Introduction

When the System Buyers Guide: $1000 to $2000 was published a few weeks ago it was obvious the last system guide in the series should be the High End Buyers Guides for systems above $2000. It was our full intention at that point to present both AMD and Intel systems for our High-End Buyers Guide, but an AnandTech meeting with all the editors quickly changed that idea. It was the consensus that as of today there is only one CPU at the top of the performance heap, and that CPU is the Intel Core i7.

With the introduction of the Phenom II, AMD now has a legitimate competitor to Intel Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad systems. The recent price cuts by both Intel and AMD in that market segment just reinforced the fact that Phenom II competes very well with Intel Penryn. Perhaps with higher speeds Phenom II processors might make the High-End Buyers Guide in the future, but as of today the Intel Core i7 owns the high-end of the CPU market.

With that reality in mind, it seemed almost pointless to publish a high-end system guide that just presented a dream Core i7 system. It is also clear to us that, despite the fact that Phenom II does not compete well at the very top, it is still a significant achievement for AMD and the processor market, and it deserves better than to be ignored.

Therefore you will see two specialty guides in the next few weeks. This guide will concentrate on Intel Core i7 systems. After some announcements by AMD, we will also be posting a guide for Phenom II systems. While Core i7 and Phenom II now cover different market segments and different price points, they both are significant CPUs in their own right and both deserve a spotlight on CPU compatibility and getting the most from each CPU. Core i7 and Phenom II are where the action and interest are in today's computer market, and the guides will try to provide help in selecting components for your new Core i7 or Phenom II system.

This Core i7 Buyers Guide looks at three different i7 builds that you might consider. The Core i7 is high on the performance tree but it is also expensive compared to other solutions. Not everyone can afford the $2000 Core i7 system presented in the $1000 to $2000 Buyers Guide. For builders who want an i7 system for as little money as possible we put together a Core i7 Entry system. The goal is simple: build a competent i7 system for as little money as possible. We managed to cut more that 25% from our last Core i7 system price without significant compromises.

Another typical buyer is attracted to the Core i7 because of the tremendous overclocking potential of the processor. As seen in Overclocking Core i7 and other Core i7 articles, the 2.66GHz 920 can reach 3.6GHz to 4GHz with proper air cooling. That is faster than the stock speed available even with the $1000 Core i7 965. The goal of the Core i7 Overclocking System build is a system that provides the flexibility and components to maximize overclocking. The slant is to the value end of overclocking - overclocking to increase value - rather than the absolute highest performance options. However, we do make some recommendations for those who overclock strictly for performance.

Finally, there is the Core i7 High-End System. The goal is to select the best performing components available, and not just the most expensive. The very high end of any system in the computer industry will rarely yield the best bang for the buck. Squeezing the last bit of performance from a component usually means spending a great deal more money than buying the component that delivers the best performance for the dollar. However, luxury and top performance sell well, and these components are still the stuff that computer dreams are made of. Our Dream Core i7 system reaches around $5000, and frankly we could have extended the cost much further by expanding storage and selecting a RAID 5 controller and drive array. Still, the components in the High-End Guide should be food for thought as you select your own Core i7 System.

Core i7 Entry
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  • aigomorla - Friday, February 06, 2009 - link

    My current machine would stomp that dream machine. :X Reply
  • Burrich - Friday, February 06, 2009 - link

    If I was to configure a system for overclocking or a "dream system", performance would be my highest priority. Why does this review stop short of offering items like RAID0 or RAID5?

    Considering that you're using the X58 chipset, including the ICH10R southbridge, why aren't you exploring the Intel Matrix RAID solution? With two disks you can set up a RAID0 and RAID1 array. Sure, it might not currently be extremely flexible (and may not be for everyone), but it can be a very good solution for someone with 2 1TB drives that are interested in both performance and redundancy.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, February 06, 2009 - link

    Since I'm in the midst of dealing with a RAID disaster, let me just say that I'm not fully convinced that I will never bother with onboard RAID solutions ever again. My motherboard crapped out on me, and thus until I can get a new board with the appropriate controller, I can't get at my data. Since the board is two years old, I need to find something with ICH7R - easier said than done. Obviously, that's not an issue if you have a RAID card, but I'm totally done with RAID0 going forward! It may be slightly higher performance, but it's also high risk. I'd much rather have two separate drives these days. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, February 06, 2009 - link

    Erm... "I'm fully convinced that I will never bother..." Reply
  • 7Enigma - Friday, February 06, 2009 - link

    Does the Asus Revolution not support the Thermalright Ultra120 Extreme? I don't know why this wouldn't have been selected instead, other than the Dream System is not meant to be OC'd or an incompatibility due to the size of the Ultra120?

    The Vigor Monsoon to my best ablility doesn't even show up in your cpu cooling reviews. Is it another cooler (like the Xigmatek Rifle 120) that you tested but never released results for?
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, February 09, 2009 - link

    Anand, Gary Key, and I have all three used the Vigor Monsoon III to cool an i7 system with good results. The Thermalright Ultra 120 eXtreme-1366 only recently was available as a Socket 1366 kit. Both have done well in cooling a Core i7 system, and both will fit the Asus board used in the dream system. The Monsoon II and Thermalright have both been very good performers in early testing.

    We have not added to our cooler testing in a while, but we are working on new cooler tests for Socket 1366. This is mostly because the stock 1366 cooler barely goes beyond rated speed and does not provide the reserve of past stock cooling from Intel.
    Reply
  • bijeshn - Friday, February 06, 2009 - link

    another howler:

    Intel Core i7 965 Socket 1366
    (3.2GHz Quad-core, 4x256MB L2, 8MB L3 Cache)

    4x256 MB?!!
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Friday, February 06, 2009 - link

    Sorry for the typo - now corrected. The first two table listings were correct at 256kbx4 L2, but the third table entry, as you pointed out, stated 256MB instead of 256kb.

    Lots of things must make you laugh if this typo has you howling with laughter :)
    Reply
  • Doormat - Thursday, February 05, 2009 - link

    Two questions...

    1) Are the big 700W+ PSUs required? I'm not going to do SLI/CF or a multi-gpu card. Just a 920 overclocked with 6GB of RAM and a couple HDs.

    2) Is there a problem overclocking the cheap GB board from the value config? I was looking at that and was curious why it isn't in the OC rig...
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Thursday, February 05, 2009 - link

    The Power Supply Question does not have an easy answer. One of the Editors sent me an email with PS recommendations for the Core i7 guide and the smallest PS he recommended was the Corsair 1000HX. Almost all the Editors at AT are overclockers to one extent or another and we have all destroyed power supplies - some used to do it almost daily. All of us also build systems and the first component to go is usually the crappy PS if we go too small or the quality is not up to par.

    With that kind of experience we have all learned it is very bad to chintz on a power supply - particularly if you overclock. You did say you planned to overclock so I would say get the OCZ 700W or perhaps even the Corsair 850W. You won't be sorry and it will serve you for a long time.

    Is 700W required - NO. Is it a good idea - YES.

    As for question #2 the Gigabyte is not the best OC board we have tested, but it is decent and should do what you want if the $300 price tags of the best X58 OC boards turn you off. For $185 it is very capable and should carry you to reasonable overclocks.


    Reply

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