Midrange System Buyer's Guideby Zach Throckmorton on September 11, 2012 12:35 AM EST
- Posted in
- Ivy Bridge
- Radeon HD 7000
Developments in the Midrange Market
As with the budget segment of the DIY computer market, the midrange segment has seen many exciting new developments since the start of 2012. Perhaps the most noteworthy change is that Intel CPUs are now entirely dominant in systems that will set you back about $1,000. Ivy Bridge-based chips are now available at every price point from $100 up, leaving only the pure budget category untouched (at least until we see the Celeron IVB part). If you're interested in more information, we have a lot of information available on Ivy Bridge.
As with the latest CPUs, the newer B75 chipset has brought out of the box Ivy Bridge CPU support to less expensive motherboards, filling out the Panther Point platform. Ian thoroughly covered the Z77 chipset and compared it with H77. The B75 chipset is similar to Z77 and H77 with a few important differences for midrange buyers: two fewer USB 2.0 ports (eight vs. ten), one less SATA III port (one vs. two), and support for neither Intel RST (firmware RAID) nor SRT (SSD caching). PCIe 3.0 and 2.0 configurations are the same on B75 as they are on H77. The important point is that B75 enables less expensive motherboards that lack features that might not be important to midrange system builders, allowing money to spent on faster CPUs, GPUs, better SSDs, etc.
That said, AMD's impending launch of its Trinity APUs might very well put AMD back into the midrange market. AnandTech will be covering Trinity chips in more depth as the new APUs start hitting the mainstream desktop market over the next few months. While the parts are already shipping in OEM desktops, retail availability of the APUs has not yet occurred. For now, you can read more our current Trinity coverage.
As is often the case, the GPU market remains dynamic, with both AMD and NVIDIA wrestling for your money at multiple price points by introducing new cards and lowering prices on existing cards. We'll discuss the GPU market in more depth on the gaming rigs page.
Another development of note for midrange buyers is that prices on many of the best SSDs have been cut in half (or more!) compared to late 2011. This means that respectably-sized (i.e. 120/128GB and above) SSDs that perform very well and have great reputations for reliability are now comfortably within reach of even the lower end of the midrange budget. High capacity SSDs (i.e. those around 250GB) are also within midrange budgets; for many purposes, this means you can eschew a mechanical hard drive entirely—and either spend that money on better CPUs, GPUs, or just keep it in your wallet. Fortunately for consumers, prices on mechanical hard drives are declining in the wake of the Thailand floods, so the wallets of those with more demanding storage needs won't be hurting quite as badly as they were earlier in 2012.
Finally, case manufacturers have released many compelling choices for midrange system builders. Over the next few pages, we'll highlight new enclosures from Fractal Design, Corsair, Lian Li, NZXT, and others.
With that out of the way, let's get to the builds! We'll start with gaming machines on the next page.
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KAlmquist - Wednesday, September 12, 2012 - linkWhether the Vertex 4 is faster than the Samsung 830 depends on the workload. For the record, the <a href="http://www.anandtech.com/bench/Product/639?vs=533&... is faster</a> on both the heavy and light workload versions of Anandtech storage bench. For most users, either one will be fast enough that it won't be a major performance bottleneck, so choosing between them comes down to price and reliability.
Kristian Vättö - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - linkI agree. The m4 is even slower than Samsung 830 and its track record is not as solid either (quite a few issues when it was launched and then the 5000-hour bug). It's definitely one of my recommendations but only if it's cheaper than other good SSDs (Samsung 830, Plextor and Intel SSDs).
Like I've said in all of our recent SSD reviews, there isn't one SSD that is the one to buy. Prices fluctuate constantly and personally I would wait a few days and try to catch a hot sale. Plenty of good 128GB SSDs (i.e. the ones I mentioned above) go for $80-90 when on sale.
Lunyone - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - linkWhy don't you just use the same:
* RAM <---unless your OC'ing a lot.
* DVD Burner
Just vary by budget:
Every case has personal preferences in it, so if you stick with 1 case and just suggest others then everyone can pick what they like (just point out options of each case that the others might not have). I personally look for cases w/front USB 3.0 support (usually falls within the $50-80 price range), so that is all that I recommend anymore, unless on a strict budget.
