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Attention System Builders - Recommended List
The following is intended to be used as a frame of reference, and reflects prices and availability as of September, 2008.
Please Notice that this thread is based primarily on the Intel line of Processors.
While many parts mentioned in the thread can be part of a build based on the AMD line, please note that the Motherboard and CPU for an AMD build are not compatible with motherboards and CPUs from Intel, and vice versa. Everything in the Intel-based list at the top of the post is compatible with everything else. If you want to build an AMD CPU-based system, all the components listed are compatible except the motherboards, and I've listed a couple recommended AMD chips and motherboards at the very end of this post.
This post is intended to summarize advice that I and others have repeatedly given recently, and imho seems to represent the consensus opinion of most knowledgeable posters. It's for all potential system builders who fit into the 600 and up dollar price range category, as well as for myself so I can just reference this info in other posts rather than frequently retyping it. I'm sure there will be dissenting opinions, and please feel free to post them in response.
Any combo of any of the items on the list below should be compatible, and produce a system capable of playing any current game on medium high (Crysis) to very high (Age of Conan) to max settings (virtually every other game).
If posters think this is useful, it could be redone and updated every few weeks as prices change and new products come out.
A couple notes first:
Dual or Quad Core CPU?: No simple answer. The dual cores are cheaper. If your primary goal is gaming, dual cores outperform the quads because they'll usually overclock higher and because current games don't take advantage of the extra cores. If you multi-task or do lots of video/photo editing, then the quad will likely be better. If you don't want to update your computer for several years and want to be 'future-proof', then go quad core.
RAID 0: Though many swear by setting up two hard drives in RAID 0 to increase performance, many articles suggest the real world performance improvement is not worth the added expense, complexity, and drive failure rate. My advice would be to stick with one big drive in this price range.
SLI/Crossfire: Unless you intend to play games on a very large monitor (24 inches and up) at very high settings and resolutions (1920X1200 and up), SLI/Crossfire does not offer enough improvement in gaming performance to justify the cost in the opinion of most. It's usually not a great upgrade pathway either. The best single-card solution you can afford will usually give you the most bang for your buck (especially since the release of the new ATI Radeon 4850 and 4870 cards recently).
Nvidia chipsets: If you're not intending to use 2 GPU's in SLI (for reasons as discussed above), there's no reason to buy a motherboard with an Nvidia chipset (such as 650i, 780i, 790i, etc). Those chipsets have been plagued by more instability and problems than the recent intel chipsets (like P45, X48). If you're intent on doing SLI GPU's, then you're stuck with an nvidia chipset board however. BTW, this is another reason not to go with SLI. If you want to go with two video cards, Crossfire with two Radeon 4850 or 4870 cards from ATI is your best bet currently.
Nehalem: This is the name of the next Intel CPU family coming out within the next few months, which will reportedly outperform today's best Core 2 family chips by 20-50%. Unfortunately, Nehalem is a physically larger chip and will require a new socket - thus, you'll need a new motherboard in order to upgrade. You might keep this in mind before you drop 2-300 bucks on a new motherboard today.
"Future-Proofing": Many people want to build a 'future-proof' system that will allow them to play the newest games at high to max settings for 3-4 years. Unfortunately, this is probably impossible since that length of time is an eternity in computing terms. IMHO, a better strategy is to build a mid-to-high end system every 1-2 years. Usually you'll be able to recycle the monitor and keyboard, often the case and power supply, sometimes even the hard drive or motherboard. For example, today for $1000-1400 you can build a system that'll play all games on high to max settings for the next 1-2 years, and you'll get more bang for your buck than blowing 3k on a bleeding edge system that'll be underperforming within 2 years. This way you'll always have a high-performing, cost-effective system. (And building computers is fun!)
Performance/Price: System performance does not scale linearly with price. Computer systems are like sports cars and fine wines in this respect. Once you spend 1000-1400 dollars on the right components, your system will perform at least 90% as well as any desktop system available at any price.
Overclocking: Even if you've never done it before, it's so easy and the performance gain so large with the new 45nm Core 2 Duo chips that it'd be a shame not to at least consider doing it. There are fairly simple primers and guides you can read in the overclocking section of this board and others that'll walk you thru it.
OK, here goes. I didn't list prices because they change daily and differ among various sites.
