Midrange Gaming Machines

As mentioned on the previous page, the GPU market has been very dynamic as of late. We've seen new 600-series cards from NVIDIA and 7000-series cards from AMD, as well as price cuts on many models from both companies. The following three builds are aimed at three price brackets: $750, $1,000, and $1,250. As the builds increase in price, the GPUs and CPUs increase in capability and cost while we hold the rest of the components more or less constant.

$750 gaming computer

Intel's new Ivy Bridge-based Core i3-3220 offers better gaming performance compared to its Sandy Bridge-based Core i3-2120 predecessor, the king of low-midrange gaming CPUs. The i3-3220 offers about a 10% increase in performance across the board while using less power, compared to the i3-2120. AMD's Radeon HD 7850 graphics cards can now be found for around $200 after its recent price drop. That puts its cost slightly above the NVIDIA GTX 560 Ti (which can be found for just under $200). You can compare the Radeon HD 7850 and GTX 560 Ti in Bench. The two cards trade blows with many titles, but when AMD wins, it usually wins more handily than NVIDIA when NVIDIA wins. Furthermore, the Radeon HD 7850 pulls less power under load; most 7850s require only one PCIe 6-pin power connector while 560 Ti requires two. Thus, because the 7850 generally performs better while using less electricity, it gets our nod here. That said, the 560 Ti remains a good choice that's worth your attention (i.e. watch for sales).

Rounding out the rest of the build, we're recommending Crucial's M4 128GB SSD. Anand reviewed this model a while back and it remains a very good performer with a solid reputation for reliability. That said, larger gaming libraries will quickly eat up a 128GB SSD's capacity. Thus, you might need a higher-capacity HDD instead to stay under the $800 budget, and the 1TB Western Digital Black is an alternative to the SSD. Of course, if you want to go over budget, you could install both the SSD and HDD.

MSI's B75MA-E33 motherboard is a nicely-featured product with an attractive price tag; in my experiences thus far (a handful of builds) it is stable and reliable. It also ships with a BIOS that fully supports the newer i3-3220 out of the box.

Ivy Bridge supports DDR3-1600 natively, but you won't notice any real world differences between DDR3-1600 and DDR3-1333, so either speed is fine. Given that DDR3-1600 kits are typically only a few dollars more than DDR3-1333 kits, it doesn't really matter what you go with. We're putting together midrange builds here so we decided to spend a bit more for a kit of DDR3-1600 (about $4 more than this DDR3-1333). Most of the major brands are at parity, so just look for a good price and look at the CAS Latency and voltage--there's not much point in paying more for RAM that requires 1.65V and runs at CL 11, for example.

NZXT's Tempest 210 has become an AnandTech forum favorite: it offers a lot of bang for the buck and is a very high quality case given its price tag. Because the i3-3220 CPU and Radeon HD 7850 are relatively low power components, a lower-wattage, high-quality 80 Plus power supply is included in the build. The Antec Neo Eco 400C frequently goes on sale for $30 or less (sometimes not even with a rebate).

Component Product Price Rebate
Case NZXT Tempest 210 $55  
Power Supply Antec Neo Eco 400C $50  
CPU Intel Core i3-3220 $130  
Motherboard MSI B75MA-E33 $65  
Video Card Sapphire Radeon HD 7850 2GB OC $210 -$10
RAM Wintec One 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $39  
SSD Crucial M4 128GB $110  
HDD Alternative Western Digital 1TB Black $90  
DVD Burner Lite-On IHAS324 $20  
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit $91  
Cost with SSD: $770 $760
Cost with HDD: $750 $740

$1,000 gaming computer

While the less expensive system outlined above is a very capable low-midrange gaming computer, this $1,000 machine, in my opinion, really hits the sweet spot for gamers. The Core i5-3570K, like its Sandy Bridge-based Core i5-2500K predecessor, is the king of the gaming CPUs. Keep in mind as well that the 3570K is an unlocked CPU, so it can be easily overclocked. That said, we're not spending extra money on an aftermarket CPU cooler with this build because the 3570K overclocks well with its stock thermal solution (though more agressive overclockers will want to look for an aftermarket solution). To support the Core i5-3570K's overclocking capability, we're recommending a Z77 chipset-based motherboard, and Samsung's 8GB kit of DDR3-1600 listed in the build is a great kit of overclocking RAM.

Stepping up from the $800 gaming build also gets us a faster GPU: AMD's Radeon HD 7950 or NVIDIA's GTX 660 Ti. Both the Radeon HD 7950 and NVIDIA GTX 660 Ti are priced around $300. Bench illustrates how the 7950 and 660 Ti compare: very evenly. The AMD card wins some titles and the NVIDIA card wins others. They use very similar amounts of electricity. You'll want to do your research and weigh how important specific current game titles are to you before deciding which card to use. Here, we're recommending either one. You can compare the GTX 660 Ti to the above system's Radeon HD 7850 on Bench here and the Radeon HD 7950 to the Radeon HD 7850 on Bench here.

