Build Your Own: Tom's Hardware's BestConfigs, Updated!

Picking the parts for your next system build just got a little easier…

Every quarter, Tom’s Hardware gives you its System Builder Marathon, which pits three of our authors at three different price points in a friendly little competition to demonstrate to you, our readers who generally don’t mind tweaking your systems for extra performance, the best possible value for your money (and then we give the computers away). In case you missed it, December’s series can be found here (this quarter's series will begin tomorrow morning and carry on through the rest of this week; check back to win our three Newegg-sponsored machines):

$700 Gaming PC
$1,300 Enthusiast PC
$2,500 Performance PC
System Value Compared

While this is always quite a bit of fun for us, it really focuses on gaming, and then only at three different prices. But there are oh-so-many other ways we use our systems, aren’t there?

That’s where BestConfigs comes into play. I’ve set up nine different configurations right off the bat, each with a parts list needed to build the machine in question.

AMD-Based Office PC

Intel-Based Office PC

High-End Workstation

Budget Intel-Based Gaming PC

Budget AMD-Based Gaming PC

Home Theater PC

MicroATX Gaming Build

High-End Intel Gaming PC

High-End AMD Gaming PC

For as many of the items going into each of these builds, we’ve linked you to our PriceGrabber shopping engine to help you find the best possible deals as you compile your parts list. For the items that aren’t well-represented in the engine, we pulled the prices from Newegg.

The last time I did this, in January, you posted quite a bit of feedback on each build. Some of this I've been able to implement immediately, especially as it pertains to improving the value of these setups. Next month I'm shooting to introduce three or four new builds to address your requests (a budget workstation, a home server, and a "how low can you go" system are all on the radar; thanks for those suggestions).

In the meantime, here are some of the changes I've implemented, thanks to the community:

  • AMD-Based Office PC: saved some money by swapping in a 500GB (instead of 1TB hard drive), found a case/power supply combo (rather than sourcing the parts separately), upgraded the motherboard to allow for 4GB of DDR3 memory (instead of DDR2), priced in DDR3 (naturally).
  • Intel-Based Office PC: Switched to a Core i3-530 and H55-based motherboard, dropped from 1TB of hard drive capacity to 500GB, picked up a case/power supply combo (rather than sourcing those parts separately). 
  • High-End Workstation: No changes.
  • Budget Intel-Based Gaming PC: Dropped from a Core i5-750 to a Core i3-530, adopted an H55-based motherboard (down instead of P55), switched to a single Radeon HD 5850 (instead of CrossFire'd 5770s, in light of the single x16 link available through H55), grabbed a 1TB Samsung Spinpoint F3, more cost-effective case, and lower-capacity power supply. This should take some of the emphasis away from processing and put more of your money toward graphics performance.
  • Budget AMD-Based Gaming PC: Upgraded the dual-core Phenom II to a quad-core Athlon II, switched to a 785G motherboard and a single Radeon HD 5850 (away from the two Radeon HD 5770s), added the Samsung 1TB hard drive, the Antec Three Hundred chassis, and a smaller power supply. Almost the reverse of the Intel build, we're using a more powerful quad-core CPU at your request, and using some of the money saved on the case/power supply to add a single Radeon HD 5850, too.
  • Home Theater PC: Switched from the Radeon HD 5750 to a Radeon HD 5670 (optional, since the Pentium G6950 includes graphics, will bitstream Blu-ray audio, and accelerates video playback), ditched the silent SSD in favor of a 1.5TB low-power hard drive (for the folks who want to store their media on the HTPC, rather than a media server), tried out a different case. Received lots of feedback on this one, so for those of you who wanted a larger hard drive, now you have it!
  • MicroATX Gaming Build: Ditched the LGA 1366 build altogether, picked up a Core i5-750, P55-based motherboard, and a single Radeon HD 5850 graphics card (taking into account the single PCIe link and need for more graphics performance), grabbed a lower-capacity power supply, too. This should be a more efficient, lower-heat, comparably-potent gaming system.
  • High-End Intel Gaming PC: In light of the single x16 PCIe link, swapped from dual Radeon HD 5870s to a single Radeon HD 5970 (despite the fact that they're still largely unavailable), added Cooler Master's Hyper 212 cooler, upgraded from a 40GB boot drive to a second-gen Intel 80GB SSD, swapped from two 500GB drives in RAID 0 to two 1TB drives in RAID 0, picked up a lower-capacity power supply.
  • High-End AMD Gaming PC: Added a Radeon HD 5970 (instead of the two Radeon HD 5870s in CrossFire), upgraded to an 80GB Intel SSD (instead of the 40GB boot drive), lower-capacity power supply.