The idea here is to mix and match components below from different categories depending on your personal preference and budget. This means you can choose any kind of combo you want (example: mid-range CPU, low-end RAM, high-end GPU, low-end Motherboard) and still be ok. You should be capable of selecting components below and ending up with a system ranging in price from around $650 and up. Any system made up of components from the categories below should perform at a relatively high level and run most games at mid-to-high settings, as well as perform solidly at video/photo editing, web, email, cd burning, etc etc.
Please note that for convenience the examples below link to newegg, a very popular online hardware store. You should shop around before you order to make sure you're getting the best price.
Value/Low-End: For those on a very tight budget
Intel Pentium E2180 Allendale 2.0GHz 1MB L2 Cache LGA 775 65W Dual-Core Processor
Intel Pentium E5200 Wolfdale 2.5GHz 2MB L2 Cache LGA 775 65W Dual-Core Processor
If you're on a tight budget, then you should strongly consider these CPU's, but only if you intend to aggressively overclock imo. The E5200 in particular overclocks extraordinarily well partly due to it's very high multiplier (12.5X), and by aggressively pushing it you can match or exceed the stock-speed gaming performance of more expensive chips below, despite the smaller L2 cache.
Mid-Range (best price/performance ratio):
Core 2 Duo E7200
Runs cool, overclocks extremely well, great price.
Core 2 Duo E8400
Also runs cool and overclocks extremely well, in fact most will probably be able to overclock this slightly higher than the E7200. If you're not overclocking at all, then this is your choice, since at stock it runs 3.0GHz vs. 2.5GHz for the 7200.
Core 2 Quad Q6600
Probably the best overclocker of the quad cores, though the 45nm Q9300 is close.
High-End (overkill for most, but good choices if you're not overclocking and want the fastest stock CPU's, or have money to burn/want bragging rights)
Intel Core 2 Duo 8600 Wolfdale 3.33GHz 6MB L2 Cache
The fastest dual core chip available, but currently way overpriced. The E8400 above however performs just about as well at stock speeds. For aggressive overclockers(>3.8GHz), the E8500 might be a justifiable choice however now that the price has come down because of the higher multiplier.
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9450 Yorkfield 2.66GHz 12MB L2 Cache
Great quad chip, overclocked or not. The Quad Q9300 chip listed below performs almost as well for 80-100 dollars less however.
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300 Yorkfield 2.5GHz 6MB L2 Cache
All of the below will support the latest CPU's and GPU's. If you want to have two ATI GPU's in crossfire, then you'll need an X38 or X48 motherboard to get the full benefit. If you want to have SLI support for two nVidia GPU's in SLI, you'll need an nVidia chipset board (examples: 750i, 780i). Make sure the board you choose has the connections and features you want, (such as firewire, eSATA, wifi) since some boards do and others don't.
Low End: (this is still a good performer, overclocks pretty well, fewer bells and whistles, might be less durable than those below)
GIGABYTE GA-P31-S3G LGA 775 Intel P31 ATX
GIGABYTE GA-EP35-DS3L LGA 775 Intel P35 ATX
Rock-solid, time-tested board at a bargain price. Overclocks well. Based on a chipset (P35) one generation old however.
Mid-Range: (best price/performance ratio, overclock very well, have everything most people want/need)
GIGABYTE GA-EP43-DS3L LGA 775 Intel P43 ATX Intel Motherboard
GIGABYTE GA-EP45-DS3L LGA 775 Intel P45 ATX Intel Motherboard
ASUS P5Q LGA 775 Intel P45 ATX Intel Motherboard
These three boards above are excellent examples of the brand new p43/45 Intel chipset boards, that've gotten excellent professional reviews and are highly overclockable at a great price point. Like any new board/chipset, just be aware that you may need to update your BIOS at some point for optimum performance. Please be aware that though some p45 boards support Crossfire, they only support it at X8 speed per GPU. Thus, if you really want to ensure you get the full gaming benefit of crossfired GPU's (dual X16 speed), you need to upgrade to an X38 or X48 board. A solid board that does support full-speed Crossfired GPU's in this price range is this one (for more examples, look under the 'high-end' category below):
DFI LANPARTY DK X38-T2RB LGA 775 Intel X38
High-End: (overkill for most, overclock very well, lots of bells and whistles, full-speed crossfire or SLI capable)
ASUS RAMPAGE FORMULA LGA 775 Intel X48 ATX
GIGABYTE GA-X48-DS4 LGA 775 Intel X48 ATX
XFX MB-N780-ISH9 LGA 775 NVIDIA nForce 780i SLI
This last board above is only for those who decide they really want to run 2 X nVidia GPU's in SLI. Otherwise, stick with one of the first two boards, as they will probably be more likely to run trouble-free.
