TechSpot's PC Buying Guide - A Major Revamp

By on December 21, 2009, 2:59 PM
One pitfall of our previous buying guides and many others on the Web is that they expire shortly after publishing. Prices change daily, components come and go, and the guides simply degrade in worth until they're eventually rewritten a few months later. Recognizing this, we will be taking an alternative approach in our revamped PC Buying Guide.

From now on we will add and update new hardware to the mix as it's released. The guides will be entirely up-to-date on major product launches, and we'll make a biweekly pass over the components and their prices to catch anything in-between. We wholly welcome your support and input to keep this guide as fresh as possible.

With that out of the way, let's take a look at our four system price points:

The Budget Box ($500)
Decent performance Good for everyday computing Gaming with add-on GPU
Granted, if you just need to create a few documents and check your email, you can get by on much less than a $500 desktop. If you follow our Budget build to the T, you'll have a system acceptable for any role apart from running graphically intense applications -- which could also be attainable by investing in a dedicated video card.
The Entry-Level Rig ($800)
Good performance Fast for everyday computing Casual gaming
Our Entry-Level Rig should prove to be an excellent companion for running general applications and a sufficient solution for even the newest games on the market, albeit with a bit of the eye-candy tuned down.
The Enthusiast's PC ($1,500)
Excellent performance Good Multitasker Perfect for gaming
Our Enthusiast's PC incorporates the perfect blend of both the Entry-Level Rig and Luxury System, making this the most harmonious of builds. Our intent is to keep this system within the grasp of the average computer enthusiast, essentially offering a fully-loaded PC minus some of the unnecessary bells and whistles that could set you back an additional grand or two.
The Luxury System
Workstation-like performance Great for heavy multitasking Extreme gaming
The Luxury System is a screaming-edge machine lacking any virtual price cap. Every component in the Luxury System guide is thoughtfully scrutinized, offering the most horsepower for your greenback. If a component's premium price isn't justified, it simply doesn't make the cut.




User Comments: 107

Got something to say? Post a comment
compdata compdata, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Great work. It is very difficult to keep tabs on this so the incremental approach of evaluating as new products come out is probably the best possible approach for minimizing amount of work, but also keeping up to date. Thanks guys.

Renrew Renrew said:

I like it!

Thank You

Guest said:

You guys just keep doing what you do best. We appreciate you more than words can describe...especially a newbie, as it relates to what to buy and the best deals out there.

Keep it up guys... seasoned pros tend to forget how much of a help these posts are.

Thank you.

red1776 red1776, Omnipotent Ruler of the Universe, said:

I also appreciate these quarterly buying guides. I do have a suggestion and its that you may want to look at the use of crossfire to turn a moderate gaming rig into a high performance gamer. a dual PCIE MB can be had for an additional 23-30$ and CF'ing a couple of $99 cards will add a lot of horsepower. also driver support for crossfire has reached a point of maturity and works very well these days. Just my 2 cents worth.

BMfan BMfan said:

red1776 said:

I also appreciate these quarterly buying guides. I do have a suggestion and its that you may want to look at the use of crossfire to turn a moderate gaming rig into a high performance gamer. a dual PCIE MB can be had for an additional 23-30$ and CF'ing a couple of $99 cards will add a lot of horsepower. also driver support for crossfire has reached a point of maturity and works very well these days. Just my 2 cents worth.

That's why when i upgraded my board i went Xfire and bought 2 $110 cards.

Thanx for the guide,nice to see that my chassis is always in the top spot.

TomSEA TomSEA, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Excellent work - very nice recap. Now I just need to win the lottery.

I have the Antec 900 case (Enthusiast rig), and it's a terrific case - highly recommended. Keep an eye out on sales by TigerDirect and NewEgg - I've seen it for as low as $70 from time-to-time.

