Introduction

AMD introduced the Athlon II X2 and Phenom II X2 early last month. These new processor options extend the 45nm process and the updated Phenom II architecture to lower price points, which is certainly good news. However, the real impact with the top-line Phenom II X2 at $102 is in choices for budget systems with a cost below $800. Those CPUs bring tremendous power to budget systems, as you will see in our upcoming updates to our sub-$800 buyers' guide.

Intel made the world's fastest Core i7 even faster at about the same time AMD was filling in Phenom II at the bottom. The new 3.33GHz Core i7-975 is the fastest Core i7 but it comes with a $1000 price tag. The 3.06GHz Core i7-950 is a more affordable $562 and it does revise some i7 price points. However, the new changes are at the $562 and up price range, which is definitely the high-end range.

The action at the top and bottom don't have much impact on midrange systems, which is where most of our readers spend their money. Priced from around $700 to around $1700 for a complete system, there are plenty of options to from which to choose. You will mostly see refinements to previous guides, a few hot new board choices, and some best value components that have emerged since our last midrange guide.

The midrange base system has dropped a bit and now starts at $700 for the basic computer without peripherals. That has less to do with price reductions this time than with our change of the optical drive to a 32X DVD Sony burner instead of a combo Blu-Ray reader/DVD burner. Many commented BD playback was a bit pricey for a midrange value system, so we have chosen the latest Sony Optiarc 32X DVD burner for the value midrange. The BD/DVD combo is still the choice for performance midrange systems, and naturally you can mix and match optical drives depending on your personal needs and wants.

Phenom II X4 and X3 options have matured rapidly since their introduction a few months back, providing new choices for building a great Phenom II quad- or tri-core midrange system. Intel options have changed little as the market mostly prepares for a new midrange Intel socket in the next month or two. Manufacturers are gearing their Intel efforts toward new Socket 1156 motherboards, which will be home for upcoming Core i5, i3, and even a few Core i7 processors.

You can now build a decent entry level PC for around $500 - including a 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. As we discussed in our sub-$800 buyers' guide, these cheap entry systems are very capable of doing everything that many users need from a computer. Nevertheless, that $500 machine 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 detailed at closer to $800.

Most of our readers are looking to buy in the next rung up the ladder, broadly defined as the midrange. A midrange system generally provides plenty of performance for the cost, while ensuring that the components still have some staying power in the market. That's our focus for this guide. We'll spec out two Intel systems and two AMD systems. The first value pair targets a base system price of around $700, with a complete system price of around $1100. These $1100 systems represent the best-bang-for-the buck in the midrange.

The second pair of systems target midrange performance. At about $500 to $650 more than value midrange, these $1600 to $1800 complete systems invest that extra cost in performance improvements and upgraded peripherals. The midrange performance segment builds 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.

Intel Value Midrange
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  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, August 05, 2009 - link

    You need to compare apples to apples. The system you quote makes no mention of a monitor, speakers, keyboard, mouse, or Operating System. That makes it comparable to our our base system price, which is $738 - or some $230 less. I would certainly hope you could upgrade to a Core i7 for for $230. Reply
  • GuruX - Thursday, July 30, 2009 - link

    The OCZ Blade 1150 2x2gb for the Intel value setup doesn't seem to be avalible in sweden. What would be a good replacement? Reply
  • Cepak - Saturday, August 01, 2009 - link

    Any suggestions on a performance oriented mid-ranged system with a smaller form factor (mATX)? A system that can still accommodate all the goodies like the Phenom II x4 955 Black Edition, MSI Radeon HD 4890 1GB OC Edition, a ASUS VW266H Black 25.5" 2ms(GTG) HDMI Widescreen LCD Monitor, maybe with an external SATA port to connect the LG BD/HD DVD 8X BD read/16x DVD read/write via a external SATA case. It only need two internal SATA HDD bays. I don't care how the case appears because I'm going to tuck it out of sight (space is a premium for me). Reply
  • sebudes - Wednesday, July 29, 2009 - link

    What'll be the benefits of stepping up one notch in the motherboard departement and go with DD3 memory and a "real" AM3 slot? As I understand it, right now there's litte, but will you be happy you did when maybe upgrading CPU or GPU in the future? Reply
  • glenster - Tuesday, July 28, 2009 - link

    I've read the LG W2486L, which has been released, is a better monitor yet for less money. And the Silverstone Raven RV02 case has just been released (with a Fortress 2 on the way). Please write reviews of them. Reply
  • zshift - Tuesday, July 28, 2009 - link

    I absolutely have to agree with choosing the Logitch X-540 speakers for the midrange. These speakers are amazing for the price. They also sound much better when paired with a good dedicated sound card (for all the nonbelievers out there, I used to think dedicated sound was stupid; then I tried a creative x-fi with these and I don't wanna go back to onboard. Sound is MUCH clearer). These speakers also get VERY loud If you want them to, past 50% volume and I can hear them clearly from outside my house. And the base is excellent, explosions in fps games have a nice deep feel to then, and crashes and engine revs in burnout are amazingly realistic. Reply
  • jpk - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    I have that board and it takes DDR3 not DDR2 as stated in the write up. Funny, you can put an AM3 CPU in an AM2+ mobo but you can't put an AM2+ CPU in an AM3 board. Fabulous mobo by the way. Love mine. Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, July 28, 2009 - link

    Yes we still need an Edit function.

    "The Gigabyte MA790XT-UD4P is indeed DDR3 memory, but when you drop the T in the name to Gigabyte MA790X-UD4P you are describing a Gigabyte motherboard that uses DDR2 memory."
    Reply
  • just4U - Tuesday, July 28, 2009 - link

    I've been recommending the MA790X-UD4P for two months now. It's a solid board that comes in at a attractive price point. One of Amd's strong points..

    Another consideration (since it seems Asus finally noticed..) is the ..Asus M4A78-E which either has come down alot in price or is a new release (not sure which). It's priced in line with the UD4P but comes with the 790GX chipset so onboard 3300 graphics.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, July 28, 2009 - link

    The information in the Buyers Guide is correct. The problem is there are two different Gigabyte motherboards with just one letter difference in the name. The Gigabyte MA790XT-UD4P is indeed DDR3 memory, but when you drop the T in the name to Gigabyte MA790X-UD4P you are describing a Gigabyte motherboard that uses DDR3 memory.

    This naming scheme has created more than a little confusion for buyers and reviewers.
    Reply

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