Introduction

Welcome back to another edition of the AnandTech Buyer's Guides. The one constant in life is change, and what was once an ultrafast component invariably will be surpassed by midrange and eventually budget parts in terms of raw performance. Sometimes this progression will occur quickly, and other times it may take a couple years, but in the world of computers we will all inevitably need to upgrade. For the past several years many people have been quite happy with their computer's performance; for typical applications (not games, video encoding, 3D rendering, or other professional applications) even moderate Pentium 4 or Athlon XP systems continue to run quite well. The pending launch of Windows Vista may finally change all that, with performance requirements that appear to be quite a bit higher than Windows XP - assuming of course that you want to make the switch to the new operating system.

Most people are still pretty happy with Windows XP performance and features, and particularly in the business world we don't expect a rapid transition to take place. Most are taking a "wait and see" approach to Vista, or perhaps waiting for the expected Service Pack 1 before making the transition. If you like being an early adopter, by all means feel free to take the plunge at the end of this month when Windows Vista launches. We're not ready to recommend such an approach, however, so our Buyer's Guides will continue to stick with XP for now.

It is worth noting that most new systems (and OS purchases) will come with the option to upgrade to Vista for free (or for a marginal fee), but you need to make sure that you get the correct version of Windows XP depending on which version of Windows Vista you want to run. Basically, at this point we do not recommend that anyone purchase Windows XP Home, as you are only allowed to upgrade to Windows Vista Home Basic. The big problem with Vista Home Basic is that it does not include the new Aero Glass interface, arguably one of the main reasons many people would be interested in upgrading to Vista in the first place. We recommend getting Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 or XP Professional instead, as both of those can be upgraded to Vista Home Premium, and the latter can be upgraded to Windows Vista Business.

There's also the 64-bit question that needs to be tackled, as all versions of Windows XP and Vista are now available in either 32-bit or 64-bit packages. While we would love to say that we've seen a benefit to running 64-bit operating systems, the reality is that there are very few applications that actually perform better in 64-bit mode right now, and there are still plenty of driver issues and other incompatibilities that people run into. If you run applications that use a lot of memory and you plan on installing more than 2GB of RAM into your system, a 64-bit OS might be the right way to go, but if you just want the operating system to get out of your way and let you get to work, we recommend sticking with a 32-bit OS (preferably XP) for now. That recommendation may change in the future, but discretion and patience seem to be the better course of action.

With that information out of the way, our Midrange Buyer's Guide continues to cover the most popular market segment, and the available budget leaves a lot of room for flexibility. Our last midrange guide was in September 2006, making it almost 4 months old. You might think at first that a lot of things would have changed in four months, but other than a few price fluctuations our basic recommendations are very similar. Rather than simply rehash what we have already stated in previous guides, we're going to use this midrange guide to tackle several different configuration options, with prices ranging from $1250 up to over $2000. The top of that price range is more of a high-end computer, but we don't necessarily recommend that you purchase every single component from our upgraded configuration. Rather, consider it a list of the various upgrades that you can make, and choose those which make the most sense depending on your intended use. We will also cover options you might want to consider for gaming and overclocking centric configurations, and in the end we will have several different systems from which you can choose.

Basic Midrange Configurations
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  • dm - Friday, January 19, 2007 - link

    Hey, I like this article. Very nicely written and "right on time"!!! Btw, if I may request, could you guys make a write up about "specialized" items? I mean, like this pico PSU and Mini-ITX combo:

    http://fanboyreview.blogspot.com/2006/01/tech-link...">http://fanboyreview.blogspot.com/2006/0...link-pow...
    http://fanboyreview.blogspot.com/2006/02/press-rel...">http://fanboyreview.blogspot.com/2006/0...ss-relea...

