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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  • knofix - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    I cant figure out what the target audience is for these systems. (OK maybe MAC buyers, since these two systems fall into their price range and maybe the nobrainer-rich kid with lots of dosh to spare)

    PC gamers would opt for better CPUs and SLI/CF perhaps, audio enthusiasts would sneer at the speakers (they are utter crap, usable for video streams with 5.1 channel sound yes, but they just massacre the audio files in stereo (so do 2.1)), media coders would be satisfied with the 6core and so would creative artists, although I think they would pick double the CPU power these 2 configurations have to offer and be satisfied with the GPU at hand (since Adobe loves GPUs now) but all of the above mentioned groups would hang you for only including 4GB of RAM. All of these groups of users would benefit from having a SSD.

    So all of these guys are mid/high end users. And none of those would pick the configuration you bungled up. Verdict - FAIL

    Since me being from the EU, I cant possibly imagine how much these two systems would cost here. OK I can. Price x 1.3, lets call it 2K Euros - btw. that would be the equivalent of an OVERKILL systems price in EU. (lets skip the wealthy minority and focus on real people - that is what mainstream means I guess).
  • killerclick - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    I hate poor people whining all the time about how they can't afford this or that.

    Anyone know where I can get a diamond encrusted laser mouse?
  • Ditiris - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    Anyone know where I can get a diamond encrusted laser mouse?

    Pretty sure Razer makes that.
  • Setsunayaki - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    I'm sorry, but most players play games that are 3 - 5 years old and enjoy playing them. They play the occassional new game out there. Sorry,. but the top games are played by such a marginally low population. I'm part of a gaming club that is linked to other gaming clubs in the state and recently the majority of gamers out there were not playing Crysis or Batman.

    I still have an older system and with my configuration at 1900 x 1200 (and higher resolutions) play top games. Only lackluster thing in here is my aging video card, but for the most part I can get a stable to good framerate.

    The majority of people that I know swiched from PC to XBOX360 in order to play games. They don't want to be troubled with frequent upgrading and only care about just playing game. I personaly do not own next generation consoles, but I know many who have made the switch back to consoles lately....

    Majority of computer users are not gamers, they do basic things and I can build a system for basics that is $200 - $300, While a lot of parents do not want their kids messing around their hard earned PCs, so they buy them consoles. Until the industry can make enough software and not just enough to count on my fingers....the majority wont care about the highest end software out there...or even the latest action games when anyone can buy a console and be littered with them.
  • Polizei608 - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    Maybe it's midrange because the person who got it was-

  • numberoneoppa - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    lol'd hard.
  • skrewler2 - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    might want to fix that
  • Frostburn - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    What is up with the horrible picture for this post? For a moment I thought it was a joke from your very first System Buyer's Guide or something, the worst looking case I've ever seen and a 7 year old 4:3 LCD monitor!

    Just about anything call fall into the "Midrange" category unless it is the fastest and most expensive parts out there. The system looks more expensive because they are buying a new monitor, keyboard, mouse, surround sound setup and a new OS to go with it. Most PC builders will already have/keep most of this stuff the same when they upgrade their system.
  • Furuno - Thursday, May 13, 2010 - link

    First, I agree it is a midrange from performance perspective, as high end should at least have a "reasonable" i7 and "sane" CF/SLI setup. But please (again) consider that AnandTech is an international website, a midrange system should be (relatively) affordable by most people. Most people in my country even think my $1000 system is "crazy". I know we're might be the minority, but please consider this. Maybe using price range instead of Low/Mid/High moniker...

    Since most of the people that read AT is tech enthusiast and usually buld their own system. I'd like more "roundups" with (if possible) every component available for each category. For example, roundups of every motherboard with 890GX chipset, not just a "select" model.

    Oh and, why you never metion about "other" SSD that exist beside Intel/Indilinx/Crucial/SandForce? What about those Imation/A-Data/Sandisk/etc SSD? Is they're any good?

    Best Regards,
  • GullLars - Thursday, May 13, 2010 - link

    Oh and, why you never metion about "other" SSD that exist beside Intel/Indilinx/Crucial/SandForce? What about those Imation/A-Data/Sandisk/etc SSD? Is they're any good?

    I'm guessing you mean SSD controllers. Imitation uses Mtron controllers, they are older generation and use SLC only. I have 2 of these Mtron Pro SSDs in RAID from back in 2008 before Intel were avalible. They work well, but they behave a bit different from the new SSDs. For one, Mtron SSD don't support NCQ, they have really low read latency, but fairly low random write (roughly 200-250 IOPS, about the same as a 15K SAS HDD whitout NCQ or shortstroke). In everyday use, they are comparable to Indilinx drives, but are more expensive. The pluss is they have no performance degradation whatsoever. Mine perform just as new after soon 2 years in RAID-0 as a much used system drive.

    SanDisk SSDs i don't know a lot about, i haven't seen any info outside marketing campaings. The "vRPM" scheme is a farce. Their netbook replacement drives are likely a bit better than the ones they come with, but nothing like Intel or SandForce.

    You also have Adtron SSDs, but i don't know if those are on the market anymore.

    JMicron is a controller producer you didn't mention. Their early controllers had major issues with random writes. The new generation, JMF612/618(aka thosiba) have gotten it under controll, but are still limited by not using NCQ. They can be considered low-end. WD has made custom firmware for a line using JMF612 focusing on realiability.

    Memoright are also a controller producer, but as far as i know, they only made one model. It was the best consumer SSD out there before Intel, but cost the double of Mtron, wich weren't cheap either (I gave about $1500 for my 2x 32GB Mtrons...).

    Samsung has made SSD controllers. They have been OK at sequential performance, but sub-par on random performance. The last controller thay made came out about the same time as Indilinx Barefoot, over a year ago. Indilinx clearly beat it at performance. I haven't heard anything about new controllers from them, but they have invested in (not bought) Fusion-IO, wich makes the most powerfull flash SSD controllers i know of.

    The other SSD controllers i know of are exclusively used in the enterprise, like STec, BitMicro, Foremay, TMS, Fusion-IO, etc.

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