Mid-Range Buyer's Guide, September 2005

by Jarred Walton on 9/19/2005 12:05 AM EST


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  • GMAN003 - Friday, October 07, 2005 - link

    First of all, Great guide Jarred! Because of your article I am now an AnandTech member for life! @$$kissing aside, here are some of my questions and suggestions for your article.

    1) Would you have noticed any significant speed gains by using different memory types such as DDR500 memory as recommend by DFI on their website? Yes, I know, its more expensive, but for the enthusiast on a budget, wouldn't overclocking memory be more up my ally especially for any future processor upgrades?

    2) For future guides, you may want to consider a more comparable AMD vs Intel office processor. From reading other articles on the web, isn't the AMD64 3800 X2 processor more comparable to an Intel Celeron D 830 processor? In fact, in some benchmarks I have seen the 3800X2 be faster than the Intel Celeron D 840 processor?

    3) I bought almost every part in your gaming system for a friend, except for the case/pwr supply and hard drive. Rolling the dice with an Aspire X-Navigator 500watt just for looks and a Raptor74GB for seek/write times. Any future posts on what you have been able to reach as "stable" OC levels and what your detailed bios settings are would be appreciated. From what I keep seeing around the web, most of my framerates in my games should be in the high 100's FPS. :-D Needless to say, I'm happy with the advice.

    Again, thanks Jarred.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 26, 2005 - link

    Heh - old post that I never saw. Glad you liked the article. For overclocking, there are many options. I wrote a "Venice Overclocking" article that covers many of the questions you asked. I'll be doing an Athlon X2 followup.

    I tried to make it clear in the article that the X2 was far superior in performance than the Pentium D. Price was a consideration, and if there were a cheaper X2 than the 3800+, I would have happily used it. Personally, I'd say the 3800+ actually outperforms even the Pentium D 840 in most benchmarks, and only heavy multitasking with four or more processes will favor the Pentium D 840EE. Once you look into overclocking, it really becomes no comparison. 2.6 GHz on the X2 3800+ compared to perhaps 3.2 or 3.4 GHz on the 820.
  • Anubis - Sunday, September 25, 2005 - link

    especially of an office computer SLI is totally useless, you could save 100$ on the office comp and about 70 on the gameing one by going with a non SLI NF4 mobo Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, October 01, 2005 - link

    SLI was *not* recommended for the office configurations. The choice of the X700 Pro as the GPU should be clear evidence of that. Reply
  • Crescent13 - Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - link

    There are just a few minior things I would change...

    Jetway SLI motherboard instead of SLI-DR, it might be a bit better value for a mid-range gaming system.

    I personally don't really like XFX, because they don't have that great of service and support, I would get an EVGA 7800GT, of course, that's just my opinion :)

    I think I would get a hitachi 160GB SATAII hard drive, instead of western digital, hitachi has 8.5 MS seek time, western digital is 8.9 MS.

    I would choose a forton source PSU, instead of SunBeam, for more stability.

    I think the logitech x-530's would be a better choice than the labtec areana speakers.

    this is all just my opinion, it's still a good guide :)
  • Googer - Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - link

    If you are running a Venice Core Processor why would you run PC3200? Venice is perfectly capable of running DDR500 with out over clocking. AMD Said So. Reply
  • Pythias - Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - link

    Because amd cpus benefit more form tight timings than bandwidth? http://forums.anandtech.com/messageview.aspx?catid...">http://forums.anandtech.com/messageview...amp;thre... Reply
  • SimonNZ - Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - link

    because low latency ddr500 cost a small fortune, well mine did anyhow and most people buying in the mid range of the market arnt going 2 notice the difference....hell i dont:P Reply
  • Pythias - Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - link

    From what I gather you arent going to notice ddr500 over ddr400 whay spend more money? Reply
  • cryptonomicon - Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - link


    "With the motherboard and CPU that we've selected, though, you should be able to reach much higher speeds than 1.80GHz. 2.40GHz (267MHz CPU bus with the stock 9X CPU multiplier) is about as sure of an overclock as anything that we've seen."

