Introduction

We have made an effort to better address our buyer's guides with more frequent updates to all of the price segments. A couple weeks ago we had a look at the midrange sector, and now we return for a look at the high-end segment. To recap, our definition of the high-end is that the systems focus on achieving optimal performance with price being less of a concern. This does not mean that price is not a concern, however, as there is still a huge difference between a $2000 computer and a $5000 computer - and we'll look at both today. There are also a variety of uses for high-end computers, from powerful workstations to extreme overclocking and of course the ultimate performance gaming machines. Trying to address all areas with a single guide is difficult, so our base configurations are just that, and we expect that anyone looking to spend $2000+ on a computer is going to do a little research and know what they do and don't need. Or not - if you just want to go with our recommendation and get a screaming fast computer (that you might not actually fully utilize), that's your prerogative!

Particularly at the high-end, there are many choices that can be made, and as with the midrange guide we are going to provide several configurations that you can use as a guideline targeting the various price points. Unfortunately for AMD, it has to be said that Intel has a clear performance advantage right now... when it comes to CPU power. That disclaimer is important, because if you're primarily worried about gaming performance, graphics power is often a much bigger concern. However, there are games out there that really demand a lot from both the CPU and the GPU (especially recent real-time strategy games like Rise of Legends and Company of Heroes, as well as some flight simulators). Lest anyone forget that we are interested in getting the best performance for the dollar, consider the following quote from our January 2006 buyers guide:
"The good news is that the Intel 'High-End' platform costs less than the AMD recommendation; unfortunately, the AMD is also clearly superior in performance, and not even a Pentium 955EE chip can close the gap."
Now swap the AMD and Intel names, and replace 955EE with FX-62, and you have the current situation. As we showed in our Core 2 Duo launch articles, Intel currently has AMD thoroughly outclassed in terms of performance, and if you add in overclocking the case for Intel is so lopsided that we would strongly recommend purchasing a Core 2 Duo system right now over anything AMD offers when looking at high-end computers.

Since we're talking about the high-end, we also need to step back for a moment and talk about what the future holds. Intel launched Core 2 Duo a couple months ago, but they're not done yet. We have already previewed performance of Core 2 Quad, and the QX6700 will become available in about a month. In terms of raw computational power, it is certainly more powerful than the X6800, but you need to run applications and tasks that can take advantage of all four processor cores in order to see the difference; otherwise, the higher clock speed of the X6800 will trump the additional cores offered by the QX6700. The good news is that in one month, the decision will be yours to make, and pricing shouldn't play a factor as both processors should cost around $1000. If you don't want to go all out and buy a $1000 processor, the wait for more affordable Core 2 Quad chips will be a couple months longer.

AMD's answer at present consists of their 4x4 initiative: a dual socket motherboard running up to four graphics processors, and honestly that's more marketing hype than anything as few people other than high-end workstation and server users need dual socket motherboards. If you're in the market for a dual socket motherboard, they have been available for quite a long time, so the 4x4 initiative really just amounts to a rebranding of something that we can already buy - on a new socket, of course. Getting a more expensive motherboard and having to purchase two processors instead of one largely negates any reason to upgrade to quad cores. If the price is identical, or nearly so, many of us would take four slightly slower CPU cores over two faster cores, but it we have to spend a lot of extra cash most will agree that quad cores is overkill on the desktop right now.

Upcoming CPU launches aren't the only thing to consider. Rumors and details of NVIDIA's G80 architecture have begun to surface, and a change to DirectX 10 compliance looks set to really shake things up. At least one report states that G80 will have 128 unified shader pipelines, which can be configured to function as pixel, vertex, or geometry shaders according to application demands. What does that mean for performance? We don't know yet, but we sincerely doubt that it will actually be slower in overall performance compared to a 7950 GX2. The expected launch date is around the same time as Core 2 Quad, so that gives you two more reasons to wait another month or two before buying a high-end system.

Before we get to the actual configurations, let us be clear that we're not looking to make equivalent cost systems in this article. A minor change or two is all that should be necessary in order to make the systems more or less equivalent - at least in cost - but other factors make it difficult to recommend similarly configured AMD and Intel systems. At present, those users interested in an NVIDIA SLI platform are often better off getting an AMD AM2 motherboard. The only retail motherboards with support for SLI and Core 2 Duo offer decent stock performance, but they are crippled by a chipset that can't scale to higher front side bus speeds. If you are absolutely certain that you won't bother overclocking, this is a bit less of a concern, but there is always the chance that we will see consumer FSB1333 offerings in the future, and the current NVIDIA chipsets will struggle to run stably with a 333 MHz base bus speed. However, going back once again to upcoming product launches, NVIDIA's refined C55 nForce 680i SLI chipset should fully address this shortcoming... and it should also become available some time in November. So there you have three good reasons to consider waiting for the November launches, but then there's always something better around the corner.

