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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  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    Price performance... the Ultra 120 eXtreme is a great cooler, but with a fan it's often twice the cost of the Tuniq 120. All that for a difference of perhaps 2-4C? Take the $50 and put it elsewhere if you want better performance. Reply
  • 7Enigma - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    I've never heard of this and 20min of searching Anandtech doesn't show it in any CPU cooler roundups that I can find? The Xigmatek AIO or something does show up but clearly this is a different part. Could someone link me to an Anand article that has a review of it? Reply
  • 7Enigma - Wednesday, January 14, 2009 - link

    Anyone interested see Christof's reply on (now) page 6. Apparently while never written up in an Anand article the cooler was tested in-house and did very well for the $. Reply
  • 7Enigma - Wednesday, January 14, 2009 - link

    *Mr. Fink was actually the person whom tested the cooler. Edit button, EDIT BUTTON, G-D edit button! Reply
  • 7Enigma - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    $190 E8500

    $165 E8400

    Is there any real benefit to the E8500 over the E8400? I plan on a modest OC, likely not looking to increase the voltage (maybe slightly), is there something I'm missing since the stock frequency seems to be under 200MHz, and the cache size is the same?

    Thanks.
    Reply
  • Jynx980 - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    Good guide. I am planning on building a similar system as the Intel Midrange system. I would like to see power draw and acoustic info though. Why are the CPU heatsinks referred to as Rifle coolers?

    Typo?:the E8600 has been matched with components that are also excellent choices for overclocking.
    Reply
  • Jynx980 - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    I am also curious if CPU and video card prices will get a bit of a shuffle soon with the new Phenom and GTX 295. Reply
  • jasonb - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    Phenom II is 4x 512 KB, not 4x 512 MB. Reply
  • IHateMyJob2004 - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    I would love to have someone write up an article (or articles) that revolves around the idea of data storage at home.

    these days, my concerns are with the following:
    1) perosnal finances
    2) images (digital cameras are popular these days)
    3) videos ($300 for a good digital camcorder)
    4) music (all those with iPods step forward)

    None of this is processor heavy, but requires alot of disk space. And since alot of important data is on there, backups are also needed.

    So, maybe come up with various price points with requirements for backup.

    Low end could be simple backup on an external drive.

    Mid end could be the same but with more storage

    High end could be crazy (raid 0+1?) and include multiple backups.

    And some sort of plan for offsite backup (optional) for each build. The high end could use an online service while the low end could just include an extra external hard drive which is kept at another location.

    System builds like this do not exist and I want it and I'm sure alot of us ex-gamers (now 30+ year old parents) have much different concerns than the college crowd.
    Reply
  • garydale - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    OK, I can appreciate that a lot of people are looking for game machines, but there are also those of us who are looking for machines to do office work, touch up pictures, and edit home videos. Moreover, if you're not stuck on Windows, you can try other things that can give you a nice performance boost.

    None of the machines here use what I consider to be all but obligatory nowadays - a RAID array. Of course, using Linux makes setting up a nice 3-disk or 4-disk RAID5 array easy and cheap. And it really boosts your read performance, something even gamers can appreciate. Since HD access is a real bottleneck, going for a RAID array makes sense.

    Secondly, how about going to a real 64bit operating system? Even the 64bit Vista usually has you running 32bit programs. With Linux however you get 64bit right the way through without having to worry about driver or program compatibility (I'm running Debian/Lenny on my workstation which, although still in "testing", is far more stable than the antique XP, let alone Vista).

    Admittedly, 64bits doesn't always buy you a lot of extra performance, but in the real world, it's a free upgrade. And sometimes it can get you a big payback while it rarely costs you any performance.

    Anyway, I consider my system to be midrange but it costs less than the lower cutoff point, with the 3 HDs, quad-core processor and (if I needed a new one) display being the only expensive parts. Since I'm not a gamer, I didn't bother with a video card. The onboard video handles full-screen HD video nicely so why bother? This also allows me to use the wonderfully economical and quiet PC Power & Cooling Silencer 370 power supply.

    Another cost savings is to use a KVM switch instead of a monitor. Some people are connecting multiple monitors up to a single computer, so obviously this isn't a general solution, but with Linux providing multiple virtual desktops, I find that a single monitor for multiple machines works well. And certainly a reasonable KVM saves money and desk space over multiple keyboard, mouses and monitors.
    Reply

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