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
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  • prdola0 - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    In some of the systems, I would buy a GTX460 1GB instead of the HD6850 simply because most people play in 1920x1200 and lower (I would say 1680x1050 as the most common) and in those resolutions the GTX460 is better than the HD6850. It would be also a choice for the next generation of games, if the consoles ever let it come. Otherwise very nice systems.

    One question though, are all those memories you guys used from QVLs of the motherboards or do you just trust them?

    Thanks a lot,
    Prdola
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    The components suggested in my mid-range HTPC build are all tried and tested together :) Reply
  • therealnickdanger - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    It would be cool if each of these builds was benched and the results were shown... :) I know that's asking a lot, but like Brian said:

    "Heck, there's no reason you can't at least ask for the absolute best..."
    Reply
  • AnnihilatorX - Saturday, November 20, 2010 - link

    I'd personally go for HD6850. It runs cooler, uses less power, can double up as high quality sound card (if you have a AV receiver with HDMI, Radeon HD68xx support DTS Master HD, etc). Reply
  • prdola0 - Monday, November 22, 2010 - link

    The GTX460 can of course also double up as a high quality soind card. Why wouldn't it? Reply
  • blotto5 - Saturday, November 20, 2010 - link

    for 1680x1050 it does perform better, but not by much. for 1920x1200 there is almost no difference, and for any resolution higher than that the 6850 blows it out of the water. when your have an amd processor and an amd chipset it would make sense to stay on the same platform and get an amd video card, everything plays nice together that way. Reply
  • prdola0 - Monday, November 22, 2010 - link

    Any nVidia graphics card will work just as good on an AMD system as on an Intel system. How did you find that it wouldn't? That's totally false.

    And your statement about no difference in 1920x1200 is only valid for the GTX460 768MB. The 1GB version is actually still better at 1920x1200. According to Steam Survey, 74.2% of players play at 1680x1050 or lower resolution and only 4.19% play at higher resolutions than 1920x1200. I still don't understand why all the reviews focus so much on the 2560x1600 resolution. I wish Ryan didn't ignore that fact in his Final Words. But world isn't perfect :)
    Reply
  • Quizzical - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    If Zambezi isn't going to fit Socket AM3, then someone ought to tell AMD.

    End of page 5 of the AMD codename decoder that they released on financial analyst day:

    “Zambezi”
    Market: Desktop
    What is it? four-, six-, or eight-core 32-nm AM3 socket desktop processor based on
    the “Bulldozer” processor architecture for the enthusiast market.
    Planned for introduction: 1H 2011

    If I give a link, this site apparently flags the comment as spam and disallows it. But you can find it yourself as follows. Do a Google search for "AMD 2010 Financial Analyst Day". Click the (currently) top search result, to a page on AMD's site with that headline. Click the "AMD Codename Decoder" link from that page. The above is a copy and paste from the end of the document.
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Later on in the year they did say they tried to make Bulldozer compatible with the existing AM3 socket but couldn't do it, as a result you get AM3r2, where the motherboards will be backwards compatible with old AM3 chips, but the Bulldozer chips aren't going to be compatible with old AM3 boards. Reply
  • Quizzical - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    The information I quoted was released by AMD last week. "Later on in the year" than that would have to be very, very recent. As I said, if the information that AMD just released is wrong, someone should tell them to fix it. Reply

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