Introduction

The last time we did a true AnandTech buyer's guide was several months ago, just after socket AM2 had launched and before Core 2 Duo hit the scene. Since then, there have been a ton of new product releases, obviously with many of them focused around the Core 2 platform. However, new processors and motherboards for the Intel platform are just the tip of the iceberg. While there may not have been as many new product releases in the graphics card department, things have definitely been interesting there. Storage components haven't changed much, but DDR2 memory prices have skyrocketed over the past month or two. The net result is that nearly every one of the component choices we used two months ago is now at best slightly outdated, which of course means it's time for a new buyer's guide.

Things have been quite busy the past couple of months, and our buyer's guides and price guides have unfortunately been neglected, but we plan on updating all three market segments within the next few weeks. After that, we plan to publish a new buyer's guide every other week. That gives us six weeks between guides that cover the same market segment, which is enough time for some of the choices to change so that we don't just repeat the same thing month after month. We may also look into other types of buyer's guides as the need arises, but for now we will be focusing on entry level, midrange, and high-end configurations. Any time someone tries to define a price segment, there is naturally going to be some disagreement. It is always possible to cut a couple hundred dollars from the price if necessary, or you could spend a few hundred dollars more depending on your budget. For reference, we have defined our market segments as follows.

Starting with the entry level configurations, price is an overriding concern. For those that are simply looking for a computer that can handle most office tasks, the goal is to get the price down to around $500. This can be very difficult without making some significant compromises, and for some tasks it is nearly impossible. For example, building a complete "moderate gaming" computer for $500 is going to be extremely difficult, and it might be best to look at some of the offerings that you can get from major OEMs. Compromises will be made on those systems as well, but when you factor in the cost of an operating system and display, starting with a baseline OEM system and then spending a bit on upgrades isn't a terrible idea. However, this is not to say that you don't often get more bang for the buck by building your own system from scratch. For a slightly upgraded entry level configuration, we will be targeting a price point of $750.

The midrange category is what we will be discussing today, and this is generally the most popular market segment for computer enthusiasts. You can get a system that can do every task reasonably well for around $1000, and you can also downgrade a few components that are less important for your chosen tasks in order to upgrade other areas. For example, gaming depends largely on the speed of your graphics card, so if price is a concern, keeping other costs in check in order to spend as much money as possible on the GPU is a good idea. Most overclockers also tend to live in the midrange price segment, with the hope of purchasing moderately expensive components and then overclocking them to high-end performance levels and beyond. The low end of our midrange price point is $1000, while the upper midrange configurations will cost closer to $1500, and perhaps a bit more.

Finally, with the high-end system configurations price generally becomes less of a concern as users begin to focus on achieving optimal performance. There are still various types of users interested in purchasing a high-end system, ranging from the extreme overclockers to those that simply want the best money can buy, and there are also those that just want better than midrange performance and are willing to pay a bit more. The law of diminishing returns is definitely in full effect for most areas of the high-end market, although there are certain components where it still makes sense to buy high-end if possible. Skimping on displays is definitely something we don't recommend if you can avoid it, and for gamers moving to multiple graphics cards can significantly improve performance, particularly at higher resolutions. High-end system configurations begin at around $2000 and go up from there, although for the most part we will keep things well under $5,000 even for the maximum configurations.

We're going to try and keep things a bit more succinct in this midrange guide, and as always your feedback is welcome. Rather than looking at each individual component choice, we're going to focus directly on the four basic configurations. We will have two AMD configurations and two Intel configurations, aiming for the low end and high end of the midrange price segment with each platform. These configurations are basically a snapshot in time, and prices always fluctuate. We are also of necessity limited in the number of recommendations we can make for any component, so just because your favorite motherboard or graphics card doesn't get selected doesn't mean that it's a bad choice. If you've got questions, feel free to post in our forums or sound off in the comments section, and we will do our best to respond.

Baseline AMD Midrange Platform
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