Introduction

When the System Buyers Guide: $1000 to $2000 was published a few weeks ago it was obvious the last system guide in the series should be the High End Buyers Guides for systems above $2000. It was our full intention at that point to present both AMD and Intel systems for our High-End Buyers Guide, but an AnandTech meeting with all the editors quickly changed that idea. It was the consensus that as of today there is only one CPU at the top of the performance heap, and that CPU is the Intel Core i7.

With the introduction of the Phenom II, AMD now has a legitimate competitor to Intel Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad systems. The recent price cuts by both Intel and AMD in that market segment just reinforced the fact that Phenom II competes very well with Intel Penryn. Perhaps with higher speeds Phenom II processors might make the High-End Buyers Guide in the future, but as of today the Intel Core i7 owns the high-end of the CPU market.

With that reality in mind, it seemed almost pointless to publish a high-end system guide that just presented a dream Core i7 system. It is also clear to us that, despite the fact that Phenom II does not compete well at the very top, it is still a significant achievement for AMD and the processor market, and it deserves better than to be ignored.

Therefore you will see two specialty guides in the next few weeks. This guide will concentrate on Intel Core i7 systems. After some announcements by AMD, we will also be posting a guide for Phenom II systems. While Core i7 and Phenom II now cover different market segments and different price points, they both are significant CPUs in their own right and both deserve a spotlight on CPU compatibility and getting the most from each CPU. Core i7 and Phenom II are where the action and interest are in today's computer market, and the guides will try to provide help in selecting components for your new Core i7 or Phenom II system.

This Core i7 Buyers Guide looks at three different i7 builds that you might consider. The Core i7 is high on the performance tree but it is also expensive compared to other solutions. Not everyone can afford the $2000 Core i7 system presented in the $1000 to $2000 Buyers Guide. For builders who want an i7 system for as little money as possible we put together a Core i7 Entry system. The goal is simple: build a competent i7 system for as little money as possible. We managed to cut more that 25% from our last Core i7 system price without significant compromises.

Another typical buyer is attracted to the Core i7 because of the tremendous overclocking potential of the processor. As seen in Overclocking Core i7 and other Core i7 articles, the 2.66GHz 920 can reach 3.6GHz to 4GHz with proper air cooling. That is faster than the stock speed available even with the $1000 Core i7 965. The goal of the Core i7 Overclocking System build is a system that provides the flexibility and components to maximize overclocking. The slant is to the value end of overclocking - overclocking to increase value - rather than the absolute highest performance options. However, we do make some recommendations for those who overclock strictly for performance.

Finally, there is the Core i7 High-End System. The goal is to select the best performing components available, and not just the most expensive. The very high end of any system in the computer industry will rarely yield the best bang for the buck. Squeezing the last bit of performance from a component usually means spending a great deal more money than buying the component that delivers the best performance for the dollar. However, luxury and top performance sell well, and these components are still the stuff that computer dreams are made of. Our Dream Core i7 system reaches around $5000, and frankly we could have extended the cost much further by expanding storage and selecting a RAID 5 controller and drive array. Still, the components in the High-End Guide should be food for thought as you select your own Core i7 System.

Core i7 Entry
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  • garydale - Thursday, February 05, 2009 - link

    OK, so you have to use something to measure value against, but let's face it, these are game machines. That dictated the choice of the OS - Vista - when for other applications you may want Linux, OpenSolaris or something else.

    I do some video editing, DTP and web development so for me, Linux would make a lot more sense. I get a pure 64-bit OS and 64-bit applications to really take advantage of what the CPU can do. This isn't a huge concern for games which push the GPU more than the CPU, but other applications use the CPU more.

    Next, for better disk performance, how about a 3 or 4 disk software RAID array (no need for a hardware RAID adaptor with today's CPUs)? Add some hot-swap adaptors if the case doesn't have them. Just watch read performance go through the roof!

    For me, RAID isn't usually a nice-to-have. Video takes up too much space to keep backups of everything. I need the safety of RAID to guard against the inevitable disk failures. And the extra performance is a real bonus.

    With respect to speaker, surround sound is great if you are a gamer or trying to challenge Hollywood, but some people prefer stereo for music or just to not have to run wires everywhere. So how about some stereo speaker recommendations?

