TechSpot's PC Buying Guide - A Major Revamp

By Julio Franco ยท 107 replies
Dec 21, 2009
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  1. Omnislip

    Omnislip TS Rookie Posts: 91

    Just a thought - wouldn't 1600MHz RAM be more suitable for the enthusiast build to match the overclockability of the i5 750?
    Also a SLI compatable motherboard to reflect the change in GPU.
  2. It is a very comprehensive list, but I am one of those poor souls who is thinking of using two 460 cards and it seems that the ASRock P55 Pro doesn't support SLI, so is it possible for anyone to mention any good, but relatively cheap, P55 boards that are SLI enabled? And, maybe, with the next update for the buying guide, that consideration is taken into account for those individuals who don't want to make use of Crossfire, but SLI instead.
  3. Omnislip

    Omnislip TS Rookie Posts: 91


    I've done the research for that and the best motherboard at that kind of price range seems to be the MSI P55-GD65. There's also another Asus board but I cant remember the name. The MSI board looks nicer (imo) and comes with a better package of cables (e.g. bridges for crossfire and sli included), although old BIOS versions didnt read the voltages right, although this might be fixed by now. Sorry if this is a bit late though :-S.
  4. ebolamonkey3

    ebolamonkey3 TS Rookie Posts: 59

    For the ultimate build, why the P6T? The Gigabyte UD3R offers everything it does for cheaper at $210. And why an i7 960? The i7 950 is the same thing for almost half the price, you even wrote in one of your own articles not to buy the 960!

    Also, for the ultimate workstation, you might as well fork over some more dough and get the i7 970 for six cores. Those will help a lot for video editing.
  5. Matthew

    Matthew TechSpot Staff Posts: 5,332   +101

    Good call on the i7-950. Not sure how that slipped through. As for the P6T, the price difference is negligible at that bracket and we've reviewed the board so we feel more comfortable recommending it. The UD3R could be mentioned as an alternative though.

    Thanks again everyone for the feedback! It's much appreciated :).
  6. Bonus points for an awesome article, but I do have to complain that you didn't even give a passing mention to the Optimus Maximus as an alternative keyboard for the luxury computer.

    On the most expensive model, each one of the 113 keys has it's own OLED screen on it, and you can program it to display anything you want.

    Anything you want, even animated photos, on your keyboard.

    Yes, it's a massive cash hog, but it's at least worth a short mention.
  7. Thanks for the excellent guides! I have just starting getting things together to build my own PC. I did have one question, does the processor on the Entry Level rig (AMD Phenom 2) need a Heatsink? If so which ones are compatible with them?
  8. compu4

    compu4 TS Rookie Posts: 46

    I'm wondering why you did not equip the Entry Level Rig with a quad core chip. You could buy the Athlon II x4 640 for the same price as your Phenom II x2, and the athlon would offer considerably better performance in modern multi-threaded games (BFBC2, Dragon Age Origins, Medal of Honor, CIV 5) as quad core cpus become more prevalent.

    After you factor in the price of the OS on your entry-level builds, it would probably be better to purchase a pre-built PC and upgrade it if you so desire.

    Take the HP P6610f as an example ( For $449, you could get a PC that's more powerful than your Entry-Level PC for approximately the same price as your Budget Box. If you wanted to play games, you could simply add a discrete GPU and new PSU.
  9. Matthew

    Matthew TechSpot Staff Posts: 5,332   +101

    Plenty of games also benefit from the X2's L3 cache, and there's always the potential to unlock extra cores. It's just a better value in our opinion, but it really boils down to personal preference. Perhaps the X4 640 could be mentioned in the text as an alternative.

    OEM machines have their pitfalls as well. They often have lesser-quality PSUs, cramped/awkward chassis, briefer warranties and so on. Again, it boils down to personal preference.
  10. Rayss523

    Rayss523 TS Enthusiast Posts: 102

    I'm sure you meant that the HAF X case has dual hot swappable drives, not hit swappable. My favorite case is the Corsair 800D, all black everything. Maybe mention some liquid cooling for the extreme build, the stand alone cpu coolers are worth looking at for somebody wanting to overclock and not add maintenance.
  11. rizalp

    rizalp TS Rookie Posts: 39

    One question: Why you didn't mention the motherboard that use AMD 8-series, like Asrock 880GMH/USB3 ? From my point of view, its a great motherboard, feature packed and offering great value for customer.
  12. Would like to point out a fact regarding the Luxury system!

