Introduction

As shown in System Buyers Guide: PCs for Under $800 you can now build a decent entry level PC for around $500 - including a true 1080p 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 Ubuntu or another Linux variant, you can get your desktop system cost down to a bit over $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 with systems costing closer to $800 in the last Entry System Buyers Guide. The next ladder rung is broadly defined as the midrange. Most of our readers are looking to buy in the midrange, which generally provides the most performance for the dollar, and computing solutions with some staying power in the market. We were ready to post our midrange recommendations early last week, but with significant new video card introductions scheduled for late last week the guide was delayed a few days. This made it possible to include the latest video offerings in our performance midrange systems.

The slow worldwide economy and fierce competition has had their impact on even the definition of midrange. Today we define our midrange guide as starting as low as $800 and extending up to around $1800, which gives a lot of flexibility in terms of choosing components. With generally declining prices and increasing value, the midrange also covers a wider area than in the past - just as we saw in the under $800 Entry segment.

New architectures have been introduced in the past few months, so the definition of high, mid, and entry have been shifting as the Intel Core i7 and Phenom II settle into our computing space. Several Core i7 X58 boards are now selling for around $200 or less, which allows a decent Core i7 build with the cheapest Core i7 CPU at around $1800. That represents the very top of the midrange price spectrum, and some would argue we should limit Core i7 to the high-end and limit midrange to perhaps a $1600 cap. That argument has merits; however, it is hard to ignore the Core i7 920 with a cost of less than $300 for an upper midrange recommendation. Similarly, Phenom II processors are priced from $125 to $225. Since Phenom II, built on 45nm, is faster and much more overclockable than other recent AMD processors, we how consider the Phenom II the CPU of choice for any midrange AMD system. Anything less is an entry AMD PC.

For today's midrange guide, we will put together two Intel systems and two AMD systems. The first value pair are targeted at a base system price of around $800, with a complete system price of around $1150. This means our complete system recommendations in the midrange are now some $350 less than the value systems detailed in our last midrange guide published just 3 months ago. These $1150 systems represent the best-bang-for-the buck in the midrange. The speed at which even the best value component prices are dropping is remarkable right now. Price drops are a given in the computer industry, but there are the first signs that "bad economy" reductions may be slowing or stopping, as a few of the component prices actually increased since the last guide.

The second pair of systems target midrange performance. At about $500 to $650 more than value midrange, these $1650 to $1800 complete systems invest that extra cost in performance improvements and upgraded peripherals. 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.

Without the 26" monitors and OS, the performance midrange systems would cost around $1100 to $1250. This price spread is a result of the firm pricing for the Intel Core i7 and the release of greater value components in the last three months for Phenom II. It is not the result of DDR2 versus DDR3 as memory prices for 2 and 3 are getting closer. In fact, DDR3 memory prices have dropped significantly across the board since our last midrange guide.

These new midrange system recommendations also include the most recent introductions in the GPU or video card market. For performance midrange you will find AMD 4890 video cards. We would also include the NVIDIA GTX 275 as an equal recommendation, but you cannot yet buy a GTX 275. In the coming weeks, once those parts begin to show up, those who prefer NVIDIA over AMD can make such substitutions. For more details on our video card recommendations, you should take a closer look at our Video Card Buyer's Guide - Spring 2009 and the follow-up HD 4890/GTX 275 review.

Intel Value Midrange
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  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, April 08, 2009 - link

    With OS that is - a complete system with Operating System and LCD monitor and speakers and keyboard/mouse. Reply
  • Lokinhow - Tuesday, April 07, 2009 - link

    Good article, but.....a GIGABYTE GA-MA790XT-UD4P paired with Phenom II X4 940?
    How did you manage that?
    It's impossible to put a AM2+ CPU on a AM3 motherboard.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, April 08, 2009 - link

    The AMD Performance Mid-Range has been corrected with the Phenom II 940, Foxconn 790FX AM2+/AM2 motherboard, and OCZ Reaper DDR2-1066 memory.

    With the 945/925 Socket AM3 upgrades due in the near future we also asked the question of whether it made sense to wait for the upgraded Phenom II processors. Performance will not likely be faster, but with all the new AMD AM3 boards appearing and DDR3 memory prices dropping fast, choosing DDR3 is no longer such an expensive option.
    Reply
  • whatthehey - Wednesday, April 08, 2009 - link

    Obviously the CPU needs to work with the motherboard, but you'd be far better off with a different mobo in my opinion. Foxconn just has a lot of problems, from questionable QA to a messed up BIOS and random incompatibilities. I think the Gigabyte GA-MA790GP-UD4H would have been the better overall choice. The Foxconn has an amazing price after the rebate ($85!?), but then I have to wonder WHY the price is so low. Seems like they might be trying to clear inventory and stop supporting the board rather than addressing remaining issues. Also, my one experience with Foxconn support was enough to make me never want to buy another one of their products. Just my two cents, though. Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, April 07, 2009 - link

    You are absolutely correct. We know the 945 is on the way and projected ahead. There were also a couple of motherboard changes made after the writing was complete. That combo slipped through the cracks. We will correct the AMD Performance choices. Reply
  • Depeche - Tuesday, April 07, 2009 - link

    When are the 945/925 processors going to be in stores? Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, April 07, 2009 - link

    We are expecting additional Phenom II choices in about 2 weeks, but that is always open to revisions in release dates. Reply
  • Depeche - Tuesday, April 07, 2009 - link

    Are they just releasing the 945/925 or are they releasing others? Reply
  • zshift - Tuesday, April 07, 2009 - link

    I like how soon you published this article after the one done just a few months ago, but it shows just how much has changed in a few months. Had I been patient I might have been able to get away with the i7 system you recommended, but the system I have now is so fast I doubt I would notice a difference other than benchmarks. right now i have the following: intel core 2 quad q9300 @3.52GHz@1.38V, asus p5q-e mobo, 2x2gb mushkin pc6400 kit running 935MHz@2.1V/5-5-5-18 (best ram ive ever bought. it was recommended in the holiday memory guide and i can easily hit 1066 on these, only running in 935 due to fsb/ratio limits :/) have an asus eah4870 dk top 512 running 835MHzgpu/1085MHzmem (wish i woulda waited for better prices on 1gb version or for the 4890), wd 750gb caviar black, wd 500gb caviar, lite on 22xdvd burner sata.

    Also, I really like the small push for linux and no-cost operating systems. I currently have vista ult. x64 on my 750gb hdd and ubuntu 9.04 alpha x64 on my 500gb. ubuntu literally boots (with the ext4 filesystem) in under 6 seconds from posting to login. i cant imagine how fast it would be with my black edition drive or with an ssd. and drivers arent a problem because it recognized everything from my build, the only thing i needed to do was approve the download of the propietary ati driver (which ubuntu detected itself) and all was working perfectly.
    Reply
  • garbageacc3 - Tuesday, April 07, 2009 - link

    no one asked you what your specs were.

    your comp isn't that great, and the value gaming wise isn't that great.

    why the hell are you bragging about your comp in this article anyway?

    you should have spent less money on q9300 or other things and gotten the 1 gb 4870.

    the q9300 is a terrible processor for overclocking, low and locked multi = always fsb bound.

    i have a q6600 and 260gtx 216 that i'm sure spanks your rig at gaming(vantage gpu score = ~12300)
    Reply

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