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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  • Yawgm0th - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    Why restrict the display choices to LCDs that can't handle 1600x1200 and then complain about Crossfire only being able to support 1600x1200@60Hz. If you're willing to and would prefer to use an LCD, then how can you justify complaining about a shortcoming of Crossfire that can't possibly bother you?

    I'm not in favor of Crossfire or even opposed to LCDs (though I certainly prefer CRTs when mobility is not needed), but it would be nice to have some consistency.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    As I suggested, Crossfire is a high-end option, and my high-end display choice is definitely going to want the new X1800 CF and not the X800 variant. I don't recommend SLI *or* Crossfire for a Mid-range system. I mean, $400-$500 gets you an X800 CF setup or a 6800GS SLI setup... or you can just get a single 7800GTX or X1800XT. Then you don't need to worry about CF/SLI profiles, improperly optimized games, etc. and you can always add a second card later if you change your mind. Reply
  • ImJacksAmygdala - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    If I'm going to spend >$300 on a new monitor I atleast want it to be future proof with HDCP... Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    THere is no way Microsoft or anyone else is going to force HDCP on us with Vista. Quick, name all the HDCP compliant displays out on the market. Um, there aren't any, at least outside of the HDTV world, right? MS knows that ALL of the market currently runs non-HDCP displays, so they would be completely insane to require everyone to buy a new monitor. Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    Wait a couple more weeks, and you can get the Dell 3007. 30" widescreen with specs comparable to the Apple 30" cinema display. No word on price yet, but I'm betting it will be quite a bit less than the Apple. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    There's also the 2407FPW coming out soon. I imagine the 30" display will be firmly in the "Dream" category, but I'm curious to see where the 2407 gets priced. It should be a bit cheaper than the 2405 to manufacture, but with higher specs it could still end up costing significantly more. Reply
  • Pythias - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    I know you folks mean well, but cut the guy a little slack or else write your own guide.
    I believe the purpose of this article and its predecessors is to offer suggestions for people who have difficulty choosing components.

    As Jarred said, This guide is not written in stone. Rather, it is merely a template subject to the individual's discretion.

    Reply
  • tomchae - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    these had the best feedback in newegg. are these good?

    -ABIT KN8 Ultra Socket 939 NVIDIA nForce4 Ultra ATX AMD Motherboard $99
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...

    -ASUS A8N-SLI Socket 939 NVIDIA nForce4 SLI ATX AMD Motherboard $122
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/CustratingReview.asp...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/CustratingReview.asp...
    Reply
  • bob661 - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    I can definitely recommend the Asus board. Rock solid. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, January 3, 2006 - link

    Honestly, these days it's easier to come up with a short list of motherboards I *wouldn't* buy rather than ones that stand out as exceptional - and that goes double for socket 939 boards. There are very few boards out there that I would absolutely avoid. I just cut off my "alternative" list at a few boards from each price range; there are plenty of others (including ASUS, MSI, EPoX, Abit, etc.) that will work well. Reply

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