Streetwind - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - linkThe reason is likely that they want to highlight equivalent alternatives.
You are quite right - case, PSU, RAM, SSD and optical drive are pretty much interchangable between all the builds. I'd even argue that mainboards could be added to that list, unless you're going for absolute budget like that B75 board (and here in Europe, the prices are different and the savings over Z77 are almost never worth the loss of features). However, you're doing nobody a favor by publishing a guide that has only one option for each of those.
What if the one recommended case doesn't appeal to the buyer? He'll run off and buy something that's pure junk, based on its looks alone, because he wasn't offered alternatives.
What if the recommended RAM isn't available at the store he's shopping?
What if the customer's friend had an unlucky run-in with a bad SSD of the type that's recommended, which colors the customer's preferences?
It's basically good practice for any comprehensive guide to offer alternatives. In fact, I'm surprised they didn't vary the PSU selection more.
adadad - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - linkwell written...!
Lunyone - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - linkI agree, like I stated that they could put alternate cases for comparison or whatever. I know that parts aren't always available in all areas, so trying to entertain all options can be quite daunting. I like that they mentioned that the RAM should be 1333 mHz and at 1.5v (stock voltage). This is always a good idea for mobo compatibility.
I was just trying to simplify the builds by suggesting an easy format (not that it would be the best option, but could be used to see the benefits of the upgrades).
nathanddrews - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link"Why don't you just use the same..."
Then someone in the comments would complain that they didn't show enough alternatives or that AT was biased for/against Brand X. This way, any reader can mix and match the multiple recommended components to arrive at a combination he finds appealing. No reason to limit the article for a few dumb twats.
Marburg U - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - linkRemoving the possibility to overclock law\mid-range CPUs was an infamous trick pulled out by Intel, and i will remember it forever.
Streetwind - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - linkMidrange builds are easily my favorite, because it is in this area that you get the single best price/performance points. Buy something better, and price increases far quicker than performance; buy something cheaper, and prices decrease far slower than performance does.
What also amuses me in these articles is the surprising difference between the US and EU markets. Often at first glance, I don't understand some of the choices made, believing I have something far better at almost the same price; then when I visit Newegg, I realize that the same part that costs only 20%-30% more in Europe is at a 100% or more markup in the US. Conversely, something I would never choose in Europe because of its bad price/performance ratio happens to be surprisingly affordable overseas. And let's not mention specialty parts that are only available in one region but not the other. The bottomline is: as globalized as our world (and especially the IT world) is, you really should be looking at your local markets only when determining what to buy.
For reference, here is one example of what passes for a well-crafted upper midrange system in Europe:
1x ASUS P8Z77-M mainboard, €93
1x Intel Core i5-3470 CPU (OC'd to 4.0 GHz), €173
1x Thermalright True Spirit 120 cooler, €24
1x G.Skill Sniper RAM kit 2x4GB, 1600 9-9-9-24 @ 1.25V, 41€
1x Optical drive to taste, €20-€30
1x ASUS GTX660 Ti / Radeon 7950 DirectCU II to taste, €285
1x Crucial m4 SSD 512GB, €330-€350
1x Be Quiet! Straight Power E9 PSU, €58
1x BitFenix Shinobi (windowless) case, €50
1x Enermax T.B.Silence 120mm fan, 5€
2x Enermax T.B.Silence 140mm fan, 16€
1x 3pin fan Y-splitter cable, €2
Totals roughly €1100-€1130
This gives you ASUS' fantastic UEFI and fan control software, takes advantage of the 4 "free" speed bins of the partially unlocked CPU, has silent cooling on all components (as silent as a 2-plug video card gets, anyway), and offers a hilarious half-a-terabyte of high quality solid state storage. That can be downgraded to 256GB while saving ca. €155, but the big m4 is currently sitting at a fantastic price point, especially when you can catch one of the €330 offers (that's less than 65cent/GB). The mainboard is one of the least power-hungry ones on the market, and so is the RAM. The audiophile gamer might want to add a sound card, but well, the Anandtech builds don't have one either ;)
Streetwind - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - linkOh, and the PSU is rated 80PLUS Gold too, for what it's worth. WTB edit button...!