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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  • Regs - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    Right after christmas when everybody is broke. Reply
  • ViperV990 - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    On page 4, first paragraph:
    "...doubling the cost of your RAM for $80-$125..." - "cost" probably should read "size" or "amount."


    Regarding video cards, I believe a pair of 7800GTs would be a better recommandation than a single 7800GTX 512.


    On the display side, there's a 19" widescreen 1440x900 LCD from Viewsonic for around $300, which I'd prefer over a standard 5:4 screen. The model # is VA1912w. Add a "b" for black.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    I have issues with smaller widescreen displays. 1440x900 is an odd resolution, so outside of a few specific games and Windows desktop use, you end up with stretched content or you don't use all the screen. I've got my 2405 set to 1:1 stretch, so even at lower resolutions it still fills most of the screen, but running at native is obviously preferred. Reply
  • ViperV990 - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    I don't know about most games as I have only tried a couple on a widescreen (Half Life 2 and City of Heroes - both have built-in WS support), but I do believe that most newer games can be run in non-4:3 aspect ratios. I mean, even 1280x1024 isn't 4:3, and for some reason I just hate it =p Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    Regarding the 7800 GT SLI vs. 7800 GTX 512MB, while the SLI'ed cards are in general slightly faster, it's not usually by a large amount. I would rather have a single 512MB GTX than two GTs in a system. You can see http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=2649...">various results in our X1800CF article, and issues like BF2, B&W2, DoD:S, etc. make me prefer single cards first. Of course, right now the GTX 512MB cards aren't in stock, so prices are messed up as well. I wouldn't actually recommend spending $600+ on a GPU to anyone but the wealthy gaming obsessed people. :) Reply
  • ViperV990 - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    Yeah, I was only looking at the fact that two GTs are "only" $600 as opposed to a GTX 512's $750. You're right to point out the SLI-specific issues and also the pricing issue due to the lack of supply. (when are you guys gonna start slamming nVidia about this like you guys do with ATI's paper launches? =p) Reply
  • CrimsonDeath - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    Not to sound like an old timer but i've seen that "high-end" monitor and it just pales compared to the top crt from NEC on fps games. Perhaps my eyes are too sensitive but i see definite ghosting on that acer lcd. Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Tuesday, January 3, 2006 - link

    I agree, but the good CRT monitors you refer to are becoming increasingly difficult to find new. For instance NEC/Mitsubishi have ceased production of CRT monitors, though Iiyama apparently use the excellent Diamondtron tube in some of their models so they are still available for now. In another couple of years CRT monitors will probably have vanished altogether but fortunately LCD panels should be good enough by then to replace them. Reply
  • lexmark - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    good article. for that complete system, $1270 isnt to shabby. Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Monday, January 2, 2006 - link

    Is it really worth recommending two seperate choices (the mid-range for $41 and the high-end for $43) when the difference is just two dollars? It would be easier to just recommend an optical drive, in this case the "high-end" $43 NEC.

    Other than that minor quibble, a very good article which it is hard to find any real issues with.
    Reply

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