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Midrange Gaming Machines

As mentioned on the previous page, the GPU market has been very dynamic as of late. We've seen new 600-series cards from NVIDIA and 7000-series cards from AMD, as well as price cuts on many models from both companies. The following three builds are aimed at three price brackets: $750, $1,000, and $1,250. As the builds increase in price, the GPUs and CPUs increase in capability and cost while we hold the rest of the components more or less constant.

$750 gaming computer

Intel's new Ivy Bridge-based Core i3-3220 offers better gaming performance compared to its Sandy Bridge-based Core i3-2120 predecessor, the king of low-midrange gaming CPUs. The i3-3220 offers about a 10% increase in performance across the board while using less power, compared to the i3-2120. AMD's Radeon HD 7850 graphics cards can now be found for around $200 after its recent price drop. That puts its cost slightly above the NVIDIA GTX 560 Ti (which can be found for just under $200). You can compare the Radeon HD 7850 and GTX 560 Ti in Bench. The two cards trade blows with many titles, but when AMD wins, it usually wins more handily than NVIDIA when NVIDIA wins. Furthermore, the Radeon HD 7850 pulls less power under load; most 7850s require only one PCIe 6-pin power connector while 560 Ti requires two. Thus, because the 7850 generally performs better while using less electricity, it gets our nod here. That said, the 560 Ti remains a good choice that's worth your attention (i.e. watch for sales).

Rounding out the rest of the build, we're recommending Crucial's M4 128GB SSD. Anand reviewed this model a while back and it remains a very good performer with a solid reputation for reliability. That said, larger gaming libraries will quickly eat up a 128GB SSD's capacity. Thus, you might need a higher-capacity HDD instead to stay under the $800 budget, and the 1TB Western Digital Black is an alternative to the SSD. Of course, if you want to go over budget, you could install both the SSD and HDD.

MSI's B75MA-E33 motherboard is a nicely-featured product with an attractive price tag; in my experiences thus far (a handful of builds) it is stable and reliable. It also ships with a BIOS that fully supports the newer i3-3220 out of the box.

Ivy Bridge supports DDR3-1600 natively, but you won't notice any real world differences between DDR3-1600 and DDR3-1333, so either speed is fine. Given that DDR3-1600 kits are typically only a few dollars more than DDR3-1333 kits, it doesn't really matter what you go with. We're putting together midrange builds here so we decided to spend a bit more for a kit of DDR3-1600 (about $4 more than this DDR3-1333). Most of the major brands are at parity, so just look for a good price and look at the CAS Latency and voltage--there's not much point in paying more for RAM that requires 1.65V and runs at CL 11, for example.

NZXT's Tempest 210 has become an AnandTech forum favorite: it offers a lot of bang for the buck and is a very high quality case given its price tag. Because the i3-3220 CPU and Radeon HD 7850 are relatively low power components, a lower-wattage, high-quality 80 Plus power supply is included in the build. The Antec Neo Eco 400C frequently goes on sale for $30 or less (sometimes not even with a rebate).

Component Product Price Rebate
Case NZXT Tempest 210 $55  
Power Supply Antec Neo Eco 400C $50  
CPU Intel Core i3-3220 $130  
Motherboard MSI B75MA-E33 $65  
Video Card Sapphire Radeon HD 7850 2GB OC $210 -$10
RAM Wintec One 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $39  
SSD Crucial M4 128GB $110  
HDD Alternative Western Digital 1TB Black $90  
DVD Burner Lite-On IHAS324 $20  
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit $91  
Cost with SSD: $770 $760
Cost with HDD: $750 $740

$1,000 gaming computer

While the less expensive system outlined above is a very capable low-midrange gaming computer, this $1,000 machine, in my opinion, really hits the sweet spot for gamers. The Core i5-3570K, like its Sandy Bridge-based Core i5-2500K predecessor, is the king of the gaming CPUs. Keep in mind as well that the 3570K is an unlocked CPU, so it can be easily overclocked. That said, we're not spending extra money on an aftermarket CPU cooler with this build because the 3570K overclocks well with its stock thermal solution (though more agressive overclockers will want to look for an aftermarket solution). To support the Core i5-3570K's overclocking capability, we're recommending a Z77 chipset-based motherboard, and Samsung's 8GB kit of DDR3-1600 listed in the build is a great kit of overclocking RAM.

