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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  • Z Throckmorton - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    Hi Araemo - Anand performed a great analysis of RST a few months ago (http://www.anandtech.com/show/4329/intel-z68-chips... You can see that RST definitely does not suck compared to just going with a dedicated OS/app SSD. That said, it's also clear that RST's utility really depends on usage patterns. From the sound of it, it sounds like you'd really benefit from a 64GB caching SSD. I personally have not used RST for an extended period of time; I've just moved from a 40GB to 80GB to 120GB SSD as funds have permitted. I tinkered with it and found the time and effort was simply not worth it compared to the cost of a dedicated OS/app SSD. ...Watch for sales (Intel's 320 120GB came close to $100AR on Black Friday a few weeks ago), or grab a used one off of our FS/T forums! :)
  • Araemo - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    I did read that, but I forgot about the after-usage tests.. though unless I'm misreading it, he doesn't go into how long before you get back to the good speeds, is it after one more launch, or does it take a few to re-evict the other apps?
  • DanNeely - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    I bought a 120 about 2 years ago, and am waiting for a 240gb model to drop below $300. I haven't seen anything except sandforce get that low, and after all the firmware problems they've had I'm hesitant to buy one even though the BSOD bug has supposedly been fixed.
  • FormulaRedline - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    Unless you plan to attach your ~$2,000 gaming machine to a $90 monitor, I think the gaming system with a single 580GTX is going to be severly limited by the graphics card. If I was doing a $2k build today, specifically for gaming, I'd find a way to squeeze 580 SLI in there. By no means do I think it unreasonable to spend half the money of a gaming build on the GPUs. Certainly you should be allocating more than a quarter.

    Drop that SSD down to 64GB (basically the OS and some common programs), cut back the HDD storage (add more when prices drop), get a smaller PSU (I run 480GTX SLI, more power hungry cards, with my Kill-A-Watt showing draw during gaming of <550W...so I question the bench results), swap the water cooler for a good $30-$40 air cooler (you'll still be GPU bound for gaming), and use the freed up cash on more GPU. SLI drivers are so good these days that even a 570 SLI setup would be a huge step up from a single 580. That is computer that will run the newest games on the highest setting at big resolutions (2560x1600@60Hz) or even 3D (1920x1080@120Hz).
  • JarredWalton - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    I'm running a 30" LCD off a single GTX 580, and even the latest games are generally playable at max details and 2560x1600. Batman: Arkham City runs fine with DX11 + AA + PhysX (post-patch), Skyrim gets 8xAA and DX11, Rage could do max details and then some, Battlefield 3 is at least 40+ FPS... I hope you get the point. My biggest gripe with a single GTX 580 is actually something SLI GTX 580 won't really fix: 1.5GB VRAM. At maximum detail, we're now starting to see games push beyond that mark, even at 1920x1200/1080p, so some time in the next year or so I expect 1.5GB to prove insufficient.
  • FormulaRedline - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    Maybe so (unfortunately we're still in the area of console ports for systems that came out in 2005). However, consider a modded Skyrim running high resolution textures with AF x16 and AO enabled in the Nvidia control panel. Or, as you point out, some stock games like BF3. These will bring the article's machine below VSYNC, while the added GPU power would add framrate back.

    In other words, there is something to gain, even if only in some games (though I would also argue those games are the most relevant), while the cuts to get there do not sacrifice anything. Yes, watercooling to get a few more MHz out of the CPU or a bigger SSD to load the whole CS5 suite onto would be great for a productivity machine, but that's not the purpose of this build.

    As to the 1.5GB...I'm with you there. Personally, I wouldn't be building a machine right now; I'd be waiting for the next generation of cards at this point. Of course always waiting for the next best thing is a losing game, but I think we're out of the sweet spot for top end GPUs now.
  • l_d_allan - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

  • ggathagan - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    Not a particularly intelligent comment, given the plethora of CPU, GPU, PSU, motherboard, memory cooling and case reviews on this site that supply the very metrics you crave.
    This isn't a review, it's a buyer's guide
  • coffeejunkee - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    These systems look fairly decent but I think you'll need a 3-pin y-splitter for the workstation to connect both the PC-9F front fans.

    The R3 can fit up to 7 fans, in that case you'll probably want a separate fancontroller since the GA-Z68XP-UD3 has only 1 controllable casefanheader.

    Not convinced about H80 though, doesn't seem worth the money to me when you can get Thermalright Macho for less than half the price. 'Introduction to real watercooling' sounds like a non-argument to me.
  • ven - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    In the gaming ring everything else is fine, but as for the case i think CM HAF 912 will be more suitable than R3. Fully vented front panel than compared to small sideways front intake in R3, so more air flow and also if you remove the HDD cage(CM) Graphics card will get direct cooling from one of the front panel fan it is also much cheaper than R3($59)

    As for the motherboard, Asus Maximus-iv Gene-Z is also nice option both the Gigabyte and Asus are almost same in the spec, Asus has some more whistles like ROG connect,Better UEFI, and also it looks cool.

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