TomSEA TomSEA, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

BTW - I just received this ad from NewEgg on an extreme system. Interesting to see the comparison:

[link]

Guest said:

don't forget $130 for Windows 7.

klepto12 klepto12, TechSpot Paladin, said:

i dont like the PSU recommendations on the $500 and $800 systems also i think the 4870 would be better than the 5750 especially right now when there around the same price.

TorturedChaos, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

I love your guides. Makes building PC's so much easier. I built mine more or less of your Entry Level box about a year ago. I tweaked it a bit, but I think my total hit about $500 just for the tower and guts (already had monitor, keyboard, speakers and all that), and I have to say I have no problems tackling most games. Run just about everything at max graphic settings with no problems.

Also, guide helps so much when a friend asked me to suggested a $500 build to him/her :P. caught my self more than once copy+pasting from your PC guying guide . Having it up dated more often is just incredible.

Staff
Matthew Matthew, TechSpot Staff, said:

don't forget $130 for Windows 7.

Like most PC buying guides, we generally don't factor software into the price -- this includes an operating system.

i dont like the PSU recommendations on the $500 and $800 systems also i think the 4870 would be better than the 5750 especially right now when there around the same price.

What don't you like about the power supply recommendations? As for the GPU, your preference is certainly fine, but we believe that it's better to take a slight performance hit to gain access to DX11 -- unless you intend to upgrade your GPU again in the near future anyway.

Timonius Timonius said:

Wow, I've been waiting for an update to the guide. Thanks a bunch!

BlindObject said:

So, no Nvidia Cards? Meh.

Staff
Matthew Matthew, TechSpot Staff, said:

@BlindObject: It's no secret that AMD currently has an edge on the market. When, and if that changes, the guide will be adjusted accordingly.

Staff
Steve Steve said:

klepto12 said:

i dont like the PSU recommendations on the $500 and $800 systems also i think the 4870 would be better than the 5750 especially right now when there around the same price.

There is nothing wrong with those power supply choices and the 5750 is a better option at the same price as the 4870!

Relic Relic, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Great guide! I'm going to personally be in the market coming early next year (BFBC2!) so it'll be nice to use this as another reference once I start.

Puiu Puiu said:

Going for a dx11 card for the entry level rig was the right thing to do.

ET3D, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I have quite a few comments, but don't have time for a comprehensive post, so just a comment about one thing which really baffled me: the monitors of the entry vs. enthusiast rigs.

The entry rig has 21.5" 1920x1080 (or 22.5" 1680x1050). The enthusiast rig has a 23" 1920x1080 screen. Price difference: $5. Which is what I don't get. Do entry level buyers prefer physically smaller screens compared to enthusiasts? Why not recommend the same screen if the price difference is so small?

Staff
Matthew Matthew, TechSpot Staff, said:

ET3D, the smaller displays we selected have integrated speakers, which compensate for external speakers in the $800 build. The 23" display does not have integrated speakers, and if selected in our $800 build, the system would not have sound . Of course, if someone has their own speakers or headset this is not a concern.

ET3D, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Right, Matthew. Sorry, didn't notice that. Anyway, here are some more comments:

First of all, I'd like to see peripherals (monitor, speakers, input devices) separated from the systems. While first time buyers will but them together, I find that I always but them out of step with the PC when I upgrade. Also, they don't go in step with the system budget, and vary based on your needs (also true for PC's, see below). I'd buy high resolution relatively expensive monitors, but I'm not an audiophile at all, and go for $10-$20 headphones and speakers. Listing peripherals separately will allow mixing and matching to people's needs.

The second major point is the purposing of the systems. This is particularly important at the low end. A budget system for basic browsing / word processing or multimedia will be different than a budget gaming system. For non-gaming, you could easily move down to 2GB and a Celeron, and still have something that's good enough. For multimedia, a discrete graphics card or integrated AMD graphics may be a better solution, and a blu-ray drive may be a worthwhile addition. (And of course a 1080p monitor, as I said separating this would help.) Budget gaming might indeed want the 4GB and add a sub-$100 card.

