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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  • flatblastard - Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - link

    I'll be looking forward to reading this article, maybe we can clear some of this confusion up.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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...
  • 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.
  • 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*.

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