The $1000 Midrange Sandy Bridge Build

Our midrange build doubles the price; if that seems like a hefty price to pay we should note that it can also more than double performance. If all you’re doing is surfing the web, writing emails, and working with spreadsheets, no, you probably don’t need quad-core Sandy Bridge. If you happen to run more processor intensive workloads—or if you’d like to get an SSD into the mix—by all means go for it. Here are the specs of our midrange build.

Midrange Core i5-2500K System
Part Description Price Rebate
Processor Intel Core i5-2500K $216  
Motherboard Biostar TZ68A+ LGA 1155 $118  
Memory Patriot 8GB (2x4GB) PSD38G1600K $83 -$20
Graphics ZOTAC ZT-40408-10P GeForce GTX 460 1GB GDDR5 $150 -$30
Graphics Alternative XFX HD-685X-ZNDC Radeon HD 6850 1GB GDDR5 $180 -$30
Primary Storage OCZ Vertex 2 OCZSSD2-2VTX60G 2.5" 60GB SSD $120  
Secondary Storage Samsung SpinPoint F3 HD103SJ 1TB HDD $60  
Optical LITE-ON iHAS124-04 DVD Burner $25  
Power Supply Antec High Current Gamer Series HCG-400 PSU $55 -$15
Case Cooler Master HAF 912 RC-912-KKN1 $60 -$10
OS Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit $100  
System Total $987 $912

Though the Intel Core i5-2500K is not Intel’s most powerful desktop CPU, it does best AMD’s flagship desktop processor, the Phenom II X6 1100T Black Edition. The Intel chip is not only more capable, but it also uses less power. To be blunt, the Core i5-2500K is mind-bogglingly fast for its cost. In my experience, the Core i5-2500K cuts through genomic datasets like a hot knife through butter, and it noticeably reduced the time it takes me to get answers to my research questions compared to the Phenom II X4 945 (C3) I was using previously. Video encoders and gamers alike will see remarkably improved results versus even the first-gen Core i5-750. Oh, and rare is the Core i5-2500K that can’t overclock to 4.4GHz on air, with the stock cooler.

So why go with the Core i5-2500K instead of the other Core i5 quads? Simple: you aren’t paying much more for the top of the line i5 part. The Core i5-2500K is only $40 more than the least expensive Core i5-2300, and that $40 gives you 300MHz more at stock (500MHz with Turbo Boost) as well as the ability to overclock with the unlocked multiplier. The other Core i5 chips are niche products, like the i5-2405S with its lower TDP and Intel HD 3000 graphics (vs. the Intel HD 2000 graphics on all of the other i5s sans the 2500K), or the i5-2400S, also with a lower 65W TDP. That said, if you have no intention of ever multiplier overclocking, the i5-2500 is essentially the same as the i5-2500K in its specifications (though the non-‘K’ version has Intel HD 2000 graphics instead of the HD 3000 graphics).

As noted earlier, we recommend the Z68 chipset over P67-based motherboards now. The Biostar TZ68A+ offers tremendous value—it has all of the features expected from a Z68 board at a low price. I’ve had excellent first-hand experiences with Biostar’s T-series motherboards going back as far as the AMD Socket 939 days. Compared to other value Z68 boards, it has a three-year warranty (compared to, say, the ASRock Z68 PRO3’s one-year warranty). It also has fewer than normal rear USB 2.0 ports, but I don’t consider this too much of a negative. If two rear USB 2.0, two front USB 2.0, and two rear USB 3.0 ports (which are backward compatible with USB 2.0 devices) are not sufficient for your needs, you might consider spending more money on a more feature-rich board or buying a powered external USB hub.

We’ve upped the RAM to 8GB of DDR3. This is overkill for most users, but during intensive multitasking with demanding applications, the extra RAM can be useful. It might just be unpleasant memories of paying exorbitant sums for a mere 1GB of DDR back in the price fixing days coloring my judgment, but it’s hard to resist buying 8GB of DDR3 for less than $100!

We’ve included a SandForce-based 60GB OCZ Vertex 2 SSD for the OS and a few software titles as well as a fast 1TB mechanical hard drive for mass storage and extensive game libraries. 60GB isn’t particularly spacious, but at this system price point pairing a small SSD with a larger HDD provides a good balance of speed and storage space. (In other words, it’s hard to have both a larger, more expensive SSD and a large HDD without compromising, for example, the GPU.) We discussed which SSD would be best here, and we also eyed the Corsair Force F40 40GB and Kingston V100 64GB. Ultimately, we felt 40GB just wasn’t enough for our purposes, and $20 more could still fit into our budget. The Kingston V100 on the other hand provides an interesting option; it’s the same price initially, but there’s currently a $45 mail-in rebate. Yes, the SF-1200 controllers are faster overall (even with 25nm MLC NAND), but any decent SSD is still a big jump up from the best HDD.

