TechSpot PC Buying Guide: 2011 Kick Off

By on January 12, 2011, 3:26 AM
About a year ago we revamped our long-standing guide for PC builders and prospective buyers, setting it to be updated on an ongoing basis. Throughout 2010 we kept to our word, making near immediate changes when major product launches took place, and giving the guide biweekly passes to make sure the best component recommendations were live at any given moment with its respective pricing information and analysis.

The TechSpot PC Buying Guide offers an in-depth list of today's best hardware, spanning four unique, yet typical budgets. Whether you are a first time builder seeking guidance or a seasoned enthusiast, we've got you covered.

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. However, 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 (~$900)
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 (~$1,600)
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

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dividebyzero dividebyzero, trainee n00b, said:

A quick skim and a quick question/recommendation.

I would have thought that using Lynnfield specced RAM @ 1.65v is above Intel's maximum recommended threshold ( 1.5v + 5% i.e. 1.58v or a nominal max of 0.5v above Vcore).

Obviously the Intel spec is conservative since people seem to be running 1.65v kits for the most part without incident, but maybe it might be apropos to make people aware that this is in the "use at your own risk" category.

Possibly a 1.35v spec kit as an alternative:

G.Skill F3-12800CL7Q-8GBECO ( 4x2Gb DDR3-1600 7-8-7-24 ECO 1.35v) at $148 shipped. The 2x2Gb version of the kit (F3-12800CL7D-8GBECO) is listed in the QVL. A CAS of 7 should offset the lower bandwidth -I doubt there is too much real world difference between 1600, 1866 and 2000 - specially if the timings need to be relaxed out to CAS9 at the higher bandwidth.

Luay said:

Thanks for the article. A few suggestions/recommendations for the Luxury system:

Asus Sabertooth or Gigabyte UD5 for $250. MSI G65 for $200 is excellent as well.

G.Skill F3 RAM kit is a bit cheaper and just as good.

For graphics I would get HD6950CF for $600, albeit custom cooled , not reference.

New (HD ready) sound card from Creative.

Swap Crucial for OCZ Vertex 2 120GB (256Gb for what!?) and Caviar Black to Green to save another $100.

I don't see any use for a Blue-Ray burner so please tell us if you know.

Corsair AX850 please.

Spend more on the case! SIlverstone Fortress FT02B-W or Lian Li PC-V1020B or Corsair Obsidian 800

Hopefully the 30" 2560x1600 resolution displays' price will improve with new products such as Hazro HZ30Wi

Luay said:

the UD3 in the enthusiast build should not be recommended as a CF build unless you don't mind 4 lanes on the 2nd PCI-E slot. not enthusiastic at all.

gwailo247, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Luay said:

Swap Crucial for OCZ Vertex 2 120GB (256Gb for what!?) and Caviar Black to Green to save another $100.

256 GB to run all your games and programs. I just checked my Steam folder, its 257 GB. I agree for cost cutting you may not need all that SSD, but if I'm buying a luxury system, I don't want to have to constantly uninstall programs to make them fit.

I don't see any use for a Blue-Ray burner so please tell us if you know.

Its needed to if you want to burn files over 8.5 GB onto an optical disk, and it doubles nicely as a BR player. If you don't need to burn files over 8.5 GB onto an optical disk, then you can probably just buy a DVDR drive.

Guest said:

Any possibility of adding a blurb regarding a headset recommendation to the peripheral listings?

Guest said:

Where is the grunt pc? you know the Grandparent, HTPC, NAS, WHS, student, office build or rebuild upgrade for around $150

Mizzou Mizzou said:

Very good reference material. On the Enthusiast and Luxury builds would probably include an aftermarket cooling solution.

TomSEA TomSEA, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Heh...I don't know of too many people who know their specs like dividebyzero does. ;-)

Very nice listings. As always, you're not going to please everyone.

Just a few comments. As far as a sound card, I've recently purchased the ASUS Xonar Essence STX card and it is without a doubt, the best sound card I've ever owned. I'm hearing new sounds from songs I've been listening to for decades. And the software customization is incredible. In a nutshell, my computer is now my home stereo system because of that card.

I don't see a need to spend more on the case for the Luxury system. Again, I have the HAF-X case listed and it is as functional a case as you'll find. Has received top-notch reviews from a number of tech websites and looks great to boot. What's the point in paying more for the same (if not less) functionality?

Will also throw in my two bits for the GTX 460-SLI setup. Do the research - it's simply the biggest bang for your buck right now, especially with these cards going on sale for $150 now.