Get at least 2 X 1 gig, preferably 2 X 2 gigs. Go with DDR2, either 800 (fine for most) or 1066 (more expensive, only if doing very aggressive overclocking). Look for RAM with low timings (5-5-5-15 for example). Lower voltage (1.8 for example) tends to be better as well. A couple good choices below:
Two Gigs (2 X 1gig sticks) of RAM:
G.SKILL 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800
mushkin 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400)
Four Gigs (2 X 2gig sticks) of RAM, midrange (best price/performance ratio):
G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800
mushkin 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400)
G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 1000
this last choice is for those who want more headroom for aggressive overclocking of the CPU at about the same price as the others above. If you don't plan to overclock, you're better off with DDR2 800 RAM(one of the first two above)
Four Gigs, high-end, DDR2 1066 for aggressive overclocking (there's no point in DDR3 RAM right now - maybe when we update this thread next time?):
G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500)
mushkin 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 1066
If you want a potent gaming system, the graphics card is all-important.
Lower End - Can still play games on mid to high settings however:
PNY VCG96512GXPB GeForce 9600 GT 512MB 256-bit GDDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16
DIAMOND Viper 3850PE3512O Radeon HD 3850 512MB 256-bit GDDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16
Mid-Range - Excellent value currently, with prices dropping daily since the new GPU's below were released, can play all games on high to max settings:
EVGA 512-P3-N975-AR GeForce 9800 GT 512MB 256-bit GDDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16
With the recent price drops however, the HD 4850 (under 'near hi-end' below) is a faster card at a similar price.
The just-released cards from ATI appear to be the new performance/cost champs. They perform at a very high level in the benchmarks, providing roughly 90% of the speed of the high-end new cards from nVidia below, at about 75% of the cost currently. They will play all current games at max or near-max settings at high resolution. For more info on putting two of these class cards together in Crossfire configuration, read more under "High-End" below. The GTX260 from nVidia falls inbetween the two new ATI cards in terms of speed, and all three are listed in order of increasing performance below:
ASUS EAH4850/HTDI/512M Radeon HD 4850 512MB 256-bit GDDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16
EVGA 896-P3-1260-AR GeForce GTX 260 896MB 448-bit GDDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16
HIS Hightech H487F512P Radeon HD 4870 512MB 256-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16
The 9800GX2, though based on last generations techology, will give you high end performance since it puts two GPU's together on a single slot card ("SLI on a card"). The latest generation of single slot high-end cards consists of the ATI 4870X2 and the nVidia GTX 280. Which one is faster depends on which specific gaming benchmark you review, and the setting on which it is run. With AA turned up, the HD4870X2 may be a bit faster. Both really only demonstrate their benefits on very large monitors (24" and up) at very high resolutions (1920X1200 and up) with game settings turned way up. Though the speed gained over the "Near High-End" cards above is NOT proportionate to the cost increase, the fact is they are the fastest single-slot gaming GPU's available today.
PNY XLR8 VCG98GX2XPB GeForce 9800 GX2 1GB (512MB per GPU)
EVGA 01G-P3-1280-AR GeForce GTX 280 1GB 512-bit GDDR3
GIGABYTE GV-R487X2-2GH-B Radeon HD 4870 X2 2GB 512-bit (256-bit x 2) GDDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16
On the high end, you also have to consider Crossfire or SLI configurations using two cards, but be aware that not all games/applications are written to scale appropriately - while SLI/Crossfire may produce nearly double the framerates in some games, in others there's virtually no effect at all. The best value currently in this area is probably 2 ATI 4850 or 4870 GPU's in Crossfire, which in most games outperforms the more expensive GTX280 listed above. Just make sure you choose a motherboard that supports Crossfire (for ATI cards) or SLI (for nVidia cards) if you go this route.
