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

    Mr. Fink,

    Can you recommend a good PSU in the 500-550w range? I've been waiting for the 2nd part of the PSU reviews that have that range as I feel the 750w is overkill for my single gpu build. Maybe send Mr. Katzer an email since he did the 350-400 article?
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    The problem with quality 500-550w power supplies is that the ones I know about actually cost more than the 650W Corsair we recommended in this Guide. The Corsair is a superb 80 Certified PS that will do the job well for you and cost about $80.

    I did find a new Tuniq Potency 550PS that is $40 after a $40 rebate with an initial cost of $80. You can link to it at newegg at http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8.... It is a new PS we have not yet tested, but we generally trust the Tuniq brand and this PS is 80 Certified for your protection.

    Seasonic and hec both have excellent reputations among Power Supplies and they all make many Power Supplies sold under other premium names.
    Reply
  • 7Enigma - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    Well I'm going to be your guinea pig, I couldn't pass up the cheap price. I currently have an Antec Neopower480w from my last build (4 years ago?), which while good (and modular which I loved) surely can't be as efficient or hopefully as stable as the Potency. Let's hope the 500-550w roundup includes the Tuniq Potency 550PS Reply
  • Charger71 - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    So the latest and fastest AMD chips are midrange? What would high end be? dual socket?

    I don't agree with these builds for midrange. But I understand how they fit in your 1-2k price range. Great performing parts are cheaper now days, like I think you mentioned. You really need to adjust your definition of midrange because your selections leave a large bucket of "low-end" parts out there, which doesn't make sense to me.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    High-End is definitely Core i7. We barely managed to build a complete balanced $2000 system with the lowest cost Core i7 920 that sells for $295. There are two i7 processors above that at $600 to $1000.

    For systems below $1000 you can check out our Guide from two weeks ago at http://www.anandtech.com/guides/showdoc.aspx?i=348...">http://www.anandtech.com/guides/showdoc.aspx?i=348....
    Reply
  • shinpickle - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    if you are just making recipes from newegg without building anything??? nothing wrong with that, but you should explicitly state such, if would I build a system from your picks only to find there's a known incompatibility issue you missed, expect some hate-mail.

    without building you really have no proof of the performance per dollar, these articles are very different from most anand articles based on lab research.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    We really do need an edit function here. I meant the i7/Gigabyte combo has been in our labs. The Foxconn used with the Phenom II 920 has also been in our labs for quite a while, as has the Asus motherboard used with the Phenom II 940.

    Believe me when I tell you Gary and Anand scream loudly if we plan to suggest a motherboard they know has been problematic. Those recommendations don't make it to the web page.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    As you should have figured out from the article description the AnandTech staff has actually used and tested most of the components in the system. EACH Editor has input on what is selected in the guides.

    If I question the initial selections, or we have major shifts like the Phenom II launch, I talk with the Editor affected to make sure the changes correspond to their experience with those components or if their recommendation shave changed. We definitely have experience with all the major components in the system, including all motherboards.

    We have also built systems that are similar, but not exactly the same, as most of these configurations. With Phenom II launched last Thursday Editors have worked with the recommended motherboards in the Phenom II systems, but that was with a 940. We don't have direct experience with the 920 on these boards, but we have no reason to expect it would behave differently than the 940 on these boards. The i7/Foxconn has been in the motherboard lab for quite a while, as has the Core 2 Duo/Gigabyte configuration.
    Reply
  • Zorblack1 - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    I'm sorry this is silly. If Nvidia was to release a new "highest performing" video card tomorrow that gave the same performance as a 2 year old ATI video card with worse performance/clock cycle everybody would be dooming Nvidia and bashing the company. Reply
  • nubie - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    I would quit complaining if I were you, becuase if AMD remains uncompetitive then Intel processors would cost twice what they do now.

    Phenom I was a good processor for servers, Phenom II is a much better processor, and is finally a recommendation for mid-range and entry-level builds again.

    Performance/clock isn't a good metric when determining performance/cost.

    I am not necessarily going to purchase an AMD over a Q6600 clocked at 3.2Ghz, but I might if the performance is better.
    Reply

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