    Sabertooth x58, as you mentioned as an alternative, does not support the 2000Mhz memory listed! 1866Mhz is its supported cap.
  13. Phate13

    Phate13 TS Rookie

    Nice guide, though there are quite some things I (strongly) disagree with:

    CPU: The Phenom II X2 555 is NOT a great CPU at all. In my opinion, in a guide, you should not advice a cpu because it might be possible to unlock some cores. That's quite irresponsible, there are a few other options that are better suited.
    For system 1: The Athlon II X2 2xx, more than enough power for a basic system, a lot cheaper and not a lot slower than the X2 555.
    For system 2: The Athlon II X4 635 is the better pick. A quick look at your own CPU Round-up indicates that the Athlon II X4 635 is 9 out of 12 times faster than the X2 555. And as we all know, quadcore is the future.

    GPU: The HD5670 is quite a lot slower than it's alternatives. It's price/performance ratio is worse than the HD5750 for example. The fact that you might go over the 800$ mark, that's a good thing, that closes the gap between system 2 and 3, which is ridiculous and nowhere practical.

    SSD: I'm sorry, the other things I understand, but this, I do not. It's an outdated, overpriced ssd. The vertex II, Crucial C300 and Samsung 470 are all better ssd's. Of which 2 have been reviewed at this site.

    Why the small price difference between the first two systems and a huge one from there on?
    Why include monitor, speakers and other peripherals? Most people nowadays buy a pc and then upgrade it. If our home-pc, would break down, why would my parents buy a new screen and speakers along with it? And for that matter, why would they buy a cheap screen with a cheap pc? They don't need a fast pc, so cheap is fine, but a bigger, better screen works better, so why not invest more in it? Do not entangle the system with the peripherals.

    And finally: Why always the need to go over the top with a terribly overpriced system?
    There are VERY few people that need such a thing. By submitting such a system, the gamer, which does not need an i7 or 12GB ram, throws away money better invested in something else. While the person who wants a workstation (or wants some heavy multitasking), has no use for the GPU, which is total overkill.

    Closing remarks:
    There are some things I do like very much. The use of quality PSU's. Thumbs up. Love it. And you do seem to be aware of some problems: "Chances are, the components you choose will rest somewhere between this system and our Enthusiast's PC. " Why not add a pc in between than? But on the other hand there are quite some things that need work. You can get quite a lot more power out of system 2, without sacrificing a lot. By using for example the Asrock 870 Extreme 3 motherboard and the AMD NSK4482, you can easily save 70$, without losing performance or a lot of relevant features. Which is better invested in the CPU or GPU.
  14. Matthew

    Matthew TechSpot Staff Posts: 5,332   +101

    Not sure how you can say the Phenom X2 555 isn't a great CPU. Take a closer look at the round-up you cite. The Phenom X2 555's performance was practically on par with the Athlon II X4 63x and that's with stock settings. It's slight speed deficit is countered by a lower price. The fact that you can potentially enable an extra two cores and get a speed boost for free is too much to pass up in a budget rig -- whether it's the $500 or $800 bracket.

    Yep, the Radeon HD 5670 is slower than the HD 5750, but it played most games we tested at decent frames with reasonable settings and it's ~50% cheaper at about $80. It would be sufficient for a basic gaming rig and it's cheap enough to be cast aside 1-2 years later for another budget card. However, until a few weeks ago (i.e. one buying guide update period), there really wasn't much wiggle room in the Entry Level Rig's $800 cap. Prices have come down a bit on various components (especially RAM) and the HD 5750 does currently fit into the target price, so I'll swap it tonight. I'll address the cost difference between builds below.

    Agreed. The X25-M G2 will be swapped as well.

