With the latest introduction of the Phenom II 955BE and the Phenom II 945 AMD now owns the midrange of computer performance - at least for today. The 955BE is the best performing midrange processor and as we showed in the launch article Phenom II is now the midrange processor of choice if you are building a new computer system. Across the board AMD has is now outperforming Core 2 Duo and Quad with their Phenom II line. That may change tomorrow with new pricing or the introduction of the upcoming Intel I5, but if you are building a midrange computer today, AMD is the best choice. It's also worth mentioning that socket AM3 should be around for a while yet, but we can't say the same for socket 775.
With that reality, we listed four typical Phenom II builds in this guide. At the low end the budget PC featured the cheapest Phenom II X3 710 - a 2.6GHz processor now selling for just $120. The budget system was built for just over $400 for the basic computer and around $750 for a complete system with keyboard, mouse, speakers, and Vista Home Premium. You could reduce costs even further by going with a cheaper combo case/PSU and/or using a free OS like Ubuntu. It is also worth mentioning that while the budget Phenom II was built around DDR2 it could have been built just about as reasonably around an AM3 board and DDR3 memory. Components would be the same except for motherboard and memory since the AM3 Phenom II processors feature dual memory controllers supporting either DDR2 or DDR3.
In the Phenom II value segment, we featured two builds. First was a DDR3 build around the unlocked 720BE X3 CPU, followed by a DDR2 build using the former top-of-the-line 940BE which is now being closed out at bargain prices. The cheap price of the 940BE is reason enough to build a DDR2 box; owning a lot of good fast DDR2 memory is another reason to build the value DDR2 box.
Both value systems were paired with components that almost beg to be overclocked. The base box for either the DDR3 or DDR2 value systems came in at less than $800 including 4GB of high speed memory, high-performance heatsink/fan, a 1TB hard drive, Blu-ray payer/DVD burner, and ATI Radeon 4850 graphics. The complete systems added a nominal 24" 1080p monitor, gaming mouse and keyboard, Vista OS, and a 5.1 powered Logitech Speaker system for a total system price of just over $1200.
Finally, the Phenom II performance system was built around the latest, greatest, and most overclockable 3.2GHz Phenom II 955BE. This DDR3 system features DDR3-1800 memory, an HSF for serious overclocking, ATI 4890 OC graphics card, a Blu-ray player/DVD burner, and an upgraded 1TB hard drive for $1100 for the base box, and around $1675 for a complete system with a 26" 1920x1200 monitor, Logitech G51 powered speakers, Vista Home Premium, mouse and keyboard.
You can easily push the performance system to 3.8GHz or higher with an accompanying increase in performance. In fact our testing shows you might reach 3.9GHz at stock voltage and perhaps as high as 4.2GHz at higher voltage. Of course not all 955BE processors will do this, and overclocking is never a given. However, the 955BE we tested were screaming overclockers and you will likely find the same among the 955BE in the market place based on the updated Phenom II core. In other words, YMMV; also, we had issues breaking 4GHz with 64-bit Vista on our test CPU.
All of this takes nothing away from Intel, which produces the best performing processors you can buy right now in the Core i7. The only problem is Core i7 is basically high-end only. The cheapest Core i7 920 CPU is around $300, with two more models going for up to $1010. In addition, Core i7 uses a new socket and supports the first triple-channel DDR3 memory configuration. Both the socket and memory are unique right now to the higher priced Core i7, which keeps i7 supporting component prices high. Leaving all other components the same, a Core i7 920 build adds about $175 to the price of our Phenom II performance system.
Below the very top is Phenom II, and as you have seen in this Phenom II Buyers' Guide you can build a lot of Phenom II system for a pretty reasonable amount of money. Competition between Phenom II and Core 2 Duo and Quad have driven prices in this segment down and value up. In fact we can't remember a time where so much computer power could be purchased for so little money.
While we have said that a lot lately, the bang-for-the-buck in today's systems continues to impress us. That's certainly a good thing in a worldwide economy that is struggling. Computers are really a necessity in our plugged-in world and it's very good you can get a lot of computer today for very little money. Competition makes the buyer the winner and keeps margins low. Competition also drives the innovations that fuel growth in the computer market around the world.