As shown in System Buyers Guide: PCs for Under $800 you can now build a decent entry level PC for around $500 - including a true 1080p LCD monitor and the Vista Home Premium OS. If you already have a monitor and OS, or use one of the free operating systems like Ubuntu or another Linux variant, you can get your desktop system cost down to a bit over $300. We don't recall a time when so much power was available in the computer industry for so little money. Of course that $500 machine, while surprisingly capable for basic computer tasks, is certainly not the paragon for gaming, graphics, or raw computing power.

As you move up the price scale you gain in all of those parameters. We started to beef up those areas with systems costing closer to $800 in the last Entry System Buyers Guide. The next ladder rung is broadly defined as the midrange. Most of our readers are looking to buy in the midrange, which generally provides the most performance for the dollar, and computing solutions with some staying power in the market. We were ready to post our midrange recommendations early last week, but with significant new video card introductions scheduled for late last week the guide was delayed a few days. This made it possible to include the latest video offerings in our performance midrange systems.

The slow worldwide economy and fierce competition has had their impact on even the definition of midrange. Today we define our midrange guide as starting as low as $800 and extending up to around $1800, which gives a lot of flexibility in terms of choosing components. With generally declining prices and increasing value, the midrange also covers a wider area than in the past - just as we saw in the under $800 Entry segment.

New architectures have been introduced in the past few months, so the definition of high, mid, and entry have been shifting as the Intel Core i7 and Phenom II settle into our computing space. Several Core i7 X58 boards are now selling for around $200 or less, which allows a decent Core i7 build with the cheapest Core i7 CPU at around $1800. That represents the very top of the midrange price spectrum, and some would argue we should limit Core i7 to the high-end and limit midrange to perhaps a $1600 cap. That argument has merits; however, it is hard to ignore the Core i7 920 with a cost of less than $300 for an upper midrange recommendation. Similarly, Phenom II processors are priced from $125 to $225. Since Phenom II, built on 45nm, is faster and much more overclockable than other recent AMD processors, we how consider the Phenom II the CPU of choice for any midrange AMD system. Anything less is an entry AMD PC.

For today's midrange guide, we will put together two Intel systems and two AMD systems. The first value pair are targeted at a base system price of around $800, with a complete system price of around $1150. This means our complete system recommendations in the midrange are now some $350 less than the value systems detailed in our last midrange guide published just 3 months ago. These $1150 systems represent the best-bang-for-the buck in the midrange. The speed at which even the best value component prices are dropping is remarkable right now. Price drops are a given in the computer industry, but there are the first signs that "bad economy" reductions may be slowing or stopping, as a few of the component prices actually increased since the last guide.

The second pair of systems target midrange performance. At about $500 to $650 more than value midrange, these $1650 to $1800 complete systems invest that extra cost in performance improvements and upgraded peripherals. The midrange performance segment is built around a powerful Intel Core i7 CPU or the fastest Phenom II you can currently buy. Both are very high performance for the money - and high performance by almost any other measure.

Without the 26" monitors and OS, the performance midrange systems would cost around $1100 to $1250. This price spread is a result of the firm pricing for the Intel Core i7 and the release of greater value components in the last three months for Phenom II. It is not the result of DDR2 versus DDR3 as memory prices for 2 and 3 are getting closer. In fact, DDR3 memory prices have dropped significantly across the board since our last midrange guide.

These new midrange system recommendations also include the most recent introductions in the GPU or video card market. For performance midrange you will find AMD 4890 video cards. We would also include the NVIDIA GTX 275 as an equal recommendation, but you cannot yet buy a GTX 275. In the coming weeks, once those parts begin to show up, those who prefer NVIDIA over AMD can make such substitutions. For more details on our video card recommendations, you should take a closer look at our Video Card Buyer's Guide - Spring 2009 and the follow-up HD 4890/GTX 275 review.

Intel Value Midrange
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  • RadnorHarkonnen - Wednesday, April 8, 2009 - link

    Don't be Pedantic. Chill Out mates.

    I have a X2 4800+ OCed to 3Ghz. I game on it, i have a small file server on it, an exchange server always rolling, I GIMP some fotos, use sum torrentz, test like things i have fun with on my VMware, the wife is always seeing a movie of some sort (Desperate housewives or sex in the city, or some crap like that) plugged via HDMI to my TV. And much more...

    A bit of this, a bit of that.

