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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  • KAlmquist - Wednesday, September 12, 2012 - link

    Whether the Vertex 4 is faster than the Samsung 830 depends on the workload. For the record, the <a href="http://www.anandtech.com/bench/Product/639?vs=533&... is faster</a> on both the heavy and light workload versions of Anandtech storage bench. For most users, either one will be fast enough that it won't be a major performance bottleneck, so choosing between them comes down to price and reliability. Reply
  • Kristian Vättö - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    I agree. The m4 is even slower than Samsung 830 and its track record is not as solid either (quite a few issues when it was launched and then the 5000-hour bug). It's definitely one of my recommendations but only if it's cheaper than other good SSDs (Samsung 830, Plextor and Intel SSDs).

    Like I've said in all of our recent SSD reviews, there isn't one SSD that is the one to buy. Prices fluctuate constantly and personally I would wait a few days and try to catch a hot sale. Plenty of good 128GB SSDs (i.e. the ones I mentioned above) go for $80-90 when on sale.
    Reply
  • Lunyone - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    Why don't you just use the same:
    * Case
    * PSU
    * RAM <---unless your OC'ing a lot.
    * DVD Burner

    Just vary by budget:
    * Mobo
    * CPU
    * GPU

    Every case has personal preferences in it, so if you stick with 1 case and just suggest others then everyone can pick what they like (just point out options of each case that the others might not have). I personally look for cases w/front USB 3.0 support (usually falls within the $50-80 price range), so that is all that I recommend anymore, unless on a strict budget.
    Reply
  • Streetwind - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    The reason is likely that they want to highlight equivalent alternatives.

    You are quite right - case, PSU, RAM, SSD and optical drive are pretty much interchangable between all the builds. I'd even argue that mainboards could be added to that list, unless you're going for absolute budget like that B75 board (and here in Europe, the prices are different and the savings over Z77 are almost never worth the loss of features). However, you're doing nobody a favor by publishing a guide that has only one option for each of those.

    What if the one recommended case doesn't appeal to the buyer? He'll run off and buy something that's pure junk, based on its looks alone, because he wasn't offered alternatives.

    What if the recommended RAM isn't available at the store he's shopping?

    What if the customer's friend had an unlucky run-in with a bad SSD of the type that's recommended, which colors the customer's preferences?

    It's basically good practice for any comprehensive guide to offer alternatives. In fact, I'm surprised they didn't vary the PSU selection more.
    Reply
  • adadad - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    well written...! Reply
  • Lunyone - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    I agree, like I stated that they could put alternate cases for comparison or whatever. I know that parts aren't always available in all areas, so trying to entertain all options can be quite daunting. I like that they mentioned that the RAM should be 1333 mHz and at 1.5v (stock voltage). This is always a good idea for mobo compatibility.
    I was just trying to simplify the builds by suggesting an easy format (not that it would be the best option, but could be used to see the benefits of the upgrades).
    Reply
  • nathanddrews - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    "Why don't you just use the same..."

    Then someone in the comments would complain that they didn't show enough alternatives or that AT was biased for/against Brand X. This way, any reader can mix and match the multiple recommended components to arrive at a combination he finds appealing. No reason to limit the article for a few dumb twats.
    Reply
  • Marburg U - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    Removing the possibility to overclock law\mid-range CPUs was an infamous trick pulled out by Intel, and i will remember it forever. Reply
  • Streetwind - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    Midrange builds are easily my favorite, because it is in this area that you get the single best price/performance points. Buy something better, and price increases far quicker than performance; buy something cheaper, and prices decrease far slower than performance does.

    What also amuses me in these articles is the surprising difference between the US and EU markets. Often at first glance, I don't understand some of the choices made, believing I have something far better at almost the same price; then when I visit Newegg, I realize that the same part that costs only 20%-30% more in Europe is at a 100% or more markup in the US. Conversely, something I would never choose in Europe because of its bad price/performance ratio happens to be surprisingly affordable overseas. And let's not mention specialty parts that are only available in one region but not the other. The bottomline is: as globalized as our world (and especially the IT world) is, you really should be looking at your local markets only when determining what to buy.

    For reference, here is one example of what passes for a well-crafted upper midrange system in Europe:
    1x ASUS P8Z77-M mainboard, €93
    1x Intel Core i5-3470 CPU (OC'd to 4.0 GHz), €173
    1x Thermalright True Spirit 120 cooler, €24
    1x G.Skill Sniper RAM kit 2x4GB, 1600 9-9-9-24 @ 1.25V, 41€
    1x Optical drive to taste, €20-€30
    1x ASUS GTX660 Ti / Radeon 7950 DirectCU II to taste, €285
    1x Crucial m4 SSD 512GB, €330-€350
    1x Be Quiet! Straight Power E9 PSU, €58
    1x BitFenix Shinobi (windowless) case, €50
    1x Enermax T.B.Silence 120mm fan, 5€
    2x Enermax T.B.Silence 140mm fan, 16€
    1x 3pin fan Y-splitter cable, €2
    -----------------------------------------
    Totals roughly €1100-€1130

    This gives you ASUS' fantastic UEFI and fan control software, takes advantage of the 4 "free" speed bins of the partially unlocked CPU, has silent cooling on all components (as silent as a 2-plug video card gets, anyway), and offers a hilarious half-a-terabyte of high quality solid state storage. That can be downgraded to 256GB while saving ca. €155, but the big m4 is currently sitting at a fantastic price point, especially when you can catch one of the €330 offers (that's less than 65cent/GB). The mainboard is one of the least power-hungry ones on the market, and so is the RAM. The audiophile gamer might want to add a sound card, but well, the Anandtech builds don't have one either ;)
    Reply
  • Streetwind - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    Oh, and the PSU is rated 80PLUS Gold too, for what it's worth. WTB edit button...! Reply

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