Introduction

Welcome back to another edition of the AnandTech Buyer's Guides. The one constant in life is change, and what was once an ultrafast component invariably will be surpassed by midrange and eventually budget parts in terms of raw performance. Sometimes this progression will occur quickly, and other times it may take a couple years, but in the world of computers we will all inevitably need to upgrade. For the past several years many people have been quite happy with their computer's performance; for typical applications (not games, video encoding, 3D rendering, or other professional applications) even moderate Pentium 4 or Athlon XP systems continue to run quite well. The pending launch of Windows Vista may finally change all that, with performance requirements that appear to be quite a bit higher than Windows XP - assuming of course that you want to make the switch to the new operating system.

Most people are still pretty happy with Windows XP performance and features, and particularly in the business world we don't expect a rapid transition to take place. Most are taking a "wait and see" approach to Vista, or perhaps waiting for the expected Service Pack 1 before making the transition. If you like being an early adopter, by all means feel free to take the plunge at the end of this month when Windows Vista launches. We're not ready to recommend such an approach, however, so our Buyer's Guides will continue to stick with XP for now.

It is worth noting that most new systems (and OS purchases) will come with the option to upgrade to Vista for free (or for a marginal fee), but you need to make sure that you get the correct version of Windows XP depending on which version of Windows Vista you want to run. Basically, at this point we do not recommend that anyone purchase Windows XP Home, as you are only allowed to upgrade to Windows Vista Home Basic. The big problem with Vista Home Basic is that it does not include the new Aero Glass interface, arguably one of the main reasons many people would be interested in upgrading to Vista in the first place. We recommend getting Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 or XP Professional instead, as both of those can be upgraded to Vista Home Premium, and the latter can be upgraded to Windows Vista Business.

There's also the 64-bit question that needs to be tackled, as all versions of Windows XP and Vista are now available in either 32-bit or 64-bit packages. While we would love to say that we've seen a benefit to running 64-bit operating systems, the reality is that there are very few applications that actually perform better in 64-bit mode right now, and there are still plenty of driver issues and other incompatibilities that people run into. If you run applications that use a lot of memory and you plan on installing more than 2GB of RAM into your system, a 64-bit OS might be the right way to go, but if you just want the operating system to get out of your way and let you get to work, we recommend sticking with a 32-bit OS (preferably XP) for now. That recommendation may change in the future, but discretion and patience seem to be the better course of action.

With that information out of the way, our Midrange Buyer's Guide continues to cover the most popular market segment, and the available budget leaves a lot of room for flexibility. Our last midrange guide was in September 2006, making it almost 4 months old. You might think at first that a lot of things would have changed in four months, but other than a few price fluctuations our basic recommendations are very similar. Rather than simply rehash what we have already stated in previous guides, we're going to use this midrange guide to tackle several different configuration options, with prices ranging from $1250 up to over $2000. The top of that price range is more of a high-end computer, but we don't necessarily recommend that you purchase every single component from our upgraded configuration. Rather, consider it a list of the various upgrades that you can make, and choose those which make the most sense depending on your intended use. We will also cover options you might want to consider for gaming and overclocking centric configurations, and in the end we will have several different systems from which you can choose.

Basic Midrange Configurations
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  • JarredWalton - Sunday, January 21, 2007 - link

    Some of the PCs are kept up to date for gaming parties and the like. Others are just mostly sitting around waiting for me to test something on an older platform or whatever. Others are basically spare parts. In the winter, I turn on a lot of them to provide heat - I only have electric heaters anyway, so whether I'm putting the electricity into the heaters or into PCs doesn't make much difference to me. I run Folding@Home in such cases to increase heat output, and if the house starts getting too warm I shut down systems. :) Reply
  • chrnochime - Friday, January 19, 2007 - link

    Basic Config - Accessories

    Both times that Fortron appeared, it was written as "Fotron". FSP would probably appreciate that you spell their name correctly....
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, January 19, 2007 - link

    Awesome! I've been misspelling their name for years and this is the first time anyone has corrected me. Oops! Thanks -- I will see to it that they don't make that mistake again. :-) Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, January 19, 2007 - link

    Speech recognition. "they" = "I" Reply
  • noxipoo - Friday, January 19, 2007 - link

    should be around $1500. Reply
  • screech - Friday, January 19, 2007 - link

    basic midrange page:

    " With either of the above systems, you should easily be able to run all current applications, along with Windows Vista, with one possible exception: games. You can even run all current games,"

    Perhaps a little rewording is in order? ;)
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, January 19, 2007 - link

    Not sure what you mean - maybe I'm just blind. Basically, you can run all current games, but not at maximum detail, hence it's a "possible exception". Reply
  • dqniel - Friday, January 19, 2007 - link

    Rosewill PSUs? Absolutely awful. OCZ S.O.E. ram? Horrible track record with C2D chipsets and a poor price to performance ratio. G.Skill "HK" series RAM for the OCing system? 2x1GB kits using Micron D9 are available for the same price. A $267 Super Talent kit on Newegg for example. Asus P5B-E 1.02 motherboard? Not even available in the U.S. OCZ GameXStream PSU? Such horrible voltage ripple problems that I wouldn't trust it in a budget rig. The Corsair 520w or Zalman 600w would be much better choices.