Stepping up from the $800 gaming build also gets us a faster GPU: AMD's Radeon HD 7950 or NVIDIA's GTX 660 Ti. Both the Radeon HD 7950 and NVIDIA GTX 660 Ti are priced around $300. Bench illustrates how the 7950 and 660 Ti compare: very evenly. The AMD card wins some titles and the NVIDIA card wins others. They use very similar amounts of electricity. You'll want to do your research and weigh how important specific current game titles are to you before deciding which card to use. Here, we're recommending either one. You can compare the GTX 660 Ti to the above system's Radeon HD 7850 on Bench here and the Radeon HD 7950 to the Radeon HD 7850 on Bench here.

The Samsung 830 128GB SSD was reviewed on AnandTech and it performs very well (like the Crucial M4 128GB SSD), with a similarly stellar reputation for reliability. The same Antec Neo Eco 400C power supply is capable of powering both the more powerful CPU and GPU, though you'll need to upgrade this power supply if you intend to add another GPU down the line. As an alternative to the NZXT Tempest 210 we're highlighting the Fractal Design Core 3000. Like the Tempest 210, the Core 3000 offers great build quality for its price, excellent thermals to accommodate the higher-powered components, and sleek aesthetics. Compared to the Tempest 210, its only real drawback is its lack of front panel USB 3.0 support.

Component Product Price Rebate
Case Fractal Design Core 3000 $50  
Power Supply Antec Neo Eco 400C $50  
CPU Intel Core i5-3570K $230  
Motherboard Biostar TZ77B $100  
Video Card XFX Radeon HD 7950 Double D $320 -$30
Video Card alternate EVGA Superclocked GTX 660 Ti $300 -$10
RAM Samsung 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $45  
SSD Samsung 830 128GB $100  
HDD Alternative Western Digital 1TB Black $90  
DVD Burner Lite-On IHAS324 $20  
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit $91  
Cost with SSD: $1,006 $976
Cost with HDD: $996 $966

$1,250 gaming computer

The only major differences between the $1,000 gaming computer above and this $1,250 system are increased overclockability thanks to the aftermarket CPU cooler and a more powerful GPU. That said, as an alternative to the Crucial and Samsung SSDs noted in the above two builds, here we have an Intel 330 series 120GB SSD, which is reviewed here. Like the Crucial and Samsung SSDs, Intel's solid state drives have a great reputation for reliability. (Keep your eyes on their prices—if you catch one on sale, grab it.) The ASRock Z77 Pro4-M is another solid Z77 performer with an attractive price tag as an alternative to the Biostar board in the above build. Though the stock cooler that comes with the Core i5-3570K is capable of facilitating modest overclocks, the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO will help you overclock more aggressively.

To accommodate the higher power draw of an overclocked Core i5-3570K and a more powerful video card, we're stepping up to the Antec Neo Eco 520C, a 520W model that like its less powerful sibling features solid quality at a relatively low price.

As for the more powerful video card, how about (arguably) the fastest single-chip GPU on the market? NVIDIA's GTX 680 was released back in March of this year, and accomplished what Ryan called the 'holy trifecta'—best performance with lower power consumption at a lower price than the previous GPU king. In response, AMD re-worked the Radeon HD 7970 into the "GHz Edition," which Ryan reviewed and compared to the GTX 680. Bench gives you a further idea of how the two cards compare. While the two top cards perform very similarly in games, we give the nod to the NVIDIA GTX 680 in this guide because it uses less power, is quieter, and cooler than the 7970GE. (Note that while the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition uses more power than the GTX 680, both can be run on the Antec Neo Eco 520C recommended.) You can also compare the GTX 680 to the Radeon HD 7950 in the $1,000 gaming system on Bench.

