Midrange: Puget Systems Obsidian

Both my midrange and high end recommendations come from the same vendor: Puget Systems. Puget tends to be pricier than other boutiques, but what you get in return are simpler configuration options backed up by more careful, stricter component selection than you're liable to see from other boutiques and certainly way more than from a major vendor.

For midrange, I defined the system as being something in the neighborhood of a grand, and something that could be configured with a dedicated video card as needed but will otherwise fit the bill for the kinds of multimedia work that more and more of us (and our folks and their folks) are getting involved in. I wanted a machine that had a healthy amount of horsepower on tap if you need it, but is a good citizen of your home under less demanding circumstances, and the Puget Systems Obsidian fit the bill.

What makes the Obsidian such a solid choice is the smart component selection all around. The enclosure is where a lot of boutiques will tend to skimp, but Puget uses quality cases across the board and the Antec Mini P180 is among them. Thanks to the P180, the Obsidian is able to keep noise in check while still offering a healthy amount of performance thanks to the Intel Core i5-2400 quad-core processor in the baseline configuration. This system is cool, fast, and quiet. Puget Systems recommends the Obsidian for business and enterprise work, but that's not exactly a bad thing if you want a reliable workhorse.

Recommended Configuration: Baseline
Available from Puget Systems starting at $1,224


High End: Puget Systems Deluge A2

If you've been keeping track of recent reviews you'll notice I wasn't particularly fond of the highest end Puget Systems had to offer, the Deluge L2. Intel's Sandy Bridge-E platform really is basically a bust for enthusiasts; a fast hex-core processor can be invaluable for tasks like video editing, but it's next to worthless elsewhere, and I've found that even on my desktop a mildly overclocked Intel Core i7-990X is still getting bottlenecked by a two-disk RAID 0 when it comes time to render. When you start looking at how high the price of entry is for SB-E, you realize just what a poor deal it really is.

The A2, on the other hand, looks like a far better bargain. It still starts at a high price and doesn't feature the flashy custom liquid cooling job that some of you took issue with on the L2, but it's easily the least gaudy looking gaming system I've ever tested and the components are always quality. The customized Antec P183 V3 enclosure is also much appreciated, guaranteed to keep the noise down better than other boutique builds might. If I weren't so invested in rolling my own, this would probably be the desktop I'd order for myself.

Recommended Configuration: Baseline plus NVIDIA GeForce GTX 570 or AMD Radeon HD 6970 and an SSD
Available from Puget Systems starting at $1,830

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  • tomek1984 - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    "Sometimes there are also situations where we'd be better off just recommending a pre-built desktop to family than damning ourselves to being tech support at all hours for the next few years"

    I gave up recommending/building custom computers for my family/friends long time ago, it doesn't get me laid if it works well but if doesn't I become 24/7 support tech. Average user doesn't need latest and greatest hardware, because they simply don't know how to take advantage of it any way. So even though i don't believe it myself when I get a question "where should i buy a new computer", i just tell them Bestbuy or Wallmart, it saves me a lot of headache later on
  • Iketh - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    I'd rather see a laptop buyer's guide. That's what I recommend the average user buy nowadays (and they prefer it anyway).
  • superccs - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    You can substitute the 3Gbs drive for the 6Gbs drive and save enough to get the 4gb memory upgrade and a Hyper212 HSF at no added cost.

    No bulldozer systems? : / Such a shame. Global foundries conspiracy.
  • piroroadkill - Thursday, December 1, 2011 - link

    Of course there are no Bulldozer systems. These are supposed to be systems someone might actually want to buy.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, December 1, 2011 - link

  • AmishPcFreak - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    So my 19 year old unemployed brother-in-law needed a new system (he had asked me to build one for him previously and I deferred graciously) and this past weekend I helped him get this system from Office Depot on black Friday:

    HP Pavilion p7-1108p Desktop Computer With AMD A4-3400 Dual-Core, 6GB Ram, 1 Terabyte HD, Windows 7 64 bit--- no monitor, total cost $380

    It was using integrated graphics of course, but it has a PCI express slot and I donated an old 8800GTS card I had lying around gathering dust.

    Whammo! Once the card was installed he was cruising at super fast speeds playing his steam games like a fool.

    Told him 'get a job' and left the room. Hope that keeps him covered for a while and the GTS holds out.
  • aylafan - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    Did you wait in line on Black Friday to buy this? Costco/Sam's Warehouse is selling the HP Pavilion - AMD A6 Processor Quad-Core, 6GB Ram, 750-1Terabyte HD, Windows 7 64 bit for $399. If you wanted a 22 inch widescreen monitor with it then it is an extra $100. Maybe, the price is exclusively in my area, but it's extremely cheap.
  • johnnype - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    Thanks for this article. I'd love to build my own system but real life makes such a task inconvenient to say the least. In fact real life is all but forcing me to forget gaming on a desktop and go with a laptop instead even though I promised I'd never do it again after the last XPS I bought many moons ago.

    So, any advice on a good sub $1500 gaming laptop? I'm about to pull the trigger on a Cyberpower X6-9300 and up the RAM to 8GB for a total cost of $1388 but I'll pass if you think it's a bad idea. Thoughts?
  • frozentundra123456 - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    I am happy that someone addressed the fact pre-built systems do have their place. I would, however, agree that the prices are pretty high for the categories he selected.

    Also, for low end prebuilt systems, I think most people would be satisfied with a Dell or HP from Best Buy another B/M retailer. Even Costco has a nice selection of PCs and I believe they extend the warranty for another year. Personally, unless I was buying a gaming PC, I would rather look for a good sale at a local store and not have to deal with shipping, especially if a return or repair is needed.

    I also thought that a table or chart would have been nice summarizing the components for each system (CPU, ram, graphics, HDD) rather than having to go to the manufacturer's site to look up the detailed configuration. I also was confused if the price he listed for each configuration included a monitor, and if so what size and kind.
  • Death666Angel - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - link

    Not sure how the Euro-Dollar conversion works out at the moment (usually 1:1 in the past), but I built my brother a PC at the beginning of this year that was kinda high-end (X6 1090, HD6950, 8GB, pretty much silent). He is playing BF3 on high @1080 easily. That worked out to be 900€. And yes, that is with a case, PSU, ODD, HDD etc. as well, not just upgrade of the CPU/GPU.
    Anything above that component list (replace the AMD CPU with an Intel 2500k if you want or the HD6950 with a GTX570), I consider in the territory of enthusiasts who either need to drive a 27"/30" panel or do professional work on the PC.

    So, saying 1k$ (or even 1.2k$) is anywhere near the realm of midrange, is hard to believe.

    And on that Pudget system, does it even have a dedicated GPU? Buying quality is fine, but that's just a rip off.

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