    I'd love to see you guys build one, bring it to the test bench, and tell use where to get those parts. I just can't find them :(
    Reply
  • Le Québécois - Friday, January 19, 2007 - link

    I think this is the first Buyer's guide from Anandtech.com that I read that doesn't completely include both Intel and AMD. Yes it still mention what AMD could be use if you don't go with the listed Intel configuration but it doesn't tell you the price or what motherboard you should buy if you would choose to go with AMD. I know AMD is not the best way to go right now but still I find this a little confusing when I go back in the "Mid-Range Buyer's Guide, September 2005" and find this :

    quote:

    While we are providing two Gaming system recommendations here, let's make this perfectly clear: the AMD setup will beat the pants off of the Intel setup in gaming. It's not even close, and what's more, the Intel system will cost a bit more.


    But still that guide provided us with both Intel and AMD options.

    Yes AMD is on the first page with Intel but it's the only page for this guide. What's happening to Anandtech integrity? Or it's just the way every guides will appear from now on even if AMD manage to get back at Intel?

    If it's the case, I don't think it's a good idea because some peoples are fanboys and will never go with AMD or Intel and leaving out either Intel or AMD from a guide may leave these persons in the dark since many of them don't take times to read every articles that are published on Anandtech.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, January 20, 2007 - link

    Honestly, I got tired of putting together system configurations that I really wouldn't recommend. The AMD configuration listed is very good for a midrange PC, so I included it. As a gaming platform, AMD is still fine, but if you want a high-end gaming system would you really want to pair it with a lesser CPU? Overclocking there's really not much point in getting a new AMD right now, I don't think - some of the lower end parts and the Opteron models can overclock pretty well, but when Core 2 leads in clock-for-clock comparisons and you can usually get an extra 500+ MHz out of it, it's just not even close.

    Really, I thought it would be more interesting to take a look at several different options for a midrange computer rather than doing the same old thing again. The way I see it, most of the changes made are minor upgrades to the CPU/mobo, so only the other parts are really changing. You could use the base AMD system and make the same upgrades, only keep the mobo constant, and you'd pretty much be fine. I still have several dozen PCs that have AMD processors and only one Core 2 of my own, for what it's worth. (No need to upgrade any of the systems right now, as they're fast enough.)
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Sunday, January 21, 2007 - link

    quote:

    Other Thoughts: I have my Opteron 1212 overclocked to 2.9Ghz, was able to goto 3.1Ghz and possibly higher! The Scythe Infinity heatsink fits with no problems. My System: Abit NF-M2, Opteron 1212, G.Skill DDR2 800 ram, NVidia 6600, WD 250GB SATAII, Scythe Infinity heatsink.


    This is from a motherboard that you guys recently did a spot light on in one of your CES articles. 900MHZ - 1.1 GHZ is a bad overclock ?

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/CustratingReview.asp...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/CustratingReview.asp...
    Post #5, and I suppose someone could possibly fabricated their review, but this one person isn't the only person on newegg claiming this motherboard is a very good overclocker, perhaps you guys should convince AMD + ABIT sending you parts for review ?

    Now, on the reverse side, I'm still not quite sure it is worth investing in an AMD CPU for overclocking, Intels current CPUs seem a bit cheaper overall, but hey, the opterons might not be fully supported on this motherboard, but they seem to be working, and quite well, according to several reviewers.


    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, January 21, 2007 - link

    You can get Opterons to hit ~3.0GHz with pretty much full stability, but when those cost as much as an E6400 that will hit 3.5+ GHz with full stability, it's pretty clear why we think Core 2 is the better overclocking choice. A 50% or higher overclock is nothing to scoff at, but E6300 is basically only limited by motherboard and RAM in many cases, and E4300 ought to hit 100% overclocks routinely. (Yikes!) Reply
  • yyrkoon - Sunday, January 21, 2007 - link

    Yeah, I never said it was a viable comparison, but for die hard AMD fans, its definately an option. I mean, what I would really like to see, is some real world hard data, on an Opteron vs maybe each of the conroe CPUs. I've little doubt, all CPUs overclocked, that every Conroe would outperform anything AMD, however, how much of a real world difference would it really make ?

    Some of us have already invested into AM2 systems, and could upgrade a good bit cheaper to an Opteron, vs. a C2D CPU, so the real question is, is it really worth the cost of the motherboard, to go that route, instead of just buying an Opteron? We've all seen your game numbers for FPS etc., but would those numbers really translate into a hugely noticeable difference ?

