Introduction

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
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  • archcommus - Tuesday, January 3, 2006 - link

    Not just music, but DVDs and games, as well. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, January 3, 2006 - link

    The Klipsch are also very good speakers - some would say better, others would just say they're different. When you start getting into high-end speakers, a lot of stuff becomes more subjective. I don't know if this still holds, but in the past, Klipsch was regarded as having great customer support. I can't say the same for Logitech, but then I've never personally used customer support for either one. I think the Klipsch Ultra 5.1 speakers go for about $350 new, so they're more expensive and they lack the digital decoder. They probably sound a bit better, though. Reply
  • yacoub - Wednesday, January 4, 2006 - link

    Well Klipsch had quality issues for a while with dead and fried amps. Then again Logitech's lower end models were pretty poor quality as well.

    Either way both systems are likely close enough in quality that you won't notice the difference hooked up to the same soundcard. You would find a much greater difference by improving the soundcard over switching from one of those two speaker systems to the other.

    Also, if you're so anal as to be able to detect a huge difference between the two you probably aren't going to be happy with either one and should instead get a real home theatre system and hook your soundcard to the receiver. Then you have no more limitations of a computer speaker system and can swap in and out your separates as you wish and really configure it all finely and use much better quality components.
    Reply
  • yacoub - Tuesday, January 3, 2006 - link

    There's no reason for the high-end case recommendation to be anything other than the Antec P-150, which is essentially the perfect case. If more room is needed (which would be the rare instance) the P-180 would be the alternative recommendation. Reply
  • jiulemoigt - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    one were the crt left out due to shipping costs? I got my 75lbs 22" Philips shipped free simply by buying from a local (ground shipping was free, fedex 2 day was several hundred dollars so I can see why shipping costs on a decent size crt could be an issue) based estore. I just wondered as I have yet to see a lcd that comes close to a professional crt in color or crispness, and if your willing to spend hundreds of dollars on a videocard to play games why not three to five on the monitor?
    the other question is I keep hearing about corsairs 3500 ll xms is it vaporware or did you guys simply miss this one or does it not live up to the hype? I did not see it on the price link or really any mention of it which leads me to wonder?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, January 3, 2006 - link

    On the CRTs, there are no new CRTs being made with good specs. I've been over that ground in previous Guides. Basically, you can get a new 22" CRT that is worse than 4 year old models, or you can try to find a 4 year old model, or you can give in and upgrade to LCD. It's unfortunate, but profit margins are better on LCDs, consumers like them more ("oooo - it's THIN!"), and so all R&D is now focused on improving LCDs rather than on CRTs. I fought the CRT battle for a few years, and now that I've upgraded to LCD I just don't miss the CRT anymore. 24" WS and plenty of desk space - what's not to love? :) Reply
  • Turin39789 - Tuesday, January 3, 2006 - link

    I'm sticking with my dual 22'inch crt's, a few years old made them available for ~150 each shipped and I like the colors/refresh rate/resolutions better than any crt's I've seen around for twice that money.

    And an 8 foot desk means never having to worry about space.
    Reply
  • Calin - Tuesday, January 3, 2006 - link

    The performance of the CRT displays is decreasing even in the 17" world - monitors from three years ago had better refresh rates and resolution than what you can buy now. CRT world is dying :( Reply
  • tjpark1111 - Tuesday, January 3, 2006 - link

    I was wondering about LCD size you guys.(that rhymes hehe) I currently have a 15" LCD on a laptop that has a 1024x768 resolution. Sometimes I find it that things are a bit too big especially in videos. I was going to buy a 17" LCD, but then a 19" was recommended here, and I was wondering if you 19" owners are bothered by, or you think that there is a lack of resolution for the huge size. I've seen a 17" and 19" side by side and the size improvement was so big, but I didn't get a chance to look closely, especially when playing video, so I don't know if 1280x1024 is all that bad on a 19". Thank you. Reply
  • Calin - Tuesday, January 3, 2006 - link

    I would very much prefer a lower resolution on the 17" LCDs - that 1152 by something would be great. I somewhat find the 1280 by 1024 too small, and just perfect on the 19" displays. Reply

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