Component Product Price
Case Fractal Design Core 3000 $50
Power Supply Antec Neo Eco 520C $60
CPU Intel Core i5-3570K $230
CPU cooler Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo $35
Motherboard ASRock Z77 Pro4-M $110
Video Card EVGA GTX 680 $480
RAM Samsung 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $45
SSD Intel 330 Series 120GB $103
HDD Alternative Western Digital 1TB Black $90
DVD Burner Lite-On IHAS324 $20
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit $91
Cost with SSD: $1,224
Cost with HDD: $1,211

Conclusions

The three gaming computers detailed above represent three distinct segments of the gaming market: moderate (1080p on high without anti-aliasing), upper midrange (1080p high with 4xAA), and very high end (typically able to handle most titles at >60FPS at 1080p, and even 2560x1440/2560x1600). There is a substantial jump in both CPU and GPU capability going from the $750 to $1,000 build. The increase going from the $1,000 to $1,250 build is less pronounced and starts to show diminishing performance returns—though for some readers, bragging rights about owning a GTX 680 alone might warrant the extra money spent. Thus, of three builds above, the $1,000 system represents the best value for a midrange gaming desktop computer.

What if you don't play games, and are instead interested in productivity work? Check the next page for our workstation builds.

Developments in the Midrange Market Midrange Workstation
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  • Samus - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    since when did Anandtech start recommending Biostar and MSI motherboards? I've always ranked them somewhere at the bottom of the pile with ECS, Foxconn, Jetway and the other crap thats often near-free with a CPU purchase from Microcenter, Fry's, etc. They're all notorious for using low-grade capacitors, thinner PCB's, poor mosfet designs and overall poor layouts.

    Quality boards from Asus/Asrock, Gigabyte, even Intel, can be had for within a margin of negligibility. Just my .02 (although worth much more)
    Reply
  • Impulses - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    Really? Traditionally I'd put MSI about on par with Gigabyte... Every board I'd bought over the last 15 years has been an ASUS (except for one Abit back in 2000, RIP), until my current mobo, went with MSI because it just seemed like the better value near $150. Reply
  • Stas - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    Agreed. I, personally, always preferred brands in this order: Gigabyte, MSI, Biostar (high end models), ASUS Reply
  • StevoLincolnite - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    MSI's higher-end motherboards are some of the best, same with their graphics cards.

    They're certainly not throwing out crap like they did during the Socket 478 and Socket 462 or even Socket 370 days that's for sure, horrible horrible motherboards back then.
    Reply
  • hsew - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    I'm on board with gigabyte being my first choice. I'm especially fond of their solution to today's limited USB power spec. The software-based charging solutions from the other manufacturers just can't compete, especially when they are limited to Apple products. :( Reply
  • JPForums - Wednesday, September 12, 2012 - link

    For me, brand preference depends on whether I'm making an AMD build or an Intel build. It also depends on whether I'm looking at higher end or mainstream boards. I tend to avoid budget boards, because it seems like no manufacturer can consistently make reliable budget boards.

    For high end Intel boards, I look to Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI. They sometimes trade off top spot, but Asus's ROG and Sabertooth boards have worked out really well for me. While MSI used to be junk, they've worked their way up to be nearly the equal of Gigabyte at the high end. Both Gigabyte and MSI have boards I've found both impressive and reliable.

    For mainstream Intel boards, I look at to high end ASRock boards first, (if budget allows), then I look at Gigabyte and Asus in that order. A high end ASRock board can sometimes be priced somewhat comparably to mainstream Asus and Gigabyte boards. I've had better luck with ASRock's more recent high end boards than any mainstream board. When budget doesn't allow for high end, I've had better luck with Gigabyte's mainstream boards than comparable Asus models.

    For high end AMD boards, I look to Asus and MSI. Gigabyte, in my experience, has some quality control issues to work out on the AMD side. MSI's highend offering slots in just below the ROG series, but could be considered better than the Sabertooth series depending on target audience.

    For mainstream AMD boards, I again look to ASRock's highend first. I find MSI and Asus to be comparable here. While ASRock hasn't impressed me as much on the AMD side as the Intel side, their high end boards are still better than mainstream boards given Gigabytes quality control issues on their AMD lines.

    I've gotten nothing but crap from Soyo, EPoX, ECS, Biostar, Jetway, and Foxconn. I'm surprised to see a number of people here recommending Biostar. It may be time to reevaluate them. DFI was good in the day (if harder to setup optimally), but I haven't bought them since Socket 754/939. ABIT was great in their time, RIP. EVGA was reliable, but not the best performing. Seemed like they had some hiccups to work through. Intel is too limiting last I checked. Zotac seems work well for mini-ITX systems. That sums up my experience (I'm into triple digits for number of builds).
    Reply
  • Samus - Wednesday, September 12, 2012 - link

    I agree with pretty much everything you've said.

