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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  • limiter - Thursday, October 19, 2006 - link

    I purchased one of the MSI 975x Platinum Powerup boards and the Giel ram suggested in this article and I am having issues with boot up and reboots. I have the ram at DDR2-800, 2.4v (which is what my set says to set the voltage at). I tried setting memory timings to automatic and manually at 4-4-4-12 (again what the memory claims it's timings are). Sometimes the system hangs before post on reboot, sometimes from cold start it starts then resets over and over, sometimes it says "Overclocking failed" with no changes to the CPU settings (just memory). Sometimes it boots up just fine... when it does it works great. I have 7.1 of the bios (official release right now), and I have read that a lot of other people are having the same issues. Also you need a PS2 keyboard to make any bios changes which is annoying. Any suggestions from the Anandtech people? Reply
  • thart - Friday, October 13, 2006 - link

    From: Terry Hart [mailto:tmhartsr@comcast.net]
    Sent: Thursday, October 12, 2006 11:41 PM
    To: Baliff, Michael; Werder, Nick; Shade, Tom; Santos, Jim; Rice, Robbie; Pope, Jeff; Hart, Scott; Rose, Sam; Johnson, Ken
    Subject: Stuff

    Ken, etc.

    Following links are to recent Anand Tech Recommendations for Mid Range and High End builds. I strongly disagree with their choices, especially for Mid Range.

    1. The DDR-2 Memory has gone up in price and now costs considerably more than standard DDR. DDR-2 adds absolutely zero in performance to any AMD system. Therefore the best value by a considerable margin remains Socket 939 and standard DDR.

    2. This Mad Rush to Dual Core is insane. There is practically zero difference in everyday performance. Almost no applications yet exist to really take advantage of it. A 1.8 GHz Athlon-64 3000 Single Core costs $55 for the retail box. The least expensive 2.0 GHz Athlon-64 3800 Dual Core costs $164.00 for the retail box. The actual difference in performance of these two is very small and certainly not worth 3 times as much!

    3. The nVidia 6150 chipset based Micro Boards are the best I have ever seen. They include Gig Net, Firewire, SATA II 3.0, Raid, S Video Out, Dual Monitor support, splendid 7.1 Audio, and the best on-board Video anyone has ever seen. How one can possibly justify twice as much for the full size MOBO - plus another $100, or more, for a decent Video Card, is hard for me to understand.

    4. These Rosewill Towers and Power Supplies cost a fraction of what Anand recommends. The Rosewill PS'es are just fine and the towers are the easiest to work in and have more bays than any of the ones they recommend, or that I have ever used before.

    5. The NEC DVD Writers are great if you run only Doze. But they DO NOT work on any Linux system. Recently purchased a Retail Box NEC and received no cable(s) whatsoever, no DVD Software Decoder - just NERO 7 OEM. The Retail Box Lite-On DVD Writers with Lite-Scribe are better choices, I think.

    6. Few folks need the Media Center OS. Only advantage I see is if you do install and use a Radio/TV Tuner/Capture card - which almost no one does. Not a thing wrong with plain old $89 Doze XP Home OEM for 99% of users. Nothing in the PRO Version that I need here either?

    http://www.anandtech.com/guides/showdoc.aspx?i=283...">http://www.anandtech.com/guides/showdoc.aspx?i=283...

    http://www.anandtech.com/guides/showdoc.aspx?i=285...">http://www.anandtech.com/guides/showdoc.aspx?i=285...

    Sure wish someone would explain to me why I should spend well over 3 times as much for a Dual Core Socket AM2 than the more than adequate Socket 939 Single Core choices?

    Terry
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 13, 2006 - link

    1 -- High-end DDR2-800 like the GEIL Ultra costs $280 for 2GB. High-end DDR-500 costs $250 minimum and comes with generally lower performance. AM2 is 5% faster on average compared to a similar 939 setup. DDR is a dead end, with the last batches being manufactured between now and January 2007. Does that mean you need to go out and upgrade from a DDR system to DDR2 system? Certainly not, but I definitely wouldn't save $30 to stick with an outdated platform if you're buying a new computer, which is the point of the buyer's guides.

    2 -- Obviously you have never run any serious multitasking applications. 3D rendering, video encoding, audio encoding, professional image editing, compression/decompression are all more than capable of utilizing more than a single processor core. If you never do anything more than surf the web, write e-mail, and use Microsoft office then you don't need dual cores right now.