    The price difference has been addressed a few times, so I'll paste Julio's previous explanation: "There might be instances where this doesn't hold to be true, but I'd say that 95% of the time adding more price points in-between is not going to do any good. Just take the entry level system and slap a faster videocard or mix it up with other components of the enthusiast build and you get a middle priced system with an emphasis where you find it convenient, be it a larger monitor, faster CPU or GPU, etc."

    In other words, our picks for a mid-point system (let's say $1,100) wouldn't be any different than the components already selected. To create a $1,100 system, we'd take the Enthusiast's PC and swap parts with the Entry Level rig as necessary to meet the budget. We could do that, except the "as necessary" part varies greatly between users.

    We recommend monitors, speakers and other peripherals because believe it or not, people do in fact buy them. We include two prices to reflect the core system total, as well as the total with peripherals, so I'm not sure what the issue is.

    Again, plenty of people buy high-end components and our Luxury guide provides some insight on the premium market. Companies don't manufacture this stuff because nobody wants it haha.

    You took our comment out of context. We're saying that the average person will probably want to focus on the Entry Level Rig and the Enthusiast's PC as they provide the best value and fit into most people's budgets. I guess I can see how you might take that the wrong way, I'll tweak it (but I won't be adding a new system ;)). Thanks for the feedback.
  15. Phate13

    Phate13 TS Rookie

    First of all, like I stated before: I find it irresponsible to advice that CPU because you can unlock the cores. You cannot always unlock those cores, and then you find yourself with an overpriced processor. Perhaps you can recommend it as an option, for the ones who would like to try that, but not everyone is willing to do so.
    Looking at the performance from a much bigger database (40 different kind of applications). Of which I put everything in excel, normalized everything. (Athlon II X2 250 = 100%) and then took the average of all normalized scores:
    The Phenom II X2 555 ends at 107%
    The Athlon II X4 635 ends at 137%
    This means that the 555 is only 7% faster than the 255. While the 635 is about 28% faster than the 555. On average. And if you than also count in the factor that quadcores will be used more in the future, so the difference will become even bigger.
    Apparently, the price difference is greater over there, here in Europe, it's more like 80 euro for the HD5670 and 100 euro for the HD5750, while the HD5750 offers 50% better performance. Which gives it a much better bang for buck ratio. Seeing the bigger difference, I now better understand that choice.
    Then why not UP the price of the second system, that way you can close the gap without adding an additional system? There is NO mid-range system. The Budget and Entry-level systems are too much alike. Replacing the Entry-level system with a midrange one, would lead to a much better guide.
    And secondly: I disagree with the argument that you can "just mix system 2 and 3". What is the purpose of a best buy guide? To help people who DO NOT know enough to do it their selves. If you recommend to people to "just mix them up", they still have to do it on their own, which they are not capable of. The price from system 2 to 3 increases from 560 to 1167 for the system alone.
    The issues are:
    1. You still start with a total budget, that's pretty clear in the introduction.
    2. I'm not arguing that people do not buy peripherals. I'm stating that more and more often people buy the system and the peripherals separately. Definitely when they are looking for something else than a pre-built pc. It would be much more interesting to see A) a system guide AND B) a guide for peripherals separately.
    If you want to provide insight into a premium market, write an article about it, this does not, in my opinion, provide sufficient insight into this premium market. And most of those high-end components are for very specific tasks. If you want to address the premium market, write something useful for them, but like I stated, in this high-end market, there are a lot different demands. You CAN NOT tackle them all with one system. That is my main complaint.

    Thanks for the answer. And let it be clear, this is just my opinion about things, I've built my own best buy guide (in Dutch), and therefore like discussions like these, because it helps me form an opinion about my own guide as well.
  16. Matthew

    Matthew TechSpot Staff Posts: 5,332   +101

    Yep, again, like I said, the Phenom X2 555 might be a little slower in some tests, but that is countered by it's lower price tag. The chip's value is boosted substantially by successfully enabling the cores, and if someone happens to get unlucky, they still wind up with a solid dual-core processor. I don't see how it's an irresponsible recommendation at all -- perhaps if the dual-core performance were abysmal and the chip was an absolute gamble, but that's just not the case.

