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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  • Nfarce - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    "For the mid-range, a 400W-450W PSU is more than enough. The recent, excellent Xbit Labs article "PC Power Consumption: How Many Watts Do We Need?" clearly illustrates that 750W PSUs are a waste of money in the mid-range when not going with SLI or Crossfire."

    Uhm, yes and no. As someone who recently build an E8400 mid range gaming system who also has the Corsair 750W, there are things you need to consider other than pure wattage. For instance there are hardly any quality power supplies in the 450-550W range that offer 2 6-pin PCIe connectors (a requirement to run HD 4870/90 and GTX 260/275 cards). Finally, the ones that do aren't that much less expensive. If you are going to spend $75 on a minimum requirement power supply, it makes good long term sense to throw in another $25 and get a more powerful PS for your future upgrade needs. Power supplies, unlike other PC components, don't really drop in price over time.
    Reply
  • Black Jacque - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    >For instance there are hardly any quality power supplies in the 450->550W range that offer 2 6-pin PCIe connectors (a requirement to run >HD 4870/90 and GTX 260/275 cards).

    Like the Seasonic S12II-430 Bronze (1xPCIe-6, 1xPCIe-6+2)?

    In addition, most GPUs come with a Power Cable to adapt the standard Molex to PCIe-6. The recommended MSI HD 4890 comes with two Power Cables.

    > it makes good long term sense to throw in another $25 and get a >more powerful PS for your future upgrade needs.

    The Xbit Labs article clearly states the trend in PC parts power consumption is downward, not upward. Besides, I'd rather not spend US$25 that I didn't have to. I could use that money to upgrade to a Q9400 or an E8500, something I could use rightaway.
    Reply
  • Nfarce - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    "Like the Seasonic S12II-430 Bronze (1xPCIe-6, 1xPCIe-6+2)? "

    Not real familiar with that brand. Try finding one in the range I mentioned built by Antec, Corsair, OCZ, Thermaltake, or PC Power & Cooling. And 430W? I have that in a five year old P4 system. I don't think so. I'll spend the extra few clams on something future proof, and apparently others agree. If you have to worry about spending another $25 on an $850+ PC build, then maybe you need to reconsider your spending priorities.
    Reply
  • Black Jacque - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    >Not real familiar with that brand. Try finding one in the range I >mentioned built by Antec, Corsair, OCZ, Thermaltake, or PC Power & >Cooling.

    Seasonic can be found providing OEM service on various model lines for: Antec, Corsair, PC Power and Cooling, and of course under their own Seasonic brand. Actually, the PSUs that Seasonic either designs or builds for Antec, Corsair or the old PCP&P are not as high quality as the PSUs they build under their own brand label.
    Reply
  • Nfarce - Tuesday, July 28, 2009 - link

    Thanks for the info Black Jacque. I did not know that, and I now verified that fact. Of all the PS research I did prior to my build, no reviews mentioned that fact. However, I will still stand by spending a little more on a future proof power supply so as one less thing to have to upgrade. My Corsair 750W will take me into next year's planned Lynnfield build and the new DX11 cards with SLI (hopefully). Reply
  • haplo602 - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    the article is one from the "how much power do we need" round that almost every major hardware review site did.

    however it was more or less questioning the need of 700+ W PSUs for the normal systems (i.e. average home PC).

    you have to account also for the usage pattern. this site is aimed at the hardware enthusiasts. they tend to buy informed or tend to change components often. in the first case, they will ignore the PSU recommendation, in the 2nd case, it comes in handy in the future.

    also have a look at power consumption on overclocked components (f.e. CPUs increase quite dramaticaly with added voltage). IIRC the xbitlabs article did not take into account overclocking (I might be wrong, did not read into details there).
    Reply
  • brybir - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    You keep referring to that article and after raeding it I do find it interesting. But all it says is that usage is trending downword. That trend is based on events that have already happened and then assuming what future events will occur with power draw based off similar past events.

    First, just because the trend is in one direction does not mean that it is going to continue that way in the future. That is to say that the past predicts the future which is simply not true.

    Second, it makes sense to me to spend $25 on a larger power supply than I need "right now" so that I do not have to worry about replacing the power supply later on. You can say that the general power draw will decrease over time but in each individual case that is not going to be necessarily true. I just went from a system with a 65W CPU and a ATI 4670 to a 125W CPU and a 4870 OC using the same power supply. Had I bought the power supply that exactly fit my previous system I would now have to buy a new power supply. So in my case buying a larger power supply has been a great idea and will save me from spending another $70 this time around. Who knows, since its a 550W supply maybe it will last me another three years.

    Reply
  • Black Jacque - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    >First, just because the trend is in one direction does not mean that >it is going to continue that way in the future. That is to say that >the past predicts the future which is simply not true.

    You are joking, right?

    http://products.amd.com/en-us/DesktopCPUDetail.asp...">http://products.amd.com/en-us/DesktopCPUDetail.asp...

    If you understand how the past can predict the future, its no surprise that AMD improved their process and shaved 30W off this part's (AMD Phenom™ II X4 945) power consumption after a bit more than 5-months of production. (BTW, this part costs US$1 more than its 125W sibling at ZZF.)

    Looking into my crystal ball, I predict ~3 GHz 65W quad CPUs by either AMD or Intel within a year.
    Reply
  • haplo602 - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    each system has at least a 2x PCIex16 board, so the higher watt PSU is an "insurance" for future upgrades.

    anyway the builds are unbalanced in my view. they get away with far too cheap displays.

    my current planed build is 1:1 in components vs lcd cost. My total component cost is about 600 euro, the display will cost me around 500 euro :-)

    but I am more looking at photo editing than gaming.
    Reply
  • Black Jacque - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    >so the higher watt PSU is an "insurance" for future upgrades.

    "The recent, excellent Xbit Labs article "PC Power Consumption: How Many Watts Do We Need?" clearly illustrates that 750W PSUs are a waste of money in the mid-range when not going with SLI or Crossfire. This article shows the trend in PC parts is downward in power consumption."

    I can't even accept the idea of adding a second GPU later when they get less expensive. The general trend is the next generation of GPU outperforms the previous generation in Crossfire or SLI at a lower price.
    Reply

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