ASUS EAH4850/HTDI/512M Radeon HD 4850 512MB 256-bit GDDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16 (buy two of these in order to set up Crossfire)
Don't skimp on this. If you want to overclock, you might get by with less, but to be safe most will recommend at least a 500W unit from a good company. Corsair, Antec, PC Power and Cooling, and SeaSonic are good brands. One current bargain is this quiet Antec case with quality 500W PSU included:
By the way, all the units below are really "high-end" in terms of quality. Really the only difference is how much power they're rated to supply, and thus their costs. Most systems with a single GPU will be fine with PSU's rated at 500-650 Watts.
Low-end/budget: If you have to save money, these two are excellent bargains for the quality they provide, though perhaps still a half-notch below the mid-range units below):
SeaSonic SS-500ES ATX12V/V2.2, EPS12V/V2.91, 500W
Antec earthwatts EA500 500W ATX12V v2.0 Power Supply 100
Mid-Range, two excellent choices:
CORSAIR CMPSU-650TX 650W ATX12V / EPS12V Power Supply 100
PC Power & Cooling S61EPS 610W Continuous @ 40°C EPS12V Power Supply
High-End (overkill on the PSU never hurt anything):
If you're going high-end, and want plenty of power for a high-end GPU, overclocked CPU, and multiple HD's for example, here's two that provide ample juice at a great price:
CORSAIR CMPSU-750TX 750W ATX12V / EPS12V Power Supply
SILVERSTONE ST85F 850W ATX 12V 2.2 & EPS 12V SLI Ready CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS Certified Modular Active PFC Power Supply
Ultra-high End (only for those building with multiple top-end GPU's in SLI/Crossfire):
If you're going with SLI or Crossfire GPU's, then I'd recommend checking the PSU's certified by ATI or nVidia for your configuration at the links below:
ATI Crossfire Certified:
Example for 2 X 4870 GPU's in Crossfire:
FSP Group Everest 900 900W ATX12V V2.2/EPS V2.91 Power Supply
nVidia SLI Certified:
Build an SLI PC - Certified SLI-Ready Power Supplies
Example for 2 X GTX280 GPU's in SLI:
CORSAIR CMPSU-1000HX 1000W ATX12V 2.2 / EPS12V
Personal preference. Pick one with space for at least a couple 120mm fans for good airflow (and don't forget to buy an extra 120 mm fan if the case only comes with one). Quality brands include CoolerMaster and Antec. Lian Li is generally considered the cream of the high end. There's so many good choices, I only listed one in each category that I know from personal experience are very good:
Rosewill R5604-TBK 0.8mm SECC Screw-less Dual 120mm Fans ATX Mid Tower
A surprisingly solid case at this price level.
COOLER MASTER RC-690-KKN1-GP Black SECC/ ABS ATX Mid Tower
Very popular. Good air circulation and construction.
LIAN LI PC-A10B Black Aluminum ATX Mid Tower Computer Case
Antec Twelve Hundred Black Steel ATX Mid Tower
This one's (also the Antec 900) is very popular with some overclockers b/c of all the fans, though I've personally never been convinced tons of fans is the answer to ideal case airflow.
How many gigs you get depends on what you're doing with your computer. For gaming only, 250gigs is enough, but if you want plenty of storage for music, video editing/files, etc go for 500gigs or more. Make sure you get an SATA 3.0gig/sec drive like the ones below. Prices per gig are so low now that you might as well get a 500+ gig drive at this point. The Western Digital AAKS series, Seagate 7200.11 series, and Samsung Spinpoint F1 series are your primary choices and are all fine, though the WD and Samsung may be slightly speedier and quieter. Good examples below:
Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD6400AAKS 640GB
The drive above is particularly nice - it's considered the fastest 7200rpm drive available. In fact it benchmarks pretty close to the much more expensive 10K raptor drive.
SAMSUNG Spinpoint F1 HD753LJ 750GB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive
High-End: (much more expensive per gig, but the fastest HD you can buy)
Western Digital VelociRaptor WD3000GLFS 300GB 10000 RPM 16MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s
Get an SATA one at this point - easier to install. In my experience, the current crop of Samsung's is quieter than the Lite-Ons. I like this one:
because it's quiet and speedy.
Even if you're not overclocking, an aftermarket CPU cooler is a good idea. If you're overclocking, it's really a must.
