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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  • Sceptor - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    In keeping with the mid-range theme...why was the ASRock 939Dual not included??
    It has most of the features of the low end Asus and DFI boards...at a reduced cost.

    You can even run AGP and PCI-E cards together...not SLI however.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    I consider the ASRock firmly in the "budget" category, given the $75 or so price. I will be sure to mention it in the next budget guide, but personally I don't worry about AGP support on any new Mid-Range system. But yes, it's a reasonable board for the cost. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    To reiterate: those who know what they're doing can get the ASRock to work fine. However:

    Memory issues with some products
    BIOS support lacking
    Mediocre quality control
    Probably some other stuff....

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/CustRatingReview.asp...">Newegg reviews indicate that about 15% of people seem to have issues. I would spend more for a bit nicer board (meaning nF4 Ultra or ATI Xpress 200 CF) on anything more than a budget build.
    Reply
  • justly - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    I can understand why you would call the Asrock a budget board.

    Although I find it interesting that you would use the comments on Newegg as an indication that the Arock board has issues since the http://www.newegg.com/Product/CustratingReview.asp...">Newegg comments about the DFI nforce ultra infinity doesn't make your choice look to good.
    In fact if you where to go by Neweggs comments the Arsock looks much better since the DFI indicates that about 50% of people seem to have issues with it.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    Yeah, the DFI comments are all over the place. I have to say that I haven't seen much in the way of problems with the DFI Infinity. Basically, I'm doing a bit of reading between the lines. The chief complaints I'm seeing on the Infinity amount to "it's not a LanParty". I guess after running several CPUs and RAM types from stock settings all the way up through massive overclocks, I have trouble thinking that it's as bad as the Newegg reviews are saying - well, some of them anyway.

    Reading between the lines on the ASRock, the chief thing seems to be "OMG it has working AGP and PCIe!" Which is fine if you really have an AGP card that you like, but considering the best AGP cards can be equaled (usually) for around $200 now, it's not a huge issue. If I had a good system with an AGP card, I'd either live with it a while longer, or move it to a secondary role (or sell it) and get new components, you know? Six months ago, this board made a lot more sense; today, AGP is just 6 months older, while PCIe has two whole product lines you can't get on AGP.

    Bleh. Let's just call it writer bias and be done with it. Like I always say, get what you like. My picks are merely some reasonable choices as I see it. :)
    Reply
  • TowerShield - Wednesday, January 4, 2006 - link

    Of course, that board still has that "OMG this board will support the AM2 socket" with it as well that will keep it going until right into the first year of AM2 MBs. Reply
  • Sceptor - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    Presumably those who read this site will "know what they are doing"...Seeing as most readers here have grown up with computers. Just my 2 cents...

    Thanks for the replies..
    Reply
  • Calin - Tuesday, January 3, 2006 - link

    Nobody wants "free" problems - and when I bought my mainboard long time ago, I looked in just one more place except anandtech.com Reply
  • OrSin - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    Fix the ram price and put in another pair.
    I did the same thing looking for where i could find it for $150
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    Corrected - see note above. The RAM name was linked, and the last page had it right. You can't even find generic 2x1GB DDR for $150; sorry to get your hopes up. :( Reply

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