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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  • methudman6 - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    I really like the Work PC build. I was wondering though, any reason to choose the Crucial ssd over an Intel 320 series? I know that Crucial m4 is sata III, but do you believe Crucial to be as reliable as Intel?
  • Z Throckmorton - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    In the absence of hard data from controlled studies, it's difficult to asses which products of any type, including SSDs, are the most reliable. We have to rely on anecdotal evidence from forums, reviews on retail sites, and coverage from recognized authorities like Anand. And sadly the plural of anecdote isn't data! That said, my personal opinion is that I would be comfortable running both M4s and 320s, as well as Samsung 830s. I have an M4 in my netbook and a 320 in my daily driver desktop, and none of my clients have experienced issues with either of these drives. FWIW.
  • Vikendios - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    If you are going to spend hours immersing in Skyrim, the glory of what you see comes first. A 30 inch monitor running at 2650 x 1900 with full effects is such a quantum leap from anything else that I cannot imagine calling "high end" anything without,

    It is precisely like building an audiophile music systems. What makes the sound ? The speakers. That's where the money should go, and all the rest is just support electronics.

    Running 2650 x 1900, a single 580 is quite unsufficient. My rig has a two-chip 590 because I'm lazy at setting up SLI's or triple card systems. Where you can save is memory : 6 G is ample for most games, and SSD's. A good old harddrive will work fine, you won't see the difference.

    The second most important luxury is silence, so you can enjoy perfect audio. I toyed with liquid cooling, but ended up solving radically the problem by leaving the innards in a closet on the other side of the wall from my den. Only a small hole in the wall behind my desk to thread cables for the monitor, the keyboard and the mouse. The sound is hooked to the hifi system in my room. Added benefit : no case neede, all components just sit on a shelf.

  • Zap - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    The Lian Li PC-Q08 is to me a curious choice for an HTPC case. There are many great looking HTPC cases out there that fits in better with the typical home theater equipment. My home theater has a receiver, DVD player, CD player and cable company provided digital tuner that are all around the same width. A micro tower would look decidedly out of place in that mix. My own HTPC uses a Lian Li PC-C50B which is "officially" an HTPC case and is the same size as all the rest of the equipment. Other nice cases which I considered are the Silverstone Grandia series and even the Silverstone Milo. Those would all fit in with the other equipment. So, why the micro tower?
  • mino - Saturday, December 10, 2011 - link

    A good way to show your incompetence.
  • yorkman - Monday, December 12, 2011 - link

    I'm stuck with this dilemma...I'd like to build a system that Rybka Aquarium (chess engine) will really take advantage of. It eats up whatever cores you have so the more the better.

    The rig in this guide is something I'm considering...but I'm not sure how much I'd benefit over the 2600K setup, or especially 2500K when used with Rybka for 24x7 analysis. Going with the 3930K would be considerably more expensive. The cpu alone is about $350 more, plus the mobo is about $100 more than the mobo for the 2500/2600.

    I've been using Rybka for years and I noticed the higher you clock your cpu the stronger it is, for obvious reasons. So overclocking will be a must. I haven't seen any benchmarks for an overclocked 3930X so it's hard to guess. I'd also be using 6 man tablebases would be where I'd need at least 16 GB of ram.

    I'm told Rybka doesn't take advantage of hypter-threading so the 2500K seems to be more logical...but less cache and slightly slower clock than the 2600K. Plus I do the occasional video editting in Pinnacle Studio so 2600K might be better regardless.

    How much would you recommend the 3930K in my situation? Or would I be better off still with the 2500 or 2600? Perhaps there's yet another cpu I've not mentioned? I know I could go Xeons but that's way over my budget I think.
  • vishnusivathej - Monday, December 12, 2011 - link

    totol 24CPU cores,
    24Gigs of RAM

    ASUS KGPE-D16 SSI EEB 3.61 Server Motherboard Dual Socket G34 AMD SR5690 DDR3 800/1066/1333
    Item #: N82E16813131643
    Return Policy: Standard Return Policy
    Protect Your Investment (expand for options)

    Crucial 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10600) ECC Registered Server Memory Model CT2KIT51272BB1339
    Item #: N82E16820148354
    Return Policy: Memory Standard Return Policy
    ($99.99 each)

    Corsair Force Series GT CSSD-F120GBGT-BK 2.5" 120GB SATA III Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)
    Item #: N82E16820233191
    Return Policy: Limited Replacement Only Return Policy
    Protect Your Investment (expand for options)
    -$60.00 Instant
    $30.00 Mail-in Rebate Card

    AMD Opteron 6234 Interlagos 2.4GHz Socket G34 115W 12-Core Server Processor OS6234WKTCGGUWOF
    Item #: N82E16819113030
    Return Policy: CPU Replacement Only Return Policy
    Protect Your Investment (expand for options)
    ($389.99 each)
    Subtotal: $1,699.93
  • yorkman - Monday, December 12, 2011 - link

    I assume this was directed at me?

    Problem with that is, yes, I'd get 24 cores for an extra $1100 or so...but this is the deal breaker in my opinion...it's 2.4GHz*2=4.8GHz...something I could achieve with one 2600K cpu alone when overclocked.

    The server cpu's usually can't be overclocked...so that means I'm getting 20 extra cores which is awesome, and roughly the same speed as a 2600K would get me. But it'd use up more power per month and $1100 more...plus I can't even find these parts locally which means I'd have to order them from who knows where...then add shipping on top of that and hope that no parts come in as dead on arrival.

    Not sure that's a better pc. Where did you look up the prices for this? I'm in Canada so I'd prefer to order from here and not go through the border (duty fees are extra and would cost an arm and a leg extra on top of the $1100). Definitely not worth it then.
  • yorkman - Monday, December 12, 2011 - link

    Ok, I see those quotes are from newegg.com...but since I'm in Toronto, they are not available to me (cpu). The mobo is at newegg.ca, but it's deactivated anyway.

    Checked on eBay....only available to customers in the U.S. so I don't think this is even an option for me.

    It's got me curious on how much stronger Rybka 4 would run though given the extra 18-20 cores...but same clock speed.

    Without the ssd drive, and if this can be purchased from Canadian customers somewhere....it's $1500+tax which would work out to about $1700 all in minus shipping. I'm not considering duty fees because I wouldn't pay them so I wouldn't order them from outside Canada.

    And wouldn't this mobo be a better deal Supermicro H8DGU Server Motherboard - AMD - Socket G34 LGA-1944. It's about $100 cheaper when compared to the Asus in CDN dollars.
  • yorkman - Monday, December 12, 2011 - link

    One more thing. This one would probably benefit me more:

    AMD Opteron 6234 2.60 GHz Processor - Socket G34 LGA-1944

    as apparently Rybka 4 doesn't take advantage of HT, and can even slow it down...so with this dual cpu combo I'd gain 400 MHz (not much I know) and save about $100.

    Either way, nobody in Canada seems to have this in stock for sale...nor can it be ordered. I wonder why.

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