Intel Value Midrange

While Intel still owns the very top in CPU performance, the Phenom II has made AMD competitive in the upper midrange to the low high-end. As higher speeds are introduced for Phenom II, that CPU parity will likely move up the CPU scale. That means that midrange to low high-end is now also an area where you can choose Intel or AMD based on the unique features of each platform or expansion capabilities, rather than one brand dominating performance.

The Intel Value Midrange is built around a fast Intel Core 2 Duo CPU. For most applications and gaming, a faster Core 2 Duo is normally a better performance choice than a slower quad-core. CPU intensive applications like video manipulation do benefit from a quad-core CPU, which should be your choice if those applications are important to you. A few recent games are finally taking advantage of quad-core as well.

Intel Value Midrange PC
Hardware Component Price
Processor Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 Wolfdale
(3.16GHzx2, 6MB L2)
$188
Cooling XIGMATEK HDT-S1283 120mm Rifle CPU Cooler $37
Video SAPPHIRE 100259-1GB Radeon HD 4870 1GB $230
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-EP45-UD3P $137
Memory OCZ Reaper 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2-1066 Dual Channel Kit, $46
Hard Drive Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST31000333AS 1TB $110
Optical Drive LG BD/HD DVD / 16x DVD+/- RW GGC-H20LK $99
Audio Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio 7.1 Channels 24-bit 96KHz PCI $50
Case COOLER MASTER RC-690-KKN1-GP ATX Mid Tower $80
Power Supply PC Power & Cooling S75CF 750W SLI CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS Certified $80
Display Acer H213H bmid Black 21.5" 5ms HDMI Widescreen 16:9 Full HD 1080P LCD Monitor (1920x1080) $199
Speakers Logitech X-540 70 watts 5.1 Speaker - Retail $79
Input Microsoft CA9-00001 Black PS/2 Standard Keyboard and Optical USB/PS2 Mouse - OEM $16
Operating System Microsoft Vista Home Premium OEM $99
Bottom Line   $1450

The CPU is one of the fastest Core 2 Duo chips on the market. The E8500 at 3.16GHz is just one step below the fastest Core 2 Duo E8600 which clocks at 3.33GHz. It also overclocks exceptionally well, reaching 4GHz and even higher with relative ease. Because of this OC ability and the value goal of this system build, the E8500 has been matched with components that are also excellent choices for overclocking. The E8500 is plenty fast on its own, but if overclocking interests you this Intel Value Midrange will be ready for action - and ready to overclock to wherever your particular E8500 can go.

The big brother to the UD3R selected in our under $1000 guide is the $137 Gigabyte GA-EP45-UD3P that has a similar feature set but adds a second x16 slot (in place of a PCI slot) for dual x8 CrossFire operation. The board provides an excellent overclocking platform along with great stability. If the second x16 slot is not important to you, we suggest sticking with the UD3R. This P45 chipset motherboard has earned its reputation as a sterling overclocker, while also maintaining excellent stability. It is a good match to the selected Core 2 Duo E8500 or an alternate quad-core Q8200 (2.33GHz).

While the stock Intel cooler is adequate for modestly overclocking a Core 2 Duo, better cooling is needed to push the CPU to its limits. The Xigmatek HDT-D1283 120mm Rifle Cooler did very well in our cooling tests and it is a good match to the E8500. OCZ also markets a similar 120 Rifle cooler and either should work well in this system.

For this Value Midrange system, faster memory with more overclocking headroom was chosen. With the current OCZ rebates some of their best memory is available at truly bargain prices. The choice for the Intel system is an OCZ Reaper 4GB DDR2-1066 (PC28500) kit. With attached heatspreaders and the unique Reaper heatpipes and external heatsink, this 4GB kit is ready for overclocking. The base specs of DDR2-1066 at 5-5-5-18 are also impressive even if you never overclock. Value is good at the normal $76, but with the current $30 rebate the price is an easy-on-the-budget $46.

Index Value Midrange Common Components
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  • Wesley Fink - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    We have revised the comment to more accurately reflect what we were trying to convey. We don't want to leave the wrong impression on this. Core i7 is definitely the fastest current CPU, but Phenom II competes with i7 much better than Phenom. Phenom II also has a cheaper $235 CPU that offers terrific performance for the price Reply
  • 7Enigma - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    Thank you for the revision. I did not want it to seem that I thought you were being biased towards the Phenom II, just that it was a bit misleading in its original form. While architecturally it is closer to the Core i7, performance-wise it's closer to the Q9300/Q9400.

