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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  • BPB - Wednesday, April 08, 2009 - link

    Thanks. I have the Thermalright Ultra 120 Extreme in my Intel case, and am looking to get a nice cooler for my AMD CPU. Now I have to decide, I'm leaning toward the Xigmatek. Reply
  • 7Enigma - Thursday, April 09, 2009 - link

    I have the Xigmatek on my recent C2D build and it is fantastic. The pushpin design sucks, but if you opt for them the price is closer to the other more expensive designs (Ultra120, etc.). Reply
  • talozin - Wednesday, April 08, 2009 - link

    If the Dark Knight (aka 1283V) is anything like the original 1283, it'll be a superb choice. SPCR reviewed the 1283 and found that it cooled essentially as well as a TRUE while being substantially lighter and cheaper. Reply
  • BPB - Wednesday, April 08, 2009 - link

    Thanks. I think I'll pick up one of these puppies. Reply
  • zagood - Wednesday, April 08, 2009 - link

    @iAURA: note the addition of monitor, OS, speakers etc. The core system is still around $500.

    I've been looking at memory a lot lately and I'm surprised by the DDR2 choice. There are other kits out there for around the same A/R price with better timings at lower voltages, just seems like you went with a generic choice, not necessarily the best "bang for the buck" as with the other components.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, April 08, 2009 - link

    I'm extremely puzzled by your comment. If you search DDR2-1066 you will not find a single DDR2 kit at Newegg rated better than the 5-5-5 timings of the OCZ and Patriot DDR2 kits. You CAN find faster DDR2-800 kits, but keep in mind that a 5-5-5 rated DDR2-1066 kit can normally run at much faster timings at DDR2-800. So your comment that faster kits are available is simply not correct.

    Second, anyone shopping for memory knows that OCZ Reaper, Corsair Dominator, and Patriot' DDR2 are NOT generic memory choices. The kits we selected are good values, but also great memory kits.

    You need to UNDERSTAND how memory works - not just compare specs that aren't even apples to apples.
    Reply
  • zagood - Wednesday, April 08, 2009 - link

    doh! no edit button. re-looked at the pricing and it's not even close to $500 - for the average "enthusiast" though you can usually save on the cost of optical drive, HDDs, etc. pulled from a previous system. Reply
  • Griswold - Wednesday, April 08, 2009 - link

    Even (or especially) the 550W for a value mid range is overkill. I'd go for no more than 400W in those and the 550W (at most) in the performance box. CF/SLI "future proofing" is a silly thing to do for most people. Reply
  • poohbear - Wednesday, April 08, 2009 - link

    $1800 is midrange??? wow, u sure do have money to burn. That's not mid-term on my salary.:0 Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, April 08, 2009 - link

    As mentioned in the article, if we exclude the stretch to a system with the lowest cost Intel Core i7 our range is $800 to $1600 for a complete system or $740 to $1060 for the basic mid-range box without peripherals. The problem is we would have a difficult time recommending a $1600 Core 2 quad system to a buyer when that is so close to the cost of a well-balanced and better performing Core i7 920 system.

    We also buy and build systems, so we strongly believe the buying context and competitive environment should be strongly considered in a system purchase. If the $1800 Core i7 system is too rich for you then look at the Value Mid-Range systems at less than $800 for the box and about $1150 for a complete system with US and a 24" 1080p LCD. You may also want to take a look at the recent Under $800 system guide with basic boxes at $300 to $500.


    Reply

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