As far as a blu-ray burner, why not? Media files (especially video) aren't getting any smaller and will no doubt get larger as time goes on. At some point in time you're going to need one if you're a big media fan. Completely appropriate for a luxury system.

And lastly, that 30" Dell Ultrasharp U3011 monitor? That's what my tax return is going to this year. I'll let ya'll know how it works when I get it.

Staff
Steve Steve said:

Nice work on the update, seems like sound advice to me. Can't go wrong with any of those builds.

And lastly, that 30" Dell Ultrasharp U3011 monitor? That's what my tax return is going to this year. I'll let ya'll know how it works when I get it.

Money well spent if you ask me I picked up a pair to write off tax with late last year, I think I am in love

DokkRokken said:

Just a few comments. As far as a sound card, I've recently purchased the ASUS Xonar Essence STX card and it is without a doubt, the best sound card I've ever owned. I'm hearing new sounds from songs I've been listening to for decades. And the software customization is incredible. In a nutshell, my computer is now my home stereo system because of that card.

Ain't the Xonar Essence the greatest thing since sliced bread? Pair it up with a nice set of Grado's, or Senn's and you'll be off to the races. Watch out though; if you thought being a PC enthusiast was tough on the wallet, it's going to be flattened once you begin to become an audiophile.

ruben1992 said:

Surely the ASUS P8P67 PRO should replace the UD3 in the Enthusiast build, it has UEFI and the second PCIe slot runs at 8x not 4x.

Staff
Steve Steve said:

Surely the ASUS P8P67 PRO should replace the UD3 in the Enthusiast build, it has UEFI and the second PCIe slot runs at 8x not 4x.

The UD3 supports EFI.

Guest said:

++ to the P8P67 Pro on the Enthusiast. It's a bit more expensive but it has UEFI and 3x PCI-E x16. I'm not a fan of the cooler master case so I'd spend a bit more and get the Corsair 600T. Proper cable management and very nice drive cages.

Guest said:

I'm wondering how well the phenom ii x2 555 be does if the the cores ARE NOT unlocked.. (in case it doesn't work). PC to be used mostly for gaming(mostly online MMOs - WoW up to Guild Wars 2, maybe Diablo 3, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, FPS like Battlefield: Bad Company 2) how will it perform? also perhaps playing movie on 46" 1080p television while doing other things on PC monitor. graphics cards will probably be 5770s CF'd or GTX 460 1GB to start, get another later in the year for SLI setup if I need to(also on that, does 1GB model vs 768MB memory make big difference on single 1920x1080/1200 23" monitor?). sorry for long post, I don't really know where to look for advice so I ask it all at once..

Staff
Matthew Matthew, TechSpot Staff, said:

The Phenom II X2 555 fares just fine with only two cores enabled: [link]

You can compare the performance differences between the 768MB and 1GB GTX 460 here:

[link]

Guest said:

thank you for replying quickly with links.

Guest said:

No it doesn't.....

Staff
Steve Steve said:

No it doesn't.....

If you are talking to me you might want to do some research, YES they do :P

Check out the F5 BIOS update...

TeamworkGuy2 said:

Thanks for the article TS and Julio,

It is always nice when a website updates articles like these regularly.

P.S. Users who are building a Windows computer should tack on the price of a Windows license.

Guest said:

technoob back; so, just learned that apparently I can't have two GTX 460s with this processor because the AMD motherboards don't support SLI.. so go with pricier but worth it Intel platform or go with AMD[ATI] cards? also, are some motherboards better for unlocking cores/overclocking?

Guest said:

In the enthusiast build, you wrote "The $225 dual-core Core i5 2500K absolutely smoked our previous pick, the quad-core Core i5 750." and I was like WTH? Then I googled a bit and was relieved to find out that the i5 2500k is a quad-core, not dual. I'd be crying if my i5 750 were losing out to a dual-core :P

Staff
Matthew Matthew, TechSpot Staff, said:

Fixed. Thanks for the note.

Guest said:

On the Luxury system, isn't the sound card (HT Omega Claro Plus+) a PCI card? I believe the mother board in that build (Asus Maximus IV Extreme) doesn't have a PCI slot. So how does that work?

Staff
Matthew Matthew, TechSpot Staff, said:

The HT Omega card remained on the list from previous builds that supported PCI. We missed that incompatibility on our latest update. It'll be swapped out soon. Thanks for all the great feedback so far everyone.

