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

    DDR2-1066 and higher speed memory will always work fine at lower speeds and normally faster timings. It is rated 1066 but will definitley work slower if that is necessary, whcih I doubt. Reply
  • NARC4457 - Wednesday, April 08, 2009 - link

    I'm really surprised that you are recommending that Seagate 1TB drive. Just following the link to Newegg shows how many people have had problems with it.

    The price is great, but I've not seen many products that have that low a rating. You only need to spend about $10 more to get a quality drive instead of rolling the dice on this one.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, April 09, 2009 - link

    The Newegg reviews are since the drive was released, supposedly it is all better with the current firmware.

    That said, I spent the extra $10 to get the WD Black 1TB.
    Reply
  • cfaalm - Wednesday, April 08, 2009 - link

    Like always I enjoy reading the buyers guides. I can remember when people asked for HTPC to be included in these guides and now it's there.

    I was thinking of yet another class to include: Home Server. Since it requires an intricate balance of features like any other purpose built PC I can imagine it being interesting for AT readers.

    Am I speaking for myself or are others of you also interested? Maybe there is already a website that goes deep on this subject. I'm a bit of a noob here ;-)
    Reply
  • lopri - Wednesday, April 08, 2009 - link

    I've been planning an AMD build and almost set on 790GX platform, then I saw a new wave of 790FX boards coming out. I was looking forward to a review or a round-up of those.

    Gigabyte apparently ported their 'Ultra Durable' design to AMD boards and MSI's new 790FX board is uber sexy (at least its appearance is). ASUS and DFI have updated their line-up as well, it seems. To be honest I didn't know anything about that Foxconn board till now.

    Are you planning to review these new 790FX boards? Also, will there be new chipset from AMD in near future? 790FX has been out for a while.

    In any case, thank you much for the guide. The combinations are near perfect and I couldn't have planned better ones. (like that's a surprise. haha..)
    Reply
  • DaRube - Wednesday, April 08, 2009 - link

    The Biostar TForce TA790GX3 A2+ mentioned in the article is listed as deactivated by Newegg. Could we get a backup recommendation? Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, April 08, 2009 - link

    Biostar has a number of motherboards named Biostar TForce TA790GX?, with just the last letter or number changed. We have revised the Guide description and link to show the currently available TA790GX, which has all the features of th TA790GX3 and is currently selling for $105 with a $10 rebate. We have revised the pricing to reflect this.

    If you can find the $110 GX3 version buy it instead for the better quality on-board components. However, the one we recommend performs essentially the same.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, April 08, 2009 - link

    Not sure, but how about http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/SearchTool...">this Biostar? Gary would have to provide his input on the difference between the various Biostar TA790GX[?] boards. Reply
  • Jaramin - Wednesday, April 08, 2009 - link

    Only the GX3 variant has all solid caps. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, April 08, 2009 - link

    On second thought, that one doesn't have CrossFire support. http://www.amazon.com/Biostar-TFORCE-TA790GXA2-Mot...">This one does, though again I don't know if it's as good as the GX3. Reply

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