For the video card, we had a bit of a debate on what would be best once again. This time, we decided to go with the green team, as the price difference (after rebate) is a pretty sizeable $30; however, it's such a close call that we're listing the Radeon HD 6850 as an alternative to the NVIDIA GTX 460 1GB, and both lines are packing some serious mail-in rebates right now. The two GPUs perform similarly, and while the Radeon HD 6850 has markedly lower power usage under load, they’re tied for idle power consumption. If you’re looking to buy DiRT 3, it’s probably the better card since you can get a free copy with the 6850 if you act fast. Ultimately, the GTX 460 1GB cards wins out with lower pricing, but note that if you go with the 400W PSU we list below you'll need to buy a Molex-to-PCIe power adapter. (You could save another $10 by going with the GTX 460 1GB SE; we initially had the EVGA card but ultimately felt the extra 17% compute power was worth $10.)

To power everything, the Antec HCG-400 PSU is a very solidly constructed, less powerful version of the 520W we recently reviewed and praised. A 400W PSU is more than sufficient for this system, though I would not plan on adding a second GTX 460 later without a larger PSU! (If that’s your intention, we’d suggest starting with a 620W PSU instead.) If you feel 400W is too small for such a system, one of our editors (Jarred) is running an HD 5870 Toxic with an overclocked Bloomfield CPU and 24GB RAM off of a 450W PSU, and peaking at around 350W power draw from the wall (e.g. well under 300W load at the PSU), with idle power draw of only 170W (<150W from the PSU). This setup will certainly use less power than his system, making the HCG-400 more than sufficient, provided you're not going to add a second GPU or run half a dozen HDDs.

Housing everything is a Cooler Master HAF 912 case. It’s broadly similar to the Antec Three Hundred in that it has mounts for two front 120mm intake fans (and comes with one installed), a rear 120mm exhaust fan (installed), and mounts for a side as well as top fan. Airflow/cooling is excellent, though again like the Antec Three Hundred, it’s not the quietest case. It’s also designed with water-cooling in mind, so if you ever want to water-cool your i5-2500K for aggressive overclocking, that will be straightforward.

All assembled, just under $1000 buys you a very solid all-around desktop computer that’s also able to handle current games at high resolutions and settings without risking a brownout while your air conditioning is on this summer. And if you’re diligent about sending in all those mail-in rebates, you’re looking at $907 for a new PC—including shipping (but not taxes).

Sandy Bridge on a <$500 Budget What Can You Build for $2000?
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  • fic2 - Friday, June 17, 2011 - link

    I thought the top end Llano was rumored to be $170. Also pretty sure that an i3-2100 would beat it in most things except software that could use all 4 cores of the high end Llano. Plus, with the Llano you really have no place to go upwards without buying a new mb. With i3 at least you could get an i5 or i7 next year for a speed boost. Probably also find the i5 or i7 used once the Ivy Bridges start coming out.
  • TrackSmart - Friday, June 17, 2011 - link

    That's the kind of tone I expect from the 14 year-olds who post at Engadget (the comments there are incredibly obnoxious). Would it have been possible to make your point without being a jerk about it?

    Regarding the actual content of your post (as opposed to tone), have you seen this?
    It seems unlikely that Llano will have better gaming performance than the 6570 (given that it performs a little worse than a 5570 which is slower than the 6570). And the i3-2100 will

    And have you seen this? Except for highly threaded workloads, the i3-2100 is generally faster than Llano.

    So indeed, it might be a good time to buy. While it's possible that Llano will be cheap enough that it will be a better value proposition, you won't be kicking yourself about the performance differential.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, June 17, 2011 - link

    We already have a pretty good idea of what Llano has to offer: slower CPU but faster IGP. If you care about gaming, as mentioned in this very guide, you'll want to add a discrete GPU regardless. Llano's IGP might look pretty good on a 1366x768 laptop, which is where we praised the performance. On a 1680x1050 or more likely 1920x1080 desktop, if you're playing any games you'll want a lot more than 6550D.
  • just4U - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    The article also makes an interesting note that for everyday use you'd be hard pressed to notice much of a difference between the i3 and lower priced AMD proccessors. This is key for just about everyone outside of enthusiasts I think as we have hit a bit of a wall with even the cheapest cpu's being "good enough" "fast enough" for the masses on most applications.
  • mczak - Friday, June 17, 2011 - link

    I say it's not good value, get a HD6670 instead.
    All reviews of HD6570 I've seen were using gddr5, and guess what every single one you can buy is using ddr3 (some even with lower than reference memory clock) - just like HD6450. BUT some of the HD6670 are using ddr3 too actually (especially the cheaper ones, I don't think AMD even told anyone ddr3 cards of HD6670 would exist) looks like the real cards are all at least 95$ which moves them close to HD5750/HD6750 levels unfortunately. So if you're going for best performance/price you're probably looking at HD5750/HD6750 from the red team (the HD5770/6770 are no doubt faster but pretty much the same perf/price wise).
    Or if you really want to get a cheaper card, just step down to HD5570, which is only 65$ instead of 80$ (it's got some less alus but with that low memory bandwidth it probably won't make much difference anyway - just be careful and don't get a HD5570 with ddr2(!!!) memory).
  • TrackSmart - Friday, June 17, 2011 - link

    I agree. Also, if you want to game, it's worth spending just a few dollars more for much better performance. Especially when the 5770 is often on sale for around $100. Sometimes under $100 with rebates.
  • duploxxx - Friday, June 17, 2011 - link

    Now I have read and loved lots of info from anandtech site for years, but this must be one of THE MOST STUPID buyers guide I have ever seen.