    I personally like his rig. I wouldn't buy one like his, but hey there are other priorities. Maybe in the summer ill buy another for crossfire.
  • Wineohe - Tuesday, April 7, 2009 - link

    Hmm. Not sure I get 1TB Barracuda. Sometimes price isn't everything. I guess you gotta spread the love.
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, April 8, 2009 - link

    The Seagate is now quite reliable and fast. The speed is a true 7200rpm, and not a "green" 5200rpm. Cache is 32MB, and not 16MB like many competing drives.

    Warranty is reduced to 3 years from the previous 5 years, but warranty service and replacement is very easy directly with Seagate. Seagate still offers the Enterprise version of this drive with 5-year warranty for $140, but if truth be know it is the same drive with a longer warranty and a higher price to pay for the longer coverage.

    You can pay more for the same features and specifications. As we have said many times, you are generally safe with an HD from the major players and you can shop on price as long as specs are the same. There are good WD choices as well.
  • MadMan007 - Wednesday, April 8, 2009 - link

    Seriously? Did you just say it's a great drive based upon paper specs? Features and specifications do not equal real world performance. Seagate drives after the 7200.10s should not be recommended. Supposed reliability issue aside the firmware is heavily slanted toward reads and the drives perform middle of the pack overall when looking at a wide range of real world uses. I understand for an article like this there's a need to stick to a strict price point but anyone who wants a 7200RPM 1TB drive ought to look elsewhere (WD drives are great atm) or if they don't need the space they'd be better served by a 7200RPM 640GB WD drive.
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, April 8, 2009 - link

    We use both the recent Seagate and WD 1TB drives. Both have performed well in the labs.
  • MadMan007 - Wednesday, April 8, 2009 - link

    Then you aren't testing them well enough but that's ok I've never read Anandtech for HD reviews. Heck the last non-SSD review is almost a year old and that was the V-Raptor, before that there is a 1TB drive review which is thoroughly outdated. Obviously in fairlyland everyone has only SSDs by now, the SSD articles are intriguing but don't reflect what people actually buy for storage as your own guides show.
  • MadMan007 - Wednesday, April 8, 2009 - link

    Sorry the above reads more rantishly than I meant it. Anyway my point was that quoting a bunch of paper specs doesn't mean much.
  • erple2 - Friday, April 10, 2009 - link

    Some thing that seems to get lost a lot is the question for the normal user:

    "How much faster is this drive in the stuff I care about?"

    Benchmarks are good, I suppose, but they're also ridiculously non-linear. a two fold increase in sequential read performance in HD Tach doesn't translate into a two fold reduction in windows boot up time (or application startup time).

    Maybe they are linear, but only with extenuating circumstances - If I have an old drive that loads application X in 20 seconds, getting a more recent drive could reduce the load time by 2 seconds. Getting a drive that's "twice" as fast as the slower new drive may reduce the application loading time by twice the increase, not half the time - the app now loads in 16 seconds rather than 18 seconds.

    I dunno. It seems that the more I look at "real world" scenarios (which I understand are very hard to quantify and benchmark - they're essentially wall clock timings), the difference between 2 drives of the same rotational speed are marginal. Heck, even the difference between a 7200RPM drive and a 10k drive seems awfully marginal.

    How often do I copy a single huge (on the order of 1 gigabyte) file that's stored sequentially? I dunno. Most of my data is lots of files that are smaller than 10 MiB (music and pictures), with significant numbers that are in the < 1 MiB range (everything else that isn't MP3's or pictures).

    Huh.. Now I sound like I'm ranting.

    However, if Anandtech is using the drives all the time in their test systems (and they haven't failed), then I'd believe that they're at least reliable. They may not be faster than a couple of Raptors in Raid 0, but from what else I've read, that's a total waste of time and money for my usage patterns (which don't include running a heavily used database, or other server application).
  • marc1000 - Tuesday, April 7, 2009 - link

    wow, while I read the article I lost the 1st comment spot.. hehe

    well, I read a lot of these guides here at AT, and should shay the components choices are generally good. too bad I live in a country other than USA or England, so I can never buy those parts with the "real" pricing, instead I always pay higher for newer parts... it's a joke for us.......

    anyway, I would like to say to anyone interested that these new CPUs and GPUs are really terrific performers. Today I have a fairly simple Core2Duo e7200 (2.6ghz 3mb cache) paired with a Radeon HD3850 and 4GB RAM. I never could completely stress this simple system... even gaming, I can run almost all games at a very good quality (22" LCD monitor with 16x10res), except for CRYSIS of course (but I don't like it anyway).

  • ssj4Gogeta - Wednesday, April 8, 2009 - link

    "too bad I live in a country other than USA or England, so I can never buy those parts with the "real" pricing, instead I always pay higher for newer parts"

    same here. :( Especially when a new graphics card is launched. The price is as high as 2x the price in the US.

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