AMD and Intel Buyer’s Guide (10/2010)


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One of the more common topics started by forum members who recently signed up or those wanting to upgrade are, “build me a new PC for $XXX.xx”. Usually there is a significant response in this type of thread because it is a good feeling to help someone stretch their dollars and its also fun to play with other people’s money for “dream rigs” in the larger budget requests. While everyone’s part lists will likely be different, the members here have put together a solid group of AMD and Intel builds that are a jack of all trades type system for almost any budget.

This guide is merely a collection of SUGGESTED system setups.  Since this site is based off of overclocking,  we have made sure we considered our parts with the intention of overclocking. As you will see in order to place a more clear emphasis on the motherboard, CPU, and memory differences from each camp, we have kept the heatsink, case, GPU, PSU, HDD, and Optical drive the same in each budget class.  Obviously, there are a plethora of options out there to fit your needs if these examples are not the best for your needs.

In our previous guide some helpful advice was given out, and I would like to continue that trend with a few updates.

  • Dual Core? Quad Core? Hex Core? Though our last version of this article did not recommend buying any processor with more than two cores for general computing/gaming, at this time there is hardly a reason not to outside of budget limitations. More and more games  are starting to pop up that take advantage of multi-core setups (BFBC2 loves all the cores/thread it can get). Multithreading in other applications such as Adobe CS5 can also use all the cores and threads you can throw at it as well. So again, unless its just not in the budget, stick with a native quad core, and if you heavily use multithreaded apps you would want to look at Hex cores or at least Hyper-threaded CPU’s.
  • 2GB, 4GB, 6GB, 8GB, 12GB RAM? 2GB (2x1GB) is the absolute minimum I would suggest buying, and for those who just plan on using the PC as a web, email, music, and MS Office Suite machine, this will be all they need. 4GB (2x2GB) is the standard these days on AMD and Socket 1156 setups and I would recommend starting with that. If you render or encode large files or run a couple of VM’s, you may want to consider 8GB (4x2GB is the most cost effective vs 4GB DIMM’s). Jumping into the Socket 1366 Intel arena comes triple channel ram. Yeah, 3 sticks. For most 6GB (3x2GB) is fine for almost anything, however  please check your ram usage to see if you need to go above 4 or 6GB before buying.
  • ATI? NVIDIA? Thats really up to you. BOTH sides of the fence have great cards to choose from. Nvidia has some powerful, and warmer running cards in their Fermi architecture, the GTX470 and GTX480, along with a great bang for your buck card, a GTX 460 1GB. On the AMD(ATI) side of the fence, the venerable Cypress architecture, 5870 and 5850 family, are still pulling their weight against Nvidia using less power and running cooler. AMD also offers a solid bang for you buck card as well, the 5770. If you participate in a program such as [email protected], at this time, Nvidia is the way to go as their crunching power for whatever reason is still more than the AMD camp.
  • SLI? Crossfire? Personally, I don’t think it’s worth the money unless you aren’t pleased with the performance of a single top of the line card or want to run an Eyefinity or a 3d surround setup. For the cards lower down in the line-up, you can generally buy a single card that surpasses the performance of a cheap multi-card setup for right around the same price. Obviously, use your judgment as to if it’s worth it for you.
  • Which Power Supply? Another gem of a question here! To keep it brief, dont skimp on the PSU! Cheap and poor build quality PSU’s have the chance, albeit rare, to take out your entire system or parts of it. Sometimes they cannot even put out their ratted wattage! Is that worth it over such a small difference in price?  Our members here usually stick to quality brands such as Corsair, Seasonic, most Antec models, Thermaltake Toughpower series, Zippy, and Enermax Revo series. If you would like to see our own list of quality PSU’s, please see the PSU Buying Guide.

We have divided the builds by budget and chip maker (AMD and Intel based systems). The range covered is $650, $850, $1100, and $1500+ give or take around 10% except in the $1500+ category. Remember, in order to show a more distinct separation between the motherboard, cpu, and memory in the AMD and Intel camps, we have chosen to keep the heatsink, case, PSU, GPU, Hard drive, and DVD burners the same for each budget class. The details for why these components were chosen are listed in their corresponding budget class.

$600 Systems

Standard Components: The Coolermaster Hyper 212+ was chosen for its bang for the buck and solid cooling capacity for dual and quad core AMD and Intel CPU’s. The Antec 300 case was selected for Antec’s usual solid build quality and airflow. The case also comes with an Antec 450W PSU. While not a top notch selection, it will certainly put out its rated wattage with noise and ripple in check. For the video card we have selected AMD’s 5770 GPU. Sporting DX11 support, good performance, low power requirements, and an attractive price is why this was chosen. The hard drive was a Western Digital Caviar Blue drive offering plenty of capacity (500GB) and mid-range performance at a low price. The DVD burner was about as cheap as they come. To me these are a dime a dozen, and about the only difference between the bottom selections in my experience with them are noise levels and the LG is fine, I personally can attest to that.

