Introduction

As shown in our recent Entry-level Buyers' Guide, you can now build a decent entry-level PC for around $500 - including an LCD monitor and the Vista Home Premium OS. If you already have a monitor and OS, or use one of the free operating systems like Ubunti or another Linux variant, you can get your desktop system cost down to about $300. We don't recall a time when so much power was available in the computer industry for so little money.

Of course that $500 machine, while surprisingly capable for basic computer tasks, is certainly not the paragon for gaming, graphics, or raw computing power. As you move up the price scale you gain in all of those parameters. We started to beef up those areas in the bargain systems and reached prices closer to $1000. The next ladder rung is broadly defined as midrange. Most of our readers are looking to buy in the midrange category, which generally provides the most performance for the dollar and computing solutions with some staying power in the market.

Midrange can start as low as $1000 and extend all the way up to around $2000, which gives a lot of flexibility in terms of choosing components. In this era of declining prices and increasing value, the midrange also covers a wider area than in the past - just as we saw in the under $1000 segment. Our budget systems near $1000 were really representative of what we might have called midrange in the past. Similarly, our $2000 system is closer to what may have been defined as high-end in earlier guides.

It's fair to ask, then, why we haven't tossed the price classes for our guides and defined new ones. That option was considered, but the fact remains that high-end prices have not declined like midrange and entry prices. New architectures have also been recently introduced at the high-end, so the definition of high and mid are shifting as the Intel Core i7 and Phenom II move into our computing space. We are already seeing a few X58 boards that will be selling for around $200, which would allow a decent Core i7 build at around $2000. Similarly, you can build a very capable Phenom II box for that same $2000.

For today's Midrange Systems Guide we will put together two Intel systems and two AMD systems. The first pair are targeted for a complete system price of around $1500 - without monitor and OS that would be somewhere around $1200. This segment targets the best value possible with each component giving the overall best-bang-for-the buck in the midrange.

The second pair of systems target Midrange Performance. At about $500 more than Value Midrange, these $2000 complete systems invest that extra $500 in performance improvements. Without the 24" monitors and OS, the Performance Midrange systems would cost around $1600. The Midrange Performance segment is built around a powerful Intel Core i7 CPU or the fastest Phenom II you can currently buy. Both are very high performance for the money - and high performance by almost any other measure.

In the last few weeks we've looked at almost all the components you would need to build your new PC. This includes motherboards, memory, cases and power supplies, video cards, displays, and storage. Since we have already covered component classes and individual items in detail, you will find the above a useful reference to the components chosen in the system guides.

Intel Value Midrange
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  • quan111000 - Wednesday, March 17, 2010 - link


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  • aenagy - Sunday, February 01, 2009 - link

    I can't find the Xigmatek HDT-D1283 on the Xigmatek web site for thier air cooling products (http://www.xigmatek.com/product/aircooling.php)">http://www.xigmatek.com/product/aircooling.php) or by Googling (http://www.google.ca/search?hl=en&q=site%3Axig...">http://www.google.ca/search?hl=en&q...k.com+D1...

    Is the author referring to the Dark Knight-S1283V/Dark Knight-S1283? Which one?

    If so, what is the difference between the S1283V and S1283. Even after downloading the manuals I have not been able to figure it out. Maybe its the difference between the push-pin mounting vs. screws?
    Reply
  • Joe Schmoe - Monday, January 26, 2009 - link

    Hi folks!!

    I love this site and it was an excellent article.

    I have a slightly different (perhaps warped) perspective on this topic. It's based on too many years of living in poverty so I could keep my hyperfast, sweet internet connection going.

    I'm in the USA so EU readers don't laugh at my appalling slow connection.

    I think your midrange systems might be specced a little bit high.
    It's exactly what I might buy today but, when I was still in college and money was a little tighter my gaming rigs were a little more.. rickety.

    Do that many midrange rigs have blue ray drives?

    Speaking from my heart..

