We've got a lot of great builds this year--some great options below $1000 and some great ones much higher than that. I wanted to offer something a little different for the mix.

Unfortunately, as Jarred mentioned in the introduction, building a new system today is pretty ill advised. Intel is set to release Sandy Bridge in another two months and with it we'll see a big reset in the components we recommend. Within six or so months of the Sandy Bridge arrival, AMD is expected to release its first new high end server/desktop architecture, codenamed Bulldozer. Thus my ideal build would limit spending on the CPU and motherboard, and move those dollars toward the rest of the components in the system. The idea is that you spend enough on a CPU/motherboard today to get good performance, but minimize the expense to enable upgrading in the not too distant future. You can then take your "old" CPU and motherboard and turn it into an awesome secondary system for a family member or even yourself (hello HTPC!).

Anand's Ready for Bulldozer/Sandy SSD System
Hardware Component Price
Processor AMD Athlon II X3 450 $79
Video ASUS EAH6850 Radeon HD 6850 1GB $200
Motherboard MSI 880GM-E41 $75
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws Series 8GB DDR3-1333 (2x4GB) $125
Solid State Drive Corsair Force F120 128GB SF-1200 SSD $220
Hard Drive 2 x Seagate Barracuda LP 2TB HDDs in RAID-1 $200
Optical Drive Samsung 22X DVDRW $15
Case Corsair Obsidian 800D Full Tower Case $280
Case Alternative Antec P193 $183
Case Alternative #2 Antec Three Hundred $60
Power Supply Antec BP550 Plus 550W $65
Base System Total $1039 - $1259

Below $100, you can't beat AMD on the CPU. Personally I like having more than two cores on a system, which is why I went for the Athlon II X3 450. It gives you a great balance of price/performance without even breaking $80. The MSI 880GM is a good motherboard from an upgrade standpoint. You can always reuse the Athlon II X3 + 880G setup later on as an HTPC as long as you don't mind not having TrueHD/DTS-HD MA bitstreaming support. The rest of the system is well configured, with 8GB of memory that will be re-usable in whatever DDR3 platform you have next year.

People are always asking me what my ideal storage setup would be given my affinity for SSDs these days. The configuration above almost exactly mimics the setup I have at home. I've put a 128GB Corsair Force F120 based on the SandForce SF-1200 controller as the OS drive; you may want to upgrade your SSD in another 12 months or so which is the only reason I'd shy away from the F240. If you can get away with less space, then by all means go for it but I personally like having all of my applications and at least one frequently used game reside on my SSD to maximize the low-latency goodness.

If you don't have a NAS or some form of massive file storage at home, I highly recommend the SSD + two HDDs in RAID-1 approach. I grabbed a pair of 2TB Seagate Barracuda LPs for mass storage, although you could use smaller drives if you don't have a lot to store. These drives would be for other game installs, pictures, movies, music. The RAID-1 is just to protect things in case of a single drive failure, although you still want to have some sort of a backup plan external to your PC.

A good GPU is important if you're going to be gaming at all. I picked the Radeon HD 6850 because it is a good balance of price and performance and sufficient for most of my gaming needs at this point. While personally I'd probably opt for something faster, that's only because I tend to use relatively high resolution displays - no need in penalizing the system because of it.

The case selection is an interesting one. Typically I don't spend much money on a case in my builds, my focus is always on the internal hardware. Gary Key, our old Senior Motherboard Editor likes to view cases as an investment - something that'll last you several builds. I figured I'd give Gary's approach on this build and go overboard with the case. Corsair's Obsidian 800D is super easy to work inside, looks very sleek on the outside and seems like the type of case you could keep around for several builds. If you want to save a bit of money there are always cheaper alternatives from Antec.

Closing out the list is the power supply. We don't need to go overkill on power supply since we're not running a ton of hard drives or have a multi-GPU setup. The 550W Antec works well and is a decent choice to any midrange setup.

The end result is a system that's pretty quick today, and with a motherboard/CPU swap next year you've got a huge improvement in performance as well as leftover hardware to build a decent HTPC in the near future.

