Core i7 System Buyers Guide

by Wesley Fink on February 5, 2009 3:00 AM EST


When the System Buyers Guide: $1000 to $2000 was published a few weeks ago it was obvious the last system guide in the series should be the High End Buyers Guides for systems above $2000. It was our full intention at that point to present both AMD and Intel systems for our High-End Buyers Guide, but an AnandTech meeting with all the editors quickly changed that idea. It was the consensus that as of today there is only one CPU at the top of the performance heap, and that CPU is the Intel Core i7.

With the introduction of the Phenom II, AMD now has a legitimate competitor to Intel Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad systems. The recent price cuts by both Intel and AMD in that market segment just reinforced the fact that Phenom II competes very well with Intel Penryn. Perhaps with higher speeds Phenom II processors might make the High-End Buyers Guide in the future, but as of today the Intel Core i7 owns the high-end of the CPU market.

With that reality in mind, it seemed almost pointless to publish a high-end system guide that just presented a dream Core i7 system. It is also clear to us that, despite the fact that Phenom II does not compete well at the very top, it is still a significant achievement for AMD and the processor market, and it deserves better than to be ignored.

Therefore you will see two specialty guides in the next few weeks. This guide will concentrate on Intel Core i7 systems. After some announcements by AMD, we will also be posting a guide for Phenom II systems. While Core i7 and Phenom II now cover different market segments and different price points, they both are significant CPUs in their own right and both deserve a spotlight on CPU compatibility and getting the most from each CPU. Core i7 and Phenom II are where the action and interest are in today's computer market, and the guides will try to provide help in selecting components for your new Core i7 or Phenom II system.

This Core i7 Buyers Guide looks at three different i7 builds that you might consider. The Core i7 is high on the performance tree but it is also expensive compared to other solutions. Not everyone can afford the $2000 Core i7 system presented in the $1000 to $2000 Buyers Guide. For builders who want an i7 system for as little money as possible we put together a Core i7 Entry system. The goal is simple: build a competent i7 system for as little money as possible. We managed to cut more that 25% from our last Core i7 system price without significant compromises.

Another typical buyer is attracted to the Core i7 because of the tremendous overclocking potential of the processor. As seen in Overclocking Core i7 and other Core i7 articles, the 2.66GHz 920 can reach 3.6GHz to 4GHz with proper air cooling. That is faster than the stock speed available even with the $1000 Core i7 965. The goal of the Core i7 Overclocking System build is a system that provides the flexibility and components to maximize overclocking. The slant is to the value end of overclocking - overclocking to increase value - rather than the absolute highest performance options. However, we do make some recommendations for those who overclock strictly for performance.

Finally, there is the Core i7 High-End System. The goal is to select the best performing components available, and not just the most expensive. The very high end of any system in the computer industry will rarely yield the best bang for the buck. Squeezing the last bit of performance from a component usually means spending a great deal more money than buying the component that delivers the best performance for the dollar. However, luxury and top performance sell well, and these components are still the stuff that computer dreams are made of. Our Dream Core i7 system reaches around $5000, and frankly we could have extended the cost much further by expanding storage and selecting a RAID 5 controller and drive array. Still, the components in the High-End Guide should be food for thought as you select your own Core i7 System.

Core i7 Entry
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  • Wesley Fink - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    We consider the Seagate and Western Digital equivalent choices, as long as the Seagate is the latest 1TB with the latest model number as detailed in the OC system. We have tested both and both perform very well. We have not tested the Samsung selected, but we have tested a similar drive. The Samsungs are generally reliable and selecting it for value at $95 was easy in the Entry i7 system where every dollar counts..

    For the Dream System we wanted to use a 2TB drive with an SSD boot RAID, but it is a few more days until they hit the market so we didn't believe we should recommend something you can't buy quite yet. The higher the density on drives the more data that can theoretically be written or retrieved in the same rotational space. Since the 2TB drives will have even denser platters than the 1TB, they should be even faster in a system - all else being equal.
  • goinginstyle - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    If you are trying to save every penny in the entry level system then why not drop down to the WD 640GB caviar black drive at $70. That is close to 1TB in storage at just about the same performance. The $25 could have been spent on a better case like the lian li pc7b or antec solo or a better audio setup.
  • sinnerman13 - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    I am certainly nitpicking here, but I would never buy a Logitech Speaker System for my dream system. I could just as well hook the soundcard to the pc speaker... I would choose something more like the Motiv 5 from Teufel ("> So much better...
  • chrnochime - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    For that amount of money I'd go buy studio monitors and build myself a 5.1 system that'll outperform 5.1 in a box.

  • strikeback03 - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    Not that I have ever heard of that system or company, but for $650 you could also start thinking about jumping up to real home theater components.
  • PrinceGaz - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    Exactly, rather than buying "computer" speakers, pop down to your local hi-fi store and buy a quality surround-sound system. It is likely to be at least as cheap and sound better than "quality computer speakers". They might not come with all the cables you need to hook it up straight out the box, but a few high-quality Monster Cable leads later, you'll be up and running, and it will sound perfect, thanks to the combination of high-quality speakers and amplifier, and the best quality Monster Cable leads to connect them.

    Actually you might want to skip the Monster Cable and just buy ordinary leads unless you want to waste money on something worthless. But Monster Cables do come in nice packaging, so don't be put off by the over-inflated price-tag.
  • Tacoeater - Tuesday, March 3, 2009 - link

    Why would you waste your money on Monster cable? Can you show that they are better than a pair of radio shack audio cables?

    I had an acquaintance that was a speaker manufacturer in Colorado Springs, Colorado( he died a few years back). He, arguably, manufactured the best speakers in the market with a very flat frequency response. He tested monster cable versus radio shack and found that radio shack cables were fine. Maybe the price tag on Monster makes it legit, but from what I understand, you are paying for branding. It really is amazing that alchemy is alive and well today and thriving in the audio industry. People with too much money gobbling up marketing.
  • sinnerman13 - Friday, February 6, 2009 - link

    If you would configure a HTPC for a home theater, you might be right. But for a "gaming/office dream machine" a PC 5.1 system is just perfect because you don't need to buy an AV receiver, so you save space, cables etc. and your workplace looks more organized (something I always prefer ; )). Also I wouldn't underestimate the system I recommended,the sound is really great and the boxes have an applelike look and feel.
    And although we are disussing a "dream machine" the price point is always important to me, and buying a AV 5.1 system with a receiver and cables would be a lot pricier, for almost no gain.
    And btw I would never throw my money away for monster cables its really not worth it, at least for me.
  • Jaramin - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    Having separate Core i7 and Phenom II guides is good idea, much more interesting in this situation than a pointless head to head for products that don't really compete each other in pricing. Well done! Waiting impatiently for Feb 8th now!
  • BSMonitor - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    Ummm actually the entry system does compete in price against a Phenom II.

    CPU - 295 vs 230
    RAM - 70 vs 50
    MB - 185 vs 100

    ~ $150-175 difference?? I love how AMD fans tout the price difference.. But uhh, not really.

    And the i920 Nehalem will crush that $150 price difference...

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