Introduction

The last time we did a true AnandTech buyer's guide was several months ago, just after socket AM2 had launched and before Core 2 Duo hit the scene. Since then, there have been a ton of new product releases, obviously with many of them focused around the Core 2 platform. However, new processors and motherboards for the Intel platform are just the tip of the iceberg. While there may not have been as many new product releases in the graphics card department, things have definitely been interesting there. Storage components haven't changed much, but DDR2 memory prices have skyrocketed over the past month or two. The net result is that nearly every one of the component choices we used two months ago is now at best slightly outdated, which of course means it's time for a new buyer's guide.

Things have been quite busy the past couple of months, and our buyer's guides and price guides have unfortunately been neglected, but we plan on updating all three market segments within the next few weeks. After that, we plan to publish a new buyer's guide every other week. That gives us six weeks between guides that cover the same market segment, which is enough time for some of the choices to change so that we don't just repeat the same thing month after month. We may also look into other types of buyer's guides as the need arises, but for now we will be focusing on entry level, midrange, and high-end configurations. Any time someone tries to define a price segment, there is naturally going to be some disagreement. It is always possible to cut a couple hundred dollars from the price if necessary, or you could spend a few hundred dollars more depending on your budget. For reference, we have defined our market segments as follows.

Starting with the entry level configurations, price is an overriding concern. For those that are simply looking for a computer that can handle most office tasks, the goal is to get the price down to around $500. This can be very difficult without making some significant compromises, and for some tasks it is nearly impossible. For example, building a complete "moderate gaming" computer for $500 is going to be extremely difficult, and it might be best to look at some of the offerings that you can get from major OEMs. Compromises will be made on those systems as well, but when you factor in the cost of an operating system and display, starting with a baseline OEM system and then spending a bit on upgrades isn't a terrible idea. However, this is not to say that you don't often get more bang for the buck by building your own system from scratch. For a slightly upgraded entry level configuration, we will be targeting a price point of $750.

The midrange category is what we will be discussing today, and this is generally the most popular market segment for computer enthusiasts. You can get a system that can do every task reasonably well for around $1000, and you can also downgrade a few components that are less important for your chosen tasks in order to upgrade other areas. For example, gaming depends largely on the speed of your graphics card, so if price is a concern, keeping other costs in check in order to spend as much money as possible on the GPU is a good idea. Most overclockers also tend to live in the midrange price segment, with the hope of purchasing moderately expensive components and then overclocking them to high-end performance levels and beyond. The low end of our midrange price point is $1000, while the upper midrange configurations will cost closer to $1500, and perhaps a bit more.

Finally, with the high-end system configurations price generally becomes less of a concern as users begin to focus on achieving optimal performance. There are still various types of users interested in purchasing a high-end system, ranging from the extreme overclockers to those that simply want the best money can buy, and there are also those that just want better than midrange performance and are willing to pay a bit more. The law of diminishing returns is definitely in full effect for most areas of the high-end market, although there are certain components where it still makes sense to buy high-end if possible. Skimping on displays is definitely something we don't recommend if you can avoid it, and for gamers moving to multiple graphics cards can significantly improve performance, particularly at higher resolutions. High-end system configurations begin at around $2000 and go up from there, although for the most part we will keep things well under $5,000 even for the maximum configurations.

We're going to try and keep things a bit more succinct in this midrange guide, and as always your feedback is welcome. Rather than looking at each individual component choice, we're going to focus directly on the four basic configurations. We will have two AMD configurations and two Intel configurations, aiming for the low end and high end of the midrange price segment with each platform. These configurations are basically a snapshot in time, and prices always fluctuate. We are also of necessity limited in the number of recommendations we can make for any component, so just because your favorite motherboard or graphics card doesn't get selected doesn't mean that it's a bad choice. If you've got questions, feel free to post in our forums or sound off in the comments section, and we will do our best to respond.

Baseline AMD Midrange Platform
POST A COMMENT

49 Comments

View All Comments

  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, October 03, 2006 - link

    For a moderate system, I like PSU fan + front fan + rear fan (all 120mm if possible, with lower RPMs). More than two case fans gets to be overkill, and you could probably run a single 120mm rear case fan without problems. Reply
  • jonp - Thursday, September 28, 2006 - link

    I think the E6400 base is 2.13GHz not 2.16Ghz.
    http://www.intel.com/products/processor/core2duo/s...">http://www.intel.com/products/processor/core2duo/s...
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 28, 2006 - link

    It is. Did I mess that up somewhere? Ah: I had it right in the table but missed it in the text below. Sorry. It's been corrected now. Reply
  • jonp - Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - link

    The MSI P965 Neo-F takes a beating by Newegg buyers:

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...

