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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  • crackedwiseman - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    Why would you use a GTX560? My complaint has little to do with performance - I don't have time to game in earnest, so that's not my objection. My problem lies in the lack of mult-display capabilities. For productivity purposes - particularly programming - a pair of 1080p screens is no longer cutting it for. With your config, the user is forced to invest either in expensive 2560*1600 screens or an entire new video card to get around this limitation - and with a base price of $2100 system, lack of expandability in this area is unforgivable.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    I don't know many people that use more than two displays, but obviously if that's your goal you can go with a different GPU. We mention no fewer than six potential video cards to consider on the "for work" system: GTX 560, HD 6850, GT 440, HD 6670, and a couple Quadro and FirePro options as well. It depends on whether you feel CUDA support or multi-monitor support is higher priority really; I'd personally go with CUDA (it really does help with Premiere), but the alternatives are there for a reason.
  • A5 - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    Yeah. I'd love to work somewhere where 3x 1080p monitors is commonplace...the standard issue at my workplace is 2x 1680x1050 monitors.
  • DanNeely - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    Same here, and it took about half a year of begging the helpdesk to get my 2nd upgraded from 1280x1024 to 1680x1050. I half suspect it was because I kept the ticket open long enough that one of the IT bosses OKed it because I was screwing up his metrics.
  • crackedwiseman - Saturday, December 10, 2011 - link

    I spend a lot of time programming in C/C++ with inline assembly (not exactly easy work, but it pays off here and there, especially when dealing with encryption and error correction algorithms). This is documentation-heavy work, and I often find myself dedicating as much screen-space to various documentations of the processors I'm optimizing for, compiler options, etc as I do to my IDE - screen space gets cramped fast. I got my multi-monitor setup for myself - doesn't cost to much these days, when 3+ monitors on a single card is not rare and 1080p monitors (admittedly crappy, but pixels are pixels) available for under $250 apiece. Certainly isn't cheap, but it's not prohibitive, and I'd swear by it as means of enhancing productivity for many compute-intensive tasks - I have some friends that do a lot of 3D design work, and they've gone to a tri-monitor setup without looking back.

    The way I figure it is, if I'm going to spend 6+ hours a day working with my computer, it had better be a nice experience - and being forced to tab through my information is not a nice experience.
  • apriest - Monday, December 12, 2011 - link

    I have 3x 1920x1200 monitors on my workstation (photo/video editing), running on a first gen Core i7, P55 chipset, striped X25-M SSDs for boot drive, and a Radeon 5860, a pretty well-rounded machine. I occasionally play games on all three screens, but mostly older games like Far Cry 2 or Burnout Paradise which run pretty smooth at 5760x1200. I'm thinking of upgrading this spring to X79 and 6 or 8 core (if I could put a Xeon in there) to get some more horsepower and especially more RAM (32GB wouldn't be that expensive with 8 slots, and I'm maxed out at 16GB). I'd like CUDA support for some of my video rendering apps, but I'm discovering no cheap way of keeping my triple screens without going SLI or something. Doesn't appear that any nVidia card can run three screens unless it's a dual chip design or something, and then I wonder if two cards wouldn't be a better option anyway for more CUDA performance and better cooling? Just seems odd that my 2+yr old sub-$400 ATI card does something that can't be touched for that price today by nVidia, or am I missing something? I don't mind paying for something if the performance pays off and lets me bill out more, like the SSDs and 16GB I put in my current machine, but since my goal is not high end gaming I don't really want to go overkill on a $1000 video card setup either! Also, will PCI Express 3.0 video cards be out later this spring and should I just stick with my current ATI card until then? What do you guys think? Suggestions?
  • BSMonitor - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    Dang, are these drives still overpriced. Clearly these companies need other shops besides Taiwan.
  • ggathagan - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    Or Thailand
  • fokka - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    i'm happy to see you using a lian li pc 9f case in your productivity build! it's much better designed, than the a05fn dustin reviewed just yesterday and that's why i used it recently for my own build. really great case and in my opinion the best looking option out there!
  • Araemo - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    On the Z68 boards, how much will using Intel RST w/ a 64GB SSD suck compared to actually putting your OS and most common apps directly on the SSD?

    I have been waiting for 128GB SSDs to reach $100-ish before I buy one, because I don't think I can fit enough on a 64GB to be happy.. but if the caching works well enough, I generally only go between a couple games at a time, and a few other apps, all of that should fit in a 64GB cache, along with the OS and such.. that should be plenty to keep me snapping 90% of the time.. if the technology really works - so have any of the Anandtech guys used iRST on their main systems for an extended period yet to give a good review of it?

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