Platform Cost & Buying GuideOn this page we will try to create several system builds based on the choices and pricing available today.
For pricing we chose to look up the cheapest component price available on Newegg. For a lower midrange platform it makes perfect sense to buy the cheapest component available instead of spending a large premium on parts with special overclocking features.
We will only compare the system hardware subset of processor + motherboard + graphics. Components like memory, HDD, PSU, case, etc. are irrelevant as all platforms can be used with the same components without any significant effects on performance. For memory we recommend DDR3-1600 for all platforms as this currently offers best price/performance.
- AMD Athlon II X4 640: $80
- Intel Core i3-2100: $120
- AMD A8-3850: $140
- AMD AM3: $40
- Intel 1155: $55
- AMD FM1: $70
- AMD HD 6450: $50
- AMD HD 6670: $85
- AMD HD 5770: $120
- Athlon II + motherboard + HD 6450 = $170
- Core i3 2100 + motherboard + integrated graphics = $180
- A8-3850 + motherboard + integrated graphics = $210
The Core i3 solution offers more raw CPU performance in today's productivity applications because those are mostly single threaded. Clock per clock Core i3 is significantly faster than both AMD's A-series and the Athlon II setup. In case you do use applications that fully benefit from a quad core processor, Athlon II is at a slight advantage, even though i3 has HyperThreading, Athlon II also comes at the lowest total system cost. If you can live with the absolute minimum in graphics performance you could even consider an Athlon II motherboard with integrated graphics and save another $50. But consider that these options might not even have DVI/HDMI output and can barely handle Windows Aero effects.
Entry Level Gaming
- Athlon II + motherboard + HD 6670 = $205
- A8-3850 + motherboard + integrated graphics = $210
- Core i3 2100 + motherboard + HD 6670 = $260
- Athlon II + motherboard + HD 5770 = $240
- Core i3 2100 + motherboard + HD 5770 = $295
- A8-3850 + motherboard + HD 5770 = $330
Again, we see Athlon II taking the leadership in terms of absolute pricing, and by quite a margin actually. The money you save here, could be easily spent on a GTX 460 which is the price/performance king of the next higher performance segment - and suddenly you can play Crysis. In this configuration the CPUs with integrated graphics suffer from the associated cost premium of the IGP. If AMD could somehow manage to make their IGP CrossFire work with the HD 5770 for an extra performance boost, the $90 price increase could maybe offset the cost a bit, but not even in theory does AMD's Fusion IGP provide a $90 performance equivalent to beat the Athlon II platform. In games that are computationally intensive or that become CPU bottlenecked quickly - like Civilization V or Star Craft II, the Sandy Bridge solution could be at an advantage because of its incredibly powerful CPU architecture, but for the majority of titles GPU performance is the limiting factor.
OverclockingWhen taking overclocking into account, which does come with a significant skill (acquisition) and time requirement the options change a bit. Intel's i3 2100 simply sucks for overclocking because it does not support multiplier increases and BCLK overclocking is quite limited on Sandy Bridge. While Athlon II does offer decent overclocking potential, we have doubts that even when overclocked it will be able to match the stock performance of i3 2100. While overclocking offers decent rewards on the AMD A-Series reviewed here, you will see optimum gains only when overclocking both the CPU and the IGP, again here, the raw CPU performance can just not beat Intel's offerings. One potential choice would be a Phenom II Black Edition processor, especially the lower clocked models offer excellent headroom at fair pricing. But I'll suggest a different choice here. If you do not have to have the latest and greatest hardware you could possibly look into the almost extinct P55 Socket 1156 Clarkdale platform. Intel's Core i3 540 (not Sandy Bridge) is available for $105 online, it comes with two cores at 3.06 GHz + Hyperthreading and overclocks very well. 4 GHz won't be much of a problem, 4.5 GHz is not impossible, depending on how lucky you get with the CPU. At such clock speeds, the CPU will eat any AMD processor for breakfast and can compete with more expensive Sandy Bridge models. Now go buy a GeForce GTX 460 768 MB - yes, really 768 MB. The 768 MB version of the GTX 460 is only a little bit slower than the 1 GB variant, yet overproportionally cheaper. Overclock that card, too, +20% real life performance is well in reach. As a result that card will be about as fast as a GTX 560 Ti, the whole system should be fine for full HD gaming - at a price of $285 when compared to the systems on this page (= $105 (CPU) + $70 (motherboard) + $110 (graphics card)).
Feel free to discuss potentially better build plans than what we presented here in the comments section of this review. It will be interesting and rewarding to other readers to find out what aces our community has up their sleeve in terms of maximum price/performance builds - we're sure you'll outdo us.