    I think for a mid-grade build the Phenom II is probably in a sweet spot as current high pricing for DDR3 ram and the motherboard (not to mention questionable mobo stability) make total system costs much higher for an i7 build.

    As it is, I'll be building a very inexpensive system based off your $1500 Intel dual-core system as I game on a 19" LCD and do very little work that requires/is enhanced by a quad core. It's going to be a hold over system for a year or two and so I thank you for the 775 mobo and ram recommendation.
    Reply
  • 7Enigma - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    *speaking of the 920, not the 940. Reply
  • 7Enigma - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    *Phenom

    To add from Anand's own 920/940 review:

    "Looking through the performance results, it's also worthwhile to recognize just how fast Intel's Core i7 is. Across the board Core i7 is the fastest thing out there. If the motherboard guys could get X58 board pricing down below $200 and DDR3 memory was available at the same price as DDR2, then the i7-920 would be the clear recommendation. The entry-level Core i7 is pretty much faster than the-top end Core 2 Extreme or the Phenom II."

    and

    "We must not forget that Phenom II is competitive with a 45nm derivative of a 2+ year old architecture."


    Again I'm not bashing AMD's Phenom II chips, just that it is very misleading to say the performance is more in line with the i7.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    All of your comments add to the perspective on Phenom II. I believe I made it very clear that at $2000 the entry i7 was likely faster than the Phenom II. I also said on p.4 "Phenom II performance is more in line with Intel’s latest Core i7" and that is certainly true. The L3 cache of Phenom II is definitely more like i7 than the cache design of the Phenom CPU.

    However, Anand also points out the real advantage in the CPU/Board price enjoyed by the entry Phenom II 920. As I also said Intel's cheapest i7 is $300. There is no $235 i7 and cheap but capable motherboard as there is for Phenom II.

    The article was crystal clear that Intel still owns the top, and that is i7, but AMD is competitive now in the mid-range to lower high end, where it was not before. This is not being a fan-boi as I personally run i7, but if I've given AMD a little more slack in this article I will not apologize. AMD has been trailing Intel for a long time, and in fairness Phenom II performance and overclocking came as something of a surprise to reviewers. Most did not expect the chip to be as comnpetitive as it is. AMD deserves a little credit here. I will probably use a Phenom II in my next build, as competition is good for all of us.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    I was wondering about that as well. Anand's launch review of Phenom II seems to show that outside of gaming the i7 920 typically holds 10-20% better performance, with occasional tests showing even more. So at the $2000 price point that would likely make the AMD system the better gaming system due to the video card, but the i7 system likely faster in most other applications.

    Are any of the ~$200 X58 motherboards going to offer 6 RAM slots? 12GB would be even more expensive with only 4 slots.

    As the PCIe X1 slots are often lost in an SLI/Crossfire setup, do any of these boards have trouble using a X1 sound card in an X16 slot? IIRC someone reported previously that some boards didn't like running X16 slots slower than X4.
    Reply
  • Jaramin - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    Somehow, this doesn't feel very midrange to me. It's as if the class was defined by the price instead of the performance.

    The value midrange aught to be performance midrange, and performance midrange is clearly high end, because one bumb ahead leads us to ultra-high end, you know, the machines we dream to have but would never buy?
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    We did not use the term Midrange to start an argument, although a discusiion of the definition of Midrange is always interesting. Since we described our Bargain Systems as Under $1000 I have changed the title description to $1000 to $2000. I hope that removes any confusion about what is covered in the guide. Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    From the Introduction:

    "Midrange can start as low as $1000 and extend all the way up to around $2000, which gives a lot of flexibility in terms of choosing components. In this era of declining prices and increasing value, the midrange also covers a wider area than in the past - just as we saw in the under $1000 segment. Our budget systems near $1000 were really representative of what we might have called midrange in the past. Similarly, our $2000 system is closer to what may have been defined as high-end in earlier guides.

    It's fair to ask, then, why we haven't tossed the price classes for our guides and defined new ones. That option was considered, but the fact remains that high-end prices have not declined like midrange and entry prices. New architectures have also been recently introduced at the high-end, so the definition of high and mid are shifting as the Intel Core i7 and Phenom II move into our computing space. We are already seeing a few X58 boards that will be selling for around $200, which would allow a decent Core i7 build at around $2000. Similarly, you can build a very capable Phenom II box for that same $2000."

    Reply
  • AntiM - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    I consider midrange to be in the $600 to $800 price range. Reply

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