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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  • 7Enigma - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    From article:

    "Phenom II performance is more in line with Intel's latest Core i7, and for that reason we really wanted to select the Phenom II 920 for the AMD Value Midrange."

    OK, the new Pheom II processors are definitely a good step in the right direction but this is a bit misleading to say IMO.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    We have revised the comment to more accurately reflect what we were trying to convey. We don't want to leave the wrong impression on this. Core i7 is definitely the fastest current CPU, but Phenom II competes with i7 much better than Phenom. Phenom II also has a cheaper $235 CPU that offers terrific performance for the price Reply
  • 7Enigma - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    Thank you for the revision. I did not want it to seem that I thought you were being biased towards the Phenom II, just that it was a bit misleading in its original form. While architecturally it is closer to the Core i7, performance-wise it's closer to the Q9300/Q9400.

    I think for a mid-grade build the Phenom II is probably in a sweet spot as current high pricing for DDR3 ram and the motherboard (not to mention questionable mobo stability) make total system costs much higher for an i7 build.

    As it is, I'll be building a very inexpensive system based off your $1500 Intel dual-core system as I game on a 19" LCD and do very little work that requires/is enhanced by a quad core. It's going to be a hold over system for a year or two and so I thank you for the 775 mobo and ram recommendation.
    Reply
  • 7Enigma - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    *speaking of the 920, not the 940. Reply
  • 7Enigma - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    *Phenom

    To add from Anand's own 920/940 review:

    "Looking through the performance results, it's also worthwhile to recognize just how fast Intel's Core i7 is. Across the board Core i7 is the fastest thing out there. If the motherboard guys could get X58 board pricing down below $200 and DDR3 memory was available at the same price as DDR2, then the i7-920 would be the clear recommendation. The entry-level Core i7 is pretty much faster than the-top end Core 2 Extreme or the Phenom II."

    and

    "We must not forget that Phenom II is competitive with a 45nm derivative of a 2+ year old architecture."


    Again I'm not bashing AMD's Phenom II chips, just that it is very misleading to say the performance is more in line with the i7.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    All of your comments add to the perspective on Phenom II. I believe I made it very clear that at $2000 the entry i7 was likely faster than the Phenom II. I also said on p.4 "Phenom II performance is more in line with Intel’s latest Core i7" and that is certainly true. The L3 cache of Phenom II is definitely more like i7 than the cache design of the Phenom CPU.

    However, Anand also points out the real advantage in the CPU/Board price enjoyed by the entry Phenom II 920. As I also said Intel's cheapest i7 is $300. There is no $235 i7 and cheap but capable motherboard as there is for Phenom II.

    The article was crystal clear that Intel still owns the top, and that is i7, but AMD is competitive now in the mid-range to lower high end, where it was not before. This is not being a fan-boi as I personally run i7, but if I've given AMD a little more slack in this article I will not apologize. AMD has been trailing Intel for a long time, and in fairness Phenom II performance and overclocking came as something of a surprise to reviewers. Most did not expect the chip to be as comnpetitive as it is. AMD deserves a little credit here. I will probably use a Phenom II in my next build, as competition is good for all of us.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    I was wondering about that as well. Anand's launch review of Phenom II seems to show that outside of gaming the i7 920 typically holds 10-20% better performance, with occasional tests showing even more. So at the $2000 price point that would likely make the AMD system the better gaming system due to the video card, but the i7 system likely faster in most other applications.

    Are any of the ~$200 X58 motherboards going to offer 6 RAM slots? 12GB would be even more expensive with only 4 slots.

    As the PCIe X1 slots are often lost in an SLI/Crossfire setup, do any of these boards have trouble using a X1 sound card in an X16 slot? IIRC someone reported previously that some boards didn't like running X16 slots slower than X4.
    Reply
  • Jaramin - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    Somehow, this doesn't feel very midrange to me. It's as if the class was defined by the price instead of the performance.

    The value midrange aught to be performance midrange, and performance midrange is clearly high end, because one bumb ahead leads us to ultra-high end, you know, the machines we dream to have but would never buy?
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    We did not use the term Midrange to start an argument, although a discusiion of the definition of Midrange is always interesting. Since we described our Bargain Systems as Under $1000 I have changed the title description to $1000 to $2000. I hope that removes any confusion about what is covered in the guide. Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    From the Introduction:

    "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."

    Reply

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