Been trying tons of combinations via new and and other sites looking for the right combination to pull the trigger on and figured I'd ask here since I've done most of my lurking here!
APPROXIMATE PURCHASE DATE: over the next 2-3 weeks
BUDGET RANGE: 400-500ish after shipping, before mail in rebates.
SYSTEM USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT: HTPC (AVI, MKV, MOV, Hulu, Netflix, etc ... playback on Acer P235Hbmid 23 inch 1080p monitor, 42 Vizio VU42LF 1080p LCD TV, 120 Inch Optoma HD20 1080p Projector), Gaming (Never had a gaming PC, I'm a PS3/360/Wii guy wanting the ability to game if wanted/needed), Graphic Design (Adobe Design Premium CS3), Computer Programming (JAVA, Visual Basic, etc..)
PARTS NOT REQUIRED: Monitor, Keyboard, Mouse, Cabling, Operating System, Speakers.
PREFERRED WEBSITE(S) FOR PARTS: newegg.com
PARTS PREFERENCES: N/A
MONITOR RESOLUTION: 1920 x 1080
ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: Not a Big PC gamer but would like the option, Mainly into Home Theater. Wife is in school for programming.
Total: $605. This one will allow you to play games at 1080p with lowered detail. You can drop another 5770 in for higher details or get a bigger GPU. You could save $38 with this combo with another board, but wouldn't be able to add a second card for better gaming.
Alternatively, you could start with the second build, but use a lower HD 5xxx card (i.e. 5670), but that would not be good for gaming at all.
I'm currently building a system for the exact same purpose and on the exact same budget. Yesterday I snagged the best CPU / mobo combo I could find. For $200 I snagged a Phenom ii X2 555 black edition 3.2 ghz CPU which has two dormant cores that can easily be unlocked via the BIOS of my ASRock M3A785GXH/128M AM3 AMD 785G HDMI ATX motherboard.
The motherboard is AM3 so you'll have to splurge for DDR3 memory but the upside is that you have onboard video, CrossfireX, and the latest socket from AMD which means you'll have a good upgrade path for years to come. Links to said products are below.
A quick couple of things to point out about bad's advice.
First, the ability to unlock the cores of the CPUs are not garaunteed. You may get lucky and be able to unlock them, and you might not.
Second, after being lucky and unlocking the cores, you have to count on luck for the cores to be stable. If they aren't, you will have frequent crashes and other problems.
Third, overclocking/unlocking adds a lot of heat to the system. Extra heat means extra noise and shorter life of the components, which means more parts fail quicker and the machine is louder. The second effect is bad for an HTPC.
Fourth, ASRock is not a quality brand. They make very cheap parts. They're favored by people who replace their systems frequently or push everything hard because they're cheap to replace.
Fifth, the X2 555 is $101. For less than that, you could get an X4 620, a true quad core. If you wanted to overclock it, it would be easier to get the higher clock speed than with the fake quad core.
I'm thinking of going with MadAdmiral's first setup as I'll only being using one output at a time (two maybe in the future but that would be a second monitor and I assume that the first setup would be fine for two monitors) and the upgrade ability seems to be decently future-proof (PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot, Intel i series board, etc....)
hey man, I think we are going for the same type of system for around the same budget! check out my thread and let me know what you think. you seem to be pretty well informed on the HTPC aspect of the computer.