    I'm confused as to how this thing got past quality control and was published.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, January 19, 2007 - link

    Several editors felt the G.Skill RAM was a good choice, but the Super Talent is arguably just as good if not better. Considering the G.Skill is now out of stock, I'll switch the RAM to the Super Talent - which is not Micron D9 memory as far as I'm aware, but still uses Micron chips and performs quite well (unless you're looking at some other ST memory?). The OCZ S.O.E. mostly suffered from early P965 BIOS issues, and with the rebate it comes in as very good RAM for a relatively low price. If you don't like rebates, we would suggest other DDR2-800 RAM price at around $200, which will perform about the same (within 2% most likely). As for the rest...

    There are about five different 700W PSUs available that are all based off the 700W Fotron Source. OCZ GameXStream is the cheapest at present, and despite your concerns with the "horrible voltage ripple" we have found the PSU to work extremely well in various systems. The overall experience most people have had with this PSU is very good - no product is perfect, and there will always be a few bad units out there - and for the price it's difficult to say that any PSU is universally better. You can get quieter PSUs (with lower wattage ratings - although those are mostly hype), and the Corsair 520W you mention is a good PSU. Is it better, though? That's difficult to say.

    The Rosewill PSU is in a different boat. Every time anyone recommends a PSU from some lesser brand, criticisms are sure to come. Rosewill PSUs in our experience are decent, and while Deer Electronics or Solytech or whoever may be the OEM, companies can and do get better. I've got one of the Rosewill 600W PSUs running a system and I've had no complaints with it. I haven't tried to overload the PSU to make it fail, but it appears to be about as good as several other ~550W PSUs I have (in terms of efficiency) and it's quite a bit cheaper. It's also a bit more noisy, but when you've got CrossFire X1900 GPUs most other fans are quiet by comparison. When it can run a CrossFire setup without any issues, that's pretty good for a $75 PSU. Of course, I'm not a PSU reviewer, but http://www.jonnyguru.com/review_details.php?id=48">JohnnyGuru took a look at a 500W Rosewill so maybe you'll trust his results? Not bad for a budget PSU, and it's probably safe to say the 600W listed in this BG is of similar quality to their 500W unit.

    Finally, for the motherboard I've listed the DS3 and the P5B-E, on the recommendation of Gary as he tends to do most of our motherboard reviews and he's tried all of the boards. My understanding was that the 1.02G is available in the US, but perhaps you're right. The P5B-E still offers a few features other boards lack at that price point, so depending on whether you prefer better OC'ing (DS3) or features will determine which board is right for you.

    If singling out 5 components out of 31 that you dislike turns an article into a horrible mess that's not worthy of publication, I'm sorry to disappoint. I can't say for certain that every one of these components is best in class and will work with every possible system configuration out there (i.e. motherboards can be picky about RAM at times), but I can say that the configurations listed will work very well according to our testing of the various parts. Most of the criticisms you've brought up will hardly make a difference on the final result.
    Reply
  • dqniel - Friday, January 19, 2007 - link

    Let me first state that perhaps I exaggerated a bit. I didn't mean to imply that the guide was "a horrible mess." Simply put, I think the guide is below Anandtech's standards in terms of having nearly perfect product selection in the given price range. Why settle for "...will hardly make a difference on the final result" when you can squeeze out that extra little bit of performance and stability for your money?

    I'm sticking by my Super Talent remark in that it has D9GMH chips: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82... (this particular model)

    Secondly, I'm glad that you could inform me that most of the S.O.E. problems have been fixed by BIOS updates. I'm sure either the S.O.E. or similarly priced Adata would be perfect choices for the rigs.

    As far as the PSUs are concerned- as I'm sure you know, most PSU companies will use varying OEM manufacturers from model to model. The particular Rosewill PSU you chosen, because of the poor choice of OEM manufacturer, for the 600w unit is well below the standards of other budget PSUs such as the Enhance GH models available at the reputable www.ewiz.com. Secondly, there is no reason to get a 700w PSU for the system you suggested even with heavy overclocking thrown into the mix. Power consumption is blown out of proportion and quality is greater than quantity since most companies' units don't actually meet their specified outputs. Because of this, a $120 Corsair HX or $120 Zalman 600w would be a better choice. Adequate power with better quality in terms of ripple while costing less seems like a logical choice. Sure, ripple won't cause any performance problems in the short term, but Jonnyguru and others have stated that in the long run it leads to the death of sensitive components such as RAM. The FSP Epsilon-based units are some of the worst available (with the exception of the Zalman unit) in terms of putting out dangerous ripple.

    The P5B-E 1.02 was renamed after the article you guys published. It was released overseas as the P5B-E Plus and is impossible to find in the states without paying ludicrous amounts. The Gigabyte DS3 and P5B-E Deluxe are both fantastic and widely available, however.
    Reply

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