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
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  • Grok42 - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    I agree, managing space across 2 drives on a Windows system is a complete pain. One day MS will release an OS that roots all the drives from a root path like Linux/OSX and either mounts drives as folders or just sees all the storage as one big pool of space like ZFS can. Until then you need to pick a system drive that will hold all the installed applications you intend to ever use.

    That said, I also think HDDs are pretty much useless to talk about for system builds these days. All the builds I read about use a small 60GB-128GB system SSD and then throw a larger HDD as a 2nd drive for almost a $100 additional cost. I think 99% of builds would be better served by going with a 250GB SSD for $30-$60 more and calling it a day. You should have to manage the space for applications. If you have a large video/music/photo collection well, that is what external drives or NAS systems are for.
  • antef - Wednesday, September 12, 2012 - link

    I don't find the management all that difficult. Everything gets installed on the SSD, except for games which get installed on the hard drive. All personal documents/music/pictures are on the hard drive. That's it.
  • juhatus - Wednesday, September 12, 2012 - link

    Also you can use mklink /j in eleveted command prompt to keep some games on ssd. works great for example steam..
  • Aikouka - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    I don't recall it being noted in the article, but SSDs seem to go on sale almost every other week. For example, NewEgg has the Samsung 830 128GB ($90), Vertex 4 128GB ($90), Sandisk Extreme 120GB ($80), Agility 4 256GB ($145), and Intel 330 240GB ($160) (note: latter two are after mail-in rebate).

    These deals can be *great* for savings. After rebate, you can get an Intel SSD that has twice the capacity compared to the one that was brought up in the article for only ~$55, which is only about a 50% increase in price for a 100% increase in capacity. That's a fantastic value! =)
  • demonbug - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    That's a good point, SSD choice might just depend on what's on sale at the time - there are quite a few drives that seem to be more or less comparable with prices that vary 20% or more week to week. That makes it hard to recommend one based on price/performance as this measure is so unpredictable. I just picked up a 128GB M4 from Amazon for $80 a couple days ago (I think it was a one-day sale; almost went with the 256GB for $164, but that exceeds my spur-of-the-moment purchase threshold); it might not be quite as fast as some of the newest contenders, but at that price the choice was pretty clear.
  • exostrife - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    I'm a bit baffled how none of these use an AMD setup.
  • rscoot - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    Because if you're buying AMD for anything other than a few niche situations in the mid range CPU wise you are wasting your money. This is coming from someone who was almost exclusively an AMD consumer from 2001-2006. Their CPUs are just not competitive in this arena right now.
  • just4U - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    I build computers based on Intel and Amd .. 30-40 a year infact with a ton of hands on experience. Even in my home right now I have a older PhenomII 920 setup along with my 2700K build. Both are fine for anything you throw at them game wise.. as are the majority of CPUs on the market today.

    For your average gamer/user (whatever) if you put up two identical systems (not crippled either..) one based on ivy bridge the other based on Amd's FX.. their not going to notice a whole helluva lot of difference. Their games will run fast on both setups.. as will their other programs/apps. Benchmarks may tell a different tale but don't be fooled... Amd does have a decent cpu. It's just not as good as Intels is all and only experienced users or those using certain programs will ever know the difference.
  • just4U - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    As a for instance.. I've found that for the most part AMD's FX line is fairly comparable to the i7 920 in alot of things. While that cpu is older now it's no slouch.. hell I doubt the majority of people owning computers out there even have that much cpu power and are still sitting on older Athlons and Core2s... Even there though.. the C2D set a new standard and we've been moving up in baby steps since then. If you have a E8400 or better with 8G of ram (overkill) and atleast a 7750/550TI (or older equivelents..) you've got a competent setup. Throw in a ssd .. even better.. as that's the single most notable upgrade most will likely make or even notice.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    The issue is that AMD's chips are slower and use more power, which is a double whammy. If you get an Intel CPU, you could potentially pay for the cost difference over the life of the PC just in power savings At idle, Intel i7-3770K (their highest power part) is 15-25W less than the FX series and older Phenom X4 chips.

    Under load, the difference is anywhere from 50W to 100W. So less performance while drawing more power and you save about $130 at most compared to i5-3570K. At full load, you'd pay for the difference in under two years if running 24/7. At idle loads, it would be more like $17.50 per year in power savings, and far less if you power off at night.

    Even so, for my money I would rather have the faster system using less power rather than making do with older components. But that's why I'm an enthusiast and not an average user. Most of my extended family is still running Core 2 Duo/Quad or Athlon X2/X4 PCs while I'm running IVB laptops and Bloomfield desktops (with one IVB desktop).

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