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The Intel Core i5-2500K CPU

Intel's Sandy Bridge architecture based Core i5-2500K needs little introduction at this time. Almost a year after its release, it remains unrivaled in terms of performance, power consumption, enthusiast-friendly overclockability, and price. Anand reviewed the CPU earlier this year, and I summarized the Sandy Bridge CPU and chipsets in a previous buyer's guide. You can also check Bench for detailed metrics on the 2500K's performance. Simply put, you can't buy a better processor for the money, and its performance for its cost makes it a tremendous value.

The components

I've recommended the Biostar TZ68A+ in previous guides and it continues to be my go-to Z68 chipset-based LGA 1155 motherboard. I continue to have great experiences with it (like no DOA boards, knock on wood), and the many I've put in systems continue running without issue. Its feature set is good, its performance is great, and its cost is comparatively low. Perhaps its only negative is that it has fewer than average rear USB ports; you might need a USB port dock if you'll be attaching a lot of peripherals to it.

For the graphics card, we're highlighting the Radeon HD 6850. Prices of cards based on this GPU have fallen over the last few months to lows of around $130 after rebate, where it offers unbeatable performance for the price. The GTX 460 1GB is its closest NVIDIA competitor, performance-wise, as you can see from Bench. The two cards are very evenly matched, but the Radeon HD 6850's lower power consumption and lower price tag make it the better buy. Succinctly, it can play even the most demanding games at high resolutions at acceptable frame rates. AMD's HD 7000 series should come out in the not-too-distant future, but we can't share any details on where those will rank right now.

Because Sandy Bridge CPUs are less responsive to faster RAM than AMD's Llano APUs, the Core i5-2500K system requires nothing more than standard budget DDR3, in this case, an 8GB kit. For storage, we've opted to go with a slightly less expensive but still solid performing SSD, OCZ's Vertex 3. 60GB is enough space for your OS and applications, and like the $800 AMD build, the Samsung F3 1TB HDD is a lot of space for big game and media libraries.

Though neither the i5-2500K nor the Radeon HD 6850 are power hogs, Corsair's Builder Series CX500 offers a lot of value for midrange builders at the $50 (after rebate) price point. It's more than capable of powering this system, and leaves room for future upgrades that might be more demanding on the power supply (e.g. a Core i7 CPU, faster video card, or a second Radeon HD 6850 for CrossFire). Dustin reviewed the Corsair Carbide 500R recently and after getting my own hands on one, I agree with his conclusions: it has excellent thermals and acoustics, it's extremely easy to work with, and it's well-built. Note that the white version is in the components list below, but it's also available in black.

Component Product Price Rebate
Processor Intel Core i5-2500K $220  
Motherboard Biostar TZ68A+ $95  
Video card Gigabyte Radeon HD 6850 $150 -$20
RAM Kingston 8GB DDR3 1333 $35  
SSD OCZ Vertex 3 $100 -$20
HDD Samsung F3 1TB $150  
Power supply Corsair Builder Series CX500 $60 -$10
Case Corsair Carbide Series 500R $140 -$10
Optical drive LITE-ON iHAS324-98B $20  
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (OEM) $100  
  Total: $1070 $1010

Summary

The Intel system outlined above is about $200 more expensive than the AMD system on the previous page. That's a 25% cost increase from the A8-3850 APU rig. Is it worth it? As you can see from the Bench comparison, the only aspects of performance where the A8 wins are idle and load power consumption. As for actual computing performance, it's not even close. Similarly, the discrete Radeon HD 6850 is leagues ahead of the on-die APU's graphics. But it is critically important to understand what the benchmark numbers mean in reality. For a casual computer user, the A8-3850 is more than adequate. However, it is not an enthusiast's chip, whereas the i5-2500K is essentially the entry-level enthusiast's processor. If you perform more demanding tasks like pro-am or professional graphics or video editing, or you're a hardcore gamer, you should spend the extra $200 and go with the Core i5-2500K system.

For those who use their PC to work hard and prefer to play elsewhere, and don't want to break the bank on near-bleeding edge performance, we've got you covered on the next page.

 

$800 AMD Llano A8-3850 System $1200 Intel Core i7-2600K System
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  • stefmalawi - Tuesday, December 06, 2011 - link

    I was quite literally just looking for this article right now (having thought that it was already posted) when it popped up. Cheers! Reply
  • trifecta88 - Tuesday, December 06, 2011 - link

    The flooding in Thailand and the tsunami in Japan have nearly tripled mechanical hard drive prices this year... to think that if you built this same build next year when factories recover you could put the extra ~100 (pre-flood 1TB price ~50) into GPU/monitor/etc or your wallet. If you are considering building a computer, you should probably dig up an old drive from another computer and use that until prices dip again. Reply
  • MonkeyPaw - Tuesday, December 06, 2011 - link

    Yeah, I bought a WD 500GB drive 3 months ago for $49. Today, that exact same drive is $109. Reminds me of RAM prices back in 1995. Reply
  • Flunk - Tuesday, December 06, 2011 - link

    Actually what you just described is the pricing from 2007, I bought 2 500GB 7200RPM drives back int he summer of 2007 for about $100 each.

    They didn't even have 500GB drives back in 1995.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Tuesday, December 06, 2011 - link

    Comprehension fail Reply
  • twhittet - Tuesday, December 06, 2011 - link

    Well his name is Flunk Reply
  • BSMonitor - Tuesday, December 06, 2011 - link

    overpayed Reply
  • Mathieu Bourgie - Tuesday, December 06, 2011 - link

    Zach,

    Here are some things that I noticed while going through the builds. Simply trying to help here, so please don't take this the wrong way :)

    I wanted to point out that the Llano system requires an extra SATA cable: The ASUS F1A75-M PRO/CSM motherboard includes two of them and the system will need three, for the DVD Burner, SSD and HDD.

