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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  • KorruptioN - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    Not really. Aluminum does indeed dissipate heat better than steel or plastic would, but seeing how none of the major heat-producing components (CPU, GPU, PSU) are connected directly to the outer shell of the case, the benefits of an aluminum case on temperature (airflow aside) is negliglble.
  • Hxx - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    "the benefits of an aluminum case on temperature (airflow aside) is negliglble"

    that's true but airflow + aluminum case is what you want. Not all hot air gets ventilated outside of your case, in fact most of it will not, which is why an aluminum case is highly recommended. It will help out dissipate the remaining hot air across its surface. Your system will run much cooler. An extra $50-100 spent on an aluminum case is worth it.
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    Have any tests to back that up? a 10-20 degree difference between internal and external temps won't produce a lot of driving force for heat transfer. If you were talking 50-60 degree internal temps and 20 or under external, then maybe, but I would have to run the calculations to check.
  • Concillian - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    Uhh... if it was an aluminum vs. steel thing, I'm pretty sure the recommend would have been an aluminum case instead of the steel 900. Airflow is mildly important, but even cheap-ish cases are decently designed these days. It's not like they picked some terrible case for their entry system.

    I believe this is the difference between value based overclocking and "all out" that they mentioned in the article. Value based is getting more for your money, while all out is spending an extra $50 on a case to get 10 more MHz.

    I just do not believe that their recommendations are in line with their stated goal of providing a "value based" overclocking system that costs nearly $700 more than the entry system, that could provide virtually the same actual performance as spending ~$200 over the entry level system price.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    Obviously you can drop back to the "Entry" components for areas you don't feel the need to upgrade. We could have used the same components elsewhere, but figured people would appreciate reading some of our minor upgrade ideas - i.e. 24" instead of 21.5", BD-R instead of BD-ROM, upgraded case and PSU, etc. The point is this is "value overclocking" in that we aren't trying for the most expensive, highest possible overclocking components.

    For overclocking, you need the right motherboard first and foremost, then RAM and CPU. Some will say the i7 965 is a "better overclocking" choice, but that's because they want maximum possible clock speed without regards to price. Almost invariably, an i7 965 will reach a higher maximum clock speed with the same cooling and other components... it's probably only going to be 200-400 MHz higher, but it's still higher. Some will say that makes it a better overclocking solution, but it's really just a different goal in overclocking.
  • Holly - Friday, February 6, 2009 - link

    Honestly, putting 850W PSU on the overclocking PC seems a bit over to me. Counting the fact you get the best effectivity and PSU lifetime at about 50% PSU capacity, you should be very well with about 650W or 700W unit.
  • Wesley Fink - Saturday, February 7, 2009 - link

    On the surface you are certainly correct. The problem is the X58 chipset and the Core i7 CPU combo is extremely demanding of both high power and quality power for proper operation. You might check out the user comments at buying sites like Newegg to see what users are experiencing.

    Check out comments on the Gigabyte we used in the Entry Core i7 system at"> for example. Users are reporting it takes 650W to 750W just to make sure the 920/X58 will boot. Then you need a reserve for OC.
  • Holly - Sunday, February 8, 2009 - link

    If that is true, either Anandtech or people from newegg are very wrong. In Q9550s test I found out the one taking the highest power load and even i7-965 doesn't get to 300W. Running at half capacity should give you perfect voltages void of any sinus. Ofc unless you use some kind of lol-PSU. See">
  • Spivonious - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    I would much rather have a nice set of 2.1 speakers than a sub-par 5.1 set. Not everyone has a room dedicated to computer gaming or space for the rear speakers.
  • crimson117 - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link">Logitech Z-2300 gets my vote!

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