    I for one, if gone C2D, would buy a top of the line i680 board (most likely ABIT), and probably an E6600, if gone AMD, an Opteron 1214-1216 (I like the even numbered, higher multiplier on the 1216), and the ABIT motherboard mentioned above. Also, since my business partner here just purchased the that ABIT AM2 board, I have the luxury of seeing it in action, before I purchase for myself.

    Also, since i payed only $54 for my current system board, and not very much for the single core 3800+ im currently using, its not as though I'm out a whole lot, no matter what I do. One thing is for sure however, this motherboard WILL get replaced, I'm not too fond of it, and its not very stable compared to anything I've owned from ABIT.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 22, 2007 - link

    How much of a difference it would make depends largely on what sort of application you're running, as well as the other hardware in the system. If you don't have a top end graphics configuration and you're worried about gaming performance, in most cases the difference between the various current processors is going to be very small. If you're running a couple of 8800 GTX cards, the difference could be quite a bit larger depending on resolution. I figure anyone that has the money to buy a couple of 8800 GTX GPUs should probably already have at least an E6600 processor, because if you're willing to spend that much money on graphics cards $300 on a processor doesn't seem like a whole lot.

    Other applications (3D rendering, video encoding, office tasks) will show more or less of a difference. Core 2 Duo should be faster in most of those, especially with overclocking, but if you never happen to run any of those tasks it really doesn't matter much. If you already have a decent AM2 setup and can hold out, I would be far more interested in waiting to see what the K8L processors can manage to do -- granted that appears to be about six months out, but I doubt anything significant is going to happen in the software market before then that would necessitate a CPU upgrade. (Maybe Vista might do it?)
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Monday, January 22, 2007 - link

    Yeah, well I for one, am not too enthusiastic about the socket F platforms (assuming this is what you mean about K8L). I used to follow the road maps of each side, to the point that I would be easily disappointed when the chips actually arrived. Now, I just wait, and see what happens when it happens, at least, for CPUs. Personally, the technology I've been following for a while, thats not due out until perhaps quarter 3 is PCI-E v2.0, and the PCI-E to PCI-E peer to peer communications (potential of 160Gbit/s throughput . . .). Something tells me though, that either 1) this technology will be further out than quarter 3, 2) is all smoke an mirrors, 3) will cost WAAAAY more than 10GbE currently costs now.

    Anyhow, my point basically is, you can wish in one hand, and .... in the other, and see which one fills up faster. In other words, it wont happen, until it happens :)
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, January 23, 2007 - link

    I'm pretty sure AMD is going to release some sort of updated CPU (quad core maybe - not sure on that) for AM2 round about summer time. My understanding (which admittedly could be wrong) is that K8L will be available for socket F as well as AM2, just like the current K8 line. Socket F just supports multiple CPU sockets whereas AM2 is for single chips. That's why we have Opteron 12xx parts for AM2 and 22xx/82xx for socket F.

    As for PCI-E stuff, most of the new items won't really matter on the desktop. It's like having a PC with 80GB/s of memory bandwidth; if the CPU only needs 5-8GB/s everything else is just wasted.
    Reply
  • Le Québécois - Saturday, January 20, 2007 - link

    OK, thanks for taking some of your time to explain why you did this. I don't have any things personal against this approach since I do read every one of Anandtech articles and have no problem building a computer on my own.

    I understand you got tired of writing about 2 differents builds of computer (AMD and Intel) for every guide even if one of those isn't a good choice (computing power or cost). I just found it odd to see it at this time when AMD is no so bad (I would buy a Core 2 Duo if I was looking for a computer right now but I'm still not ready to change my old one) and not a some times ago when Intel was like AMD is today, if not worst, like in the Buyer's Guide where I took my quote from.

    Now if I think about it, maybe it's a good thing since it will force the fanboys to do some real research before blindly buying AMD or Intel just because of the name.

    One last thing, when you say :

    quote:

    I still have several dozen PCs that have AMD processors and only one Core 2 of my own...


    Are you saying that you personally own those PCs?
    If so can I ask what are you doing with such an amount of PCs?
    Reply

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