Welcome to the second part of our Holiday 2010 shopping guides. We started with a look at notebooks, in part because they're a popular item but mostly because Dustin just happened to be quicker to the draw when it was time to put together a shopping guide. While notebook and laptop sales continue to grow and now account for more units than desktops, every one of the editors at AnandTech still packs a desktop (or two or three or...) for those times when performance and screen size take priority over portability.

For this guide, we're taking a break from our traditional buyers' guides and giving each editor a chance to put together a system that they would recommend. There's definitely some overlap in taste and intended use, though, so we also broke things down into broad categories to make sure we had representatives for each market. From pure budget builds through the midrange and up to the high-end, we'll provide options. We'll also have a couple different takes on HTPC and a discussion of overclocking. While we won't be able to dedicate lengthy portions of the article to each specific component, you can also consider the individual parts as recommended upgrades/purchases in their own right.

Before we get to the guides, we do want to take a minute to discuss the market as a whole. We've said in the past that the right time to build is whenever you feel your current system isn't meeting your needs/wants. If you happen to be in that situation, then normally we'd say go ahead and spec out a new system and take the plunge. Waiting for the Next Big Thing™ can be an exercise in futility, as new parts are always just around the corner—new processors, chipsets, sockets, graphics cards, SSDs, etc. And the fact is, you can still put together a great system right now that will continue to be great in three months, even if something faster comes along.

We're reaching the stage where even PCs that are several years old (yeah, ancient!) are still more than fast enough for 95% of users. That old Core 2 Duo E6600 plugging along at 2.4GHz may not stand up well to the latest desktops in raw performance, but come on: it can still run circles around most laptops, it can handle HD YouTube content, and with an appropriate graphics card it can even manage medium to high detail games! [Jarred: Yes, I've got just such a PC in my living room pulling duty as an HTPC, never mind the old single-core Athlon 64 3800+ running in my eight-years-old daughter's computer!] So sure, new parts are just around the corner once again, but a good PC today will continue to be plenty fast for a couple years at least.

All that said, we do need to take a moment to name drop: Sandy Bridge. Our early testing shows it to be around 25% faster than the currently shipping parts, especially Lynnfield and Clarkdale. It will have better multi-threaded and single-threaded performance, and while idle power may not change much the load power consumption should drop quite a bit. Anand measured 121W for the entire system under load with an i5 2400 (3.1GHz), and that's 8% less power while being 23% faster than the i5-760 it replaces. If that pattern holds up, we're looking at overall performance per watt going up by almost 35%. To make matters worse, Sandy Bridge will also usher in a new socket, chipset, and motherboards: goodbye 1156, hello 1155! If you're looking to get the best performance from the most efficient architecture and you don't want your motherboard outdated next month, it will likely be worth waiting for.

Sandy Bridge isn't the only new component coming, naturally. The SSD companies are talking about several new controllers that will improve performance and perhaps even lower cost in the not-so-distant future. AMD just launched their HD 6800 cards, but it's no secret that the 6800 series is the replacement for the 5700 and Cayman (6900 series) is coming real soon. How fast will it be and how much will it cost? You'll have to wait a bit longer to find out. Likewise, NVIDIA just released GF110/GTX 580; we will probably see trickle-down parts like a 570 before long as well. AMD will also have Bulldozer launching in 2011, probably in the first half of the year but likely in the latter part of Q2, so you still have maybe six months to wait. Brazos isn't going to set the desktop world on fire (though it ought to do well in nettops and HTPCs), but Bulldozer might be able to hang with Sandy Bridge. It will also require a new motherboard/socket (AM3r2), so whether you're going Intel or AMD, the bleeding edge is about to switch sockets next year.

We're still going to give you a bunch of current system builds, regardless of the above, and most of the components can easily transfer over to a new Sandy Bridge or Bulldozer setup when those arrive. Whether you choose to wait or buy now and then upgrade (or buy again) later is up to you. So here's our holiday system guide picks, starting with the budget builds, moving through midrange, overclocking, and high-end, and wrapping up with the HTPC options. There's something for everyone, and even if you're happy with your current system you might have a friend or family member that would benefit from the content. There's no conclusion, so enjoy our picks and feel free to join the conversation in the comments below.