This most effective on the market:
XIGMATEK HDT-S1283 120mm
The xigmatek is great, but very large and too tall for some mid-size cases. Smaller and stil very good is this one:
ARCTIC COOLING Freezer 7 Pro 92mm
IMHO, water-cooling these days is not necessary b/c the CPU's run so much cooler and the aircoolers like the one's above have gotten so much better. You don't really want to try to overclock to 5.0GHz do you?:-)
Microsoft has announced they're going to stop selling XP, so no matter your feelings on Vista, that's your choice unless you like Linux. Vista Premium is fine for most people, so your choice comes down to 32 bit (which has compatibility with all windows software) and 64 bit (which is faster with programs written to take advantage of it, but sometimes suffers from a lack of drivers and inability to run very old software).
Imho, the sweet spot currently is the 22'' widescreen LCD, in terms of price/screen real estate ratio. If you can afford a 24'', go for it - that's what I have and I love it.
Acer AL2216Wbd Black 22" 5ms Widescreen LCD
Happy building! More importantly, happy gaming!
Edit: For those interested in building using an AMD CPU, you'll need a compatible motherboard such as the one's below. By the way, I didn't break this up into low/mid/high end builds like I did for Intel, since any AMD CPU based build would probably have to be considered low to mid range compared to Intel at this point in time (here's to hoping that changes!).
AMD CPU's providing good performance/cost:
AMD Athlon 64 X2 5200+ Brisbane 2.7GHz 2 x 512KB L2 Cache Socket AM2 65W
AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000+ Windsor 3.0GHz 2 x 1MB L2 Cache Socket AM2
Well-regarded AMD Motherboards:
ASUS M3A78-EM AM2+/AM2 AMD 780G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard
Great value/price. Has onboard video, capable of handling office tasks and low level gaming, plus a slot to add a GPU card for 3d gaming.
ASUS M2R32-MVP AM2 AMD 580X CrossFire ATX AMD
This one is a solid board from a great company that'll even allow you to run two GPU's in crossfire configuration if you so desire.
Last edited by geokilla; September 18, 2008 at 01:38 PM.
OK idea, but I prefer to give individual advice to members. Also, change the links away from Newegg, will you? They aren't in Canada yet. Suggest NCIX links, seeing as they give member deals.
I'd kinda prefer to see a suggested $1500 build that was updated regularly, that seems to be the price most people mention when they talk budget.
Near-High End? Ultra-High End? Nonsense.
This list is really a personal list, I see a lot of Intel boards and component while you can get more performance with AMD for much lower price. Every setup are unique and you (or the other person) shouldn't just make a list, because next week those components will get outdated and there will always be something better.
CAN I HAS SOME FORUM POINTS? KTHXBAI.
Points for Sticky Threads (How many points be given for sticky threads) - 100
OCZ OCZSSD2-1S64G 64GB 2.5IN SATA2 Solid State Disk Flash Drive SSD 1 Year MFR Warranty
NCIX.com - Buy OCZ OCZSSD2-1S64G 64GB 2.5IN SATA2 Solid State Disk Flash Drive SSD 1 Year MFR Warranty - OCZSSD2-1S64G In Canada.
Cause if you are gamer, you will need this.
System | RagnarokCase Antec 900
PSU Corsair TX750W
CPU Intel Core i7 2700K 3.5GHZ
Motherboard ASUS P8Z68-V
Memory Corsair Vengeance Blue 8GB 2X4GB DDR3-1600 CL9-9-9-24
Video Card MSI GeForce GTX 560 Ti Twin Frozr II
Sound Card ASUS Xonar DX
Last edited by Chos3n; August 20, 2008 at 10:16 AM.
Well Intel is doing very well. Of course AMD chips may be better on the lower end of the market, but if you decide to overclock, I still say go with Intel.
It's just a reference, and the owner of this post updates it every month.
First, if I were the one that did all this research (modoheo?), I'd be really pissed off.
Second, I don't need help from any other site (Anandtech) to offer advice on parts. I can do that myself, to anyone who asks for help.
Thirdly, I stopped reading here:
Stickied? Not for me. I second Chos3n's comment.
Hydro-Quebec is salivating...
Although a nice attempt, I agree with John (3.0Charlie) and Cos3n. It's best to let other ask for help than do do a recommended list. Don't forget hardware upgrades are frequent so this list would need to be updated quite often.