Speaking of platform preference, ATI's CrossFire is in the exact opposite situation from NVIDIA's SLI. Unless you want to get a socket 939 motherboard, the number of AMD motherboards with CrossFire support is extremely limited. When there are fewer choices available for a platform, the overall quality of those choices often suffers. ASUS and MSI offer RD580 motherboards for socket AM2 now, and they certainly aren't bad, but if you are really interested in a CrossFire platform you will get better overall performance with an Intel system anyway. What this means is that we will be focusing on SLI configurations for the AMD platforms, and we will target CrossFire configurations for Core 2 Duo. Also note that we will be putting dual graphics cards in all of our configurations in this article, but please understand that we do not recommend such configurations for people that don't play games. If you know that you won't use your computer for gaming purposes, you can look back to our recent midrange buyers guide and combine some of the CPU, processor, memory, etc. upgrades from this guide with the GPU and/or motherboard selections from the midrange guide. (Professional 3D cards are a separate topic which we won't get into in the interest of time.)

As a final comment, we are separating our case, display, and peripheral choices from the main platform, and we will look at the options there after the primary component choices. All of the configurations should work in any of the cases, so you can choose the case and accessories that you feel best fit your own style, with a few considerations we will get to later. This should be helpful for people that already have many components that they plan on keeping, and upgraders should find the price breakdowns more useful as well.

Baseline AMD High-End Platform
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  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, October 10, 2006 - link

    Seasonic makes PC Power and Cooling PSUs as far as I'm aware (I've seen it stated elsewhere, though nothing official from either company), along with Silverstone and a few others I believe. (I wouldn't be surprised if some of the other PSU manufacturers re-rate the power supplies to a higher wattage however.) While I'm sure there are some companies that would ask to get a lower cost PSU manufactured, I don't think anyone going to Seasonic is looking at price as a primary concern. I would wager heavily that the components that go inside a Seasonic PSU are identical to the components they put in a PC Power and Cooling PSU -- after all, once you're using the best components available, there's not much else to do. The only difference is that Seasonic uses 120mm fans these days, whereas PC Power and Cooling still uses 80mm fans I believe. (I know which of those two options I prefer!)

    In terms of efficiency, all of the high-quality PSUs are going to be 80 to 88%. As far as I understand it, the watt rating is still how much power the PSU can output to components, so basically less efficient PSUs will simply run hotter when outputting the same amount of power, and that the same time they will cost more money because they are consuming more power from the outlet. If that's correct, let's do a quick sample calculation:

    75% efficiency with a 300W PC draw:
    Wall power: 400W
    24/7 Operational Cost: $28.80 per month ($.10 per kilowatt)
    Yearly Cost: $345.60

    85% efficiency with a 300W PC:
    Wall power: 353W
    24/7 Operational Cost: $25.42 per month ($.10 per kilowatt)
    Yearly Cost: $305.04

    Savings per year: $40.56

    So yes, you can argue that buying high-efficiency power supply can pay for itself over the course of the year. Not that we're comparing a pretty average (75%) power supply a with a very good (85%) power supply, and we're also assuming 24/7 operation at a relatively high load. A lot of computers, including the basic AMD system, probably average closer to half that much power draw.

    Something else worth mentioning is that most high-end power supplies -- the type that are supposed to be capable of outputting 700-1000W for example -- often have much lower efficiency ratings when they aren't being heavily loaded. Some PSU companies will actually tell you the efficiency rating at several different loads. Often, you will find that under moderate load even a high-quality 700 W power supply will only be about 70% efficient.

    PC Power and Cooling aren't bad PSUs, but they are definitely overpriced relative to other options. Either the best power supply on the market? I don't personally think so, although they are *one* of the best. Given the choice between a high-quality Fotron Source (700 W model for instance) and the competing Seasonic or PC Power and Cooling model, I'm going to save you $50 and go with Fotron Source.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, October 13, 2006 - link

    Well yeah, the more efficient PSU is going to save you money in a few years, but after a point, that doesnt bother me as much as the Typical PSU being rated at 25C. What does this mean? This means, that if ambient (inside the PC case ) is above 10-15C, your PSU, inside, is going to be over 25C, which means, you're going to be losing power, AND efficency.

    I dont recall the formula, but lets assume you lose 5% power per 5C over the rated maximum tempurature, and the temp inside the PSU is 30C. This basicly means IF your PSU is rated at 600W @ 25C, at 30C, its actually only capable of 570W maximum (continuous). Now, this may look fairly trivial, however, I'm thinking real world, its actually more than 1% loss per 1C.

    Anyhow, it doesnt bother me one bit spending $200 us even on a PSU thats going to take care of my current system, and several afterwards.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, October 13, 2006 - link

    PCP&C Started in a garage in 1981 (ish) in California. How long has Seasonic been around ? If you go to PCP&C's website, you can read an article written about how PCP&C got started, and why the owner/president is so 'anal' about certain issues. Some of which, I agree with.

    It's possible the plant in China that makes Seasonic PSUs also make PCP&C, but I hardly think they are re-branded. This is how it works, everyone (basicly) has thier PSUs made in China to reduce costs, and maximize profits, if someone TRIED starting a PSU manufactuering plant in the US, they would most likley go bankrupt, before they became noticed. Even the PSU companies CLAIMING to be in Tiawan, are actually just 'store fronts' for the actual part being manufactuered in China.