Dustin's AMD Pure Budget System
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  • Rumpelstiltstein - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    These are all decent builds for the different price points, but I have a few suggestions for future system guides. Before I say anything else, I would just like to note that I am a big fan of your site, it is always a source of some great journalism and analysis of PC Hardware. Keep up the good work. However, when a PC Hardware site puts up a system guide, I like to use it as a source to send friends to that are thinking of building a new PC and I like to compare between different guides before deciding who to send them to. This is an area that I think you could improve in. I personally think that if you changed your approach to these guides a little bit, it would help out immensely. My model for comparison, since I have found it to be the most comprehensive guide out there is The Tech Report's system guide:


    This may or may not be the best example as recently released hardware has changed the game up a lot, but I think some of their guides in the past were pretty spot-on. Anyway, what these guys do is create a few budget tiers and all of the TR Staff debate over the best choice for each part, rather than assigning one person per build. I'm sure this could easily be accomplished by your editors. Sure, it might bring up some heated arguments, but I have no doubt that the final choices will be better overall. I understand that you have more builds here for a wider range of purposes, and that's great, but you can adapt this approach to accomplish the same goal. Even TR often has an alternate build every few months for a different audience. In this last one, they came up with a highly upgradable nettop-like system that is a good recommendation for those who would otherwise go out and purchase a system-in-a-box from the likes of HP or Dell.

    Another thing they do is provide links to newegg, since newegg is a good place to determine the price you would likely pay for the overall build and it provides good user feedback for people to look at as well as a great wishlist system for people to plan their purchase with, whether or not they choose to do their final purchases through newegg. This is not as essential a feature, but it does help. Granted, they do have newegg's sponsorship, so they have more incentive to do this. But they have been doing it even before newegg took notice and decided to give their thumbs up.

    They also put peripherals, accessories, and extras under a separate topic since these things really are very much user preference and don't necessarily depend on the system they are using them with. And of course, at the end they provide a conclusion to reflect on the changes and how the industry as a whole has changed since their last system guide to lead them to the hardware picks they have chosen for each build.

    Again, I'm not suggesting you try to adhere to the formula used by another site, but there are things that can be learned by reading them. I think if you made a few of these changes, particularly the collaboration of all your staff on each build, you will provide a much better guide that more people will be apt to follow rather than just look at, have a chuckle, and do whatever they were gonna do before reading it. You will likely have less members crying "that is a horrible choice for that build, this would be better." Granted that particular person can make all the changes he wants to suit his personal preference, but they could just build their system from the ground up which would render such a guide useless. You might point a few in a better direction with a guide like this, but more knowledgeable people would likely take it with a grain of salt. I think with a better approach you can hit a larger audience with your guides. It's all about helping people make a good investment in their systems and pick good quality parts with a nice price/performance ratio within the limits of a given budget.
  • Iketh - Saturday, November 20, 2010 - link

    Agree 100% with this... when i read the title, and then read who the author was (Anandtech staff), I thought i was gonna read about "the best of now" systems which all the authors collaborated... i was rather disappointed when i saw otherwise :(

    it IS fun to read about each author's particular taste (and hence get to know them a little better), but you can better demonstrate this if each system is chosen as a team, and then break down, in the explanation, what one author was fighting for in a particular build over another and the ensuing carnage :)... THAT would be fun to read, as well as explaining why eventually one part was chosen over the other
  • benrico - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    This is a 32 nm chip... Improperly identified in the mid HTPC build.
  • ERDoc - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    The one system I'm waiting to build is a large NAS. Something with 20 drives, RAID 6, Blu-ray disc player for backing up my content and serving to multiple HTPCs. WHS Vail or Server 2008 would likely be the OS of choice. 2 x SSD RAID 0 as system drives. Now that 3TB drives are available (soon), are there any server boards will support SATA 6Gb/s, 3 TB drives? I was thinking a Norco 4220 as the case. Any other suggestions? Same for for processors (will be transcoding on the fly, 8 to 10 separate output streams True HD)?

    Dual GB ethernet at minimum. There are companies such as Vidabox selling systems like this for $10k to $15k. I think I could build a better system (with 2 TB drives) for less

    Any other suggestions?
  • hglazm - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    No. Stop right here. Do not, DO NOT do these. They are never unbiased, they are rarely good to suit users needs, they direct a tremendous amount of consumers to products they dont need or are too underpowered for, and they will end up degrading you into the likes of TomsHardware.

    Just stay the fuck away from these, guys. Don't do it.
  • hglazm - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Also, what the hell is up with recommend the Antec BP series?
    Stuffs a load of crap.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    What are you talking about? This was a Holiday Buyer's Guide and we figured it would be nice to give everyone a voice for a change of pace. This is not intended to be the way we do buyers' guides going forwards, but instead is a large article that covers a huge swath of possibilities in time for Black Friday.

    As for the BP550, can you point me to any good review that shows it's a "load of crap"? The word on the street is that it's a decent Delta-built power supply. Is it the best PSU out there? No, but if you can pick it up for $35 with the current $30 combo at Newegg with the Antec Three Hundred case, it's a heck of a lot better than most other $35 PSUs. Best info I can find suggests there's nothing wrong with the BP550 (unless you're anti-Antec I suppose).
  • Bad_Wolf_Online - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    I have a dual x5680 system, Brian asked for pictures and benchmarks how do I contact him?


  • Ryan Smith - Saturday, November 20, 2010 - link

    brian@ you know the rest.
  • Hrel - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    I think this is the best bang for you buck, period.


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