Intel

  • Power Supply: Antec 450W included with case.

For this build, the i3 550 was chosen for its high clock speed (3.2Ghz), Hyper-threading, and budget price. This CPU offers great performance for daily computing. I have personal experience with this CPU and can tell you it overclocks like a banshee on water (was sitting around 4.6Ghz), and even at 4ghz has charged through modern games just fine. The Asus P7H55/USB is a budget board that packs in good features like USB3 and decent overclocking abilities. 4GB (2x2Gb) DDR3 1600 CAS9 memory was chosen to allow ample overclocking at a budget price.

Total: $648 + $30.11 SH = $678.11.

AMD

  • Power Supply: Antec 450W included with the case.

For the budget build, this tri-core processor is a no brainer, currently most games only need two cores so an extra core will give some headroom. This CPU is also known to be able to unlock an additional disabled core and maybe even the L3 cache (a Phenom II in hiding) but your mileage may vary of course. There is also another OEM Phenom II X3 @ newegg that will gain guaranteed L3 cache but I personally don’t think its worth the extra $20 for the budget-minded. This ASUS motherboard chosen will give the option to unlock cores. It also looks to have adequate cooling for moderate overclocking and have the latest features such as SATA3 & USB3. If USB 3.0 is not a concern for you but overclocking is, I recommend the Biostar TA890FXE instead ($130 @ Tigerdirect). Corsair RAM is pretty reputable, CAS latency and speed shouldn’t be big deal for budget builds, but I’ve heard that this RAM can overclock and get lower timings (even to cas7) with a slight voltage bump, if needed.

Total: $615 + $30.42 SH = $645.42.


$850 Systems

Standard Components: We have kept the same heatsink (Coolermaster Hyper 212+), case (Antec 300), and PSU (Antec 450W). For the GPU we have moved on up to what is arguably the best bang for your buck GPU available at this time, the GTX460 1GB. Priced at $220 and fitting in nicely with this budget, you really will be hard pressed to find more performance for your dollar. Its power consumption is a bit more than the 5770, but the listed PSU will still handle this and an overclocked CPU, though without a lot of headroom. The last upgrade in this group is the move from the Caviar Blue to Black offering notably better performance, the same capacity, and a meager price jump of $5.

Intel

  • Power Supply: Antec 450W included with case.

For the $850 range, we have stepped up to native quad-core CPU, the i5 760 (no Hyper-threading) with more and more games and applications being multi-threaded, there isn’t really a reason not to get a quad-core at this price point..  The board chosen has features such as USB3 and Sata3 and is noted by several reviews as a good overclocker for the price.

Total: $862 + $28.53 SH = $890.53.

AMD

  • Power Supply: Antec 450W included with case.

For the mid-range build, the Phenom II X4 965 BE would be the next step up for the CPU which should overclock easily with an unlocked multiplier. One can achieve ~3.7ghz on decent air. This ASUS motherboard is pretty much the same as the budget build’s except with better cooling and the option to Crossfire. Again if USB 3.0 is not a concern and you want to save $20, the Biostar TA890FXE is a better choice, although the warranty is shorter than ASUS (1yr vs 3yr). As for the RAM, GSkill is my favorite brand, always reliable. This model will give cas 7 with 1600 speeds at stock. 4gb is also enough, no big reason to go higher for this build.

Total: $823 + $34.41 SH = $857.41.

$1100 Systems

Standard Components: GPU will remain the same at this level. Its a tough task to shoe horn in much better without sacrificing another part of the system . We have moved up to a venerable Venoumous X CPU cooler as its one of the top air coolers around.  We chose a larger full tower case (HAF 932) with great airflow, and upgraded the PSU (Corsair 650W) for more power and quality. The last upgrade in this group is the move from the 500GB Caviar Black to a 1TB version offering more capacity with the same or better performance as its smaller counterpart.

Intel

For this build, we have moved up to the Socket 1366 and the i7 930 CPU which brings a quad-core with hyper threading to the table. With that you move to the X58 chipset. For this job we have chosen the Gigabyte X58A-UD3R for its generous feature set, solid overclocking ability and pricing. With the jump to X58/Socket 1366 you should have triple channel ram. And with that we chose the Mushkin Enhanced Blackline at CAS9 and its low pricing.

Total: $1238 + $9.97 SH = $1247.97.

