Sandy Bridge on a <$500 Budget

Benchmarks for the newer Sandy Bridge-based Pentium CPUs are not widely available; however, in my experience the Pentium G620 is broadly equivalent to the older Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 and current AMD Athlon II X2 260 CPUs—at least in terms of web browsing, office productivity, moderate multitasking, and light gaming (e.g. Left 4 Dead, StarCraft 2). Though the Intel Pentium CPUs’ HD 2000 graphics are often superior to the Radeon HD 4250 IGP found on most AM3 motherboards, both are capable of handling HD video but neither are gaming-grade. The Pentium G620 is inferior to the AMD Athlon II X3 line—and since it is either about the same price or even more expensive, I do not recommend the Sandy Bridge Pentiums right now unless you are interested in upgrading the CPU itself later to a more powerful Core i5 or i7 model. The Core i3-2100, on the other hand, performs about the same as the AMD Phenom II X4 940, so that’s what we’ve used. Here are the full specs.

Budget Core i3-2100 System
Part Description Price Rebate
Processor Intel Core i3-2100 $125  
Motherboard MSI H61M-E33 (B3) LGA 1155 $70 -$10
Memory Patriot 4GB (2x2GB) PSD34G1333K $40  
Storage Western Digital Caviar Blue WD5000AAKS 500GB HDD $44  
Optical LITE-ON iHAS124-04 DVD Burner $25  
Power Supply Antec EarthWatts EA-380D PSU $40  
Case Antec Three Hundred $55 -$10
OS Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit $100  
System Total $499 $479
Graphics XFX HD-657X-ZHF2 Radeon HD 6570 1GB DDR3 $80 -$10
System Total with Dedicated Graphics $579 $549

I recently had an AMD Phenom II X4 945 (C3 revision) system side by side with an Intel Core i3-2100 system; in my experience, the two systems performed so similarly I could not tell them apart for daily computing tasks. (Both rigs had an 80GB Intel G2 SSD, ATI Radeon HD 5550 GPUs, and 4GB DDR3-1333 in them.) The Core i3-2100 rig was slightly faster (<10%) in some DNA analysis tasks that are computationally demanding, but even then you’d need to run a specific benchmark to notice the difference. Something else worth noting is that the Core i3 system used less power than the Phenom II X4 system. Admittedly, I was taken aback by the Core i3’s performance—it really is powerful enough to take on a current, midrange AMD quad-core CPU. Given that, the Core i3-2100 is almost overkill for most desktop users. (Enthusiasts who read AnandTech sometimes lose sight of the average user’s truly modest needs!) The on-die HD 2000 graphics processor is not a gaming GPU, but it is fine for 1080p HD video playback, Windows 7’s Aero interface, web browsing, and office productivity. It really is remarkable that such a powerful computer can be assembled for less than $500.

The remaining parts are standard budget fare. The MSI motherboard uses the H61 chipset, as that's the least expensive way to get into an SNB setup. There’s a vanilla 500GB hard drive that remains inexpensive and has enough storage and performance for the majority of desktop users. (Note that they regularly go on sale for $35 or less if you’re willing to shop around/wait.) 4GB of DDR3 is plenty for Windows 7 and allows for multitasking and most other needs. The Antec Three Hundred remains a favorite of mine, with its muted aesthetics, excellent airflow, good build quality, and capacious, easy to work with interior. It’s not the quietest case on the market, but it’s not terrible either. Similarly, the Antec Earthwatts 380W provides ample power for this system, and can easily accommodate both a CPU upgrade to a 95W quad-core Sandy Bridge and a more powerful GPU in the future. Stock case fans and the stock Intel CPU cooler are also sufficient, though spending maybe $25-50 on aftermarket fans will reduce system noise noticeably.

The above system is more than able to handle just about any task; the one area where it would fall short is in gaming. For that, you really need a discrete GPU, so to go with our budget recommendations we’re including the AMD Radeon HD 6570 as an optional extra. It’s often available for around $70, especially if you’re willing to play the mail-in rebate game. If you’re interested in something faster, the next step up that would be worth taking is the Radeon HD 5770 (note that the 6770 is literally the same GPU with a new name and a $10 premium, so don’t bother). If you’d prefer an NVIDIA GPU, there’s the GTS 450, but the 5770 generally offers equivalent or better performance. Idle power is in NVIDIA’s favor by a few watts, but we’d really be splitting hairs to complain about an extra 6W of power draw. If you need other GPU alternatives, turn the page….

CPU and Chipset Overview The $1000 Midrange Sandy Bridge Build
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  • just4U - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    What's interesting about the $1000 range system is how many of us have come to many of the same conclusions. My system would be very comparable on all the key components save perhaps the Power Supply.. (using an 650HX from Corsair) Altho I don't see anything wrong with using Antec's 400W either.
  • duploxxx - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    spoken by one who believes atom is better then e-350 :)
    yeah right

    I didn't reply on the fact that they don't offer an AMD design just the way they talk about certain products and there unbalanced designs which are much to CPU centric.... but then again that's all what matter's
  • just4U - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    How can you say that? They gave the nod to the 260 and the 945 as being competent cpu's for todays users with gains being in most instances marginal at best (for the budget entry)

    Fact remains systems today regardless of CPU choice(s) are all pretty stellar. This isn't the days of the celeron where you take really big hits for budget builds.
  • duploxxx - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    As far as I am aware the internet and forums are there to use by those who want. So who are you to decide if I should write or not, second I will decide for myself what I prefer or not.

    stating someone is a fanboy and you as the responder is obviously not is al ready very questionable.

    That doesn't change the fact that while this is an SNB oriented guide that Anadtech should have withdrawn them from downplaying another company or even referring to it, afterall it is a guide to a buy a cpu from 1 company only. And it doesn't change the fact that these design builds have no real design pupose besides a price range and they are all build with oversized cpu and downsizing all other parts just to be able to fit in the budget of 500 and 1000$.
  • just4U - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    They sorta have to mention them as they are a factor... I am a huge amd fan and I thought the comments they made in reference to amd were quite favorable.
  • duploxxx - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    well that happens off course when the buyers guide content changes..... most here didn't see the first article.
  • Hrel - Friday, June 17, 2011 - link

    It's pretty likely that bulldozer will just beat out Nahalem. I'd be surprised if it was competitive with Sandy Bridge, let alone the next CPU coming out, on 22nm. I forget the code name but you know what I'm talking about. I think AMD is in trouble as far as CPU's go. They're just falling farther and farther behind.

    I really hope they pull out another Athlon 64 soon so Intel drops their crazy pricing and ludachris motherboard policies. Stupid no native USB 3.0, 2 SATA 6GBPS ports? really? Really?
  • GullLars - Saturday, June 18, 2011 - link

    Kinda OT, but LudaChris is a rapper, and the name is a pun on Ludicrous+Chris. :P
  • Andreos - Saturday, June 18, 2011 - link

    As it is, I have already built my SB system, and you guys are basically a day late and a dolla short. Some of your component choices are strange, if not mystifying. Folks ought to read the motherboard reviews on Newegg before plunking down their money on some of your recommendations. I think you guys are caught up way too much on theoretical considerations and personal technology fetishes, and need to get back to the practical aspects of system building.
  • DanNeely - Saturday, June 18, 2011 - link

    Start of the $2k build page: "There are areas where this system will be close to twice as fast as the midrange build, but that’s mostly in games and comes courtesy of the dual GPUs." As listed the system has a single high end GPU, not CF/SLI midrange cards.

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