    I think I'm a midrange builder. A midrange PC doesn't have to start off so... well rounded....

    No matter what we tell ourselves or how much we plan it. There are situations when we usually blow all our money on the new CPU (whether its rational or not) and upgrade the rest of the system bit by bit over the next year.

    Practically all the CPU's on the market today are fast enough that's almost an undisputed fact.

    But we have the I7 and the Phenom 2!! brand new!! for sale!! new chips!!

    It's almost impossible to buy anything else. I couldn't bring myself to buy a e8600 instead. I can get a blue ray drive next month. I'd swap one dvd drive between two computers for 6 months if I have too to price in . (I've done that many times)

    If you grabbed a regular DVD drive for now and used the onboard sound for a while. Those are things are easy upgrades-- two paychecks. You saved about $150 which you can through at the processor and board.
    If you drop down to a 4850 (i know it hurts a little) and now can get an I7 920 and the x58 board. Within 6 months you buy a 2nd 4850 and you're golden.

    The same setup for a Phenom 2 build.

    My X-fi Extreme card passes from system to system like its a family hierloom.

    By summer time I'd have the blue ray drive and probably crossfire 4850's.

    My next computer is probably going to be:

    One of the new processors.
    New motherboard.
    My current graphics card.
    My current 4 gigs or RAM 6 gig of ram four of which I own already.

    It's sad but true..

    Well maybe not this time..








    Reply
  • 7Enigma - Wednesday, January 21, 2009 - link

    Well wanted to thank everyone in the comments section, this and other articles for piecing together my upgrade system. Pretty much replaced everything except for the HD and case. Wanted to give a quick rundown of how it went and my initial impressions of the components:

    -E8500 CPU- You can tell it's been a while since I've built a system. Not seeing pins ON the chip kind of threw me for a loop. :)

    -XIGMATEK HDT-S1283 120mm Rifle CPU Cooler was very annoying. Currently @35C idle at stock speeds on the E8500. The push pins suck, absolutely, positively suck. I had serious concerns I had damaged the CPU because some of the pushpins refused to stay down and would pop back up rocking the heatsink. The backplate accessory was $15 which would have increased the price of this cooler to top cooler territory. I will have to wait and see how this pans out because I do not have a good feeling about the longevity of those pins (imagine if they were to release when upright and on, that would be a disaster). I will never purchase a pushpin design again that is for sure. Also have quesetionable faith in the design of the base plate that has the heat pipes directly at the base. There are significant ridges that will not contact the cpu core. I used a bit more thermal paste than normal to hopefully fill in these ridges. Oh and this thing is HUGE. I literally sat there for 20min trying to decide which direction I wanted the fan/heatsink to face. There was NO clearance issues (thank you so much Mr. Fink!), which made the decision harder since I was not constrained by the mobo design. I ended up going with the heatsink moving air from the ram towards the back of the case (from right to left if looking at the tower sitting upright). I had originally wanted to go from the bottom of the case to the top, but I was concerned the GPU would block airflow.

    -Gigabyte GA-EP45-UD3R - As the article mentioned I have no plans on SLI/X-fire and so went with the R model instead. Very nice piece, installed without a problem, retaining bracket for the CPU is well designed/made. I have zero complaints except for the short IDE connectors. Forced me to use a SATA DVD burner since the single one included could not stretch to hit both the HD and the burner even when I moved them closer together. Funny thing: I tried to find the VGA monitor cable on the mobo to do a test run before plugging in the expensive gpu only to realize it has no onboard video! :) Don't need it, but I hate firing up the system for the first time, and like to have the least amount of components in case something fries (never happened yet to me but I still worry).

    -Tuniq Potency 550w PSU - On recommendation by Mr. Fink I grabbed this new PSU. Let's hope it makes the 500-550w PSU roundup that hoepfully will be coming out soon. Seems very high quality for the cheap price ($40 after $40 rebate), not modular which is annoying to me after coming from a modular PSU, but at least sleeved. I have a full tower (I think) and unfortunately the connectors are relatively short and so I had to move my HD closer to the PSU which isn't a big deal and would be a non-issue with a smaller mid-tower.