    no. no overclock is guaranteed and i am pretty surprised i am seeing an advocation for overclocking in this guide. i overclock myself but a brazen statement like that is just inviting hoardes of people to try the board, and not even know what they are getting into. OCing should come into the picture on most gaming hardware but in this guide its more like the OC is sort of an assumed part of the value. i really hate seeing 'sure' associated with 'overclock'. that's just another 100, 200, 1000 people at dfi-street.com that i have to troubleshoot for because they don't know what they are doing. allright well that's just a rant, nothing personal.
  • flatblastard - Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - link

    This was my only beef with the guide as well. Seems like at stock speeds you would have a mostly "entry-level" performer thats trying to be on the "high-end" with other components. I suppose at higher resolutions the 7800GT would come in handy, but again, we are talking about "mid-range" where the screen would be between 17-19 inches. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - link

    Hence, the disclaimer on the bottom of page 4. I'll be publishing an article looking more into the how-to of overclocking, and rest assured I will be spending a decent amount of effort advising people to not assume too much. Still, all overclockers have to start somewhere.

    I personally have yet to see a Venice 3000+ that can't run 2.4 GHz - provided the user knows what they're doing and has an appropriate motherboard. Mine runs 2.7 GHz and almost 2.8 GHz (i.e. 2.8 crashes in several tests). However, overclocking is part art and part science. You have to put a lot of effort into getting the best results, and a lot of people just want it to be easy. Oh, well.
  • danmitchell - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    Can you please elaborate on this? My 19" CRT is failing and I was thinking of replacing it with a 1905FP. Reply
  • huges84 - Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - link

    I too am interested in that statement. It was important enough to you to put into bold, but I don't see much of an explaination for it. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - link

    Basically, spending more money on a bigger, better display isn't a bad idea if you can afford it. A 19" LCD is what I would call the bare minimum for a Mid-Range system. A 20 or 21" with native 1600x1200 resolution would be better, in my opinion - perhaps not for gaming, but certainly for office work. If you're happy with a 19" LCD, then go ahead and purchase one; I was merely pointing out that people ought to at least consider the larger options for a moment. :) Reply
  • BladeVenom - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    With Battlefield 2 and for future games they should really be recommending 2 GB of RAM for a gaming machine. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    Read the memory page. More RAM is suggested, particularly for BF2 and FEAR. It isn't in the final table because that would add another $100 to the price. Reply
  • SimonNZ - Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - link

    I have a rig similar to that with a few higher end components and my 1gb DRR500 does me easily in FEAR and BF2, all setting maxed, full AA/ AF etc so more ram and need, the mobo would be running it in dual channel 2:) Reply
  • deathwalker - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    It's a truely great list of hardware..no argument with that. But I just don't see a DFI SLI mobo at $165 and a 7800 GT graphics card at $380 being "Mid-Range" equipment. Hell..all you have to do is update the Processor recommendation and it vaults right into High end equipment. Reply
  • deathwalker - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    I guess what it comes down to ..is that I don't think $1500 is an appropriate mid-range budget. Reply
  • vailr - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    No mention of the nForce4 SLI Intel Edition chipset?
    And note that, it apparently:
    "DOES NOT support the dual-core Pentium D 820 processor"
    "The 820 does not work with Nforce boards, you have to get an 830."
    Also, maybe a mention of HD sound level quietness?
    Samsung HD's appear to be the quietest, followed by Seagate as next quietest? Or: have newer drives from Hitachi, WD or Maxtor changed that idea?
  • JarredWalton - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    I've got one of the newer WD drives, and the fan noise overpowers anything from the HDD. Maxtors are still pretty loud, IMO, but mostly on seek noise. Thankfully, all of the HDDs are quiet on the bearing noise front. The older IDE drives from several companies were really bad. FDB has cleared up those problems. Reply
  • noxipoo - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    I thought midrange was... well mid priced as well. i've only been out of the country for 2 weeks, did something new come out that i'm not aware of? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    Read it in the context of the article. Basically, if you're going to spend $1250 (give or take) on a computer, but games are really important to you, I'm recommending that you downgrade most other parts in order to get the 7800GT. A fast GPU is the most important item in a gaming system, in my opinion. Reply
  • yacoub - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    While there is a difference between integrated audio and discrete audio solutions, you'll need better speakers before it really begins to matter.

