Currently, we are experimenting a bit with our Buyer's Guides to see if we can better meet the needs of a wider range of users, both in terms of the components that we recommend and the prices of those components. We will continue to produce an Entry Level, Mid-Range, High End, and Overclocking system every month, but we have also decided to include SFF guides and perhaps a mobile-related guide to our arsenal as well. We will keep with our current format (Week 1: Entry Level System, Week 2: Mid-Range System, Week 3: High End System, Week 4: Overclocking System) until we get a better feel for what our readers want. So far, everything looks to be on schedule for AnandTech's first SFF Buyer's Guide next week. So, if you feel like letting us know what you'd like to see in terms of component picks and price points on those picks in future guides, go ahead and write up your feelings in our comments section, located at the bottom of the page.

With that out of the way, we are still going to continue to evaluate products like we have in all our other guides over the last few months. That is, for every component that goes into a computer, we offer our recommendation for a piece of hardware as well as our alternative on that type of hardware. We've added alternative hardware picks to our guides because it allows AnandTech to recommend a wider variety of hardware (especially for those willing to spend a little more than what we budget for a particular system). To be clear, alternative picks tell you just that - your alternatives, which in some cases will be better suited for your needs, and in other cases, will not be. But at the same time, we can still be assertive enough with a first place recommendation so that new buyers aren't indecisive or confused about what to purchase. Most of the prices listed for the hardware that we recommend can be found in our very own RealTime Pricing Engine. Any prices not found in our engine can be found on We list pertinent parts of our RealTime pricing engine at the bottom of every page of our Buyer's Guides so that you can choose the lowest prices from a large variety of vendors all by yourself.


While entry level (budget) systems should mainly be constructed with reliability and price in mind, with performance a fairly distant third consideration, mid-range systems have a slightly different order of priority. Reliability is still #1 priority, but performance and price are in a sort of a tie when building that mid-range system. Performance isn't of the utmost importance in this type of system, but it's also not ignored nearly as much as a plain, old entry level system is. Similarly, price isn't of utmost importance either, but buyers building a mid-range system must be mindful of the price of components nonetheless. Performance and price don't lag too far behind reliability for mid-range systems, in other words.

With that all said, let's take a look at this week's new recommendations and alternatives.

CPU and Motherboard Recommendations


View All Comments

  • SKiller - Friday, June 18, 2004 - link

    "Bottom Line $1592

    Ouch... a little expensive for a mid-range system, isn't it?"

    How so? Most people I know who have what could be considered a high-end system, have at least $2k worth of components (usually more). $1600 is well within what could be considered mid-range.
  • TrogdorJW - Friday, June 18, 2004 - link

    If you keep everything but the CL2 RAM recomendation, you could further reduce the price to under $1000. On the "upgraded" version, going with the OCZ 3500 and a more moderate Antec SLK3700-BQE case would drop the price under $1500, and the monitor and speaker upgrades could probably also go to get you a very good gaming system for $1265. In case anyone out there wanted a suggestion from me on that point. :) Reply
  • TrogdorJW - Friday, June 18, 2004 - link

    And since you keep neglecting to put this in the guide, I'll keep posting it here. The Alternative system summary:

    P4 3.0C $224
    Asus P4P800-E Deluxe $112
    2x512 Mushkin Level One RAM $306
    128MB Radeon 9800 Pro $204
    NEC 19" Diamondtron $326
    Kingwin K11 plus 360W PSU $116
    Onboard sound $0
    Logitech Z-5300 $147
    Onboard Gigabit Ethernet $0
    Western Digital 1200JB (120GB) $87
    NuTech DVD+RW $70
    Bottom Line $1592

    Ouch... a little expensive for a mid-range system, isn't it? And since the CPU/motherboard could really still go either way, it's worth mentioning that the alternative system with the Athlon 64 2800+ would cost $15 less: $1577.
  • TrogdorJW - Friday, June 18, 2004 - link

    You made some really great improvements in a lot of areas with this version of the guide - congratulations! I like the mention of the WD whine in the hard drive section, as well as the suggestion of upgrading to 1 GB. Still, the memory choices are really quite odd, as the above posts agree.

