Core i7 System Buyers Guide

by Wesley Fink on February 5, 2009 3:00 AM EST

Core i7 Entry

With the i7 processors at the top of every performance comparison, many readers are interested in building a new Core i7 system. However, much of the i7 architecture is unique compared to current computer architectures, with a new socket 1366 and triple-channel DDR3 memory. That means i7 buyers will likely be buying more components than normal for the move to i7. In fact it is not unreasonable to expect a complete new system build, or at least the bulk of a complete system build, when you decide to move up to Core i7.

The question then is what is the absolute minimum you can spend and still get into a decent performing i7 system? In our System Buyers Guide: $1000 to $2000 a balanced i7 system with the cheapest Core i7 CPU managed to squeeze in at just under $2000. In the short time since that guide was published many prices have dropped, new drivers are available, and there are more options available for a Core i7 system. The goal is also a bit more modest in this Core i7 Entry system. The task was to put together a complete i7 system at near bare bones pricing.

In almost every category a lower performing and lower priced option is possible, but it makes little sense to build an i7 system and saddle it with last generation's midrange video card for example. For that reason the video choice was a Radeon 4870 1GB, which many consider the minimum for a serious gaming rig. Where the lower-priced options make just a small difference in performance we chose lower price, but where it really mattered in total system performance the better performing choice was made.

Core i7 Entry PC
Hardware Component Price
Processor Intel Core i7 920 Socket 1366
(2.66GHz Quad-core, 4x256KB L2, 8MB L3 Cache)
Cooling Intel Retail HSF -
Video MSI R4870-T2D1G Radeon HD 4870 1GB $205
Motherboard GIGABYTE GA-EX58-UD3R X58 $185
Memory Patriot Viper 3GB (3x1GB) DDR3-1333 (PC3-10666) PVT33G1333ELK - Retail $70
Hard Drive Samsung Spinpoint F1 HD103UJ 1TB $95
Optical Drive LG BD/HD DVD / 16x DVD+/- RW GGC-H20LK $105
Audio On-Board Audio -
Case COOLER MASTER Centurion 534 RC-534-SKN2-GP ATX Mid-Tower $50
Power Supply OCZ StealthXStream OCZ700SXS 700W SLI Ready CrossFire Ready $70
Display Acer H213Hbmid 21.5" 5ms HDMI 1080P LCD - Retail $190
Speakers Creative Inspire T6100 76W 5.1 Speakers $70
Input Microsoft CA9-00001 Black PS/2 Keyboard and Optical USB/PS2 Mouse - OEM $16
Operating System Microsoft Vista Home Premium OEM $99
Bottom Line   $1450

The i7 920 is the lowest priced Intel Core i7 you can currently buy. The other two choices are in the $600 to $1000 price range. Don't assume, however, that the 920 is not a powerful processor. The i7 920 is 30% faster in some tests than a Core 2 Quad, and then you find you can also overclock this 2.66GHz CPU to 3.6GHz to 4GHz with careful tweaking and better cooling. You will certainly be very happy with Core i7 base performance, but if you are interested in overclocking you will be even happier with this new CPU.

The Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD3R has the distinction of being the lowest priced X58 chipset motherboard you can currently buy. Others will join that sub-$200 price point soon to provide more X58 value choices. You probably also noticed that Gigabyte is trying to get as much mileage as possible from their UD3R designation, holding on to a good name as much as possible.

Since this system goal is the lowest priced Core i7 system, we stuck with the retail Intel HSF that comes with the CPU. It works fine with the Core i7 at stock speeds, even though it runs hotter than a similar Intel HSF on Core 2 chips. In the past an Intel retail HSF would be a guarantee of at least midrange overclocking, but the Core i7 runs hotter and you will not get much of an overclock with the Intel HSF. If you plan to overclock you will definitely need a third party HSF, like the Vigor Monsoon III or the Thermalright Ultra-120 eXtreme-1366.

In the Core i7 System in the $1000 to $2000 System Guide, the problems with ATI drivers on Core i7 were discussed. Since then driver releases from ATI are going in the right direction. There is also the price difference, with the capable 4870 1GB some $120 less than the now lower-priced NVIDIA GTX 280. There is also the fact that the Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD3R supports only CrossFire for multiple GPUs.

