The AnandTech forums are often visited by users looking for advice about upcoming hardware purchases. With the blistering pace of product introductions in the technology marketplace, it's little wonder that people have a hard time choosing between components. Since our last high-end guide was released in October of 2006, major changes have taken place (or are about to take place) in virtually every part of this market segment; this guide will briefly examine those changes, while making recommendations on the best approach to spending your hard-earned money.

As far as the platforms themselves go, little has changed in the past seven months in terms of overall architecture specifications. Intel continues with the venerable Socket 775 platform, while AMD's relatively new AM2 promises to be used for some time to come. The NVIDIA 680i and Intel 975X chipsets own the performance arena for the Intel Core 2 processors, while the NVIDIA 590 chipset leads the AMD Athlon race.

The landscape is about to be transformed for Intel, however, with the pending release of their P35 chipset. The P35 should offer some performance benefits over existing P965 systems, and will officially launch on June 4th from a number of manufacturers. AnandTech has done a preview of several of these motherboards, which can be read here. This guide, however, can only focus on what is available in the market today; for those who want to update their system now and wait for any launch issues with the new chipset to be sorted out, this guide is for you. If you should choose to wait a few more weeks, the major changes will only be in the area of motherboards for socket 775, and possibly RAM should you choose to go the DDR3 route.

Processors, for their part, have seen a substantial amount of activity both in terms of introductions and pricing. In addition to the well-publicized foray into quad core processing from both major competitors, Intel's price-slashing of its Core 2 line has been met with similar measures from AMD. The graphics arena has also seen two very important launches, with the G80 from NVIDIA and R600 from AMD/ATI slugging it out at the high-end of the market. With complete flip-flops occurring in terms of who the performance leaders are, this High-End Guide is long overdue.

As has been the case in our recent Buyers' Guides, we will be addressing the case, power supply and peripherals separately from the main system components. In keeping with AnandTech tradition, we will price an "entry high-end" system at approximately $2,000 (including peripherals), and then expand the selections to see what we can get for as much as $5,000 (give or take). There is definitely room for some mix-and-match to hit the in-between price points.

Basic High-End AMD System
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  • CK804 - Tuesday, May 29, 2007 - link

    A lot of sites seem to prove you wrong in addition to the ones I linked to. You need to get your meter checked or that Dell PS is REALLY inefficient. All of these sites measure power drawn by the SYSTEM at the AC outlet. None of the 8800GTX SLI configurations use more than 500 watts under full load and the R600 Crossfire setup uses 522 watts under full load.">One.">Two.">Three.">Four.">Now check this out from YOUR OWN SITE. Do you really think that an upgrade to a quad core and another 8800GTX will pull another 500 watts?
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, May 30, 2007 - link

    The big question is whether or not you plan on overclocking. I just did some quick tests, and taking a quad core QX6700 chip from 2.67 GHz to 3.33 GHz increases the power draw by about 60W. I know that if I went out and got a QX6700, I would overclock it at least that far. For that matter, if I got a Q6600, I would probably shoot for a similar clock speed.

    At stock voltage, stock speeds, the highest power draw I got with CrossFire X1950 XTX and a QX6700 (with three hard drives in the system) was "only" 488W. Could such a system run with a 520W power supply? Perhaps, provided it's a really high-quality power supply. Personally, I like to have a bit of leeway, so I would say 620W minimum for such a configuration.

    Looking at your Bit-tech link, it appears that a Radeon HD 2900 XT consumes ~70W more power than a Radeon X1950 XTX, and in CrossFire mode the difference was 145W (worst-case). 488W + 145W = 633W... Eureka! Now, are you still going to want to run such a configuration with a 620W power supply? You could try, and it might even work depending on how often you reach maximum load, but again I prefer a little leeway. Without overclocking, I can easily see quad core and 2900 XT CrossFire breaking 600W on a regular basis (or at least approaching it). Throw in overclocking (~80W) and water-cooling (10W-30W - or more - depending on pump), and we are now at over 700W. Sure enough, that's exactly what I measured with the Dell XPS 720H2C (add a few more watts for the additional memory).