    How do I know this you ask ? I've had a lengthy chat with a friend in person, who worked in the buisness, and described to me how it works. From the conversation, I gathered that PCP&C PSUs ARE designed by the US company, and the company also picks out he parts to be used etc, but everything gets sent over to China, is put together, and sent back to be sold. I suppose its even possible that Seasonic is the middle-man in all of this, but I will just about garuntee that the owner of PCP&C retains the IP for his designs, after all, he started off as an un-known Electronics Engineer, making quieter PSUs, that had longer hold up times for friends, before he got into the buisness (or so he claims, but I've zero reason to doubt the guy on his word here).

    The way I see it, SOMEONE puts all the parts together, BUT PCP&C still makes thier own PSUs by design/parts.

    Again, let me re-iterate, PSU efficeincy has to do with power lost to heat while converting AC -> DC ;)
    Reply
  • BladeVenom - Monday, October 09, 2006 - link

    I would rather go with the power supplies that you recommended in you midrange buyer's guide. Kingwin doesn't have a good reputation, and the last review I saw for one of their power supplies would make me hesitant to even use it in a low end PC. http://www.jonnyguru.com/PSU/Absolute600W/">http://www.jonnyguru.com/PSU/Absolute600W/

    Another thing that suprised me was the Bluegears b-Enspirer. It sounds interesting, but I could only find a couple of short reviews for it. Since you're recommending it, are you going to do a review of it soon?
    Reply
  • KorruptioN - Monday, October 09, 2006 - link

    Agreed. The Kingwin (based on a Superflower) isn't the best choice available. You guys seemed to pick it out based on the fact that it offered "600 Watts". It doesn't even offer a second PCI-E power connection (according to JonnyGURU's review). Combined with the 30A +12V rating, it isn't good enough for dual-GPU configurations, IMO.

    Antec's NeoHE 500W (in the later revisions) or one of XClio's modular PSUs are better overall choices, I think.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 09, 2006 - link

    I'm quite sure that the Kingwin does have dual PCIe plugs: http://www.kingwin.com/pdut_detail.asp?LineID=&...">Specifications. Perhaps JohnnyGuru got an early revision that was messed up - that happens more often than I'd like with hardware review sites, as we often get product before it's publicly available. Obviously, it's the "low-end" of this roundup, which means part of the choice was made for pricing reasons. I guess I forgot to make my standard disclaimer clearly visible:

    Fotron Source, Seasonic, Enermax, and a variety of other PSU manufacturers (well, a lot of them are just rebranded Fotron Source or some other OEM design) are good choices that will almost always cost a bit more money. For the baseline AMD model, you certainly don't need a 600W PSU. If you're looking to upgrade in the future and keep the PSU, getting something better is recommended.

    That said, I'll pop out the Kingwin and put something else in there. I'm not going to go with PCP&C for the price, that's for certain. They make fine power supplies (well, Seasonic does), but while they warrant a mention on the Ultra configuration, they can't really fit into an ~$2000 budget without having to sacrifice other areas just to accommodate a PSU that's overkill. Hopefully you're all happy with spending $35 more to go from an okay Kingwin 600W to a great Seasonic 500W. :)
    Reply
  • KorruptioN - Monday, October 09, 2006 - link

    Jarred, you're linking to a different PSU altogether. You are linking to the ABT-600MM, where the original PSU selection in this PC guide was the ABT-600CW. It does look like the specification has been updated to include two 6-pin PCI-E power connections, but that doesn't really change the fact that it doesn't have a lot of juice where it matters the most.

    Either way, good choice on that Seasonic S12-500. How about the new M12-500? Or is that too much to ask :P
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 09, 2006 - link

    Ah, then the mistake was yours (well, someone's anyway - whoever linked the JohnnyGury review). The original PSU was indeed the Kingwin Maximum Power ABT-600MM 600W -- I have the spreadsheet right in front of me, and I'm sure it was not the CW version. Figures; people like to get up in arms over PSUs, but then they rarely do anything more than say "OMG it's not a Seasonic/[insert favorite brand]!". You can get the ABT-600MM http://www.xpcgear.com/abt600mm.html">right here - that's the price I used in the original text. Reply
  • Gary Key - Monday, October 09, 2006 - link

    quote:

    Another thing that suprised me was the Bluegears b-Enspirer. It sounds interesting, but I could only find a couple of short reviews for it. Since you're recommending it, are you going to do a review of it soon?


    Yes, we will be reviewing it in the coming weeks. While not in the same class as the X-FI for gaming, it is better than the on-board solutions while providing just about every option you would want in a HTPC card considering the price.
    Reply
  • poohbear - Monday, October 09, 2006 - link

    hate to point this out about this whole article, but if price was'nt an issue, wouldnt i just buy something prebuilt from falcon northwest, voodoo pc, or alien ware? im not sure which audience this article caters to, but i doubt they're a DIY audience that follows anandtech. Reply

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