    Well there is also the 3D gaming performance difference, where the on-board solutions tend to suck up CPU resources something awful when compared to a peripheral card audio solution.
  • yacoub - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    $1250 is the right goal for pricing for a Mid-Range system. You can build a solid system for that amount that will run the latest games fine and offer plenty of performance for everything else. Good call on that price range (within $250 either way makes sense, but under $1350 is ideal). Reply
  • archcommus - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    I don't know what this world is coming to when the recommended MID-RANGE video card is almost a frickin' four hundred dollars. How is the slightly lesser version of the most recent model of video card considered mid-range and not high end? I'd call that high end, with the top-level 7800 being ultra high-end. Reply
  • yacoub - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    One word: Marketing.

    That's the only reason companies have the balls to debut a new GPU at anything over $350 - they can convince people it's omg amazingly necessary and better.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    The $400 video card is for gaming. For games, that fast video card is a LOT more important than getting a faster CPU. $370 for the X2 3800+ or $370 for the 7800GT? How dare they charge that much money!? For the record, I remember a time when Pentium MMX 200 processors cost $650, as did the K6 200MHz. Sure, graphics card prices have gone up, but so has the importance of the GPU relative to the rest of the system - again, for games only. Reply
  • yacoub - Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - link

    Like I said, marketing. Good to see it's working, too. That'll keep them encouraged to keep upping the new card debut prices every six months since they can find suckers to buy them at those prices. Eventually I'll just move to console gaming while some of you take out loans for overpriced PC hardware. (And this is coming from a PC gaming fanatic who dislikes most current console offerings - yes, I will be that certain of not wasting money that I will sacrifice the latest PC gaming simply to avoid being price raped.)

    I've never paid $400 before yet have always been able to buy a new GPU that runs the top games at high enough res smoothly. In fact the most I've ever paid for a hot new GPU was $300. I'm currently ready to upgrade from my 9800 Pro 128mb and will go with something again around $300 which will play all the current games just fine - and I'm not even playing BF2 or FEAR so it's even easier for me to 'make due' with an X800XL or similar card.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - link

    This recommendation has nothing to do with marketing. Does anyone *need* this fast of a card? Well, if you want to play certain games at 1600x1200 (or 1920x1200), then yes, this level of hardware will be required. If you're okay with 1024x768, then the 7800GT is overkill. However, you're talking about spending $300 for a new GPU. That would get you a 6800GT, X800XL, or X850Pro. For 25% more money on the GPU, you will get a card that is http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=2496...">far more than 25% faster in most 3D games. (Unless you continue to run at 1024x768 without AA enabled.)

    That's not marketing, that's the simple truth. A 7800GT is 25 to 75% faster than the current $300 cards. If you've already got a good gaming system, there's no need to upgrade right now. If you're running two year old hardware and want to upgrade to something faster, though, why come up a bit short? It's not like I'm suggesting that you spend the extra $100+ to go from a 6800GT to a 6800Ultra or from an X800Pro to an X800XTPE. You *can* cut costs on the hardware, but if anything I'd ditch the SLI board and enthusiast RAM rather than downgrading the GPU - at least in a gaming system.
  • jonah42 - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    Yes a good guide, some thought provoking choices but you have forgotten the importance of a good sound card. You do not mention the quality of the onboard sound of the DFI board - I think goud sound quality realy brings a game to life - adding to the cinematic feeling greatly. If you want good multichannel placement then the Audigy 4 is a must, for best sound qaulity then a good Envy24 based card is recommended - eg Audotrak Prodigy or equivalent. Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    Onboard sound quality is more than good enough for most people these days, and if they want improved sound quality it would be better spent on higher-quality speakers than on a discrete sound-card.

    For gamers an Audigy 4 is unnecessary, a cheap Audigy 2 or Audigy 2 ZS would be perfectly adequate. Or you could always fall for Creative's hype and blow a fortune on an X-Fi of course. I'm perfectly happy with the sound from the Karajan module on my DFI board, but I do occasionally consider getting an Audigy 2 [ZS] for games.
  • yacoub - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    BlueGears X-Mystique - $99 and I believe it does not resample sources like the Creative cards do. If it does, there are other options out there for around the same price that don't.

