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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  • Benoit_P - Friday, May 14, 2010 - link

    To the Anandtech team:

    I wish you would update the "Sub-1000$ System Guide" given the latest AMD cpu and chipset release.

  • Belard - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    Maybe back 10~12 years ago, $1700 could be considered a mid-range computer... but not today.

    What I consider:

    $400~500 = Office / basic computers (does Word, internet just fine) - AMD typical X2 CPU.
    $600~700 = Basic Gaming system with a 5600 or 5700 series video card and a sub $100 AMD CPU.
    $700~999 = Mid-Range gaming PC... this CAN be a system with a 5850 card, easily.

    $1000~$1800 = top end, dual video card systems for uber gamers.

    Also $700~1200 for higher end desktop systems with hybrid drive arrangements (SSD boot & application drive + HDD for games & data).

    In the real world, as shown on this site and others. The difference in gaming performance between a $65 AMD X2 CPU and a $950 i7-Quad is about 25% when both are using a top end video card. Go with a $150~180 AMD X4 CPU - and that difference in performance is closer to 5~10% slower.

    Rather pocket the money, put it towards an SSD or bigger monitor, go out on a date, etc.
  • justaviking - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    This was a PERFORMANCE Midrange buyer's guide, not a midrange "value" or "budget" system. As such, there is still lots of opportunity to spend more money, even without it turning into a "dream" system.

    Notice it has an i5, not an i7 Intel CPU.

    Notice it has a $310 graphics card, not a $500 graphics card.

    Notice it has 4GB of memory, not 8.

    Notice it has a Bluray player, not a burner.

    There has been some good debate, especially about Bluray and SSD trade offs. But take a chill pill. There's no need to be hostile. No need to be defensive. I'll bet no two people at AnandTech even agree on one of these articles.
  • racerx_is_alive - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    This falls pretty squarely in the Midrange Gaming PC category. Probably not a midrange PC in general, but it matches up pretty well pricewise with other guides across the internet. For example at Tom's Hardware, they have 3 Gaming builds: Budget at $750, Midrange at $1500, and Extreme at $3000. So $1700 isn't out of line for a midrange build. I don't think this system gives you the best bang for your buck necessarily, but that's another topic completely.

    That being said, I agree with the blu-ray/SSD comments above. At this time, I don't see how a blu-ray drive is necessary in anything other than HTPC builds.
  • Krofojed - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    Blu-ray makes it possible for your computer to do something that it otherwise couldn't - namely watch blu-ray movies. SSD does no such thing, although I have no doubt that it's a nice thing to have. I'm not saying the suggested configuration is optimal (and I'm not saying it isn't), but choosing blu-ray over SSD is hardly a reason for apoplexy.
  • GullLars - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    Considering it's a "Performance midrange" and not a "high-end HTPC", an SSD for os + (core) apps makes a lot more sense. The system will always feel snappy, and all programs will load nearly instantly even if you multitask like crazy and copy files while doing a virus scan. Even during light disk impacting multitasking (virus scan, updates, or file copy in the background while attempting to interact with the system), a WD black will slow to a crawl.
    I would, whitout any doubt, list BD as an optional upgrade if you intent to watch BD movies on the PC. If not, it's a notable waste of money, and is a piece of hardware that will serve no purpose most of the time.

    32GB is enough for Windows 7 (64bit, any edition), office suite, other "office" type apps, antivirus, HTPC type apps, and small usefull programs (i have done this on 3 computers, so i'd know). For a couple of larger apps (like CS4 suite), 40GB should be enough. For a higher number of larger apps and app suites, an 80GB SSD could be considered if placing the least used large apps on a short-stroke partition on a "green" HDD doesn't yield acceptable performance for those apps.
    I use 64GB for OS + apps + games myself, and my best friend also does so. A third friend uses 80GB, and i helped a girl i know set up a 40GB for W7 + apps. None of them have complained about space, but loved the speed and said "It was totally worth it" and "i'm never going back to HDD for OS".
  • wicko - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    I could never, with a straight face, recommend getting a bluray reader. Just for the sole reason that pretty much all bluray playback software is garbage, and you'd be better off getting a bluray burner (perhaps when they are more affordable) or a dedicated bluray player. Unless you absolutely need a bluray reader, I think we could all do without it. Bluray burner makes more sense, 25GB+ data discs can be incredibly useful. Same with bluray authoring. But playback, until we see open source playback software I can't recommend paying for bluray playback software.
  • Jediron - Tuesday, May 18, 2010 - link

    I don't need a blueray player to watch blueray, what a silly
  • darckhart - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    1700 is NOT midrange. "performance" moniker or not.
  • GeorgeH - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    Firstly, the article format and layout are excellent and vast improvements over past articles. You've done a lot of work there and it shows.

    Secondly, the build in the article isn't bad at all, but here's how I'd do it:
    1) Drop the BluRay. Unless you're watching BluRay's on your PC (why?) or ripping them to a media server, it's a pointless expense and people who know they need one can figure it out on their own. Savings: ~$90.

    2) Stick with the OEM CPU cooler. From the other components this isn't going to be a silent build, and the people who are going to overclock should know enough to figure out what they want. Savings: ~$30.

    3) Go with higher quality 2.1 speakers. 5.1 is great for headphones, but setting up 5 speakers around the typical PC station is a PITA that typically yields substandard results when compared to a quality 2.1 setup unless you're an audio geek. Savings: ~$0.

    4) Get a cheaper ~400-500W PSU. 750W is incredible overkill for this build. Savings: ~$40.

    5) $310 is too much for a video card for all but an incredibly small subset of the population. With 95% of AAA titles being console ports that can easily be played maxed out on a <$200 video card, the days of beastly PC cards like the 5850 being all that relevant are over for the time being. Savings: ~$110.

    I just saved you $300 without even trying hard. Buy some games, upgrade your monitor and case so they'll last for your next build, or just pocket the difference.

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