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

    So using your own estimation, the optimal load for a PSU is rougly 75%, lower means cooler and more silent but less efficient.

    The build in question has full load peak power draw roughly 350W from the wall socket. Idle likely under 100W.

    750W: optimal efficiency at 750*0,75 = 562W, overshooting by 562/350=1,6x=60%
    idle load: <100/750 = 13%, wastefull?

    500W: optimal efficiency at 500*0,75 = 375W, overshooting by 375/350=1,06=6%, close to optimal.
    idle load: <100/500 = 20%, less wastefull yet still cool at idle fan speed?
  • Exodite - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    Actually it's even less than that as the rated wattage and load level refer to output wattage and load, not input wattage.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    And despite all this discussion, we already mentioned the potential to downgrade the PSU on page 4:

    " Those looking to run a lower spec PSU with a single GPU will be fine with the little brother of our recommended PSU, the CORSAIR CMPSU-400CX 400W. Priced at $50 (with a $10 MIR), it should be more efficient when your system is idle while still providing enough juice for the 5850. If you are thinking about going the Clarkdale route and/or a less powerful GPU, then we'd definitely recommend the 400W PSU as a more sensible choice. Just don't try running SLI/CrossFire setups."
  • Jediron - Tuesday, May 18, 2010 - link

    Yes, and the 400watt is only just enough and leave hardly any room for future singlecard upgrades, or a few harddisks for a raid mode. Around 500watt would be optimal for this config and a single videocard.
  • aftereview - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    Normally power supply efficiency is rated at close to full load. This means running a power supply outside that range is actually less efficient.
    At a lower load although it will draw less power and generate less heat in an absolute sense, it will draw more power and generate more heat PER watt.

    Now take a 750W and a 500W (similar design) both running at say 400W, generally the 500W will be more efficient, thus draw less and run cooler.

    More is better is not necessarily true and too many people seem to forget that.

    Your math is correct but the basis for your conclusions is not.
    A power supply should be rated to cover the Peak power of the system with a continuous rating close to that of the system.

    The power supply chosen for this article happens to have a 80plus rating at 20%, 50% and 80% load (mfg. spec.) which definitely make it suitable for the built. As some other people pointed out, a less expensive unit/lower power would work as well.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, May 13, 2010 - link

    Some of what you say is actually incorrect. At pretty much any load, a 750W PSU will be quieter than a 500W PSU, because it's not reaching the limits of its design. Also, at 400W load, the 750W will be in the range of maximum efficiency (using 53% of its rated output) while the 500W will be heating up more and running at lower efficiency (80% of maximum output). The 80Plus specs maximum efficiency at 50% load, and while the 500W will be more efficient at 100W loads, once you get to 350W the 750W will be more efficient (unless you're comparing a crappy 750W to a good 500W of course).

    Also note that at idle power draw of around 100W (give or take), the 500W at 80% efficiency would be using 125W; if the 750W is 70% efficient, it's using 142W. Bump power draw up to 400W and if the 500W is now 82% compared to 85% you're looking at 488W vs. 470W. Basically, you're trading lower power draw at idle for higher power draw at load. But you'll also have a noisier system at load with the 500W, as all PSUs pretty much start ramping fan speed quickly beyond 50% load.

    So given the choice, I'd stick a 750W into an upper midrange system, simply because it runs quieter and leaves room to grow (i.e. a second GPU could be added). But, if you know you're never going to add a second GPU or heavily overclock I'd stick with a 500W (as recommended in the text).
  • Jediron - Tuesday, May 18, 2010 - link

    -This system eats aorund 300, not 400watt.
    -A good psu can cope with a littel heat
    -at 300 watt, the 500watt also makes hardly more noise

    Three invalid arguments in a row. Need i say more.
  • Jediron - Tuesday, May 18, 2010 - link

    I mean your arguments, not mine.

    Yours are flawed, based on 400watts at load.
  • Jediron - Tuesday, May 18, 2010 - link

    No, good psu ramping up around 60/70%. Besides, that's what a fan is for, spinning. Noise become nasty, around or above 80%. Below that, most good psu's stay very silent.
    Futhermore, often you will not even notice it while alot of people are a playing a game at that point and
    you can imagine what makes the most noise....
  • GullLars - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    Like my subject title says
    I'm so upset now i find it physically challenging to sit still and type.
    WHY ON EARTH do you not include an SSD in a $1500+ build in 2010??? But you include BluRay???

    Sollution #1:
    Remove Bluray, add random dvd burner (if needed) and an Intel x25-V for OS + core apps.
    This will roughly double the PCmark vantage score of the machine, and make a serious increase in value.

    Sollution #2:
    Remove Bluray, downgrade from 5850OC to 5830 (or 5770 for "good enough" instead of best graphics), add random dvd burner (if needed) and an Intel x25-M G2 80GB for OS + apps. This give much greater value, as the 5830 can run all the same games at a slightly lower framerate for $100 less, possibly with a step down in resolution or particle/HDR/texture/AA/AF.

    I will speculate the only reason this article got posted and not corrected in the editorial is because Anand is out of the country. I am seriously disappointed such an article was posted on Anandtech.

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