    Especially Biostar. Unlike MSI, they have remained crap for the last two decades. Poor BIOS support, generally low quality components (unless high end) and the feel and layout is always bad.

    ASUS/ASRock tend to be very consistant with their layouts, leaning toward the conservative and less radical side. Both companies have excellent support. I remember working DIRECTLY with an engineer with my aging P6T on a BIOS problem, and the fix (a SLI bug) later found its way into a BIOS update.

    Intel is Intel. Although the boards are made by Foxconn, they're generally solid well supported, just a little boring when building a custom system.

    Gigabyte has had their issues, especially with their "server" boards, but they have always been reliable for me in the end. I had one finally fail after 7 years awhile back, an old Athlon 754 board with a VIA chipset. The board was actually in a server running Windows SBS 2003. It finally started giving trouble booting up (you'd have to play with cycling the power to get a POST) but it never completely failed, was just retired because it was 'on its way out.'

    Soyo is a terrible company all the way around. I've seen nothing but consistant LCD, PSU and motherboard failures from them, almost always from low quality transformers or power components. Their support is awful. 2-3 days for email replies and nobody EVER picks up their phone.

    EPoX is interestingly terrible because they aquired a bunch of Gigabyte engineers many years ago. It didn't help them produce any better product, though.

    ECS/Jetway/Foxconn are all the same to me. No matter how high-end the board might be priced, the support is terrible and their is always ONE MAJOR THING wrong with their board, usually something unbelievably thoughtless, like the position of the SATA ports or even the CMOS battery standing up and getting in the way or a card. Just when you thought you've seen it all, these big three can always screw up in an entirely new way. Good luck with any troubleshooting or BIOS support after the product has been on the market for more than 6 months, guaranteeing no future CPU support or long-term bug fixes.

    I never really liked ASUS because they are overpriced (usually the most expensive) and their website has been terrible forever (at least driver mirrors have improved) but they make very solid, reliable, well-supported products. I love my Xonar soundcard as well.
    Reply
  • SciFiRules - Sunday, October 21, 2012 - link

    I agree with for the most part but I would say for current products I would tier as follows
    1 ASRock, best price product in general in my opinion
    Asus, pricey and historically bad support issues and website
    Gigabyte, recently more issues with early revision boards
    Intel, great corporate stuff if the price is right
    2 MSI, early revision issue, retarded support, still wary of them
    Biostar, I had more than a dozen fail (m7nc) at about 3 yrs old but less than 15% failure before that. I had like 4 calls in a week about dead computers with this paticular build , I felt like Dell Support.
    3 Foxconn, Elitegroup,aka ECS, PCchips, GQ, ect and FIC i only use them for replacements on older products when I cant locate better
    I loved the DFI Lanparty Ultra D and built many systems with these - I even have one working as a Loaner still. As for Soyo I think they came close to a good product with the k7 dragon line but that the best I can say about them. Abit had some good boards but I had little experience with them really. I never saw a tier 3 board I would have used or sold in a new computer a second time. I have had decent luck using tier 3 boards for replacing failing boards when the chipsets are very mature and they have high revision numbers in general though. The thinner layer pcb and lower quality limits the life expectancy but generally its borrowed time anyway. And thank god for Dell, Emachine...... for using crap power supply's which has kept me in food for years.
    Reply
  • eBob - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    Most of my builds have been with Asus mobos. I had a few bad experiences with MSI mobos and one of their DVD drives a few years ago which soured me on the brand. I did build a system for a friend using a Jetway mobo back in 2006. He just wanted something cheap, cheap, cheap for a second computer. He still uses it. Reply
  • Pessimism - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    I agree with your brand rankings with the exception of AsRock, which is Asus' pile-of-junk division. However, I look at purchasing in a different light: I'd rather a $60 motherboard that will last me five years before its capacitors explode, than a $150-250 motherboard that might last 7 or more. In either case, after 5 years both are so laughably obsolete that you are better off replacing them anyway. Going with the cheaper board nets you $100-200 for the next tier up in CPU, which more than makes up for the paltry 1-5% performance delta between the el-cheapo motherboard and the best of the super-bling-o-matic 35 USB port monsters. Reply

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