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


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
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • Streetwind - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    You'd be surprised how far a 400W PSU can take you.

    Checking Anandtech Bench, the 7950 is listed with a total difference of 251W between long idle (= video card at 0W) and running Metro 2033.

    Mind you, that 251W is not only the Radeon, but the entire system, which also includes a 130W TDP Intel Core i7-3960X @ 4.3GHz with 16 GB of RAM, and the mainboard and auxillary components also all consume some power too. This just shows once again that TDP has very little meaning when trying to determine power needs, except for tendencies. A different site tested CPUs under full Prime95 load and found that a Core i7-3960X will eat ca. 150W, just over twice as much power as an i5-3570k. So even if Metro 2033 is a GPU limited test, you can probably assume that you'll need about 40W-50W less running it with the Ivy Bridge CPU. So let's say 210W over idle.

    Now, you want a power supply that has a few reserves, so that when the caps age and the maximum output drops a little over the years, you will not fry it. Having a 50W buffer on a 400W power supply is a good number unless you plan to keep it for more than 5 years.

    So to touch your self-imposed 350W power draw limit with a system that runs at an estimated 210W over idle in a very demanding game, your system would have to idle at 140W.

    Not even my six year old 65nm Conroe, 35% overclocked at 1.3V and with a video card that doesn't save power very well in idle, reaches 140W when sitting on the Windows desktop.

    Ivy Bridge systems with AMD cards idle around 60W nowadays. So the 400W PSU has more than enough headroom to supply up to 290W additional power under load without touching the 50W safety buffer... and even a Radeon 7950 isn't THAT hungry.
  • Egg - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    Um... I thought that the 7950 had 2 PCIe 6 pin connectors... or maybe a 6 and an 8?
    That PSU only has 1.
  • Streetwind - Wednesday, September 12, 2012 - link

    That, of course, would be a much better argument why the PSU choice is less than optimal ;) There are 400W units with 8/6pin + 6pin configurations, though.

    Admittedly, I wouldn't recommend fully utilizing those when running anything but a LGA1155 platform. Going 8+6 on a possibly overclocked LGA2011 platform, or those power-hungry bulldozers, will likely kill a PSU of this size. It's better to go 500W for that.
  • Egg - Wednesday, September 12, 2012 - link

    Antec HCG-400 M is one. But rather expensive.

    I did forget Molex to 6 pins exist, though.
  • rscoot - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    What's the point in recommending a GTX 680 when the 670 offers 95% of the performance for ~80% of the price? Both of them are overkill for 1440p gaming in the vast majority of cases and that $100 you save could be spent on a power supply that isn't as dubious as the Antec recommended.
  • The0ne - Wednesday, September 12, 2012 - link

    I'm baffled by this as well. For the total cost of the mid range, the 670 is the perfect fit not the 680. And even for me it's to run both my 30" LCDs. As Rscoot said already, for most with much lower resolutions it's overkill.

  • Dribble - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    You either have just a HDD, or a HDD and an SSD. No one building a modern pc for anything other then simple tasks, which gaming/workstations are not, is going to be happy with 120GB of HDD space.
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    If you've got a NAS to store your media going SSD only on your main computer's doable; certainly easier with 256GB than 128 though.
  • antef - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    I would argue that "just a HDD" is not an option for a mid-range system, they are just so slow and SSDs are so cheap now. It's either both or just SSD.
  • just4U - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    YES & NO..

    If we are talking about those that frequent these sites then fine.. but your average gamer while liking speed isn't necessarily adept at managing space on a smaller SSD. That can be a horrid experience for those that have little to no Hard Drive management skills. Most have been spoiled rotten by Large Capacity Hard Discs.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now