AMD

At the high-end, the hexcore Thubans would be the next step up. The motherboard includes similar features as the previous builds except this has the 890FX chipset, which generally have higher quality parts for max overclocking/crossfire. You also can’t go wrong with the ASUS brand. For RAM, nothing wrong with some “flare” at this price point, this Gskill RAM will give 1800 speeds, the extra cooling will certainly give some headroom for overclocking/timing adjustments. 4gb should still be enough even for high-end, but depending on the use, then feel free to upgrade to 8gb with the ripjaw series.

Total: $1178 + $9.97 SH = $1187.97

$1500+ Systems

Standard Components: In this budget (if you can say that) we have stepped up to one of the best air coolers on the market (Noctua H-D14). While the difference between this and the Venomous X may be negligible, we can certainly afford it here. We have chosen the Antec 1200 case for its superior airflow, size and cable management. The PSU was upgraded in quality to the Seasonic X650. This was reviewed over at Jonnyguru.com by our own Oklahoma Wolf and showed to be incredibly stable with little noise and ripple. We have chosen the 5870 GPU in this class for its performance vs. most other cards. We didn’t choose the 480 because of its pricing. If you are an extreme gamer though, something else can of course be sacrificed to jump up to the better performing card. But note a 5870 will eat up any game out there at 1920×1080/1200 with all the eye candy you would ever want anyway. Finally at this level we have separated out to two hard drives. Specifically an SSD and a hard drive. the OCZ Vertex 2 is one of the fastest MLC SSD’s on the market at an affordable price.

Intel

We chose to stick with the i7 930 as even in at $1500+ build as paying for a more expensive processor, outside of a hex core which is considerably more expensive, will not yield much better peak clocks at the same cooling (air/water). The UD5 is a great overclocking board pushing bclk’s to 220 or more on air and water. The Ram was upgraded to The Dominator GT’s for their high speed, low CAS, and how well they can overclock.

Total: $1861 + $18.84 SH = $1954.84

AMD

For the extreme build, had to go with the AMD flagship processor. The 1090T Black Edition will sport an unlocked multiplier for ease of overclocking, but the more advance users may want to stick with the 1055T Non-BE if they want to save $65, they both should overclock about the same. The ASUS Crosshair IV Extreme is the highest end of all AM3 ASUS motherboards. Along with the latest features and the 890FX chip set, it also sports the Lucid Hydra multi-GPU chip. The Hydra will allow you to SLI or CF, and even allow you to mix-and-match Nvidia and ATI cards! Not sure if its worth the extra money to do so, but if you are planning to just stick to CrossfireX, the Formula version of the Crosshair IV will be enough at $70 less. For the RAM, stuck with high-end GSkill, and of course had to up it to at least 8gb at this point.

Total: $1967 + $33.78 = $2000.78

Editor’s Note: Prices accurate as of Oct. 12, 2010.

CONCLUSION

And with that everyone,  this edition of the buyers guide is complete. I would imagine that there will be mentions of why choose this over that, or I would have chosen this over that. As we all discussed in the building of these machines, you are not going to please everyone all the time. The point of the article was to give a general idea of the parts you can buy from each camp at specific budget levels with overclocking in mind. Of course you will need to select parts more specific for your uses. For example, if you work with multiple resource intensive VM’s, you may want to look into more system ram or if you work with any program that can take as many cores as you can throw at it, you want to look at Hex cores or Hex’s with Hyperthreading (Intel). Or if you don’t overclock, don’t get more than the stock cooler and back off a bit on the motherboard. Everyone’s needs will vary!

You will also want to shop around to find the best prices available to you. For example, you can find the i7 CPU’s much cheaper usually at Microcenter or Fry’s if they are in your area. Newegg.com also has many combo discounts that could save you money as well for both sides of the fence. Finally, the prices listed above do not include mail in rebates which can frequently offset your shipping costs, eventually, if not more.

In the coming months its worth it to note that the AMD camp is coming out with its new 6 Series of GPU’s. The latest bits of information on these cards is that they are due out in November and are mid-range replacements for the HD5770 and 5750. Madshrimps.be has posted some 3dMark06 scores on these cards.

We should also mention that the next version of this article coming out in the beginning of 2011 will likely contain new CPU’s from Intel (Sandybridge) and AMD (Bulldozer). I know I cant wait for this round from both camps!

I also wanted to thank everyone who participated in the discussion thread especially badboyee and QuietIce for helping overclockers.com come up with the information above. If you have any further questions or would like to have the readers of overclockers.com help you build a system, please start your thread in the General Hardware subforum! I hope to see you there!

-Earthdog

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