Raja's Midrange Overclocking Systems Ryan's High-End Gaming System


View All Comments

  • DanNeely - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    I've always put my faith in the low score reviews than the high ones because people are morel likely to complain about bad parts than to write good reviews. You definitely do need to read the actual reviews and filter the idiots out first though. Reply
  • Brian Klug - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    I'm glad someone caught me on the Xeon coolers - I usually forget that the boxed Xeons don't come with a cooling solution up until right as I start building, then run to the store and grab something.

    Honestly, everyone has their own LGA 1366/Socket B choice it seems. I went with one cooler one time that was too big for my Cosmos S case (the door wouldn't close), and hesitated to recommend something given that I haven't actually *seen* the SR-2 in the flesh. I wager one of those Zalmans that's flat (with the fan normal to the motherboard) probably makes most sense/has best chances of actually fitting.

    Awesome comments ;) I wish I could build that thing, honestly!

  • rootheday - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Interesting that the Intel budget system comes out >$120 higher than the AMD system... but most of that difference because of the choice to include a discrete GPU and BluRay drive in the Intel system. If you leveled that out (and chose same power supply/case) the Apples-to-apples comparison comes out much closer - down to a $40 difference (~10%).

    For that difference you get a tradeoff between slightly faster 3D graphics in the AMD 4250 (but neither will do much beyond casual gaming) vs Intel CPU that is faster in the case in most workloads and signficantly lower idle power. Both can handle media and normal browsing, photo editing, email, and productivity apps with ease.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Which is what we say at the bottom of the Intel page:

    "If you like comparisons, while some of the features are clearly different (i.e. Blu-ray, case, etc.), this Intel setup checks in at $40 more than our AMD build looking just at the motherboard and processor. It's true that Intel has plenty of less expensive processors, but rather than pitting Pentium G6950 against the Athlon II X4 645 we decided to go with the more capable i3-550. AMD's budget parts easily win in multi-threaded tests, but the Core 2010 architecture does very well in other areas. In other words, neither choice is always "right" but instead you need to decide what tasks are most important for your workload."
  • wwswimming - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    This system is adequate for watching the Pipe Masters.

    Can I have it when you're done with it ?
  • Conficio - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    I'm surprised with all the dream machines, that non of you went for one of the Multi Monitor setups.

    What is the hold back?

    I'd think that is way more attractive for home use than a 24 GB 12 core XEON system, that is waisting more than half of its power and money going unused 95% of the time in any personal home use.

    Really I'd like to hear why that does not seem to be on the wish list of any of you?
  • bji - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    I can't see the point of multi monitor setups except when each monitor is used as a discrete desktop with no windows split across them. Setups where games split across monitors seem like the biggest joke to me. Who wants to play a game with a grid of bezels splashed across it? I can't believe that anyone even attempts such ridiculous setups or that these are featured by graphics card makers (AMD Eyefinity).

    Given that, I don't see too much point in multi-monitor setups for home use, when larger LCD panels (24 inches and above) give so much desktop real estate already.
  • geniekid - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    1) I would love to see Brian's dream machine built and benchmarked.
    2) Does the MSI 890FXA-GD70 for Alan's HTPC support Dolby Digital Live/DTS Connect? If so, I assume the intention is to use SPDIF to send the digital audio to the receiver? Otherwise I'm surprised at the lack of a sound card.
  • 3DoubleD - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    To answer your 2nd question. Nearly every motherboard sold today supports DD and DTS over SPDIF. Even Windows Vista/7 drivers include support for this (along with 2ch LPCM support for other Windows sounds). So if a motherboard has SPDIF support (optical or coaxial), you have DD and DTS bit-streaming support guaranteed. Reply
  • ajlueke - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    in response to 2). The idea as far as sound goes is to used the HDMI connection from the 5870 for sound. The AMD graphics cards have on board sound, as well as support for DTS-Master and TrueHD bitstreaming, no seperate soundcard required. I have found that multichannel support over the ATI cards for games is also very good, really makes Starcraft II come alive. Reply

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