    I personally follow an 80% rule: just to be safe, I don't exceed 80% of the rated power supply wattage. (this is especially important if you have power supplies with multiple 12V rails, as you almost certainly won't be drawing maximum power from each rail.) That means if I'm going to be drying up to 600W of power, I would want at least at a 750W power supply. If I'm going to overclock, I would want something in the 850W+ range.
  • CK804 - Wednesday, June 27, 2007 - link">It seems that the TEC inside your Dell is drawing a lot of power. That's why your power consumption is so high. A power supply wattage rating is the amount of power that the PS can deliver to the components and not how much power it can draw from the wall. Since we have to account for efficiency, 800W * 0.8 = 640 is the power consumption of the components inside. Take away the power consumption of the TEC (640 - 120) and the power consumption of the components is about 520 watts.
  • CK804 - Tuesday, May 29, 2007 - link">Are you sure about that breaking 850 watts?">That's a little too extreme, don't you think?
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, May 29, 2007 - link

    Depends on what you throw in there. I've got a system with an overclocked QX6700 and 8800 Ultra SLI with water-cooling, multiple hard drives, and basically about every high-end option you can find. I've measured peak power draw of nearly 800W, and a stock HD 2900 XT uses more power than an 8800 GTX by about 20W at load. Overclock two of those cards, and yes I think you can break 850W power draw.

    FWIW, idle power draw is 475W on the system, putting 100% load on the CPU takes that up to 625W, and 100% CPU while running 3DMark06 put it at something close to 750-775W (with the average being more like 700W). If I were to manually overclock the GPUs, then I'm sure I could break 800W.
  • CK804 - Tuesday, May 29, 2007 - link

    I still call BS on 800. 475 watts idling? That's a little too extreme don't you think? Did you even read the sites I linked to? And what are you measuring with? Your @SS?
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, May 29, 2007 - link

    Some people always need proof I suppose.

    Sitting next to me is a Dell XPS 720 H2C measured at the outlet with a Kill-A-Watt device. The CPU is running at 3.43 GHz with 1.550V. Why should I need to read your links when I've got a system right in front of me generating those numbers? But of course you're right: your linked article must be more accurate than anything we could measure in-house. The Dell has a 1000W power supply, and I'm sure Dell is just being cautious, like they are with their 375W PSUs in the XPS 410.

    PS: My ass measured a power output of 1.21GW last I checked. I have to be careful as I don't want to accidentally warp myself through time if I go eat Mexican food. You see, I also have a flux capacitor hardwired into my spine, just in case....

    Thanks for reading, though.
  • CK804 - Tuesday, May 29, 2007 - link">AMD 4x4 system with 8800GTX SLI uses 612 watts under full load.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, May 29, 2007 - link

    Overclocking + overvolting will jack up the power draw of the CPU quite a bit. Stock voltage is supposed to be 1.300V (I think) and overclocked it's 1.550V, plus it's running at 3.43 GHz instead of 2.67 GHz. Throw in a water-cooling setup, three hard drives, 4GB RAM, and you get quite a bit more power draw than a stock 4x4 SLI setup.
  • CK804 - Tuesday, May 29, 2007 - link

    Hard drives draw about 10 watts each. That's 30 watts. Each extra memory module will draw about 5 more watts. That's 20 watts. The water pump should draw no more than 10 watts and the fans about 5 watts each. Assuming you're using 2 120mm fans, the extra power draw under a worse case secenario would be 90 watts. So now we move onto the CPU. Are you seriously going to tell me that an overclocked Core 2 Quad consumes 300 watts under load? A Smithfield barely consumed half of 300 watts. I think any CPU would explode if it consumed 300 watts.

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