    I will discuss raising the cap of the Entry Level Rig with Julio, but I disagree with your sentiments. People might not know what components to buy, but they do know what they want to do. Gamers with a $1k budget will obviously give preference to a better video card, so adding the Enthusiast's PC GPU to our Entry Level Rig would be an obvious decision. A graphics professional might splurge on a better display. Someone into media encoding might opt for a better CPU etc.

    We have a budget for the total system sure, but there's a price the core desktop. All of your closing complaints seem to suggest that we include too many recommendations in one guide. However, it'd be silly to make people jump between guides to find our "picks" on hardware. That's all the buying guide is. We're not providing in-depth analysis on any part, we're simply saying: here's what we'd buy with X dollars. Full product reviews are aplenty, and we link ours throughout the guide.

    There are varying demands in all markets, not just the premium range. And no, most of the components chosen for the Luxury System aren't necessarily designed for a "specific task". They're all high-end consumer parts that amount to scaled up versions of what's in the Enthusiast's PC. The core system is currently $2,697 and it's far from uncommon for people to spend that much (or more) on a high-end PC. Again, we're just providing a list of parts we'd buy in that bracket.
  17. Benny26

    Benny26 TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,535   +51

    On the luxury system page, there's the processor --> "Intel core i7 950" --> $300.

    Then there's this,

    I don't understand this. It says that the processor is a six core, then it says that "if you're desperate to experience hexa-core computing" (hexa-core = six cores, right?), you should wait because Intel's products start at just under a grand"...But as i can see you have it down as $300 already ???

    C'mon, what am i missing here?
  18. Matthew

    Matthew TechSpot Staff Posts: 5,332   +101

    Nope, the text says the Core i7 950 is among Intel's best consumer chips, besides one of the company's six-core processors. The i7 950 isn't a six-core processor. I'll tweak the wording a little.
  19. Benny26

    Benny26 TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,535   +51

    Oh right, i think it was the "--" and the full stop after "six core processors" that got me in a twist there.

    That is a fine system though, it makes the mouth water just looking at it :D
  20. Phate13

    Phate13 TS Rookie

    I understand your argument.
    But first of all, the lower price tag of the cpu is negligible . The difference is only 10$ at newegg, and even less at my local shops.
    Second of all, I stick to my point that it is not so easy for most people to unlock it, you do need some technical knowledge. Which does not make it something that I would recommend in a guide, which is by definition aimed at persons who have lesser knowledge about such things.
    Thirdly: Especially for the first system, the Athlon II X2 255 is A LOT cheaper, while being only a notch slower. (Again, ignoring the possibility to unlock cores.)

    And I again have to disagree with your statement that:
    While that is correct, to connotation you give to it, is false. It is not true that because people know what they want, that they know what to buy. I know enough people, that think they need a discrete graphics card, just to watch HD. Which is obviously not the case. Or people that want to do some video-editing, who also think they need a very good graphics card, which they do not. Or people who want "a faster pc" overall. They do not have to buy a faster processor, that's pretty useless for benign office tasks, it's an ssd that will give them the biggest boost.

    And sorry but where the hell did you get this from?
    I've come nowhere close to suggesting this.
  21. Matthew

    Matthew TechSpot Staff Posts: 5,332   +101

    Welp, I give humanity more credit than you I suppose. What you call "technical knowledge" amounts to literally tapping a few keys. The information is readily available. Anyone daring enough to build their own PC should be able to do it. And let it be known that we aren't necessarily targeting first time PC users that can't find the Windows Start menu. The hardware market changes weekly and even experienced PC users can find it difficult to decide on components.

    Sorry Phate, but you're not really making any sense here. It's impossible to account for the multitude of interests and demands. The guide would be 50,000 words long if we had a dozen builds with a detailed rundown of every potential combination. That's not what we're trying to do. We've selected a few popular budgets and provided our personal recommendations for each bracket.