Put all those pieces together and the choice for GPU on the i7 Entry system is the Radeon 4870 1 GB. The best value today is the MSI R4870-T2D1G, which is just $205 after a $25 rebate. The best value in HD 4870 1GB cards shifts day-by-day, but you can generally shop for the lowest price on a 4870 1GB card and end up with a good quality card.

Triple-channel memory comes in a 3GB kit (3x1GB) or a 6GB kit (3x2GB). Value dictates the 3GB choice with a great memory package from Patriot. The Viper DDR3-1333 comes as a 3GB kit won't break the bank at $70. For just $70 more, you can upgrade to a 6GB DDR3-1333 kit instead.

Good cases and power supplies are either used forever or they go with the old board on a system upgrade. Generally, it's best to invest in the best case and power supply you can afford. Since this is an Entry i7 we can cut costs on the case and PSU, and with numerous price cuts and rebates available on these components you can still get a lot of value for just a little money.

The Cooler Master Centurion 534 is a good value no matter how you look at it. It does come in different configurations, and the RC-534-SKN2-GP case is a good choice since it comes with three 120mm fans (front, side, and back) for cooling and installation requires no tools other than a screwdriver for mounting the motherboard. There are also plenty of drive bay options with five external 5.25" bays, one external 3.5", and four internal 3.5". Front USB/Firewire/Audio connectors are also featured. Builders report smooth edges and no sharp pieces to cut your hand during assembly. Even the expansion slots are screwless in this design. Our selection at $50 is black with a brushed aluminum and mesh front, but the case is also available in all black if you prefer at $55.

The power supply is an excellent value at $70. That $70 buys a 700W OCZ StealthXStream after a $20 rebate. This OCZ PSU specifies an efficiency of greater than 85% with both overload and overvoltage protection. The OCZ StealthXStream 700W should be able to handle whatever you ask of it in powering or overclocking a more basic Core i7 920 system.

Hard drive capacity continues to grow, as you can see in our selection of the Samsung SpinPoint 1TB (1000GB) hard drive at just $95. For less than $100 the value is incredible. While there are differences between hard drives, outside of running benchmarks most people aren't likely to notice the difference in performance between Western Digital, Seagate, Samsung, Hitachi, and other major brands. All are worthy of consideration if the price per gigabyte (or terabyte) is right.

The optical drive for an entry Core i7 system needs to play Blu-ray disks. The flexible LG GGC-H20LK has the ability to read both Blu-ray and HD-DVD format disks. It also can burn DVDs at 16x speed in single or dual-layer formats. It cannot, however, burn 25GB/50GB Blu-ray disks; adding that capability raises the cost to around $200. A BD burner like the LG 6X Blu-ray Burner GGW-H20LK is a good choice if you require a Blu-ray burner.

After reviewing the current state of onboard audio, we concluded that the onboard solutions are plenty adequate for most of today's computer users. That is why we stuck with the onboard audio on the Gigabyte. Speakers are the 5.1 Creative Inspire T6100 76W system. At $70 the T6100 delivers very good 5.1 surround sound for the price.

The LCD display resolution for the Entry Core i7 system is 1080p full HD (1920x1080). The monitor is one of the new class of 21.5" monitors with a resolution the same as last generation's 24" LCD monitors. The newest monitors use a 16:9 "true HD" ratio instead of last generation's 16:10. The resolution is the same as 24" monitors, but the price is a bargain at $190, which saves at least $100. The Acer H213Hbmid monitor is rated at 5ms and features HDMI inputs for easy hookup to the latest video cards like the MSI Radeon 4870 1GB used in this entry Core i7 system.

By paring components to the items that most affected performance, the bottom line price for a complete Core i7 is cut by more than 25% from our choices of just a few weeks ago. This reduces the price of entry for a complete i7 system to $1450 including a 1080p LCD Monitor, keyboard/mouse, 5.1 speakers, Blu-ray player, 1TB drive, Radeon 4870 1GB graphics, and Windows Vista OS. Performance of this i7 Entry system is definitely in the high-end class, although we will be extending that performance even further in our builds of the Core i7 Overclocking System, and Core i7 Dream system.

Index Core i7 Overclocking
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  • Tacoeater - Tuesday, March 3, 2009 - link

    I am thinking about building a system very similar to this. However, I want to break away from MS licensing and tax. If I install a Linux distribution, am I neutering the video card? In particular, I play 2 games: WOW and Civ4. I see that WINE will run these games in linux, but I suspect not at the quality I could play the games at in a Windows environment.

