30)
    Dvd: (-85)
    GPU: (HD5770 in crossfire, which is actually faster a lot of times) (-20) (and 30 rebate)
    Memory: (-12) (and 15 rebate)

    Which adds up to 147 + 45 rebate.
    With the intel ssd costing 215:

    That's only $23 extra with extra GPU performance. The only thing your missing is the blu-ray.
    Well, that's my point of view. I think most people don't need a blu-ray player in their computer, I even don't get the point of having one. If you want to watch a blu-ray movie, you'll do it on your tv.

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