    So anyway, you're looking at an affordable non-Creative soundcard that offers great sound reproduction. It's hard to ask for more than that short of a pro-level card. :)
  • ceefka - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    I agree with your point of view here, though I wouldn't recommend a board that doesn't feature Firewire. Sure it is possible to buy a PCI card for Firewire (where are the PCI-E 1x/2x Firewire cards by the way?) but you might want to save the ever diminishing number of PCI-slots for something else than a PCI-card? Reply
  • ceefka - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    Forget what I said. I just found one from http://www.siig.com/product.asp?catid=14&pid=9...">SIIG Reply
  • ceefka - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    but you might want to save the ever diminishing number of PCI-slots for something else than a PCI-card?

    bummer, that shoud have read:

    but you might want to save the ever diminishing number of PCI-slots for something else than a Firewire PCI-card?
  • flatblastard - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    .....but I can't seem to get past the fact that the system must be overclocked to actually reach the level of "Mid-range". Buying the exact parts in the guide and build without overclocking will result in an "entry-level" rig. I know we don't have to buy EXACTLY the same parts, but still, I wouldn't call that a mid range rig, not by a long shot. Reply
  • yacoub - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    Or just don't go dual-core if you want more CPU speed -and- the faster GPU. :)

    Sure if you encode Div-X while you game it wouldn't perform as well but honestly people who does that??
  • JarredWalton - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    It doesn't *have* to be overclocked. I've got an article that will show the performance scaling of several options, and while the overclocked 3200+ is definitely faster, I'd take a stock 3000+ with a 7800GT over a 3800+ with an X800Pro. I mean, do you want 30% faster frame rates at 1024x768 (which is what you'd get with a faster CPU), or do you want 50% faster frame rates at 1600x1200? I don't know that those percentages are exact, but I'll look at those in the article. Reply
  • flatblastard - Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - link

    I'll be looking forward to reading this article, maybe we can clear some of this confusion up. Reply
  • ksherman - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    you mentioned that XP Pro will have no problem with a dual core processor. If I were to upgrade my current computer with a 3800+, will I have to reinstall my OS? everything else will remain constant. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    It depends in a large part on your current setup. Worst case scenario, you'd probably have to do a repair installation over your current OS. Actually, worst case you hose your current OS and start from scratch, but 99% of the time that's not required. Reply
  • Furen - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    You are very likely to be able to pull off a CPU swap without problems but if you have those weird speed-up/slow-down problems that some people seem to be having in certain games (and you cant fix them using the X2 driver), then a clean install will probably fix that for you. Reply
  • 2ndRUNNER - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link


    $1500+ for a "gaming system" seems like an awful lot of money, doesn't it? The $400 price of the upcoming Xbox 360 looks like a bargain by comparison! However, consider this for a moment: you don't need a display for the Xbox 360, as you use your TV - or alternatively, add the cost of a TV to the console. Furthermore, you can't do most business work on a console. Email, word processing, spreadsheets, surfing the Internet - some of those might be possible to a limited degree, but consoles certainly won't match the overall utility of a personal computer. If you're like many people, you already need a computer in your home. For gaming, you're pretty much just adding a $400 graphics card (and even a $200 graphics card would suffice).

    I would rather buy an entry-level PC for doing most of my jobs

    and save $400 or more (on graphic, SLI mobo, CPU, etc.)

    to buy a console dedicated to pure gaming. In this way, I can

    enjoy the best of both worlds since all major game companies

    are moving to consoles. In addition, I feel more comfortable

    watching DVD, seeing my photos, listening to music, recording

    TV programs and definitely, playing games with friends on my sofa.
  • yacoub - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    Hmmm let's see:

    I like to watch TV while I use the computer. I can't play a console and watch TV as easily, let alone hear the news in the background while I play.

    My TV is too old to really provide a worthy display for a modern console. So that means spending $1000-2000 for a nice TV.

    I tend to prefer PC games for their greater depth, functionality (due to more buttons to bind and flexibility in how you assign them), modability, map/level-making, community, etc. Many things not offered on console games.

