Yes, the holiday shopping season has just passed, and now we're putting out an article with suggestions on what computer parts to buy. Perhaps you didn't max out all of your credit cards, or maybe you received money/gift certificates that you need to use. Our Holiday Wish List contained plenty of recommendations from all of the staff here at AnandTech, so hopefully the pre-Christmas shoppers were able to get some good ideas there. Most of the recommendations for this Guide showed up in one of the lists, but here, we'll look to bring it all together with some complete system recommendations, covering the mid-range to high-end price segment.

Let's get this out of the way first: we don't generally recommend people spend $3000 on a new PC, especially if they already have a decent system. The difference in performance between a $1250 and $3000 system is not usually enough to warrant the price increase. However, there are a few other items that need to be taken into consideration. First is the intended use of the computer: a graphics workstation for a home office could easily cost $3000 or more, and if it increases productivity, then go for it. Second is the disposable income: $3000 is a lot for a college student, and even more for a high-school student; for a successful entrepreneur, on the other hand, $3000 may not be a big deal. The idea is to determine where exactly you want to spend more, and where you don't need to worry about additional costs.

Only the individual can answer questions on intended use, so the recommendations in our Buyer's Guides are intended as a guideline rather than as the definitive choices for what to buy. We will mention alternatives throughout the Guides that you might find interesting, so just because a product doesn't show up in the final table doesn't mean that it's a bad choice. We also have Price Guides for many components that cover additional recommendations. These are updated on a near-weekly basis, so you may find it helpful to refer to our Guides Section to check for additional information. Our most recent Price Guides at the time of writing can be found here: Motherboards, Video Cards, Storage, and Processors.

Please remember that the final cost is for a complete computer system, including display, speakers, keyboard, and mouse. Speakers and displays in particular are things that you may or may not need to upgrade, and you can always choose to skip those purchases now and pick up a better option later when you have more money. Due to the added costs of these items - and the fact that we're not going to recommend cheap parts just to meet a budget - the price target remains around $1250. When you consider that about $400 of the cost is going towards the display and the speakers, it should be relatively simple to get the price closer to $1000, should you so desire. Also, unless you want to run Linux or some other free OS, you should plan on spending another $100 to $150 on Windows XP, but we aren't including the software costs in our list.

If you like to stay near the top of the performance spectrum, but you find the costs to be prohibitive, there are other ways of upgrading. Give yourself a budget for computers: $40 to $60 a month for cable TV adds up to around $600 a year, but most people can justify the cost since it's spread out. If you can save $50 to $100 a month, though, you should have more than enough money available to keep your computing needs happy. Many people buy high-end components at launch and upgrade when something faster is released, selling the "old" parts on eBay or through various other channels. You will almost always get less than what you had initially paid, but getting 60-70 cents on the dollar is possible. As long as you're willing to put in the time required to build your own PC every year, you can stay fairly close to a $2500+ system for around $600 per year - and considering how much more some people use PCs compared to cable TV, that seems to be a fair trade.

Another alternative to DIY computers is to just go out and buy an OEM system. You sacrifice features and customization options, but the price is often lower and you can get a decent warranty, not to mention that Windows XP is practically "free" in such systems. I recently looked at the HP DX5150 system, and for $1000, it has quite a lot to offer. Just add in a graphics card and you've come close to matching the performance of the mid-range AMD system that I'll be putting together in this Guide. Of course, if you want to look at overclocking an AMD system, you can beat the DX5150 on price and performance - overclocking simply isn't an option on the vast majority of OEM computers.

AMD CPU and Motherboard Recommendations


View All Comments

  • Reldan - Wednesday, January 18, 2006 - link

    As awesome as a 30" Apple Cinema is, have you considered the prospects of using a much larger HDTV? I use a 65" HP MD6580n, and it's the best monitor I've ever owned bar none. It's ridiculously huge but the picture remains sharp at 1920 X 1080, especially with the wobulation tech which removes most if not all of the screen door effect you might have with a set this size.