    Do we realy need to start believing that for every review Anandtech is posting on the Intel part's you get a kind of bonus, it was already horrible on the computex time, but what happend here? to much AMD lately so you got kicked by Intel Marketing guys to do something in favor??? for every build created you need to downplay AMD for everything????

    Succinctly, the second-gen Core CPUs are astonishingly powerful and sip electricity.
    I been so impressed by a new CPU as I have by
    It’s also a great time to build an Intel-based
    if you buy a Core i7-2600K now, you’ll be at the near pinnacle of desktop computing for at least 5-6 months.
    It really is remarkable that such a powerful computer can be assembled for less than $500.....but you only have a cpu :)
    cuts through genomic datasets like a hot knife through butter, and it noticeably reduced the time it takes me to get answers to my research questions
    Video encoders and gamers alike will see remarkably improved results versus even the first-gen Core i5-750. Oh, and rare is the Core i5-2500K that can’t overclock to 4.4GHz on air, with the stock cooler.

    WTF is this kind of guide I only smoke SNB, don't wait for BD and x79 guide, if BD can compete your magical 2600K might drop in price or get replaced by just another day.... how does that feel after such an anandtech remarkable praise to buy this stuff NOW, not to mention the additional parts... like an old outdated NV460 ???? or a 580 that really nobody needs unless you have a high-end large screen which is not even within the guide???? low budget antec and biostar just to be able to scratch the expensive 2500K in a 1000$ build and so on....

    damn how the hell did you ever get to post reviews in the first place.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, June 17, 2011 - link

    How much will 2600K drop in price if Bulldozer is actually competitive? $100? Intel doesn't sell Core i3 parts for less than about $130, Core i5 stops at about $185, and Core i7 currently starts at around $250 (i7-950). So IF you wait 2.5 months, and IF Bulldozer is competitive, you can save yourself $50 to $100. Generally speaking, if you wait three months, you'll always get at least a $100 increase in performance or decrease in price.

    Tell me this: what is wrong with GTX 460? It's not as shiny and new as GTX 560! It uses an "old" die spin that results in yields not being as good and clocking not being as high. I suppose we should all throw out anything that isn't less than six months old while we're at it? We apparently shouldn't look at GTX 580 either, even though the text spent 500 words discussing why we selected that GPU. Why? Ryan has tested more GPUs that you're likely to see, and I've used CF and SLI enough to agree, that for $450 I'd rather have a single GTX 580 than any CF or SLI setup. It won't be faster in some games, but the headaches of CF/SLI often aren't worth the performance increases you get when it works right.

    But, if you read that paragraph, we already spelled all of this out, including links to where you can buy the alternatives. So, what is your rationale for not wanting a 580 in there? The lack of a large screen? Wait, let me see... "and really you should have at least a 27” WQHD panel if you’re looking at this sort of graphics setup." Wow. Your complaint was addressed right there. And the opening paragraph on the high end helps as well: "If you’re looking for all that gaming performance without dropping two grand, take the midrange build and add the GPU(s) and power supply from the list below."

    Sorry you didn't like Zach's review, or apparently any of my editing. I am still in full agreement with Zach: right now is an AWESOME time to buy an Intel desktop, because there's nothing coming out in the next three months on the Intel side that will really make it outdated. Ivy Bridge is the next major revision, and that's still 6 months out. LGA 2011 is not for the mainstream users. Will AMD have something to entice people away? Llano can do something on the low-end (which we already acknowledged in the intro), and Bulldozer might do something at the mid- and high-end, but we won't know until September. For those that don't even care what AMD releases (I know plenty of businesses and users that won't even consider a non-Intel PC), this guide has them covered.
  • ckryan - Friday, June 17, 2011 - link

    Thank you, Jarred.

    Hell, I'm on my second iteration of my 2500k build -- and my system is basically the $1000 system. My MSI Cyclone GTX 460 is superb for me as a "medium" gamer at 1900x1200. Mine also has an absurd amount of headroom in the tank for those times when a 25+% clock boost is called for. Your conclusions are very much on point. Migrating to SB from a quad core Phenom/Athlon II is worth just for the smile it puts on your face. Apparently some people like to take the fun out of everything -- it is supposed to be fun, isn't it?
  • marc1000 - Friday, June 17, 2011 - link

    yeah, we will always have someone complaining about ANY buyers guide. don't bother with them. I have an old c2duo e7200 (oc to 3.16ghz) and was impressed with the performance of an i3-530 on a notebook. I'm just waiting for some ca$h to buy my i5-2500k....

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