Same goes for the entry level rig. If you're more into video conversion than gaming, then a faster CPU and lesser graphics card might be the way to go (though GPGPU is changing that).

Some nit picking:

Why Caviar Black for the budget system? Caviar Blue should be good enough and save a little bit of money.

Case with PSU combo is probably the best for the budget. Doesn't need to be a good PSU (i.e., one whose wattage is representative of real world use).

For the entry level, I think that lower cost RAM (1333) would be enough.

Lastly, you always go over budget. Either change the budget target or change the spec to fit it.

Staff
Matthew Matthew, TechSpot Staff, said:

Right, Matthew. Sorry, didn't notice that. Anyway, here are some more comments:

First of all, I'd like to see peripherals (monitor, speakers, input devices) separated from the systems. While first time buyers will but them together, I find that I always but them out of step with the PC when I upgrade. Also, they don't go in step with the system budget, and vary based on your needs (also true for PC's, see below). I'd buy high resolution relatively expensive monitors, but I'm not an audiophile at all, and go for $10-$20 headphones and speakers. Listing peripherals separately will allow mixing and matching to people's needs.

It is impossible to meet every potential demand (there are just too many component combinations). That said, we intend to increase the number of alternative "picks" in the very near future.

Why Caviar Black for the budget system? Caviar Blue should be good enough and save a little bit of money.

The few extra dollars nets an additional two years of warranty coverage. That alone is worth it, excluding the performance differences.

Case with PSU combo is probably the best for the budget. Doesn't need to be a good PSU (i.e., one whose wattage is representative of real world use).

As noted in the article, we strongly disagree. Cheap power supplies are bad news.

For the entry level, I think that lower cost RAM (1333) would be enough.

Pulled straight from the article: "Many outlets currently offer OCZ's Gold 2x2GB DDR3 1600MHz RAM kit with a $30 mail-in rebate, which effectively reduces the price to $79... With the rebate, the Gold kit is a bit cheaper than most pairs of DDR3 1333MHz RAM, which start at about $90."

Lastly, you always go over budget. Either change the budget target or change the spec to fit it.

We aim for a ballpark target price on each build, and I think we've done well. It's worth noting that many of our component prices are *not* the lowest available, but a more "realistic" average of several vendors. The Budget build is $10 over, while the Entry-Level and Enthusiast configurations are over due to very specific and unusual market conditions.

For starters, RAM is much more expensive now than it was a few months ago. We also squeezed in the Radeon HD 5000 series cards, as well as an SSD/Blu-ray drive for the Enthusiast build (and it was noted that these could be removed to meet the budget).

I believe the prices on our builds should settle a bit over the coming months. If not, we will surely make adjustments to ensure the long-term accuracy of the guide.

dividebyzero dividebyzero, trainee n00b, said:

On the Lux system why the P6T v2 over the P6TD ? Dump the useless IDE and (from all accounts) a little better in the OC dept.

I have a TX750 PSU - good unit but those loooooooong fixed cables are a trial on the cable management.

Prefer the LG W3000H-Bn over the Dell. I personally like the colour better and the height adjustment (if not the swivel) would put into bonus territory. A little cheaper as well, at least here.

ET3D, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Matthew said:

It is impossible to meet every potential demand (there are just too many component combinations). That said, we intend to increase the number of alternative "picks" in the very near future.

That's why I suggested separating them out. Then you don't need the combo. Just have a "peripheral guide" where you discuss a range of displays, speakers and input devices. I think that'd make the buying choices clearer.

[Quote]As noted in the article, we strongly disagree. Cheap power supplies are bad news.

Regarding the PSU, the question is how no-name is a no-name. Is Cooler Master considered a no-name, for example?

compdata compdata, TechSpot Paladin, said:

The links don't seem to be working right now from this page to the detailed system recommendations.