    I know that a big deal is being made about these awesome 30" monitors from Apple and now Dell, but HDTV technology has progressed to the point where in my mind there is no better choice for high-end gaming.
  • gman003 - Monday, January 9, 2006 - link

    So my question to everyone is, is 2GB really worth the $100 upgrade compared to 1GB. Can you get decent memory to overclock with at 2GB? If I was planning to run a DFI LanParty Ultra-D board, would I really use the same 2GB memory Jarrod recommended for the HighEnd system for my overclocking purposes?

    I guess the biggest thing that struck me from the article was that you could probably get away using an old ATA133 7200rpm Drive as long as you have 2GB of memory. Should I really sacrifice not upgrading my hard drive so that I can have 2GB of memory?
  • flamethrower - Monday, January 9, 2006 - link

    You can check out the following article. The gist is that you get better loading times with more ram, the article will show you the results from changing various ram amounts in a high-end setup.">
    I apologize for linking to an outside site, but I don't think the content is available on Anandtech. Maybe you guys should think about (or point me to) your article on this topic.

    Finally, you wanted to know "Is it worth it?" Only you can answer this question. My personal opinion is that it is, but you might be building a budget system and not have the budget for 2GB RAM. As Jarred points out: "You are not going to notice 60 fps vs. 63, but you are going to notice a 38 sec loading time vs 63" or something like that.
  • gman003 - Monday, January 9, 2006 - link

    Ok, maybe I will clarify:
    I am building a budget $800 system and want to know what will give me better performance.

    Should I stay with 2 gigs of ram and not upgrade my old ATA 133 7200rpm 200GB drive or get 1 gig of ram and upgrade my hard drive to a new 3.0GB SATA 7200rpm 250GB.

    Yeah, I've read that article too. But I mean, c'mon? With 2 gigs of ram, you don't notice any significant advantages in like 9 out of 10 tests with the only significant thing being load times/heavy multitasking. I don't know if I can justify $100 to load World of Warcraft 30 seconds sooner when I'm more concerned with FPS, video encoding, and large file transfers. IMO I think the the $100 could be spent on a HD or even better, a cooler mobo and/or case for the system.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, January 10, 2006 - link

    Generally speaking, for games you want GPU speed first, and CPU speed second. RAM speed and quanitity as well as HDDs are distant fourth/fifth place finishes. Once you've got the others at a reasonable speed, though - where diminishing returns kicks in - then you should start looking at upgrading the RAM and then the HDD. That's my take, anyway. Reply
  • flamethrower - Sunday, January 8, 2006 - link

    What do you guys think about an Opteron 165 or 170 instead of the X2 4200+? The 170 and the 4200+ are about the same price. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 9, 2006 - link

    If you're willing to overclock, there's no real reason to go any higher than the 165/170 Opty or the X2 3800+. I've got a 165 that OCs to around 2.5 GHz with the stock HSF. I'm going to try a few changes to the system to see if I can go further than 2.5 GHz, but there's really not that great of a need. Reply
  • pg55555 - Thursday, January 5, 2006 - link

    If you are looking for performance, I think RAID 0 is a valid alternative that is often forgoten in the guides Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, January 7, 2006 - link

    I've used RAID 0 and found it to largely be a waste of time and money. RAID 1 and 5 I can understand, but in terms of improving load times, running 2GB of RAM has done far more for me than running RAID 0. It's just a lot of hassle for negligible performance increases IMO. Reply
  • archcommus - Tuesday, January 3, 2006 - link

    I was pretty definite that the Klipsch Ultra 5.1 has better sound quality and bass than the z-5500. Now that AT recommended the Logitech even for the high-end system, I'm not so sure.

    I really like my music and am in the market for a new 5.1 system. Should I go z-5500 or Klipsch ProMedia Ultra?

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