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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  • greyscale - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    "In voltage distribution, we don't see really much difference between the Revolution 85+ and many of the competing units tested this year. The Corsair HX1000W has a very good regulation as well, so the Enermax unit has no advantage in this regard. However, when it comes to efficiency there's not much to compare -- after all, we already said the Revolution 85+ is the most efficient power supply we have tested to date. The HX1000W achieves up to 86% and the Cooler Master UCP is close with up to 89% efficiency."

    When you factor in the price of the Enermax, it is clearly an inferior product. I feel sorry for people running them.
  • j@cko - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    I feel sorry for you because you are probably too cheap to buy one of those Enermax Revolutions. Money should be no concern for Dream System buyers to begin with. Without regard for cost, Enermax clearly is a better PSU.
  • greyscale - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    I actually used to run the Enermax. I swapped it out for the Corsair and I got like, 7 extra FPS in Crysis. It's science, don't shoot the messenger.

    Corsair > Enermax
  • j@cko - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    LoL... Science? Read the empirically backup benchmarks.
  • whatthehey - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    "I actually used to run the Enermax. I swapped it out for the Corsair and I got like, 7 extra FPS in Crysis. It's science, don't shoot the messenger."

    WTF!? Are you just a complete moron, merely a troll from a competing web site, or are you paid by Corsair? Okay, sure, Anandtech selected the Corsair PSU and it seems liek a fine choice, but seriously, don't give us any bullshit about your PSU making a game run faster.

    Since you're just spewing out random garbage with little to no factual evidence, let me join in for a second. I when by greyscale's home and discovered that he is still running an old Athlon XP system in his mother's basement. He hasn't seen any hardware released in the past three years in person (except at a store), and he certainly has never owned, tested, or used a modern Enermax or Corsair PSU.

    For that matter, he can't come up with anything other than the old "we need benchmarks for a buyer's guide" comment that we've all seen in the past. RTFW (read the fraggin' website) and you would have a good idea of how the various CPUs perform. There was an article just a week or two back showing overclocked Core i7 performance, but clearly your attention span didn't last that long without a graph.

    Would it be nice to see some benchmarks of the systems in this guide? Sure it would. I don't think I've ever seen a buyers guide bother to try and assemble and test the systems, though. That's pretty much putting two or more articles in one, which just means we get less content. I for one enjoy the articles, and the selections look good for what they are - though I wouldn't even think of spending over $2000 on a new system.

    "I too can sit around and spec systems on Newegg... You owe me ten minutes."

    Great. Let's see your guide, and then we can bitch about it. My bet is it takes more like 10 to 20 hours to research a quality buyers guide, and all you can do is whine about ten minutes. But you know... I read pretty fast and it took me at least 20-30 minutes to actually READ this whole guide. 10 minutes means you probably looked at the tables and then started complaining. Internet anonymity is a godsend, isn't it?

    Go back to Tom's (a.k.a. complete sellouts) - we other readers don't want you cluttering up the comments.
  • 7Enigma - Friday, February 6, 2009 - link

    Nope, pretty sure there was dry sarcasm there.
  • j@cko - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    Well said.
  • whatthehey - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    Thanks. Just to point something else out, the motherboard reviews have pretty much shown time and again that the only real difference these days is in BIOS quality, features, and overclocking. A cheaper motherboard might overclock well or it might not... I don't test motherboards, so I'm certainly not qualified to say which is the best. Considering the rant posted here a while back about the state of motherboard releases (">, I'm inclined to go along with what Anandtech/Gary recommends. I find it interesting that some of the boards that have had major BIOS problems often end up being praised at places like HardOCP and Tom's. It's almost like they purchased a review and editor's choice award - say it isn't so!

    What was the board a month or so back where the reviewer at HardOCP complained about all sorts of problems and then Kyle came in and said, "it's a great board - here's a silver award!" Must have needed to get more advertising revenue or something. Anyway, I haven't seen anything at Anandtech to make me suspicious of their editorial content. Let's hope it stays that way.

    Oh, and don't get me started on the Intel, NVIDIA, etc. bias crap. I've been reading Anandtech for years, and when the Athlon 64 beat the tar out of Intel we read all about it here. When Intel surpassed them, we read all about that as well. Smae goes for NVIDIA and ATI: praise for the 9800 Pro/XT back in the day, slamming the 5800 FX, praising the 6600 GT, complaining about SLI and Crossfire drivers... it all goes in cycles. ATI is doing well with their GPUs, but I would be wary of running more than one ATI GPU in a system. AMD is also doing better with Phenom II, but it's more like catching up with Core 2 Quad than actually beating Intel in any meaningful way.
  • 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.
  • garydale - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    OK, so you have to use something to measure value against, but let's face it, these are game machines. That dictated the choice of the OS - Vista - when for other applications you may want Linux, OpenSolaris or something else.

    I do some video editing, DTP and web development so for me, Linux would make a lot more sense. I get a pure 64-bit OS and 64-bit applications to really take advantage of what the CPU can do. This isn't a huge concern for games which push the GPU more than the CPU, but other applications use the CPU more.

    Next, for better disk performance, how about a 3 or 4 disk software RAID array (no need for a hardware RAID adaptor with today's CPUs)? Add some hot-swap adaptors if the case doesn't have them. Just watch read performance go through the roof!

    For me, RAID isn't usually a nice-to-have. Video takes up too much space to keep backups of everything. I need the safety of RAID to guard against the inevitable disk failures. And the extra performance is a real bonus.

    With respect to speaker, surround sound is great if you are a gamer or trying to challenge Hollywood, but some people prefer stereo for music or just to not have to run wires everywhere. So how about some stereo speaker recommendations?

    OK, they're minor quibbles. But there's more to high performance than games.

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