Core i7 System Buyers Guide

by Wesley Fink on February 5, 2009 3:00 AM EST


When the System Buyers Guide: $1000 to $2000 was published a few weeks ago it was obvious the last system guide in the series should be the High End Buyers Guides for systems above $2000. It was our full intention at that point to present both AMD and Intel systems for our High-End Buyers Guide, but an AnandTech meeting with all the editors quickly changed that idea. It was the consensus that as of today there is only one CPU at the top of the performance heap, and that CPU is the Intel Core i7.

With the introduction of the Phenom II, AMD now has a legitimate competitor to Intel Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad systems. The recent price cuts by both Intel and AMD in that market segment just reinforced the fact that Phenom II competes very well with Intel Penryn. Perhaps with higher speeds Phenom II processors might make the High-End Buyers Guide in the future, but as of today the Intel Core i7 owns the high-end of the CPU market.

With that reality in mind, it seemed almost pointless to publish a high-end system guide that just presented a dream Core i7 system. It is also clear to us that, despite the fact that Phenom II does not compete well at the very top, it is still a significant achievement for AMD and the processor market, and it deserves better than to be ignored.

Therefore you will see two specialty guides in the next few weeks. This guide will concentrate on Intel Core i7 systems. After some announcements by AMD, we will also be posting a guide for Phenom II systems. While Core i7 and Phenom II now cover different market segments and different price points, they both are significant CPUs in their own right and both deserve a spotlight on CPU compatibility and getting the most from each CPU. Core i7 and Phenom II are where the action and interest are in today's computer market, and the guides will try to provide help in selecting components for your new Core i7 or Phenom II system.

This Core i7 Buyers Guide looks at three different i7 builds that you might consider. The Core i7 is high on the performance tree but it is also expensive compared to other solutions. Not everyone can afford the $2000 Core i7 system presented in the $1000 to $2000 Buyers Guide. For builders who want an i7 system for as little money as possible we put together a Core i7 Entry system. The goal is simple: build a competent i7 system for as little money as possible. We managed to cut more that 25% from our last Core i7 system price without significant compromises.

Another typical buyer is attracted to the Core i7 because of the tremendous overclocking potential of the processor. As seen in Overclocking Core i7 and other Core i7 articles, the 2.66GHz 920 can reach 3.6GHz to 4GHz with proper air cooling. That is faster than the stock speed available even with the $1000 Core i7 965. The goal of the Core i7 Overclocking System build is a system that provides the flexibility and components to maximize overclocking. The slant is to the value end of overclocking - overclocking to increase value - rather than the absolute highest performance options. However, we do make some recommendations for those who overclock strictly for performance.

Finally, there is the Core i7 High-End System. The goal is to select the best performing components available, and not just the most expensive. The very high end of any system in the computer industry will rarely yield the best bang for the buck. Squeezing the last bit of performance from a component usually means spending a great deal more money than buying the component that delivers the best performance for the dollar. However, luxury and top performance sell well, and these components are still the stuff that computer dreams are made of. Our Dream Core i7 system reaches around $5000, and frankly we could have extended the cost much further by expanding storage and selecting a RAID 5 controller and drive array. Still, the components in the High-End Guide should be food for thought as you select your own Core i7 System.

Core i7 Entry
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  • tretchie - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    I'll answer my own question. It does, for about $200 less than the Sony BWU300S.
  • lanned - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    I realize $/gb would be shot, and that you begin to approach the price of an SSD setup especially doing a Raid 0.

    But while waiting for the SSD situation to stabilize and for prices to drop, I'd be content with Velociraptor drives.
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, February 9, 2009 - link

    RAID 0, 1, or 5, or a Velociraptor Boot Raid are all good choices for the dream system depending on your needs. We mentioned that all those options were considered, but we ran up against the $5000 self-imposed cost wall.

    At present we lean toward a boot SSD Raid with a couple of the cheaper SATA II compatible SSD drives like the $129 G. Skill 64GB and the latest Patriot or OCZ SSD drives. However, we have seen enough issues with older SSD drives that we are not prepared to recommend a specific SSD drive at this point other than the expensive Intel SSD.

    Since we are testing SSD drives you can expect more info on SSD choices at AnandTech in the near future.
  • greyscale - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    With out benchmarks, this article is a complete waste of time. I too can sit around and spec systems on Newegg. What I can't do is test them all to see what type of performance increase the extra money gets me.

    You owe me ten minutes.
  • Wesley Fink - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    As we point out every time we publish a Buyers Guide, we have tested and benchmarked almost all of the recommended components at AT. The Guides reflect those experiences, comparisons, and published results. Where we do not have a recommended item available in our offices we research user eperiences with that component.

    We also try to point out when we do not have direct experience with a particular item - like the 30" LG S-IPS panel - and why we still selected that item. You may also want to take a closer look at the evolving Bench comparison you can access by clicking Bench (under Home) at the left of the AT page. While it is still in Beta it is a direct comparison of the performance of almost every CPU you can buy in a variety of benchmarks.
  • greyscale - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    Wesley, the charts do little to no good in this case. For one, I can't even find the original i7 920 review so I have no idea what GPU, RAM and mainboard were used. I'm sure it's here, the data is so it has to be, but I can't find it. But unless the parts are the same as one of these builds it's kind of irrelevant. Individual reviews don't tell me anything about synergy.

    CPU charts don't tell me how an Entry, OC and Dream system will perform or what value each offers. They don't tell me how the Entry will overclock compared to the OC-centric build. There's a nearly $700 price difference, but who's to say it won't do just as well with the addition of a $50 cooler?

    I know there are endless variables and results will vary but it seems like it would make sense to actually build and test recommended (suggested) configurations to give readers an idea of what kind of performance they can expect for the dollar. Price to performance ratio is where it's at, yo.

    Tom's does it. Just sayin'.

  • C'DaleRider - Friday, February 6, 2009 - link

    The original review of the 920? It's in this article: The Dark Knight: Intel's Core i7, and the URL is:">

    Only took about 5 seconds of scanning the CPU/Chipset section to find it.........

  • j@cko - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    I was wondering, how come Anandtech did not recommend Enermax Revolution as the PSU for the Dream System? It's got the highest rating among its class everywhere. Thanks.
  • greyscale - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    Jacko: the Corsair is cheaper and better. Deal with it.
  • j@cko - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    Uh... Cheaper? Yes. Better? Anandtech says otherwise. Check your facts b4 making yourself look like a fool.

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