    3 -- Obviously you have never used a really good motherboard if you think the 6150 chipset is the best motherboard ever. Or more specifically, you are assuming that your needs are the same as everyone else's needs/wants. I don't even want to think about trying to run games on a 6150 chipset. Of course, we've already run benchmarks http://www.anandtech.com/showdoc.aspx?i=2553&p...">comparing ATI and NVIDIA integrated graphics. Think those numbers look impressive? A dual GPU configuration like those used in this article packs about 20 times more graphical performance, which can be very useful for high-quality gaming. I don't even want to think about running Oblivion on any integrated graphics chipset.

    4 -- Rosewill is about is generic of a brand as you can get. While that might be okay for the cases, I would never recommend a $50 power supply for use in a system that costs well over $2000. I'm pretty sure you're convinced that every buyer's guide should be a budget buyers guide, but some people actually like to have the fastest computers available, and some of us actually make use of them.

    5 -- Every motherboard I have ever purchased comes with IDE cables that can be used with your optical drive. Perhaps if you purchased the cheapest motherboards on the market, along with IDE hard drives, you might only get a single cable and find yourself in a difficult situation where you have to go out and spend an extra $4 on another cable? As far as whether or not they work with Linux, I can't say I've tested it, but I'm confused as to why they wouldn't work. Finally, you can get DVD software decoders for free if you need them.

    6 -- Have you ever tried to share your various folders on the network using XP Home? Yes, you can share certain folders, but you can't simply share the whole hard drive, and you will never be able to access certain folders over the network. As I stated in the article, if you only run one computer in your house, he certainly won't notice the difference between XP Home and XP Professional. As for Media Center Edition, it has virtually all of the features of XP Pro plus a bunch of extras of its own, and it costs $30 less than XP Pro.

    Why should you spend more money for dual core socket AM2 system? Well, if you had read this guide carefully, you would notice that I actually don't recommend buying the AM2 systems at all. For people that actually want maximum performance, Core 2 Duo has anything available from AMD beat hands down. Anyway, you obviously shouldn't go out and buy a high-end computer, because clearly you aren't doing anything that needs it.

    I have actually been using a socket 754 system as my primary computer for the last two years, and only the last couple of months did I finally decide to migrate all of my work onto a faster system. Do I notice the difference in performance? You darn well better believe it! Not just in games either. I can do work in Photoshop much faster than before, especially when working with multiple images. But there are plenty of times when the system sits idle just waiting for me to give it something to do, and clearly at such times my new faster system is no better than my old system.

    You might want to read the conclusion one more time, as it contains statements targeted directly at people like yourself: "The best time to upgrade is when you are no longer happy with your computer... or perhaps just after winning the lottery. Many of us still have computers that are over two years old that we use on a regular basis, and while they may not be the fastest systems on the planet, for a lot of tasks they are perfectly adequate."

    I'm glad you're happy with your single core socket 939 system. Just because it's adequate doesn't mean that I should recommend it for anyone going out on purchasing a new computer today. Should someone with an old Celeron system upgrade to socket 939 right now? That would be a pretty pointless upgrade, considering that it doesn't cost much more money to change to something else that would be faster and more future proof. It would be like talking to someone who has an old 1970s car that they're finally going to get rid of, and recommending that they upgrade to a used car manufactured in 1995, because after all that's 25 years newer than their old piece of junk.... In fact, not only should they upgrade to a 1995 model, but they should pay $10,000, because that's a much better than paying $14,000 for a decent 2006 model car.

    Regards,
    Jarred Walton
    Editor
    AnandTech.com
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Saturday, October 14, 2006 - link

    There are also a few other things that you cant do in XP home, such as run as a server, or run IIS, ect.

    Also, I'm not sure whether dual core CPU will be taken advantage of in XP home, although early versions of XP home wouldnt reconize Hyper Threading CPUs (they would only show in the device manager as a single CPU, where in XP pro, they would show as dual CPUs), they have since 'fixed' this, but I havent played in XP home for a very long time, so I can not be sure. Reguardless, 'real' dual CPUs wont be taken advantage of in XP home.

    As Jarred pointed out, more than 'simple file sharing' is not supported in XP home, which may be fine for the casual user, but I think we all can agree the majority of the people reading these comments are not the average user. File permissions also are not as flexable as in XP pro (if availible at all), which in certain situations, can be a big deal.