    That said, the $500 and $800 builds do have some overlap (more than ever before, mostly because of price changes). I'm going to look into a better balance between both systems (either by lowering the $500 budget or increasing the $800).

    Here are your final two arguments in post #90 (at least from my perception):

    1) We shouldn't include peripherals because they're unnecessary and better served by a separate review.
    2) The Luxury System and/or its individual components are also better served by other reviews.

    Both seem to imply that the existing guide should be pared down to focus on only mainstream/budget core components -- i.e. we have too much "stuff" in one article. That's ironic given your suggestions to add additional systems in the lower brackets. Anyhow, I've addressed your concerns to the best of my ability. Thanks again for the feedback.
  22. Steve

    Steve TechSpot Editor Posts: 2,868   +2,035

    Call it "irresponsible" if you will but the fact is the Phenom II X2 555 is far better than any Athlon II processor out there. It would be foolish not to recommend trying to unlock the extra Phenom II X2 cores. Hell if you even get one core unlocked, which almost all of them are capable of you get a significant performance boost and with all four you are laughing.

    Not so long ago Anandtech bought a huge amount of the Phenom II X2 processors from a range of different sources and found that 70% of them could unlock all cores while almost all of them could go three.

    Unlocking the cores could not be easier. Even those with no BIOS experience could do it in a few minutes by following one of the countless articles out there.

    Finally the Phenom II X2 range has not become one of AMDs most successful ever for no reason, this range has been considerably more successful than the Athlon II X4 range and with good reason.
  23. red1776

    red1776 Omnipotent Ruler of the Universe Posts: 5,224   +164

    Steve beat me to it, but I'm gonna add to what he said.
    1) I kept track of how many of the Phenom II's successfully unlocked their dormant cores in the builds for my customers budget gamers. 77.2% to be exact unlocked all of the 'fully functional' cores. by fully functional I mean that they passed a rigid stability test and did not lower the overall OC of the original cores.
    2) unlocking cores these days (or ever really) is far from difficult. If someone is going to endeavor to build their own machine, they sure can figure out a few steps to do it. Some MB's even come with 'A' button called "core unlocker' making it ***** proof.
    3) It does say "- especially due to the possibility of enabling disabled cores."
    4) I would stop just shy of guaranteeing that prices were different when the guide was authored $10 or not if you go $10 over on the CPU, why not just $15 on the VGA, and only another $20 on the next best MB, would not be a $500/$800 etc machine then would it? have to put a stake in the ground somewhere.
    5) my you are rather nitpicky, your response smacks of someone who just wants to ***** about something, or sound like the 'smartest person in the room.'
    6) have a nice day :)
  24. Phate13

    Phate13 TS Rookie

    1. About the CPU: Ok we differ in opinion, let's keep it at that.

    2. Man...

    a) I am not suggesting that you should include all options, I'm just stating that that is a flaw in every single best buy guide.


    [quote ]2) The Luxury System and/or its individual components are also better served by other reviews. [/quote]


    No. There is no reason not to include the high-end components, there is a market for it, like you stated. But however, the system you have selected is "overkill". A lower budget for the high-end system would be a lot more interesting. If you would lower the price point for that system, you would have to look at the price/performance, instead of just slapping some high-end gear together.

    You have the wrong stuff in this article. I'm sorry but it's like talking to a wall. If this point I'm trying to make still isn't obvious, than I will stop my attempts to help you with this guide.

    I F-ing agreed to that point. You do not need additional systems, you need to change the pricing points. Nowhere did I explicitly ask for additional systems. (Up the pricing point of system 2, lower the one of system 4.)

    All I am aiming at is a cleaner, more practical, best buy guide, that helps more people, who know less about computers, with less clutter.

    Anyway, you don't have to answer to these issues anymore. I can see the difference in point of view, and respect that. And looking at your incorrect deductions, (which you use to avoid answering every single bullet point) you don't want to spend any more time answering my posts. Which I can understand. :)
  25. red1776

    red1776 Omnipotent Ruler of the Universe Posts: 5,224   +164

    That does not even make any sense, but it does sound like what you really want...

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