Docnoq said:

Great guides, gentlemen.

That being said, I will now take time to see if anyone is experiencing a similar problem as me. When I attempt to click one of your links for a piece of hardware in Firefox, it says the page cannot be displayed. If I click the same link in IE, it works fine. This has been happening for awhile now on several different versions of Firefox. Anyone experiencing this as well?

zyodei said:

I find something humorous in the idea of a "budget" system having 4GB.

My daily computer is an AMD64 laptop with 512MB. I run Gnome Mint with all the compiz settings on, hardly a lightweight distro. I usually have at least five programs open. While I am planning on upgrading to 1GB, and am not able to edit video or play games, it really works just fine for 95% of my tasks...

Staff
Matthew Matthew, TechSpot Staff, said:

I'm running Windows 7 and with what I perceive to be a standard amount of applications open, around 2GB is chewed up. 4GB is indeed excessive for very basic use, and the best alternative is a 2GB kit. This is mentioned in the article: "You may also find savings in opting for a 2GB kit, and for basic use, that's fine."

Archean Archean, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I ran win7 on an old P4 (3.2GHz) system with 1GB without any issue during any of the basic tasks etc for few weeks; just for testing purposes. I think the basic version may even get on alright with 512mb. So I will tend to agree there, 2GB will be good for having a very decently performing system. However, don't count the 1GB out yet from windows world yet

@Docnoq

It will be ideal if you start a new thread about your issue. Regards

gwailo247, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

The ASrock Mobo only has 2 memory slots. if you fill them both up with a 2 GB set, and then you want to upgrade to 4, you won't get to use the old memory. When you factor the extra cost of the memory over the extended lifetime of the computer with the extra memory, its probably a good deal.

ToastOz said:

Theres room for another pc between Enthusiast and Luxury as it's to big a jump. The one in between would have a better GFX something like 2x 5770 and the option of raid 0 hdd's with an ssd.

Concorde said:

Guides

Great guides for all to keep up with the latest product news and what other computer

users are up too building their rigs!

UT66 said:

hey you know whats sad? that my trusty old 3.2ghz E6600 + 4770 (ocd) are probable faster at games that system 1 and 2. No reason to upgrade for me, yet. not when intel forces me to ditch my perfectly fine memory and perfectly fine Thermalright Ultra-120 Extreme Heatsink to the garbage. ( stupid mounting holes, i cant get those brackets here btw)

rskapadia2294 said:

i love techspot's pc buying guide! :P

vegasrez said:

I don't know if I love it but it sure is useful

JMMD JMMD, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Thanks for the update to the buying guide. I use this quite a bit when people ask me what to buy for their particular budget. It's nice to be able to point them to something they can use as a reference.

TuesdayExpress said:

In the past I've only worked with Asus and Gigabyte mainboards (it's been a couple years since I built a system). Does ASRock have a pretty good reputation?

Staff
Matthew Matthew, TechSpot Staff, said:

As far as I know, it's more or less the budget arm of Asus. I've used a few boards by ASRock and I've never been disappointed. They generally receive good reviews, and their products have a high performance to cost ratio, which (in my opinion) makes them ideal for the average system builder.

You can read our recent 7-way P55 motherboard roundup for a comparison between products: [link]

Souljacker Souljacker said:

You are aware that AMD make processors too, not just intel?!

ansarimikail said:

Thanks, just what I was looking for. Need to upgrade my PC because of a busted motherboard.

Staff
Matthew Matthew, TechSpot Staff, said:

AMD's offerings just don't compare at the moment, especially at the higher end of things, and the Budget Box mentions an AMD alternative.

Guest said:

I like the guide its nice to see something up to date for a change. I just have a couple of questions on your setups.

In the higer end systems why dont you use raid? I think the performance of 2 traditional drives raid 0 would be almost as fast as a solid state drive and when money is no object why not buy 2 drives raid 0 the solid state drives?