    Until there is a trackball for controlling 'mouselook', a console controller is rubbish for FPS gaming, period.

    A lot of the games I play today are older games that definitely won't be seen on a console anytime soon or simply wouldn't port well anyway due to their complexity (MechWarrior4:Mercenaries w/ MekTek add-on, MechCommander2 w/ Wolfman's add-on, Rome: Total War, etc).

    So why would I: Give up the gaming I have now (my current rig needs an upgrade soon in order to continue gaming on it, so if I buy a console and TV I'm foregoing that), buy into an expensive proposition for future gaming that likely won't include many of the games I'd be interested in, and thus end up with less than what I started?

    It just doesn't make sense. Not yet. The XBox360 is coming closer, for sure, but until they provide a trackball & keyboard setup including button configuration (heck, let me use my current USB ones from my PC) and content-identical ports of PC games, I won't be sold on using a console for ALL of my gaming wants.
  • yacoub - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    Oh and then there's the realization that the Z-680s probably won't cut it for audio output for the TV and it'd be home theatre audio system time. Yeah right. That's so far out of my budget right now... Reply
  • bob661 - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link


    The Z-5500's work perfectly for home audio use. There's an optical input on the controller. Works great.
  • yacoub - Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - link

    Yes, they're the same as my Z-680s, I'm just saying that they are still PC speakers, not home audio quality speakers. Compared to the other PC speaker options, they're excellent, but they don't stack up to home audio, trust me. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    People obviously have differing tastes. Personally, I hate console controllers. I was over at a friend's place tonight and we tried Conker: Reloaded on the Xbox. The pathetic controls are just a great way to mask non-existent AI, as far as I can tell. If I spent a lot more time with consoles, I'd certainly improve, but I don't think I could ever reach the same skill level as a mouse/keyboard FPS player.

    That's somewhat beside the point, though, when I consider the games I actually play and enjoy the most. FPS games are great, but a good strategy game often lasts longer on my HDD than the latest FPS. Point to a console game that can compete with Civilization III. (Imagine trying to control such a game without a mouse....)

    There's room for both types of gamers, and frankly I doubt I'll get any of the next gen consoles. They just don't appeal to *me*.
  • plinden - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    Point to a console game that can compete with Civilization III. (Imagine trying to control such a game without a mouse....)

    Civ III plays nicely on my three yr old 1.8GHz, as does Age of Empires and Sim City IV. You don't need a $1500 gaming PC with a $380 GPU to play Civ III or any other strategy/sim game (ok, that's currently - but I doubt even Civ IV will be that resource hungry)

    (You can tell from the games in my collection when I was last able to spend any time playing games)
  • bob661 - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    I don't think he was refering to the hardware. Rather, the existence of a similiar game for the console. Reply
  • Pete84 - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    You need friends to play games with on the sofa, otherwise a PC is much better. I live in the sticks so the multiplayer capabilities of consoles doesn't do much, my hasn't figured out a gamepad yet :p Reply
  • Pythias - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    Good job, although it seems to me that you seem almost apologetic about some of your choices. Dont be. If folks want to complain about your choices, let them write their own damned guide. :) Reply
  • Methusela - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    I'm pretty impressed, overall, by the guide. I read through the whole thing and can't really find more than minor faults with any part of it. Those don't even really beg mentioning except for not including the price of an OS with it. You're not going to do much gaming without Winblows, I'm sad to report. Even office applications and accounting packages rarely come compatible with *nix unless they're enterprise-class.

    It's an interesting comparison given that I've purchased some reasonably mid-range PCs for my office from a local white box shop. The prices (and componentry) here compare favorably to what they were charging, except that you don't get any overall system warranties with the DIY systems listed here. Overall, though, I'd probably prefer to build my own at work if my boss would allow. Building affords you many extra benefits and prevents any corner-cutting that you don't decide upon directly.

    Thanks, Jarred!
  • JarredWalton - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    Yeah, I cheat on the non-inclusion of the OS. Personally, I'd grab XP Pro, so add about $135 to each system - unless you have a copy of XP Pro that you want to remove from another PC, I suppose. Reply

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