Occasionally, I put together ridiculously expensive "dream" systems—computers worth as much as a car that feature multiple high-end CPUs, dozens of terabytes of storage, exotic cooling solutions, or enough GPUs to run flight simulators on five monitors at high framerates. These computers are a real treat to build, but they are not at all mainstream. While others have different ideas about what constitutes the upper end of the mainstream DIY PC market, generally speaking, $2000 represents a reasonable threshold. Past this point, returns for increased investment decrease very rapidly, such that they are justified only by niche use—or glorious indulgence.

In our recent midrange buyer's guide, I outlined three systems: a less expensive general use system capable of lighter gaming, a $1000 gaming box, and a $1200 work-oriented PC. In this guide, I detail three more systems, each around $2000 in cost. First up is a $1900 small form factor (SFF) home theater PC (HTPC). If it weren't for the anomalously high prices of hard drives at the moment (and for the near term future), this system would be much less expensive. However, high hard drive prices are a reality, and thus, this HTPC is now at the high end of mainstream PCs. Second, we have an $1800 gamer that is substantially more capable than the $1000 gamer in the midrange guide. Finally, because we eschew the fastest GPUs, we're able to bring you a productivity PC that features a higher-than-mainstream CPU—the less expensive of Intel's newest six-core Sandy Bridge-E chips.

In the midrange buyer's guide, I emphasized my confidence that those systems will likely remain enjoyable to use through 2016 for a number of reasons. The systems outlined in this guide are even more powerful. While I hesitate to speculate about the computing world past 2016, but I am confident that the three computers detailed in this guide will probably remain relatively capable for another five years—delivering more than acceptable and even enjoyable experiences. If you buy at the high end, there's probably a reason for it, so very likely you'll upgrade before five years have passed. Even so, with computer performance requirements leveling out, you can always sell a still-fast PC or give it to a friend/family member.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when designing and building a $2000 PC is to have fun and enjoy it! Any reasonable enthusiast would be more than happy to use any of the systems outlined in this guide. So without further ado, the next page starts with a system that packs a powerful CPU and lots of storage space into a small chassis.

$1900 SFF HTPC
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  • piroroadkill - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    Mine's pretty similar :3

    Asus P8Z68-V Pro
    Corsair A70
    Seasonic X-660
    Fractal Design Define R3
    8GB Patriot G2

    Also, MSI Twin Frozr III Radeon 6950 (which unlocked to 1536 shaders)
  • 87_heavyboy - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    The ASRock Z68M-ITX/HT looks nice at first glance, so I bought it, too. Together with the i7 2600K. I also thought "great, m-ITX + overclocking - something for the future". In practice, it has its problems. The mosfets don't have coolers on them, they get hot quite fast, resulting in throttling. The board can't hold 3.4 GHz for some minutes during compilation :( I did not even think about overclocking!
    The other problem: It supports Overclocking but no undervolting. SNB comes with quite defensive default-voltage, resulting in good undervolting-potential.

    It pulls just ~30W at idle.

    I think, it would have been a better choice to go mATX, if it should be a smaller PC.
  • duploxxx - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    this HTPC design is a huge waste of money
  • MrTeal - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    I was curious about that too.

    My HTPC is a low power, quiet affair with an X3, a modded and silent 5570 and an SSD, no mechanical HDD. Any encoding I do on my main rig so that my HTPC stays low power and silent, and just stream the data over the network.

    Do many people really build powerful and expensive HTPCs? I find usingmine as a PC @ 1080p/47" is kind of a poor experience when you're sitting at normal TV viewing distances, so all I really use mine for is a media streamer and checking scores / watching Youtube. Any real computing I just do at my desktop. I'd be interested in how other people use these HTPCs.
  • Z Throckmorton - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    Generally speaking, an AMD E-350 setup is sufficient for the majority of HTPC usage scenarios. However, I have built a few more powerful HTPCs for people who want to transcode video but don't want their primary home computer tasked as a video editor, and don't want to bother with a LAN.
  • Death666Angel - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    That is bollocks. They clearly state they are not going with a traditional HTPC setup (i.e. just be able to play back everything). They want performance for coding, HDTV streaming capabilities and storage as well. If people are in the market for that and have the cash, there is nothing I would really see being done to bring down the price while maintaining the performance.

    I personally have a small media client and a large file server in the back and I'm not interested in HDTV stuff. I came away spending about 400€.
  • piroroadkill - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    I wouldn't recommend them, anymore. I've seen my 2GB Radeon 6950 use more than 1GB with GPU-Z open on another screen. For the slight extra cost, and the chance of unlocking (mine did, and it's not so old), 2GB 6950 all the way, all the time.
  • prdola0 - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    Zach, wouldn't it be better to use 2x non-reference GTX560Ti in SLI instead of 2x HD6950? There is quite a lot of GTX560Ti models clocked ~15% higher than the reference card, which matches even the HD6970 performance. They are both more price-efficient than HD6950 and also SLI tends to be more stable (you usually don't see negative scaling and similar problems). Of course there is also the added value of Nvidia actually supporting gamers, unlike AMD. The Skyrim graphics setup guide they just recently released is simply great and most other GeForce.com articles are helpful just as much.

    Take care,
  • Death666Angel - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link


    According to the bench, SLI 560TI and CF HD6950 trade blows the whole time except for Civ5 where nVidia clearly wins or anything above 1920x1200 where AMD clearly wins.

    If you go with SLI/CF, gaming at 1920x1200 is moronic anyway, so I think it is very valid to recommend HD6950 over the 560TI. Also, most recent reviews of CF/SLI I have seen have them nearly on par, with nVidia leading in a few games and AMD in others. It is not a situation like two years ago where nVidia had a clear lead. And speaking for my market, there really is no difference between HD6950 and 560TI cards. You can find both at pretty much the same price points.

    So, to summarize: to each his own, every company has great cards for good prices. Look at your usage pattern and a special deal, then decide. :-)
  • prdola0 - Monday, December 12, 2011 - link

    That's hardly so. I am talking about overclocked editions of GTX560Ti. In this regard the GTX560Ti is almost as easily over-clockable as GTX460 was. And there are almost as many 560Ti non-reference OC models. And those editions trade blows with HD6970, yet are priced at HD6950 mark or some between HD6950 and HD6970.

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