Value Midrange Common Components
AMD and Intel architectures differ in sockets and sometimes memory configurations, but there is more in common than not between the two systems. For that reason the Intel and AMD value midrange systems share a number of components.
The video card choice is an upgrade from the last midrange guide. The choice three months ago was the ATI 4850 512MB, but today we can recommend the ATI 4870 1GB for about the same price. The HIS H487FN1GP 1GB is just $130 after a $20 rebate. That excellent value made this card the video choice for both the Intel and AMD systems. Even without the rebate you can now find a 1GB 4870 for around $150. Our recent graphics card buyers' guide recommended the 4850 512MB as the best value in the $130 to $150 price range. Now you can spend the same $130 to $150 and get a more powerful 4870 with double the video memory. You will certainly be happy with the gaming capabilities of the 4870; it is an excellent match to the true HD video resolution of the 23" monitor chosen for the value midrange systems.
On the Intel system, the GIGABYTE GA-EP45-UD3P motherboard provides a second PCI x16 slot. Video performance can be improved even further by adding a second Radeon HD 4870 1GB in CrossFire mode. You can also upgrade to the 4890 1GB for more power at higher resolutions with "eye candy" turned on. The 4890 1GB upgrade adds about $50. The motherboard choice for AMD is the GIGABYTE GA-MA790X-UD4P, which also provides multiple x16 slots for CrossFire, although the two slots each run at x8 when both are populated. The same video options apply to the AMD value midrange system.
1TB hard drives are now a routine hard drive capacity. The 1TB drives are large, fast, and stable, so it was easy to recommend the Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB drive (1000GB) at $95. There are cheaper 1TB drives available and there are many brands available with 1TB capacity. However, the Caviar Black has earned an enviable reputation for stability and performance. While there are differences between hard drives, outside of running benchmarks most people aren't likely to notice the difference in performance between Western Digital, Seagate, Samsung, Hitachi, and other major brands. All are worthy of consideration if the price per gigabyte (or terabyte) is right.
Since many readers complained that Blu-Ray playback was an unnecessary expense in a value midrange system, we downgraded the optical drive to a fast DVD burner. Fortunately, DVD burners have just seen the introduction of faster burning speeds and the Sony Optiarc 24X has emerged as a favorite in recent system builds. This Sony DVD burner is the choice for both best value midrange systems. It can burn DVDs as fast as 24x speed and it supports both single and double layer media. If you like the ability to read 25GB/50GB Blu-Ray disks you can upgrade to the LG CH08LS10 Blu-Ray/DVD combo drive used in the performance midrange systems. Adding that capability increases the cost about $100.
Cases are often very personal choices when it comes to features, and you may already have a favorite. If you don't you should definitely look at the recommended Antec Three Hundred. The Three Hundred is a bottom-mount power supply design. Some love this configuration, others hate it, but it works well in the Three Hundred. It is definitely reasonable at the current $60 cost, but that does not mean it is a "cheap" case. It comes standard with a 120mm rear exhaust fan and a 140mm top fan, which both feature a 3-speed switch. There is also room to mount two additional front 120mm fans behind a washable dust filter, so you can effectively cool anything from a single hard drive to a large RAID array. Inside there are nine drive bays - six internal 3.5" and three external 5.25" drive bays. Front USB, headphone, and microphone jacks are also standard and they are conveniently located at the top of the front panel. That makes them usable in the common "on the floor" setup.
If you prefer a more traditional case configuration the Cooler Master Mystique, selling for $80, mounts the PS on top, provides font panel jacks, and is loaded with expansion ports and two 120mm fans.
The Editors' Choice BFG Tech LS-550 power supply has been discontinued. The new power supply choice for the value midrange systems is the excellent OCZ ModXStream Pro 600W. The ModXStream is 80 Plus certified and a modular design. That means you use only the cables you need for your system, which makes cable management a much easier task. This OCZ is also a great value right now at $60 after a $20 rebate. The PSU is also SLI certified and CrossFire Ready.
The last major component to discuss is the display, and here the tilt was toward best value at full 1080p HD (1920x1080) resolution. Six months ago we chose a "new class" of 16:9 21.5" LCD monitors that provided true 1080p resolution at the then break-through price of just $199. Now we can choose a larger Acer 23" (nominal 24") monitor for even less at $180. It is also worth mentioning that the Acer 23" is one of the few monitors in its class that comes with all three video cables. Yes, an HDMI cable is included in the Acer box. Some buyers want the cheapest monitor they can find. The ASUS 21.5" chosen in earlier Buyers' Guides is now $149 after a $10 rebate. The resolution is the same as the Acer 23". Choosing the ASUS 21.5" instead saves you about $30 for those on a tight budget, with a reduction in pixel pitch from 0.271mm to 0.248mm.
The Logitech X-540 has been a favorite of users looking for a reasonably priced but good performing, powered 5.1 computer speaker system. At $79 it will certainly not challenge the performance of a separate Dolby amplifier powering audiophile speakers, but it will provide surprisingly good sound for the price. The Creative Inspire T6100 76W 5.1 speaker system is a similar powered speaker system that is selling at about the same price as the X-540. Either speaker system is a good choice for these value midrange builds.
These are clearly desktop systems, so the keyboard and optical mouse are the basic Microsoft OEM kit. If you have specific needs or a favorite gaming mouse, you likely know exactly what you prefer. The Microsoft pair is very capable for most. For greatest compatibility we have chosen Microsoft Vista Home Premium OEM as the operating system. Unless you have specific networking and special enterprise security needs there is no real reason to pay the extra for Vista Ultimate.