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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  • GullLars - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    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.

    Logical fail; strawman argument.

    The motherboard on either setup has 6 SATA ports, not 1. You are not limited to using 1 storage device.
    Also, most users that watch BluRay films has either a PS3/xbox360 or a BluRay player. Choosing a BD player over an SSD for this build makes me want to go /wallbash

    I would also like to correct you on another point. Windows 7 64Bit proffesional edition with all updates and security essentials + MS office + Open office + Firefox + Burning program and most other _core apps_ will take up roughly 16GB once pagefile and hibernation is deactivated (or pagefile reduced to a few hundred MBs). Adding the full CS4 suite, a music editing program, 3DS max, and a couple of other apps will still leave you around the 30GB mark.

    It's not much trouble at all to set up W7 to have OS + Apps on a SSD, and have a 1TB(+) HDD for all media, games, and others. Configuring "libraries" takes 1 minute and is easy to do. I've made libraries on a partition _NOT C:_ for: Pictures, Music, Videos, Documents, and Downloads on all computers i've set up. Running Ccleaner once a week keeps you from building up temp files on C, and restricting system restore to using 1-2GB will keep it from inflating over time.
  • whatthehey - Thursday, May 13, 2010 - link

    Nice try, but people aren't that stupid. Straw man argument:

    Accusing Jarred of using straw man: EPIC fail! Accusing your opponent of using a straw man in order to pretend he didn't say anything useful on the other hand happens to be a form of the straw man argument, so congratulations!

    Now, where did he misrepresent someone's position in order to knock it down and thereby make his position stronger? All I can see is that he said Anand loves SSDs. He gave examples of other things where he may not agree like Macs. He points out that SSDs cost a lot of money. Where is the attempt to refute something without actually refuting it?

    Elsewhere, Jarred admits that the Blu-ray is unnecessary, and the article text now reflects this. So get off the damn high horse and quit bitching and moaning about what amounts to a difference of opinion. Sheesh!
  • GullLars - Thursday, May 13, 2010 - link

    The strawman part was representing SSD as a replacement for a HDD and arguing that it's too low capacity and too expensive.
    The case you want to use an SSD in the majority of cases in is an addition to a HDD. Then capacity demands are way low, and the price pr GB can easily be justified because of the system acceleration effect.
  • AssBall - Thursday, May 13, 2010 - link

    What part of his explanation of wanting to keep all of his files in the same place did you not understand? Go make your own damned buyer's guide if you are having so much trouble accepting or understanding this one.
  • GullLars - Thursday, May 13, 2010 - link

    I understand he wants that, but it's not an argument against an SSD as a system drive. You could simply move all documents to the harddisk, and have them in one place there.

    I'm not looking for a flamewar here, but i don't like it when people misrepresent the uses of SSDs.
    The number one reason to use an SSD is system and application acceleration, not storage. The reasonable capacity range for that starts around 32GB, at wich point you will fit the entire OS and quite a bit more. Not being able to put everything you might want on it, and therefore ruling it out, denies you the benefits the stuff that would fit would get.
  • Jediron - Tuesday, May 18, 2010 - link

    While he explains his preference, it's still his own personal preference. A good reviewer should look beyond that. SSD's are becoming more and more populair and i understand why. More populair then Blueray drives, but, aldo he admits it is not a dealmaker; the Blueray player is chosen in the configuration. WHY?

    The WD Black 1TB i can understand, WD Black series come with a 5 year warranty. That's a good argument to pay a little extra.
  • futrtrubl - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    You can pretty easily have it set up so the \users folder is located on another drive with it behaving exactly is it currently does. It`s how my computer is set up in fact.
  • spigzone - Sunday, May 23, 2010 - link

    " For $100 I can get a 1TB hard drive"

    make that a 1.5TB hard drive for $99.

    or 2TB for $119.
  • jleach1 - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    You guys are dumb. There is more than one way a system can be mid-range. This PC is midrange performance-wise...not money-wise. Don't be stupid. Use your brain. And if you make less than a thousand dollars a year....move.
  • Phate-13 - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    Excuse me?!
    This system has quite top-notch performance.
    I'll quote myself: "You can play (almost) any game at its maximum with that config, how can you call that midrange?" A system of 900 is low-range to you then? That makes no sense at all.

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