Guest said:

I'm getting pretty much the luxury PC, with a few changes (more RAM for instance, and I already have all the peripherals so I won't be getting any of those). My question is this: besides the OS, what else do I need to buy to actually put this PC together? I've got a case, a mobo, processor, hard drives, disc drives, GPU, RAM, and power supply. Most of them the ones right here on this page. What else do I need to get? Any cables, thermal compound, etc? I've never built a PC before, but I'm pretty competent with them (I've upgraded video cards, power supplies, and RAM in several of my past PC's and even swapped out hard drives).

dividebyzero dividebyzero, trainee n00b, said:

Cables are included with the motherboard (2 x SATA 3Gb, 2x SATA 6Gb). You only need one of each for the harddrives and one each for the optical drives (hdd's and optical drives usually ship with cables also unless they are OEM). The M4E also includes cable ties for chassis cable management

Thermal compound (TIM) is pre-applied to the Intel stock cooler and most aftermarket coolers usually include a syringe of TIM in the package.

For a stock build you shouldn't need to add anything else to the list unless you're modding (cable sleeving, shrinkwrap tubing, motherboard slot protectors etc...)

Guest said:

Thanks! I thought so, but I wanted to be absolutely certain.

The only real changes I made to the system were upgrading the RAM and the PSU, which I upgraded to 16 GB (4x4) (I do a lot of heavy duty music work, and trust me, 16 GB is not too much for the work I do) and 1000W respectively. Since I didn't have to get a monitor or peripherals or anything, the increase in price was negligible and was a bit below $3,000. I'll still have to get an OS, but that won't be so bad.

Guest said:

The Sandy Bridge has been recalled, as have all motherboards supporting it. You may want to update this article to replace the processor and motherboard, for the sake of people that want to buy a PC *now*.

Bonus points if everything else on the list is compatible with it, though.

Staff
Steve Steve said:

The Sandy Bridge has been recalled, as have all motherboards supporting it. You may want to update this article to replace the processor and motherboard, for the sake of people that want to buy a PC *now*.

Bonus points if everything else on the list is compatible with it, though.

LOL nice try :P

Guest said:

why isnt the intel i7 980x extreme on the list?

Staff
Matthew Matthew, TechSpot Staff, said:

Because we don't think it's worth $1,000.

Staff
Steve Steve said:

Because we don't think it's worth $1,000.

I am yet to see a desktop processor that is

Guest said:

I'm surprised you guys are listing the RealSSD C300 series as the SSD in the luxury system, considering the current releases of the SF-2000 based SSDs and the new marvell controller with double the read/writhe speeds of the last gen drives :)

While they do cost a bit more, i recon that if your spending 500$ on an SSD you want the best, and paying 100$ for double the performance is not going to trouble you!

Guest said:

Oh, this one is about a month old.. duh! Sorta explains the outdatedness on the SSD thing :)

Staff
Matthew Matthew, TechSpot Staff, said:

You're right -- thanks for the note. We've added the Intel 510 Series to the Luxury system and will likely swap it out for the Vertex 3 when it starts shipping.

example1013 said:

EDIT: Actually nevermind. Although I noticed that you guys suggested an Asus motherboard in the Enthusiast section, and it looks like the P8P67 PRO Rev 3 is pretty much identical to the MSI board currently posted, if brand really makes a difference.

Guest said:

with the MSI P67A-GD55 motherboard currently unavailable what would you recommend?

grvalderrama said:

I have a question... The 5.1 Logitech Z-5500 speakers in my homeland cost around U$S1000 dollars... (yeah... freaking expensive) for that kind of money I can go and buy Sony Muteki HT-DDW5500 of 1510W (vs. Logitech's 500W).

Well, what does the logitech has that could possibly exceed Sony's HT? I've already asked the fellows of mercadolibre why they have it so damn expensive... Thanks!

Luay said:

Luxury system sounds good after a little (game) tuning:

i5 2500k $225 (i7 overkill)

OCZ Vertex 3 120 GB $300 (A little data management won't hurt)

HD 6950 CF $600 HIS IceQ Turbo 880mhz, or MSI Twin Frozr III 850mhz, Asus Direct CUII 810mhz.

Asus Sabertooth P67 $250 (Asus revolution only if you want 3 or more cards, UD7 layout is a fail)

Silverstone Raven 03 case $150 (a prediction)

Seasonic X Series 850W for $220

Noctua NHC14 heatsink $120 (quietest)

G.skill sniper low voltage1600 RAM $100

Cheaper IPS panel that wouldn't tax your video card, Asus 1920x1200 Pro Art $500

Guest said:

Disagree with setup as is, one 580 is not enough for 2560x1600.

SLI or crossfire setup is p. much mandatory to get high FPS on this resolution, and by 'high' I do not mean 30fps.

You mention that you used the 5970 last year, which is often faster than a 580gtx so performance in some areas goes down year-to-year. That doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

inb4

"but 30fps is buttery smooth..."