    OK, they're minor quibbles. But there's more to high performance than games.
    Reply
  • cjcoats - Thursday, February 05, 2009 - link

    Only 6GB RAM for the dream system surprised me. IIRC, there are benchmarks showing >10% performance improvement for some games when you went from 6GB to 12GB. Similarly, I have Linux benchmarks showing >15% improvement for large-RAM Opteron systems.

    FWIW
    Reply
  • Finally - Thursday, February 05, 2009 - link

    ...as in "nightmare", I guess.
    If you buy that, you can hear your money burning as a background noise...
    The entry level one, on the other hand, is interesting.
    But you should clarify who in the world really would benefit from that kind of thing...
    Reply
  • Kroneborge - Thursday, February 05, 2009 - link

    Benefiting is all subject. Most people think the benefit of choosing real high end compenents is not worth while. But for those with too much cash, why not get what you want?

    I personally wouldn't spend that much, but I'm not going to knock the people that do. It's no different than the people that spend hundreds of thousands extra on peformance between say a Ferrari, and a corvette.

    It's all personal preferences.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, February 05, 2009 - link

    Would it be possible to list the price of all "in the tower" components and sum their cost before adding monitor/speakers/etc? On the concept of selling off a complete C2D tower and replacing it with an i7 tower?

    I would have liked to see a less gaming, more workstation oriented choice. For example, for photoshop a 4870 isn't needed, but more RAM is. Is a 3+ GHz overclock on a 920 possible with 6GB and 12GB RAM configurations? And if so, how good a RAM kit and motherboard are needed?

    I agree with the previous poster that a Blu-Ray drive isn't necessary on the i7 entry system; each user will know if they need Blu-Ray and budget accordingly. Personally I don't plan on jumping on the Blu-Ray train until the burners can be had for under $100.

    Will there be a power consumption guide for i7 coming? All your power supply recommendations are 700W and up, but in the Gigabyte GA-EP45-UD3P test, your published power draw at load for the 920 system is 264W at the wall (which I'm guessing is for a 6GB/single 4870 1GB configuration). Would be nice to know what kind of power is actually drawn when overclocking and such.
    Reply
  • paradoxnighthawk - Thursday, February 05, 2009 - link

    Good job on the entry system. For the dream system, whats with the Evolution X58 mobo. I would much rather have an Asus Rampage X58 or MSI Eclipse X58 mobo. Reply
  • Anonymous Freak - Thursday, February 05, 2009 - link

    Uh... Dare I ask why this Core i7 build guide has pictures of a boxed Core 2 Quad, and a picture of a Socket 775 motherboard on the 'entry' system? (Shouldn't it use the same Core i7 boxed pic as the 'thumbnail' for the article uses; and shouldn't the motherboard picture be a picture of the motherboard the build uses?

    In addition, for the 'Dream' system, there should be a picture of the Core i7 965 Extreme box, not a non-extreme box.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Thursday, February 05, 2009 - link

    You have great eyes. The links and images have been corrected. Thanks for helping us out. Reply
  • Anonymous Freak - Thursday, February 05, 2009 - link

    [quote]You have great eyes[/quote]
    Why thank you! (Blushes and bats eyebrows coyly.)
    Reply
  • Concillian - Thursday, February 05, 2009 - link

    Quote: "This Core i7 Overclocking System leans toward the value side of the overclocking equation. Generally parts were selected, like the Core i7 920, because they are a good value that becomes an outstanding value when overclocked."

    I'm confused by this. A Value based overclocker would spend $50 more on a case than the entry case just because he's overclocking? And would buy a Blu-Ray instead of a DVD player?

    I think the sections are fundamentally flawed. A 'value based overclocking option' should be a minor part selection difference on top of function based categories.

    There should be major categories like:
    - Entry
    - Video Encode / Decode
    - Mild Gamer
    - Hardcore Gamer

    Then there should be two or three components for an overclock recommend on each of those sections. You don't need a better case to overclock. You will want a better HSF, might need better memory and in rare cases a PSU upgrade is warranted, but you do not need a Blu-Ray instead of a DVD player or a 3" larger monitor in order to overclock.
    Reply

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