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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  • Hxx - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    They are referring to an "entry" system in the high end area, which is why its priced under 2000. For $1000 you will not build a core i7 gaming / multimedia... system which again, is what they're referring to. A corei7+mobo+ram+videocard will be about $1000.
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    Umm, no. The exact corei7+mobo+ram+videocard they chose is $755. Switch to a cheaper video card (under-100 gets you less gaming, but fine for entertainment or other non-gaming use) and that leaves you $350 short of $1000, meaning you can easily add DVD burner, case, hard drive, and PSU for under $1000. Depending on how small a HDD and monitor you choose, you might be able to sneak a complete system under $1000. Obviously this provides lots of processor power relative to everything else, but if that is your need then it works.
  • frozentundra123456 - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    How can you even fit the OS on your 1 GB hard drive mentioned in the final words??? (LOL) There is a typo there, obviously should be 1 TB.
  • Wesley Fink - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    Corrected to 1TB. Thanks for letting us know in good humor.
  • H8ff0000 - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    I think the HT Omega Claro Halo XT would be a better choice for a dream system sound card.
  • Wesley Fink - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    I agree the HT Omega Claro Halo XT is a superb audio card, and it is one I would choose for my own system. The C-Media CM18788 chipset is a spectacular performer.

    However, at $250, we believe the top HT Omega card should be matched with much better than powered PC speakers. If we use the HT Omega and then pare it with audiophile grade amplifiers and speakers we are are completely busting our self-imposed $5000 budget. In addition we didn't want the selection of audiophile audio components to become the focus of the comments and discussion - so we chose a more conventional high-end computer audio solution. We did mention Option #2 - we just didn't flesh it out.

    We also thought that most of our readers, who mostly believe on-board sound is more than adequate, would have a tough time swallowing a $250 audio card and associated components. For those who can appreciate its virtues the HT Omega Claro cards are a superb choice.
  • AmbroseAthan - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    I was actually going to say the same thing. How is it that the Xonar made it and Creative/Asus got honorable mention, but nothing towards the HT Omega line?

    In almost any test, the Omega lineup blows the doors off the other cards in almost all categories and the Halo XT would be perfect for anyone who wants an amazing sound system. If I was dropping this much money on a system, you can gaurentee I would be making sure I had a sound system to match the rest.
  • reform - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    How about Remote Desktop? An essential feature not available on Vista Home Premium.... an interesting fact I found out to my dismay after installing Home Premium recently! Thank the lord for LogMeIn... a good alternative.
  • Spivonious - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    There's also FreeVNC. I don't think the lack of Remote Desktop server (the client is in all versions of Vista) is a reason to avoid Home Premium. Just how often are you logging in remotely anyway?
  • Lord 666 - Thursday, February 5, 2009 - link

    While the guide was well thought out and generally explained, the one part lacking was a full explainantion on the different hard drive selections... Specifically the WD Black. For only $15, it was passed over for the first two systems, but then used in the dream system with out proper justification.

    IMHO, $15 is insignificant and if its good enough for the dream system, it should be used across the board.

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