We provide nearly weekly updates to the various component categories in our Price Guides, and the information contained within those articles should be enough to tide you over until we update our full Buyer's Guide. We (that is, really I, Jarred) have not updated our Buyer's Guides as frequently as some would like, so we're going to make a better attempt at keeping things updated on a monthly basis. In order to facilitate that goal, some of the discussion about why certain parts are better than others will be omitted, as you can read more about our latest CPU, graphics card, storage (HDD/DVDR), and motherboard recommendations elsewhere.

We do our best to consider all the options, but the simple truth is that without spending numerous pages on each Buyer's Guide, we can't explain every facet about each pick. There are always alternatives to the choices that we make, and you can substitute parts as you see fit. If you don't like our motherboard, or you want a slightly faster (or slower) CPU, GPU, etc., then you can make that change. The overall goal of the System Buyer's Guides is to provide a complete recommendation for every component needed to build a new computer. Some parts are very personal selections, and we won't dwell too long on those choices. If you have a set of speakers or a display that you prefer over our pick, by all means, go with what you like. However, if you're overwhelmed by the number of decisions that need to be made, picking up the exact choices listed in our Guides should give you a reliable computer that anyone would be happy to own.

We're covering the Mid-Range Guide in this article, which is really our favorite sector. The Budget Guides force us to make many compromises that we really aren't happy with. A $500 to $750 computer will be good, but it's not something most enthusiasts would really want. The High End is the other extreme: sure, we lust after those parts, but the truth is that we don't really feel that most people should be spending upwards of $2000 on a computer (unless money isn't a concern at all). The Mid-Range sector is where we get the best overall build, combining quality and performance for a reasonable price.

$1250 is the rough goal, but we'll be going as much as $250 over or under that mark. If $250 extra is too much money, then honestly, it might be better to consider whether or not you really need to spend even $1000 on a computer. $750 computers will do everything that you need them to do, meaning everything but serious gaming or professional work. For professional work, $250 should be a negligible one-time (or once every two years) expense. Gaming, on the other hand, is not even remotely a necessity. It's a hobby, and it's an expensive hobby at that. $250 is the cost of four or five retail games, and most gamers will spend far more than that over the course of the year. If you're able to afford gaming as a hobby, it's not unreasonable to assume that you can spend a few extra hundred on a purchase, provided that the performance warrants the additional expenditure. We should also mention that our prices are current as of the time of writing; in this case, September 7th - check the RealTime Pricing Engine for the latest information.

Our recommendations for the Mid-Range Guide this month are going to be focused around showing the flexibility that a $1500 budget gets you. To that end, we'll be looking at two builds (Intel and AMD) targeted at the gaming enthusiast, and we'll have two other builds (again, Intel and AMD) that look more towards the office/professional market. (We could call it the "SOHO" market, but that's an overused buzz term that we'd just as soon avoid.) Remember, we're buying a complete system with keyboard, mouse, display, speakers, etc. Periodic upgraders can hopefully avoid buying a new display and speakers at the very least. Once you remove those from the equation, we're looking at spending just over $1000 for a computer upgrade. If you sell off your old system to a friend or family member and recoup some of the cost, it's entirely possible to stay close to the cutting edge of technology with an initial investment of $1500 followed by $250 to $500 for upgrading each year.

Gaming CPU and Motherboard Recommendations
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  • 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.
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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