I also wonder about your audio choices in the money no object build, I know there's not much around in the way of "computer speakers" thats not hopeless but if you think slightly outside the box what about a cheap home theater amp and some floor standing speakers? Even if you could only afford the amp and 2 speakers it would still make your "computer speaker" system sound like someone farting in church. (though again I agree this is a personal preference thing and might also be limited by space etc)

I also have a question I really dont know the answer to, is there any reason not to use a full HD (1920 x 1080) LCD tv as a main monitor for a computer, I know its probably a bit hard to fit a 42" tv on your desk but is there any other reason not to?

Staff
Matthew Matthew, TechSpot Staff, said:

In many cases, RAID 0 has a minimal effect on overall performance. Factoring that with the added cost and potential of data loss, and it's really not something we can recommend to the average user.

To scale the audio setups appropriately on each system we feel it's best to select a conventional set of 5.1 channel computer speakers on the Luxury build. There are certainly other worthy configurations and we might add some in the future.

While it's possible to use a large screen 1080p TV as a PC monitor, it would be extremely uncomfortable to use on a desk. Because of the large screen and comparably low resolution, you would have to situate the display at a proper viewing distance (perhaps six feet or more). Note that 30-inch PC monitors generally have display a resolution of 2560x1600.

dividebyzero dividebyzero, trainee n00b, said:

... and when money is no object why not buy 2 drives raid 0 the solid state drives?

RAID on SSD's would certainly come under the heading of "money is no object" considering that TRIM cannot be enabled on SSD's when in a RAID array.

Guest said:

Thank you for the up-to-date guides and advice you provide here; it is much appreciated. I live in Canada and I was wondering if anyone could tell me why we seem to be charged more for our products despite our currency nearing equivalency. For example, at Newegg, search this exact model: (ASUS P50IJ-X2 NoteBook Intel Pentium T4400(2.20GHz) 15.6" 4GB Memory 320GB HDD 5400rpm DVD Super Multi Intel GMA 4500M) on both the canadian and american sites respectively, and you will find that the canadian site charges $565, while the american site charges $500. Can anyone explain this and offer some buying advice for canadians please? Thanks if ya can :)

Guest said:

bump? replies?

Staff
Julio Franco Julio Franco, TechSpot Editor, said:

Well, the most logical explanation would seem to be import taxes and country regulations... but that's not our area of expertise, so we won't delve too deep on that.

Guest said:

Great guide, very helpful, however after reading the reviews on Newegg I have come to the conclusion that all cases are bad, I am being caused great confusion.

You have not included any extra cooling for the CPU or GPU - do you think the cooling that comes with the recommended items is sufficient?

This may be a stupid question but on the Enthusiast's PC why install a 7.1 sound card and then buy 2.1 speakers?

Guest said:

Pffft to the guest from Canadia ;) - you want to try the prices here in Oz. The AUD is very close to the USD at the moment but we are paying 33-50% more for almost everything. Very painful.

Staff
Matthew Matthew, TechSpot Staff, said:

Great guide, very helpful, however after reading the reviews on Newegg I have come to the conclusion that all cases are bad, I am being caused great confusion.

You have not included any extra cooling for the CPU or GPU - do you think the cooling that comes with the recommended items is sufficient?

This may be a stupid question but on the Enthusiast's PC why install a 7.1 sound card and then buy 2.1 speakers?

Not sure what you mean about the cases.

Yes, in most situations, stock CPU and GPU cooling is fine.

There are more specs to a sound card than the number of channels it supports, and 5.1 or 7.1 channels are pretty much standard. In fact, there are almost two times more 7.1 channel sound cards as there are all the others combined on Newegg.

kakarot27 said:

antec 900??? really? haf 932 would be a better by for just an extra 20bucks....and dont worry about the budget changing....the intel x25 80gb is at 210 not 225 anymore...okay so fine it does change by 5 bucks but eh

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