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 The net result is that nearly every one of the component choices we used two months ago is now at best slightly outdated, which of course means it's time for a new buyer's guide.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
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  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - link

    1600x1200 is nice, but it's about the same total pixel number as 1680x1050 (a bit more) and it costs more. I would personally take the Acer 22" WS over 1600x1200 - widescreen looks awesome. If you prefer not to have to deal with getting WS resolutions to work, though, 1600x1200 is probably the best way to go for LCDs. Reply
  • Revolutionary - Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - link

    Having just built a system based on the 965P-S3, I want to make 2 comments:

    First, OCZ Platinum 6400 DOES NOT WORK in this motherboard. Its a known conflict not fixed by the F4 Bios. Do some searching in the forums and on Google.

    As for the difference between the S3 and the DS3: the singular difference is solid-state vs. fluid capacitors. There is no difference in overclocking performance; the solid state capacitors have a longer life-expectancy. Not even Gigabyte claims that the DS3 will OC better. Again, Google around a bit to see for yourself.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - link

    I have talked with to Gary Key, and the following is information from him as well as my own comments:

    The DS3 is doing around 510 in our testing, while we got around 460 stable on the S3. We've seen reports of up to 480 on it. The caps make a huge difference in overclocking as they run cooler, allowing higher clocks and additional stability.

    And he has had no issues with running the OCZ Platinum Rev. 2 DDR2-800. There is a big difference between RAM not working, and RAM not working when you simply run everything at default settings. The OCZ RAM does like more voltage than stock. It is rated at 4-4-4-15 2.2V DDR2-800, and while it may run fine at 1.8V 4-4-4-15 in some circumstances, it is designed to run with higher voltages.

    Unfortunately, just doing a Google on information doesn't mean the information is accurate. Any monkey with a keyboard and an internet connection can post content to the internet, but we don't know if they really have a clue what they're doing. A beginner that can't get OCZ + S3 to run properly because they assume "Auto/SPD" should just work fine will blast both products. High-end enthusiast RAM often requires special considerations like bumping the voltage level up to 2.0-2.2V. We even posted appropriate settings, though:

    "The OCZ 2x1024MB PC2-6400 Platinum Revision 2 ran at 4-4-3-10 with 2.2V at up to DDR2-900, 5-4-4-12 at DDR2-1000 with 2.3V, and topped out at about DDR2-1033 at 5-5-5-12 with 2.3V."

    And the OCZ RAM is generally out of stock right now. You can try the G.Skill RAM which performs about the same. It costs a bit more, however:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...">G.Skill DDR2-800 Note that the G.Skill will also require more voltage than 1.8V (or even 1.9V), and in testing it will generally run about the same as the OCZ Platinum 2.
    Reply
  • Sunrise089 - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    Although the Anandtech forums can be usefull for this sort of info, I always enjoy seeing a new system price guide, and find them one of the most usefull parts of the site. I'm not sure how sustainable one guide every two weeks will be (are you guys going to stop making the individual part guides since system guides will come out so often?) but if you can make it work then great. One thing I would love to see however is budget, midrange, high-end, and overclocking guides. I think the fourth category has at least as many followers as the high-end segment, and it might make your midrance guide quicker to write, since you could ignore overclocking performance. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    I find it difficult *not* to talk about OC'ing, but I suppose I could try and then move that into a separate guide. Hmmm.... If we have the price guides up and running again, I may cut it down a bit, but for now system component prices are changing enough that every other week is pretty sustainable. Reply
  • Sunrise089 - Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - link

    One of the specific reasons I would prefer a seperate OC'ing guide is because while I might build a PC exactly as described in the midrange guide if I were building it for a family member, I would have to make several additional decisions if I were buying it for myself and wanted to overclock. In an overclocking PC I would want to add an aftermarket HSF, maybe consider a different PSU, and be much more interested in specific OC'ing performance in the memory and motherboard. Although it's nice to see that at X23800+ or a Core2Duo6600 can overclock, if the guide doesn't tell me what additional choices I need to make in order to take advantage of the overclocking headroom then it isn't really serving as a "buyer's guide" to the overclocking user. Therefore it seems a good idea to me to add the specific guide for overclocking in order to allow for overclocking specific reccomendations. Reply
  • yacoub - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    Most of us can do a LOT better for the money because we won't need to buy a new case, keyboard, mouse, display, harddrive, optical dive, etc. Most folks will only need to upgrade the motherboard, RAM, and CPU. Some also their GPU.

    So if you estimate $200 for a CPU, $200 for a motherboard, and $250 for RAM, you're looking at under $700 for an upgrade to the latest and greatest.
    Reply
  • Murst - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    I think you miss the point of this review.

    Chances are, if you're upgrading your system, then yes, you will be upgrading certain parts. However, even if you're upgrading certain parts, your post seems rather strange. Most people will probably consider upgrading the gfx card before upgrading the cpu/mb/ram. Also, if you upgrade your mb, chances are that it is not pci-e so you will have to upgrade your sound card as well. But I guess that all depends on how often you upgrade (I'm thinking of a 2 year cycle from what I do)

    But anyways, this review is about what type of system you can build for 1-1.5k. It is not about what part Joe can put into his own computer to make it faster, althogh some of us certainly look at their recomendations when we do choose to upgrade specific parts.
    Reply
  • yacoub - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    I guess you missed my point. I wasn't critiquing the review, just adding a note related to it. A lot of folks probably run s939 boards right now, and may have even already picked up a cheap X2 dual-core CPU recently so they are obviously going to focus their next upgrade on GPU.

    Other folks here are running s754 or similar generation Intel setups that were 1st gen PCI-E and not dual-core compatible, and probably have recently upgraded to a good GPU but are looking to upgrade their system core (cpu, mobo, and RAM) soon since that will be significant for them.

    The second group is who I was talking about.

    As far as audio cards, my X-Plosion 7.1 DTS should work fine for a while, as most boards have at least one PCI slot.
    Reply
  • RamIt - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    "The Gigabyte GA-965P-S3 first showed up in our labs as a pretty mediocre offering, but with the latest BIOS updates it has turned into a real gem. The Gigabyte DS3 will still overclock a bit better in terms of maximum bus speed"

    What gives? The s3 and the ds3 are the basicly the same motherboard with almost identical bioses with the exclusion of the caps. How could the ds3 clock better than the s3?
    Reply

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