    -SAPPHIRE 512MB Radeon HD 4870 VapoChill- This is a kickass card. Factory OC'd, very nice heatpipe tech, and while not completely externally exhausted outside of the case, a fantastic design. To top it off with the rebate it was actually $10 CHEAPER than the stock Sapphire 512MB card. Don't have temp numbers yet as I haven't installed Vista and Catalyst drivers. Extremely pleased with this purchase and highly recommend it. There is nothing like being able to keep a video card stock and still being able to OC it more if needed (I hate changing out the coolers on GPU's).

    -OCZ Reaper 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2-1066 Dual Channel Kit- This one had me really concerned. Firstly because the package came slightly damaged and I was concerned it may have been damaged (it's just a clamshell blister pack), and secondly because with the heatpipe it is VERY tall for ram. I was concerned the CPU cooler would not clear the ram, but again a massive thanks for Mr. Fink for making sure his components were compatible. Solidly designed, they have some massive heatsinks on them and feel like you could throw them across the room. Let's hope the added weight doesn't cause issues with the socket over time however.

    OK that's about it. One more time thank you very much for the article and followup advice! Now off to game!
    Reply
  • 7Enigma - Wednesday, January 21, 2009 - link

    Forgot to mention all parts were purchased from either Zipzoomfly (Vista and E8500) or Newegg (everything else). Ended up with about $100 in rebates if I so choose to fill them all out (some are $10 and probably not even worth the effort).
    Reply
  • 7Enigma - Tuesday, January 20, 2009 - link

    Quick question. What is the rational behind only 4GB of ram in the non-i7 systems? With DDR2 ram prices so rediculously low and using Vista X64, isn't there a benefit to higher ram amounts?

    Just wondering because I am building a C2D rig and only got 4GB and wondering if I should grab another kit at these cheap prices.
    Reply
  • robl - Sunday, January 18, 2009 - link

    First off, great article and good suggestions on the components. I'm itching to pull the trigger on an i7 upgrade with lots of memory and can't wait for your i7 motherboard roundup.

    I started pricing the intel midrange, and it looks like the motherboard only has 4 memory slots, yet you suggest a triple channel kit. Perhaps just 2x2GB or 4x2GB should be recommended for this board instead?

    Do you have any suggestions for a good overclockable i7 MB for ~$200 that has 6 memory slots?

    Thanks again!
    Reply
  • 7Enigma - Tuesday, January 20, 2009 - link

    Triple-channel as the name implies means 3. So you get multiples of 3 for the ram amounts. Typically this is 3GB (1X1X1) for the budget builds (I don't know whom would choose this if they are already spending a good bit on a new system), or the much more common 6GB (2X2X2) setup as the guide recommends.

    HTH
    Reply
  • StormyParis - Thursday, January 15, 2009 - link

    I think value starts to drop sharply after two cores. Does anyone have stats on CPU utilization over a typical day, with 1/2/3/4 cores ?

    4 gigs is also debatable. To me, it's definitely more 'comfort' than 'value'. Even today's bloated software/OS does not really need that much, in most cases. Running WoW, a browser with 10 tabs, and a handful of other apps in 2gigs causes little to no disk thrashing.

    Also, I don't understand why the monitor is included. There's no need to change monitors when you change PCs, and monitor choice is very dependant on use (purely PC work vs films vs games ...).
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Thursday, January 15, 2009 - link

    Our Intel mid-range value system is in fact a Core 2 Duo - two cores. As we detailed in the Guide going for 2GB instead of 4GB will generally save you around $15 in today's market with commodity memory pricing. If saving $15 is that important to you then go for it.

    When we do not list a monitor in system builds many readers complain about the ommission. If including a monitor disturbs you then just subtract out that price from the build.

    Reply

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