The Samsung 830 128GB SSD was reviewed on AnandTech and it performs very well (like the Crucial M4 128GB SSD), with a similarly stellar reputation for reliability. The same Antec Neo Eco 400C power supply is capable of powering both the more powerful CPU and GPU, though you'll need to upgrade this power supply if you intend to add another GPU down the line. As an alternative to the NZXT Tempest 210 we're highlighting the Fractal Design Core 3000. Like the Tempest 210, the Core 3000 offers great build quality for its price, excellent thermals to accommodate the higher-powered components, and sleek aesthetics. Compared to the Tempest 210, its only real drawback is its lack of front panel USB 3.0 support.

Component Product Price Rebate
Case Fractal Design Core 3000 $50  
Power Supply Antec Neo Eco 400C $50  
CPU Intel Core i5-3570K $230  
Motherboard Biostar TZ77B $100  
Video Card XFX Radeon HD 7950 Double D $320 -$30
Video Card alternate EVGA Superclocked GTX 660 Ti $300 -$10
RAM Samsung 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $45  
SSD Samsung 830 128GB $100  
HDD Alternative Western Digital 1TB Black $90  
DVD Burner Lite-On IHAS324 $20  
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit $91  
Cost with SSD: $1,006 $976
Cost with HDD: $996 $966

$1,250 gaming computer

The only major differences between the $1,000 gaming computer above and this $1,250 system are increased overclockability thanks to the aftermarket CPU cooler and a more powerful GPU. That said, as an alternative to the Crucial and Samsung SSDs noted in the above two builds, here we have an Intel 330 series 120GB SSD, which is reviewed here. Like the Crucial and Samsung SSDs, Intel's solid state drives have a great reputation for reliability. (Keep your eyes on their prices—if you catch one on sale, grab it.) The ASRock Z77 Pro4-M is another solid Z77 performer with an attractive price tag as an alternative to the Biostar board in the above build. Though the stock cooler that comes with the Core i5-3570K is capable of facilitating modest overclocks, the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO will help you overclock more aggressively.

To accommodate the higher power draw of an overclocked Core i5-3570K and a more powerful video card, we're stepping up to the Antec Neo Eco 520C, a 520W model that like its less powerful sibling features solid quality at a relatively low price.

As for the more powerful video card, how about (arguably) the fastest single-chip GPU on the market? NVIDIA's GTX 680 was released back in March of this year, and accomplished what Ryan called the 'holy trifecta'—best performance with lower power consumption at a lower price than the previous GPU king. In response, AMD re-worked the Radeon HD 7970 into the "GHz Edition," which Ryan reviewed and compared to the GTX 680. Bench gives you a further idea of how the two cards compare. While the two top cards perform very similarly in games, we give the nod to the NVIDIA GTX 680 in this guide because it uses less power, is quieter, and cooler than the 7970GE. (Note that while the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition uses more power than the GTX 680, both can be run on the Antec Neo Eco 520C recommended.) You can also compare the GTX 680 to the Radeon HD 7950 in the $1,000 gaming system on Bench.

Component Product Price
Case Fractal Design Core 3000 $50
Power Supply Antec Neo Eco 520C $60
CPU Intel Core i5-3570K $230
CPU cooler Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo $35
Motherboard ASRock Z77 Pro4-M $110
Video Card EVGA GTX 680 $480
RAM Samsung 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $45
SSD Intel 330 Series 120GB $103
HDD Alternative Western Digital 1TB Black $90
DVD Burner Lite-On IHAS324 $20
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit $91
Cost with SSD: $1,224
Cost with HDD: $1,211

Conclusions

The three gaming computers detailed above represent three distinct segments of the gaming market: moderate (1080p on high without anti-aliasing), upper midrange (1080p high with 4xAA), and very high end (typically able to handle most titles at >60FPS at 1080p, and even 2560x1440/2560x1600). There is a substantial jump in both CPU and GPU capability going from the $750 to $1,000 build. The increase going from the $1,000 to $1,250 build is less pronounced and starts to show diminishing performance returns—though for some readers, bragging rights about owning a GTX 680 alone might warrant the extra money spent. Thus, of three builds above, the $1,000 system represents the best value for a midrange gaming desktop computer.

What if you don't play games, and are instead interested in productivity work? Check the next page for our workstation builds.

Developments in the Midrange Market Midrange Workstation
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  • cknobman - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    AsRock junk?????

    I have built several system with BioStar motherboards and several with AsRock.

    I would rank AsRock as a great upper middle tier motherboard and BioStar as a great cheapo motherboard (just above ECS).

    BioStar motherboards wont overclock nearly as well as AsRock and their BIOS/UFI interfaces suck.
    Reply
  • StevoLincolnite - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    Asrock are Fantastic for budget motherboards, even the higher end gear has picked up over the past few years and provide great value.