    $120 for two 256 MB DIMMs on a single-channel RAM setup? WTF? How will the vaunted 64-bit of Athlon 64 CPUs be of any real use when you've filled two of your three DIMM slots and only have half a gig of RAM? (64-bit isn't all that great right now, and I don't think it will be for at least another year.) Once 512 MB DIMM would have been better, or even two 512 MB Mushkin 2.5-4-4-8 DIMMs for only $156.

    As for the recommended 1 GB of Mushkin on the alternative list, that's great RAM - I have it in one of my systems. I also paid $230 for it back in February and wouldn't dream of spending $306 on it now! You could get 1GB of PC4000 RAM for that prices - granted, not low timings, but if you're thinking of overclocking a P4, you would want better RAM than PC3500. I would suggest OCZ's PC4000 as the alternative for P4 systems at that price:

    For the Athlon 64, getting PC4000 RAM is overkill, as good PC3500 will likely perform just as well if not better. In that case, on the high-end, the Mushkin Level One is a nice pick. But that's really too expensive for any mid-range system, so why not stick with PC3500 but get lower timings while knocking off $76?
  • abravo01 - Friday, June 18, 2004 - link

    Well, I was playing my klipsch promedia 5.1 on a sb live 5.1. Just got an audigy2 upon reading your may high-end guide and the difference is incredible: now I am truly in love with my sound!

    Thanks for the information.
  • glennpratt - Friday, June 18, 2004 - link

    Well I would disagree... I prefer the higher end Logitechs over Creative no matter what the material. And the price makes me forget about Klipsch. Reply
  • GokieKS - Friday, June 18, 2004 - link

    "Why do they always recommend Creative speakers for "audiophiles"? Any "audiophile" would know that they are pure crap and would either use an HT setup with their PC or some Klipsch Ultra 5.1s."

    Most of them are, but the SoundWorks MegaWorks/GigaWorks speakers are excellent, and are really a better choice for music (as opposed to gaming/movies) than Logitech and Klipsch's high-end offerings.

  • WarmAndSCSI - Friday, June 18, 2004 - link

    Why do they always recommend Creative speakers for "audiophiles"? Any "audiophile" would know that they are pure crap and would either use an HT setup with their PC or some Klipsch Ultra 5.1s. Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Friday, June 18, 2004 - link

    Overall a very good recommendation and in line with what I'd go along with today for my next system, but with two important differences.

    Memory. A gigabyte is a must for this class of system but theres no way I'd spend over $300 on those 2x512MB PC3500 CAS2 sticks, when you could get some PC3200 CAS2.5 for little over half the price. The amount saved would be more than enough to up the processor from an A64 2800+ to a 3200+, giving you performance out the box equivalent to a decent overclock of the 2800+ with low latency memory. And you'll still have some left over to spend elsewhere.

    Hard Drive. The most GB/$ now lies in the 160GB to 200GB region, and 200GB SATA drives are only $129 from Maxtor and WD which is a reasonable price component to include in this kind of system (especially if you had been considering spending over $300 on memory). The Maxtor drive is the obvious choice as it has no whine thanks to its fluid-bearings, is of similar speed to the WD, and comes with a three year warranty. As to whether you need 200GB, its always nice to have the extra space and sooner or later you'll probably be glad of it. In the meantime the drive will be faster as all the data is towards the outside keeping seek-times short and transfer-rates high. The rest of the money saved on the memory will pretty much cover the additional cost of a 200GB drive over an 80GB one.

    So for the same cost, you could stick an A64 3200+ in and a 200GB drive, just by using 2x512MB PC3200 CAS2.5 modules instead of PC3500 CAS2. It may not have the same overclocking headroom, but this isn't the overclocking system guide anyway. And a larger (or faster if only partially used) hard-drive is always nice.

    Apart from those two very minor quibbles, an excellent article in a series which always makes me consider alternatives for my next box.
  • zyzzix - Friday, June 18, 2004 - link

    Excellent article, Evan. My question is about the strength of the MSI mobo recommendation. While it's no doubt feature packed, the ABIT/VIA Pro offers an interesting alternative for OCers. Curious that some high profile names like Abit and Asus have passed on the 250, to date. Reply

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