What time is it? Blueprints time! We've built three rigs at three approximate price points: Baseline, Performance, and, because you asked for it, Budget. Baseline gets you a powerful, no-compromises rig, suitable for gaming and content creation at 1080p. Performance gets you more, and Budget is for those who want to be frugal.
These rigs are lab-tested and editor-approved, and we'll update them every month. Feedback is, of course, welcome. Tell us what you think!
Blueprints is sponsored by NewEgg.com. All parts selections are made by MaximumPC editors.
Note: Updated 9.21.2012 with the builds from the November 2012 magazine issue.
An unlocked Ivy Bridge quad-core and a kick-ass midrange GPU power this lean, no-compromises gaming PC. Thanks to falling HDD and SSD prices, we’re able to get both speed and capacity. On the video side, we were torn this month between the Radeon HD 7850, which has dropped to around $220, the 7870 GHz Edition, which is around $290, and the new GeForce GTX 660 Ti, which outperforms the 7870 GHz Edition in most tests and is $310. We settled on the 660 Ti, but it’s a close one: The 7870 GHz Edition and the 7950 would also be good picks.
Approximate Price: $1,330
For the performance machine, it’s a hard choice between the Ivy Bridge Core i7-3770K and the Sandy Bridge-E Core i7-3820. Both are quad-core CPUs with HyperThreading, but Sandy Bridge-E gives you more of an upgrade path: Ivy Bridge-E will come out next year, and there are always six-core Sandy Bridge-E processors. Depending on your needs, either would be a good choice. Either way, you get plenty of overclocking headroom, a kick-ass GPU, 16GB of DDR3, a Blu-ray burner, SSD, 3TB hard drive, and a sleek case with plenty of expansion opportunities, all for under $1,900.
Approximate Price: $1,870
So let it be written, so let it be done! We promised you a sub-$1,000 budget machine to alternate with our $3,000-plus Ultra configuration, and here it is! Our Budget box is the machine we need, not the machine we deserve. It has an inexpensive, overclockable Phenom II X4 chip and a modern motherboard that supports USB 3.0 and 6Gb/s SATA—albeit with only one x16 PCIe slot. For just over $600, we don’t get a fancy SSD, classy chassis, or a Blu-ray drive, but at least we have a 1TB 7,200rpm boot drive, 4GB of RAM, and a modern DirectX 11 GPU, the Radeon HD 7770. If you have a little more scratch, you can easily swap the Phenom II CPU for a faster Bulldozer or “Vishera” chip when that comes out, get a faster GPU, expand your RAM, get an aftermarket cooler for overclocking, or a fancier case and beefier PSU—whatever your heart desires. But this Budget box is enough to get you started with enthusiast computing without dipping into your college fund.