    Still got an Asrock A780GMH motherboard in the old farts machine that's been kicking fine for the last several years with a Radeon 3200 IGP overclocked to 1.2ghz, it did have an Athlon X2 7750 but dropped in my Phenom 2 x6 1090T when I upgraded to a Core i7 3930K, best $50 motherboard ever.
    Reply
  • redchar - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    Asrock is neither a division of asus nor a pile of junk, being on par with asus and gigabyte, but for a lower price than asus. due to the price of good asus boards it often is silly to buy one over gigabyte and asrock competition. Reply
  • Pessimism - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    Wrong.

    ASRock, a spinoff of ASUS, is owned by Pegatron. Pegatron, is one of three divisions of the company we know as "Asus", which handles motherboard and OEM manufacturing. Ergo, ASRock, is a division of Asus.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ASRock
    "ASRock was originally spun off from Asus in 2002 in order to compete with companies like Foxconn for the commodity OEM market."

    "It was founded in 2002 and is currently owned by Pegatron Corporation"

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asus
    In January 2007, Asus started restructuring its operations.[10] The company split into three distinct operational units: Asus, Pegatron and the Unihan Corporation.[11] The Asus brand was applied solely to first-party branded computers. Pegatron handled OEM manufacturing of motherboards and components, and the Unihan Corporation focused on non-PC manufacturing such as cases and molding

    As far as them being junk or not junk, you are entitled to your opinion.
    Reply
  • C'DaleRider - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    Guess you didn't bother to read further on that Wiki page about Pegatron:

    In January 2010, Pegatron's then parent company Asustek announced a plan to spin off and to transfer its long term equity investment in Pegatron to its wholly owned subsidiary, Pegatron International Investment Co., Ltd. On June 10, 2010, Pegatron merged with Pegatron International, and Pegatron has since been the surviving spin off independent company.

    Note the words "independent", "spin off", and "transfer its equity", all of which denote Pegatron as an independent company that was spun off from Asustek a few years ago.

    AsRock, a spin off company of Asustek, is an independent company. Owned by Pegatron notwithstanding, AsRock acts like and is an independent company separate from Asustek, and is listed as a separate company on Taiwan's stock exchange.

    True, AsRock was once a unit of Asustek, but has not been for years. But, interestingly, AsRock shares much of its development with Asustek, easily seen in AsRock's motherboard EUFI BIOS setup, which is almost identical to Asustek's EUFI BIOS setup.
    Reply
  • RamarC - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    asrock isn't junk but it started out as ASUS' lower-end/budget product line... much like Cadillac and Chevy.

    from wp: ASRock was originally spun off from Asus in 2002 in order to compete with companies like Foxconn for the commodity OEM market.

    in the past few years, ASRock expanded from the budget space and started aiming higher with more features and robustness. now they really are comparable to MSI and can (almost) trade blows with ASUS and GB.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ASRock
    Reply
  • RamarC - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    sorry,,, i posted before i saw the other reply whose points i basically parotted. 'nuff said. Reply
  • RussianSensation - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    Asrock is a stand-alone company and have been making very good motherboards for years now. Time to snap out of the early 2000s. Reply
  • Stuka87 - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    I disagree completely. I have had extremely good experiences with MSI products going back 12 years now. To say MSi is low end, or to even compare them to Jetway is laughable. I would rank MSI's video cards to be above that of ASUS, and the motherboards to be just as good.

    My current MSI board has a great power distribution setup and has no issues powering my very power hungry CPU. And all the cap are of decent quality (They are not all Japanese, but only super high end Mobo's are).

    I think you need to get experience with more brands before you start talking about them.
    Reply
  • bitoolean - Wednesday, September 12, 2012 - link

    I wouldn't recommend buying Biostar or MSI either, because of my little but disappointing experience with them.
    A friend bought a cheap BioStar only to learn it doesn't have any audio internal connectors, which means he has to buy an audio board to get any sound from his TV-card... So now he can't use the TV-card because the company decided to make too many budget cuts.
    I've had problems with MSI's website at another buddy - I couldn't find his board (it's only 5 years old) listed at all to get the drivers for it - I only could download the drivers for a very similar motherboard on their website (I think I finally went for the chipset manufacturer's website). At another time, at another buddy, their site didn't even work at all in any browser, and it's not very well organised either anyway.
    I had an ASUS motherboard for a few years. It was very stable, although in the past I've seen people say they got hot with time and some had some problems.
    Gigabyte motherboards have attractive features indeed (ultra-durable capacitors for example), but while working at a PC store/workshop, one of the new motherboards we received from them (which was to be included in a build we would sell) wouldn't power on, and I don't think it had been tampered with or improperly transported.
    I've heard that Asrock use components that ASUS wouldn't as well, but I'm impressed by their motherboards' features and their price tags, and I haven't heard anyone having problems with them in time on forums. Their website rocks too...
    I believe that if a company doesn't invest in their website, they don't care about how they look, and they don't care about their clients, so I think that's an important aspect to criticize if you want criteria. Appearance says a lot. And ECS has a terrible website.
    So I wouldn't buy any Asrock, ASUS or Gigabyte motherboard confidently, but they may be the best choices in my opinion (and also many other forum users' using them).
    Reply

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