    Also, the Antecn NEO ECO 400C 400W PSU doesn't include a power cord.

    Most of us will have spares cables/power cords, but it's still good to know this.

    Speaking of the Llano system, I'm left unimpressed by it.

    First of all, why limit yourself to a Micro-ATX motherboard when you could have gone full-size ATX instead? Now, if you decide to add a dedicated video card, you won't be able to add a dedicated PCI-Express sound card, since the PCI-Express 1x slot will be blocked by the most likely double-width video card.

    The A8-3850 + ASUS F1A75-M PRO/CSM + 1866MHz 8GB G.Skill ends up costing $310

    Here's a simple alternative build that will offer much superior gaming performance, as well as the possibility to upgrade the CPU to higher-end Sandy Bridge offerings for a similar price:

    $130 Core i3-2120,
    $75 motherboard: ASRock H61M/U3S3 with USB 3.0, SATA 6.0Gbps
    $80 (less with a MIR) Radeon HD 6670
    $35 8GB DDR3 1333MHz Gskill
    Total: $320

    All of which are compatible with the rest of your suggested build.

    Power consumption? The Core i3-2100 draws about 17W less at load than the A8-3850 according to the Bench, for CPU load only and the Radeon HD 6670 has a 66W TDP according to Ryan's review on AnandTech. So roughly 50W more if you don't consider the power draw of the GPU within the A8-3850 during gaming and assume that the 6670 pulls 66W, which is unlikely. The Antec ECO NEO 400W will have no problem handling that.

    Sure, the A8-3850 will come ahead in a few multi-threaded programs, but it's not like the 3.3GHz dual-core + Hyper-Threading Core i3-2120 will be far behind, while the i3-2120 and Radeon HD 6670 will trounce the A8-3850 when it comes to gaming performance. The Core i3-2120 will also come far ahead with any program that is mostly single-threaded.

    Decide to get a more potent video card with either system and the Core i3-2120 system will still come ahead, due to its superior gaming performance when matched with a dedicated video card.

    Best of all? You can upgrade the Core i3-2120 system to a Core i5-2xxx or i7-2xxx down the road if you want to.

    SSD wise, you could also consider a Samsung 830 series 64GB, which costs $10 less, offers similar if not even better performance and reliability.

    Moving on to the $1000 Intel Core i5-2500K System:
    You can pick up a Radeon HD 6870 for only $10: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    For the A8-3850 system, you recommend the Crucial M4 64GB, because it is very reliable, but then go on to recommend an OCZ Vertex 3 SSD, one of the worst SSD when it comes to reliability, for the $1000 System? What the? Better stick with a Crucial M4 or a Samsung 830 series SSD for performance and reliability here.

    You mention adding a second 6850 for Crossfire. However, the recommend Biostar TZ68A+ motherboard second 16x PCI-Express slot is limited to 4x.

    Other than that, your recommendations are sound. Thanks for the article and your hard work on it.

    For the $1200 build, just want to point out that the Corsair A70 CPU Cooler is a whole lot cheaper at Amazon.

    Also, I'd personally go with a Crucial M4 128GB instead of the Intel 320 series. Crucial M4 SSDs offer great reliability and performance is way higher than the 320 series.

    "AMD's HD 7000 series should come out in the not-too-distant future, but we can't share any details" - Looking forward to that ;)

    My 2 cents,
    Mathieu
    Reply
  • aznofazns - Tuesday, December 06, 2011 - link

    100% agree with the alternatives you listed. Llano A8 is ill-suited to midrange systems housed in midtower cases. It's a better solution if you're looking to build a mATX or mini ITX PC in which conserving space is more important and performance is less important.

    The i3-2120 will give the A8-3850 an ass-whoopin in the majority of tasks. Media creation still favors the quad-core A8, but not by a lot. See here: http://www.anandtech.com/show/4476/amd-a83850-revi...

    Entry level HD6670 will also destroy the GPU on the A8, but it doesn't end there. Since the HD6670 has its own DDR3 (or even quad-pumped GDDR5) VRAM, you won't need to spend an extra ~$30 on the faster 1866MHz DDR3 RAM to improve graphics performance. Your average DDR3 1333 will provide plenty of bandwidth to the i3.
    Reply
  • bji - Tuesday, December 06, 2011 - link

    I think "ass-whoopin" is very overstated. It is true that the i3 is 20% - 30% faster in about 75% of Anand's benchmarks, the majority of which are single threaded or (likely) optimized specifically for Intel processors. The A8 comes out ahead on many of the multithreaded benchmarks (although by a much smaller margin than it loses by on the others).

    I don't consider this an "ass-whoopin". That would be considerably faster (50% or more) on all benchmarks. The i3 isn't even close to that.

    I have found that 20% to 30% better performance on single threaded tasks is typically not even noticeable. I have also found that for my most important workloads (parallel software compiles) more cores is the most important factor, and I believe that the most demanding applications are heavily multithreaded which makes the i3's advantage in single threaded apps less significant.

    One place where the i3 clearly shines over the A8 is gaming performance (assuming that both systems are using dedicated cards, which really isn't fair to the A8 since its integrated graphics are so good), but seriously, who even cares about gaming performance of PCs anymore? There is a reason that graphics card development has slowed: consoles drive the technical requirements of games, so better gaming performance of a PC is, for most people, completely irrelevant.

    I don't want to say that the A8 is a better chip than the i3, but I don't want to hear overblown conclusions about the i3 giving the A8 an "ass-whoppin" either. The A8 for many users can be a better chip, and for others the i3 can be better. It depends on workload and for most casual users, the differences would never be noticed anyway.
    Reply

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