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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  • Hxx - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    I agree, with the right sound card, a good 2.1 would prove a much better investment than an entry level 5.1 surround. But of course, there's also the logitech g51:-)
  • goinginstyle - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    I was thinking the same thing about the audio choices. They are all over the map and no options for home theater or gaming in the dream system. On the budget or overclocking system I would much rather have a great sounding 2.0 or 2.1 setup or even headphones than a cheap 5.1 system.

    Of course it totally blows the budget point here but a set of Swans M10/M12 would work on the low end system and blows away just about everything in the under $100 market, D1080MKII for midrange at $125 now and they sound almost as good as the next choice, which is the M200 MKII at the high end ($189) for the more musically inclined. Or something similar to those choices from another decent supplier of audio, even the Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 can be had for around a $100 now or the M-Audio AV30s at $99. A good sound card is needed to get the best out of these speakers but they will even make onboard audio sound better.

    I will not argue too much about the dream speaker setup considering the emphasis is on PC audio that includes games but why not consider the Auzentech X-FI Forte for the sound card then or the X-FI HT HD for both gaming and home theater.

    It just seems as if the audio section was slapped together as an after thought. At least give some alternatives for each setup to mix and match, that holds true for the other stuff as well. List a primary setup in detail like you have and then have a separate box for alternatives. One would have to assume that there is at least two choices in the best of categories listed in the article.
  • Kinshinlink - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    this is insane. i thought an entry system would have fewer luxuries than this build would. a 1080p screen? a 1 TB drive, who uses that much storage? i have about 30 dvd quality movies, tons of music, and a bunch of modern games installed, some of which have multiple installation folders and i am only using 200 GB at most. the video card is good but is it entry? more like a 9800gt id think. surround sound? a 700 watt power supply powering one card? and an expensive optical drive. i didn't know everyone was a gamer or multimedia enthusiast these days....oh excuse me i used the term lightly, because i didn't mention quad sli or cfx when referring to gamer. some people have budgets, and when they do i doubt they look for an article like this relating to "entry", when you could easily save hundreds of dollars if your just wanting to taste i7.
  • Wesley Fink - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    With 2TB drives launching soon I never imagined the selection of a $95 1TB hard drive would be called extravagant. By all means refer back to the Under $1000 guide if that better meets your needs and save $30 by choosing a 500GB drive instead.

    I don't see the point of buying a Core i7 if you don't need or won't use the power of the CPU. Saddling even the Entry i7 with a sub-standard graphics system is poor value. If the cheapest 1080p monitor on the market at $190 is too much you can crank down the monitor and select a cheaper video card. Then, why bother with an i7 - buy a cheaper and capable CPU and upgrade your monitor and video to improve overall system performance.

    I confess that I really don't understand why you would buy an house in Beverly Hills, even the cheapest house in Beverly Hills, and fill it with K-Mart knock down furniture.
  • Tacoeater - Tuesday, March 3, 2009 - link

    Really? You can't imagine someone buying a house in Beverly Hills. It is called house rich, cash poor. But really? Wouldn't the equity you create in a house in Beverly Hills be worth it. I think this is a bad example since houses are investments and people buy too much house all the time. Consider the current times as evidence of this fact.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    On a related note, it's worth noting that CUDA for NVIDIA GPUs and other GPGPU tools (OpenCL, DX11) are really starting to show promise (i.e. Photoshop CS4 uses some GPU acceleration), so at some point you may seriously consider buying a cheaper CPU with a top-end GPU for computational work. That's what Tesla is targeted at, for example. A $200 GPU for a Core i7 makes perfect sense; if you don't need a $200 GPU, I can't imagine why you'd really need eight logical cores. Maybe all you do is 3D rendering or video work... but don't those benefit from a decent GPU as well?
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    I was going to state that prior to the release of CS4, I had zero use for 3D capabilities higher than that provided by integrated graphics. If I were going to build a system today, I would aim for under $100 on the video card and see if it actually helped much, if some killer app for GPGPU does actually come out can always upgrade.
  • just4U - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    One thing I'd require in a build, is atleast 4gig's of ram. If your forking out 1000+ it should be manditory... Or with the case of i7 6gigs.
  • Spivonious - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    I agree. The "entry" system is more like a "under $2000" system. I bet with some effort you could build a solidly performing i7 system for under $1000.
  • crimson117 - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    If you want the cheapest possible system that for some reason still uses a high end processor like the Core i7, then just take the">Intel Entry Level PC and swap in the cheapest x58 motherboard and cheapest DDR3 ram.

    It's not a common or realistic scenario to budget for a top-end processor and skimp on everything else. For the money, a decent core 2 duo setup at the same budget will provide a much better overall computing experience than a gimped core i7 system.

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