    The trouble folks are having with the MB make me wonder
    if the choice should be rethought? Or at least, if you're thinking
    about it, read the experiences folks are having so you are
    prepared make the choice work for you.
    Jon
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - link

    The original BIOS adhered directly to Intel's specs so memory not capable of 1.8V at boot or over DDR2-800 JEDEC had issues. (Of course this happened on just about all of the P965 boards! P965 at launch was a joke - just ask Gary Key.) MSI is still working on updating the BIOS, but the current version now works fine with DDR2-800 or below 1GB modules. You did note that the system recommendation included 2x1GB of DDR2-667, right?

    Anyway, this is a base P965 board, and it has limited overclocking and other capabilities. Anyone buying it thinking they are going to get an awesome OC is nuts, and that's likely where the negative comments on Newegg come from. Buying higher-end RAM and putting it in a lower-end motherboard often results in problems. I have a lot of motherboards that won't POST at all with some OCZ DDR2-800 RAM that wan'ts 2.2V for 3-3-3 timings, or 1.8V for 5-5-5 timings.

    How far can the MSI P965 go? I believe the current BIOS limit is 350 MHz, with 325-333 being a reasonable target. Set your RAM for DDR2-533 and the FSB for 333 MHz, and you shouldn't have issues (provided the CPU can handle the OC - and almost every 2MB Core 2 Duo should do that OC without problems).

    As I mentioned above, anyone can get on the internet and post a "review". We have no idea if they're really experienced or just complete noobs, and you certainly get what you pay for to an extent. It's a good baseline motherboard, but it won't set any performance records. We tried to keep the budget as close to $1000 as possible, so every $25 increase becomes significant.
    Reply
  • jonp - Thursday, September 28, 2006 - link

    As an alternative I would like to consider the Asus P5LD2, ver 2.01g which supports Core 2 Duo.
    Memory: DDR2-667 and 4GB -- this fits midrange to me
    PCIe: 1 extra
    PATA: 4 additional ATA100 *** especially good for those of us still in transition
    SATA 3GB: 4 instead of 5
    SATA RAID: included
    Albeit not the Deluxe version from the http://www.anandtech.com/showdoc.aspx?i=2753&p...">Pre-AM2 Mid-Range Buyers Guide, May 2006 but a more mature solution (than the MSI) with features that help make the Core 2 Duo/SATA transition and it's almost the same price.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 28, 2006 - link

    The MSI board fully supports up to 8GB of RAM as long as it's DDR2-667 or lower. (Officially at least - it should now run 4x1GB DDR2-800, though perhaps not at super-tight timings.) About the only advantage of the ASUS 945P P5LD2 R2.0 is that it has more IDE ports. The MSI board has FireWire. Which is more important? That's up to the individual - for HTPC use FireWire is great, but not too much else for the majority of users. I can make a similar argument about IDE support.

    The Buyer's Guides are written targeting new PC builds rather than as a specific upgrade recommendation. It could be that the ASUS is a better upgrade option for those that have IDE hard drives they want to keep. In most areas I wouldn't call it "better" than the MSI, though - just different. It's also $14 more than the MSI, and getting very close to the Gigabyte S3 in price.
    Reply
  • jonp - Thursday, September 28, 2006 - link

    The Gigabyte S3 is $8 more than the Asus and has the same 2 PATA device support as the MSI.

    Does the MSI P965 Neo-F support 1394? I couldn’t find it on the Newegg nor MSI web sites – confused.

    Different: Is the Asus less finicky about memory and more OC friendly than the MSI or is that my misimpression?

    Jon
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 28, 2006 - link

    Oop... you're right, the stock P965 doesn't have firewire. Got it confused with the MSI K9A board.

    For memory support, the 945P doesn't officially support DDR2-800, so if you impose the same limitation on the MSI P965 it should do just as well on RAM support. Both will likely unofficially support 2x1GB DDR2-800 memory (the ASUS only with overclocking). In terms of overclocking, both are going to top out around the same ~333 FSB. Chipset performance of P965 is slightly better than 945P (less than 5%, though).

    If you're set on using more than two PATA devices, then you will need an older motherboard with more IDE ports or you will need a board with an extra chipset to add the support. As I said, I don't find it to be too big of a deal (I haven't purchased an IDE drive in a long time).

    --Jarred
    Reply
  • evonitzer - Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - link

    It seems to me that having the Samsung monitor would be a big asset for gamers in that it supports a higher, and very common resolution. Is this not really a big consideration? Personally, I like the look of 16x12 a lot better than the 1280x1024 that my 17 and 19 inch screens have. And since I own an nvidia card, bumping up resolution works better that antialiasing sometimes. And on older titles, I can max out everything a little higher. Is this not a concern because of the high demands of new games, (ie. Oblivion) or because the jump from 1280x10 to 16x12 isn't really that big? Or something else? Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now