    Does it make sense to install a premium video card in this kind of systemd if I am going to be using Linux as my main OS?

    I am also considering virtualization or dual booting with a min install of WinXP just for these 3 applications. However, I am a noob to virtualization.

    And no, I do not want MS as the main OS while using something like Cygwin or virtualizing a unix environment in Windows. The point is to minimize my use of MS to hopefully get off it completely at some point and choose to use it based on its merits versus needing it for DirectX. For instance, Windows seems to make a media

    BTW, what is the advantage of Vista versus Linux anyways aside from DirectX? Is it driver support?
  • nycter - Tuesday, February 10, 2009 - link

    I built a very similar system last week and ended up returning that power supply unopened for the smaller one. (850W) The box on my GTX295 recommended a higher amps rating on the 12v rail than this 1000W ps provides according to its box. FYI correct me if I was wrong.
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, February 10, 2009 - link

    The GTX 295 has a recommended minimum 12V rating of 46 Amps, the 1000HX is a dual rail design with each rail providing 40 Amps or a total of 80 Amps. The Corsair 850W is a single rail design with a specified 12V rail of 70 Amps.

    The GTX 295 is a dual GPU card and I really doubt there would be any issue with the dual rail 1000HX which has a total 12V Rail capacity of 80 amps. You may want to check out our review of the Corsair 1000HX at">
  • MadBoris - Sunday, February 8, 2009 - link

    Thanks for the guide AT & Wesley!
    Glad to know what good components are around today and their prices.

    Core I7 is too prohibitive in price even on Entry for the performance gains I would get. The motherboard and CPU are generally just plain too expensive still.
    $200 - $300 for a mobo, got to still be kidding me.

    I really chose a great time to pull the trigger for my last upgrade, a couple years ago, got a great Gigabyte 965p DS3 mobo and C2D 1.8 w/ 4GB DDR2 for very little $. Updated to a Q6600 quad about a year ago at $200 and am at 3GHZ OC.

    Core I7 performance is not that attractive compared to when I was going from a P4 to C2D. Maybe when the next USB spec and next SATA spec comes out and next gen SSD's are attractive enough then upgrading to a new mobo will be worth considering. I will be tempted around Windows 7 release time, I hope the landscape changes significantly with an upgrade making more sense then.

    There's no reason for me to consider an upgrade until the next "sweet spot" to upgrade comes up. But these articles all help someone hone in on knowing when the next sweet spot with performance/price and longevity comes up.
  • Bolas - Saturday, February 7, 2009 - link

    Maybe it would look something like this. I'm thinking I would probably want a larger case and larger power supply, though.

    From Newegg:

    Qty. Image Product Description Unit Price Savings Total Price

    Update SILVERSTONE FT01-BW Black Aluminum ATX Mid Tower Uni-body Computer Case - Retail
    Model #:FT01-BW
    Item #:N82E16811163121
    Return Policy:Standard Return Policy
    In Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $239.99 -$10.00 Instant $229.99

    Update ASUS P6T6 WS Revolution LGA 1366 Intel X58 ATX Intel Motherboard - Retail
    Model #:P6T6 WS Revolution
    Item #:N82E16813131358
    Return Policy:Limited Non-Refundable 30-Day Return Policy
    Out Of Stock
    ETA: 2/9/2009 12:00:00 AM
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $369.99 $369.99

    Update EVGA 017-P3-1291-AR GeForce GTX 295 1792MB 896 (448 x 2)-bit GDDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Supported Video Card - Retail
    Model #:017-P3-1291-AR
    Item #:N82E16814130449
    Return Policy:Limited Non-Refundable 30-Day Return Policy
    In Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $504.99 -$15.00 Save $979.98

    Update CORSAIR CMPSU-1000HX 1000W ATX12V 2.2 / EPS12V 2.91 SLI Ready CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS Certified Modular Active PFC Compatible with Core i7 Power Supply - Retail
    Model #:CMPSU-1000HX
    Item #:N82E16817139007
    Return Policy:Standard Return Policy
    In Stock
    Mail-in Rebate

    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $279.99 -$20.00 Instant $259.99

    Update Intel Core i7 Extreme Edition 965 Nehalem 3.2GHz LGA 1366 130W Quad-Core Processor Model BX80601965 - Retail
    Model #:BX80601965
    Item #:N82E16819115200
    Return Policy:Processors (CPUs) Return Policy
    In Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $1,009.99 $1,009.99

