Is this a good computer for the money in 2013?

My realtor sent me some computer specs this past week and asked for my opinion on it, since I get paid to keep up with this stuff these days and he doesn’t.

I thought my critique of the system might help other people.

The system is a Dell (possibly refurb) with an Intel Core i7-860 CPU, 4 GB RAM, 320 GB HDD (at least it’s 7200 RPM), and Radeon 3450 video with 256MB of RAM. The price was $879.

My problem with this system is that it surrounds a high-end CPU (low for an i7, but still a high-end CPU) with entry-level components. The hard drive is 7200 RPM, but it’s practically SSD-sized, and I would never, ever buy a new system with only 4 GB of RAM in it, as cheap as memory is now. The video card is probably adequate, but it’s a $35 card, based on technology that’s about five years old. It’s a separate card for the sake of having a separate card. Integrated video on current systems won’t be any worse than that, and could potentially be better.

I’d always rather have good supporting components, even if it means spending less on a CPU. A system with a Core i3 or i5 in it (or any AMD CPU with at least four cores) with a fast hard drive (or better yet, SSD) and 8-16 GB of RAM will cost less than this i7-based system, but will run rings around it for any real-world task I can think of.

In many cases, a higher-end system will have a longer usable lifespan, but I’m not certain a $550 Core i5 PC would go obsolete any faster than this Core i7 PC would. In 3-5 years, either of those systems will need help, and I think a more balanced PC will need fewer upgrades than that Core i7 will need.

It’s actually fairly rare for the CPU to be a bottleneck with any new (or new-ish) system. The bottlenecks are frequently with inadequate memory and/or too slow of a hard drive. A sub-$400 PC with whatever CPU you’re comfortable with, upgraded to 8 GB of RAM and outfitted with an SSD will run rings around a minimalist Core i7, and cost less when you’re finished with it.

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