Yes the 590 is poor value, but so is the 580 compared to the 6970 (performance not that much worse, a lot cheaper has eyefinity/more ram ect). 590 would be a better choice considering this is a system "with virtually no price cap".

~haemoo

Coodu Coodu said:

Just wondering how often this gets updated as I'm looking at building a new system in a few months time, who knows how much things will have changed by then as usual.

Staff
Matthew Matthew, TechSpot Staff, said:

It's typically updated biweekly unless there's a major product launch.

We chose the GTX 580 because it offers roughly the same performance as the 5970 in a single-GPU configuration. However, in retrospect, I agree that the GPU performance of our highest-end build shouldn't remain static on-year. I'll look into it. Thanks for the feedback.

Guest said:

erm

6990 surely?

or 580 sli if you're allowed two seperate gpus.

Luay said:

Another month, another update. Problem is, we don't remeber what last month's build was, so we can't tell what was updated.

Staff
Matthew Matthew, TechSpot Staff, said:

Besides updating prices, minor text adjustments etc. here are some of the more noteworthy changes from from the last two updates:

Entry-Level Rig received Radeon HD 6770 over 5770 (lol).

Enthusiast's PC received 8GB of DDR3 RAM over 4GB.

Enthusiast's PC received text for Z68 chipset and Intel SRT.

Enthusiast's PC received 27" Asus -- previous 27" LG deactivated.

Luxury System received Gigabyte Z68X-UD7 motherboard.

Luxury System received better-valued G.Skill RAM over Corsair.

Luxury System received dual-GTX 570s over single GTX 580.

Luxury System received Corsair HX Series 850W PSU over 750W.

Luxury System received text for Logitech Z906, but Z-5500 remains our pick.

Luay said:

In that case, I have a few comments about the luxury system.

If you gave me the $1000 for the UD7 and GTX570 SLI, then I would spend it on a WS Revolution and HD6950 2GB Tri-fire. Same price, enough on the Corsair HX850 PSU and for a resolution higher than 2560x1600.

As for the $1500 for the U3011 30", I would spend it on three Asus Pro art 24" displays.

There are areas where cutting back won't affect performance in any noticeable way for games. $100 less for i5 2500k, $200 less for 120GB SSD or even $400 less for 64GB, and $150 less for a 1TB HDD.

Don't need blu-ray on PC yet. When the software support comes, the quality will go so further up and the prices so further down, you will regret buying it when nothing was going for it. Spend the money on a proper home theater setup. It's a better experience and better for your eyes, ears and back. Another $90 less.

Staff
Steve Steve said:

In that case, I have a few comments about the luxury system.

If you gave me the $1000 for the UD7 and GTX570 SLI, then I would spend it on a WS Revolution and HD6950 2GB Tri-fire. Same price, enough on the Corsair HX850 PSU and for a resolution higher than 2560x1600.

Either would work really...

As for the $1500 for the U3011 30", I would spend it on three Asus Pro art 24" displays.

Personal opinion but I find it hard to believe that anyone would get a Dell U3011 and then decide that three 24" monitors were a better way to go. That said everyone is different...

There are areas where cutting back won't affect performance in any noticeable way for games. $100 less for i5 2500k, $200 less for 120GB SSD or even $400 less for 64GB, and $150 less for a 1TB HDD.

May not affect performance in a big way but I think the idea was to create more of a well-rounded system and let the readers change the little things to suit their needs, I believe you have already done that

Don't need blu-ray on PC yet. When the software support comes, the quality will go so further up and the prices so further down, you will regret buying it when nothing was going for it. Spend the money on a proper home theater setup. It's a better experience and better for your eyes, ears and back. Another $90 less.

Again Matt did not write this article just for you, there are plenty of readers who would like this feature and there are plenty that already have it and very much enjoy it

Guest said:

No PC buyers guide is any good or complete without recommending AMD as an alternative option.

Amd = best price for performance

techspot = incomplete

Staff
Steve Steve said:

No PC buyers guide is any good or complete without recommending AMD as an alternative option.

Amd = best price for performance

techspot = incomplete

But the idea is to recommend the best performance/value option available so I cannot see how your point makes sense. Why complicate the guide with a not as good secondary option for everything?

Guest said:

Just a quick question from a newbie, wouldn't the recently released 6870 IceQ X Turbo in Crossfire be a great choice of the Luxury System as well? I mean it compared with the 6990 and 590 while being around the price of the 580. From what I've read it does take up more power than the 570, but is quite cooler.

Am I missing something? Or is the $200 gap worth the performance gain?

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