    Update Intel X25-M SSDSA2MH160G1C5 160GB SATA Internal Solid state disk (SSD) - Retail
    Model #:SSDSA2MH160G1C5
    Item #:N82E16820167015
    Return Policy:Limited Non-Refundable 30-Day Return Policy
    In Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $779.00 -$50.00 Instant $1,458.00

    Update mushkin 6GB (3 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Triple Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model 998679 - Retail
    Model #:998679
    Item #:N82E16820226030
    Return Policy:Limited Non-Refundable 30-Day Return Policy
    In Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $204.99 $409.98

    Update Western Digital WD20EADS 2TB SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive - OEM
    Model #:WD20EADS
    Item #:N82E16822136344
    Return Policy:Limited 30-Day Return Policy
    Out Of Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $299.99 $599.98

    Update Logitech G15 2-Tone USB Wired Standard Gaming Keyboard - Retail
    Model #:920-000379
    Item #:N82E16823126034
    Return Policy:Standard Return Policy
    In Stock
    Mail-in Rebate

    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $89.99 $89.99

    Update LG W3000H-Bn Black 30" 5ms Widescreen LCD Monitor - Retail
    Model #:W3000H-Bn
    Item #:N82E16824005115
    Return Policy:LCD Limited Non-Refundable 30-Day Return Policy
    In Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $1,249.99 -$150.00 Instant $1,099.99

    Update Logitech G5 2-Tone 7 Buttons 1 x Wheel USB Laser Mouse - Retail
    Model #:910-000093
    Item #:N82E16826104076
    Return Policy:Standard Return Policy
    In Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $49.99 $49.99

    Update LG Black LG Blu-ray/HD DVD-ROM & 16X DVD±R DVD Burner SATA Model GGC-H20LK - OEM
    Model #:GGC-H20LK
    Item #:N82E16827136154
    Return Policy:Limited 30-Day Return Policy
    In Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $124.99 -$15.00 Instant $109.99

    Update LG Black 6X Blu-ray Disc Burner & HD DVD-ROM Drive SATA Model GGW-H20LK - OEM
    Model #:GGW-H20LK
    Item #:N82E16827136155
    Return Policy:Limited Non-Refundable 30-Day Return Policy
    In Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $199.99 $199.99

    Update ASUS Xonar D2 7.1 Channels PCI Interface Ultra Fidelity Sound Card with Complete Dolby/DTS Sound Technologies - Retail
    Model #:90-YAA021-1UAN00+
    Item #:N82E16829132001
    Return Policy:Standard Return Policy
    In Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $179.99 $179.99

    Update Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 64-bit for System Builders - OEM
    Model #:66R-02034
    Item #:N82E16832116493
    Return Policy:Software Return Policy
    In Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $179.99 $179.99

    Update Vigor Monsoon III LT Dual 120mm Fan CPU Cooler Socket 1366 Ready - Retail
    Model #:CLT-M3LT
    Item #:N82E16835702007
    Return Policy:Standard Return Policy
    In Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $63.99 $63.99

    Update Logitech Z-5500 505 Watts 5.1 Speaker - Retail
    Model #:9701150403
    Item #:N82E16836121120
    Return Policy:Standard Return Policy
    In Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $302.99 $302.99
    Subtotal: $7,594.81

  • Bolas - Saturday, February 7, 2009 - link

    Alternately, you could just about configure what you wanted from cyberpower, if you don't feel like building it yourself, I would think. Their high end system seems price competitive with what anandtech recommended for a dream system, if you aren't good at system builds yourself I would think this would be another way to go. No I don't work for newegg or cyberpowerpc, just web sites I like, that's all. :)">
  • JonnyDough - Friday, February 6, 2009 - link

    but you never listed the price of the LG Blu-Ray HD-DVD reader.
  • Wesley Fink - Friday, February 6, 2009 - link

    The LG Blu-Ray Reader/16X DVD Writer varies between $99 to $115 depending on when it is on sale. It was $105 when the Guide went to press. The 6X LG Blu-Ray writer has been around $250, but recently settled in at $200. It was on sale for $190 as the guide was posted.
  • JonnyDough - Friday, February 6, 2009 - link

    Alright, well it's in the chart...but not in the article. You mentioned raising the price to $200 by adding BR burning capability but failed to mention the drive price prior to that.
  • aigomorla - Friday, February 6, 2009 - link

    My current machine would stomp that dream machine. :X

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