    There are probably a few things I've missed, but whatever, you get the point.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, October 13, 2006 - link

    Hey Jarred, I'd like to add, that I'm currently using a Asrock AM2NF4-SATA2 board, and as a test, I installed XP, etc, and PLAYED Oblivion on the onboard 6100 graphics . . .

    Needless to say, I ordered a 7600GT from newegg . . . as even @ 800x600 low settings, the system wouldnt play the game faster than 12 FPS, and gameplay was terrible. Hell, my old 3200+ XP system with a 6600GT spanked the crap out of it. Now, Im getting ATLEAST a steady 30 FPS, and the game plays much, much smoother.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, October 13, 2006 - link

    No one said you HAD to spend ANYTHING. This article wasnt written for YOU specificly. I basicly took it as a 'guidelines' article myself.

    1. My AMD 3800+ AM2 system gets 3 times as much menmory bandwidth comparred to my AMD 3200+ XP system

    2. Rush, or not, no one SAID yo uhad to.

    3. The nVidia micro 6150 boards are fine IF you dont care about the latest features used in current chipsets, and are ALL budget boards that dont always run 100% stable, even when set 100% stock (I know because I've built a few, and am replying from one right now)

    4. Rosewill PSUs . . . hah. thats about all thier good for, is a laugh.

    5. I think its fiarly safe to say that 95% of people who use cutting edge systems, dont use Linux, period, atleast, not for desktop system.

    6. Here, we're talking ENTHUSIAST, do you think an enthusiast is going to be using XP home ? I know I wouldnt.

    Single core wont multitask any hwere near as well as a dual core system, but hey, feel free to live in the dark ages, if you so feel the need, hell I have a friend who thinks its evil to install SP2 on XP, and refuses to upgrade past his P3 pentium, but, whatever floats your boat, no need to TRY and make someone feel bad about thier article because YOU dont agree with it. See ya *wave*
    Reply
  • AaronAxvig - Tuesday, October 10, 2006 - link

    If I really wanted a high end, no holds barred machine, I could spend way more than you did ($10,000+). For sure I'd go with 15k SCSI drives, RAIDed however to eke the most performance out. And then, I probably WOULD go off the deep end and get the dual-socket motherboard, because guess what: games are going to start using 4 cores (Alan Wake gets thrown around a lot here). Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, October 10, 2006 - link

    The thing is, the Alan Wake demo ran on an overclocked QX6700 and then they even stated that it would run just as fast at stock speeds. Translation: it didn't need faster quad cores. The next big question then becomes: how much does it really need quad cores over dual cores? I will wager it ends up being heavily GPU limited on dual-core systems, and quad core will only make a difference with 2 x G80/R600 or at lower resolutions. No one buying a $4000+ system is going to run at anything less than 1600x1200/1680x1050 if they can avoid it.

    Obviously, you can go higher than the $5600 system. We don't generally recommend even $5000 systems for the majority of people, and the number of people that should get a $10K PC is very small. I'd never put 2x15000 RPM drives in a home computer... high pitched whine, need for extra fans to keep the case cool, etc. means it's solely for bragging rights and not much else. Funny thing is, in most consumer oriented benchmarks a RAID 0 SATA setup is going to pretty much match RAID 0 SCSI. Most tasks simply aren't HDD I/O bound... and if they are, add more RAM!
    Reply
  • Justin Case - Tuesday, October 10, 2006 - link

    Why are clock speeds given for the AMD CPUs, but only model numbers for the Intel CPUs...?

    I don't remember Anandtech having any problem publishing AMD's clock speeds back when they were lower than Intel's (even though the CPUs were actually faster). So now that the situation is reversed (Intel has better IPC, but their CPUs' frequency is about the same), why the sudden omission of Intel's clock speeds (and just a reference to "you might get 3 GHz with overclocking")?

    Could it be because Chipzilla's marketing department sent its minions^H^H^H I mean "favourite journalists" a memo telling them to join in on the model number campaign or kiss their free preview samples goodbye? Nah, that couldn't possibly be it....

    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, October 10, 2006 - link

    Absolutely not! It's merely a matter of me forgetting to put the clock speeds in on the Intel chips. Trust me, when you're trying to hammer out the last bits and pieces of of the 7000 word article, put together the tables, and get everything posted before 8 a.m. Eastern time thing slip through the cracks. :-) I will go in update the tables now.... Reply

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