Bear in mind that, in eight of the nine builds (High-End Workstation is excluded, since no changes were made), your recommendations shaved off hundreds of dollars from the original configuration prices, while, in almost every case, improving performance or better balancing the setup itself. Note that I didn't tie in operating systems yet; since everyone's path here will be different, just remember to budget in some cash for an OS (or not, if you're going with Linux). The goes for peripherals and other extras, like case fans. As mentioned, we'll have additional builds included next month, and I'm still looking into some of your other suggestions, like commenting on each system's respective page. Keep those suggestions coming. I'd like this to be an easy reference for friends and family looking to put their own systems together!

Chris Angelini
Managing Editor, Tom’s Hardware
crazipper on Twitter

Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.
  • heartburnkid
    I still think your "budget" gaming builds are priced a hair too high. Let's face it, $900 isn't a budget PC in the modern marketplace. Dropping the GPU down to a 5770 or a 4890 would provide a system more realistically thought of as a budget PC, and still deliver kick-ass performance at 1920x1080 or 1680x1050.
  • tsnor
    Perhaps a video capture card with the home theater PC ?
  • lunyone
    I'll state this again (almost every build you do), This isn't a budget gaming build at >$900! Budget gaming builds should be around $500-550 or so. Your original budget gaming build was at $500 and then crept up to $550 and is now at $900. Not sure why you keep upping the "Budget" build, but when you get down to a budget build around $500 than you will be in the "Budget" then.
  • cangelini
    If a $750 build is more up your alley, make sure you check back on Thursday--Paul will post his Gaming config, which you'll be able to win =)
  • flyinfinni
    A couple ways to drop the budget gaming rig ($900 really isn't budget- its mid-range at the most!) Maybe drop to a 5770 (a 5850 is by NO means a budget card, no matter how you look at it), drop to a 500gig HD. for the AMD Build I'd probably drop the the triple-core Athlon II instead of the quad. I'd almost say to drop to 2gigs of DDR3, as for a budget user, that's probably enough, but I'm not as sure about that one. That right there is almost $250 off the AMD rig (keeping 4 gigs of RAM).
  • haplo602
    amd gaming budget build: WTH ? drop the 5850 to a 5770, athlon 635 to 630 (you are only losing 100MHz). you only need cca 450-500W PSU now. maybe a smaller drive will work too.
  • Just finished my build took some time to get the right parts at the right price.

    Asus P6X58D Premium MB - $230 shipped
    Intel i7-920 - $212 shipped
    OCZ Vertex Cooler - $24 shipped
    Corsair XMS3 DDR3 1600 (6GB) - $140 shipped
    Sapphire 5770 - $150 shipped
    Hitachi 1TB HD (2 units) - $120 shipped
    OCZ Vertex 30GB SSD (2 units) - $140
    Corsair 750TX PSU - $60
    Lite-On DVD-RW (2 units) - $55 shipped
    Roswill card reader - $10 shipped
    Lian Li Case - Had from previous build (add $50 for decent case

    Total $1191 shipped for everything (added $50 for a case)!

    Running 4.2GHz on air!!!!!

  • Rehnquist-
    Aw come on, guys- $900 is perfectly fine for a budget PC build. Your "budget" is $900 hyuk hyuk

    I agree, though. "Budget" is something that can be scraped together with the savings of someone in college (at most $600), and the HD5850 isn't a budget-build card.
  • enzo matrix
    I agree with what most people have said so far about the budget builds. Perhaps a 3-tier system would be better:
    Budget $600
    Mid-end $1000
    high end $1800
  • jryan388
    Instead of the 785gm-e51, get the 785gm-e65. It has 1GB ddr3 1333 memory sideport and only $10 more. Then drop the ram to 2 gigs. Also the -e65 supports 140w processors.
    +1 for 5770, 500w.