Intel Value Midrange

The Phenom II has made AMD competitive through the midrange while Intel still dominates the high-end with Core i7. That means you can now choose Intel or AMD midrange system based on the features of each platform or expansion capabilities, rather than CPU brand. Since Phenom II uses a 45nm process, even overclocking capabilities are now competitive with Intel's Core 2 series.

The Intel value midrange builds around a fast Intel Core 2 Duo CPU. For most applications and gaming a faster dual-core chip is normally a better performance choice than a slower quad-core alternative, not to mention they're usually less expensive. CPU intensive applications like video ripping 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, although gaming performance is normally about the same whether a CPU is dual-core or quad-core.

Intel Value Midrange PC
Hardware Component Price
Processor Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 Wolfdale 65W 45nm (3.0GHzx2, 6MB L2) $166
Cooling Intel Retail HSF $ -
Motherboard GIGABYTE GA-EP45-UD3P (after $20 Rebate) $115
Video HIS H487FN1GP Radeon HD 4870 1GB (after $20 Rebate) $130
Memory 4GB DDR2-1150 OCZ Blade OCZ2B1150LV4GK 5-5-5-15 at 1.8v $80
Hard Drive Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB WD1001FALS $95
Optical Drive Sony Optiarc 24X DVD - AD-7240S $32
Audio On-Board $ -
Case ANTEC Three Hundred ATX Mid Tower $60
Power Supply OCZ ModXStream Pro 600W OCZ600MXSP Modular SLI Certified CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS Certified (after $20 Rebate) $60
Base System Total $738
Display Acer X233Hbid 23" 5ms HDMI Widescreen 16:9 Full HD 1080P LCD Monitor (1920x1080) $180
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
Complete System Bottom Line $1112

The CPU choice is the excellent E8400 Core 2 Duo chip at 3.0GHz with 6MB of L2 cache. The 3.00GHz speed is just two steps below the fastest Core 2 E8600 that clocks in at 3.33GHz. The E8400 also overclocks exceptionally well, reaching 4GHz and even higher with relative ease. Because of this overclocking ability and the value goal of this system build, we paired the E8400 with components that are also excellent choices for overclocking. This Intel system is ready to overclock to wherever your particular E8400 can go. The stock Intel cooler is adequate for modestly overclocking a Core 2 Duo, but it ceases to be effective before your E8400 reaches its top performance level. If extreme overclocking is your cup of tea you should replace the stock Intel HSF with a better cooler like the Xigmatek HDT-S1283 120mm Rifle Cooler ($27 after a $10 rebate) that is featured in our AMD value midrange build on page four.

The big brother to the UD3R selected in our sub-$800 guide is the $135 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. You can currently save a few bucks with a $20 mail-in rebate. 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 an excellent overclocker while also exhibiting excellent stability. It is a good match to the selected Core 2 Duo E8400 or an alternate Quad-Core Q8200 (2.33GHz).

The memory choice for the Intel value midrange is some of the fastest memory we have tested - the OCZ Blade DDR2-1150 4GB kit. Perhaps even more important is the very low voltage needed for performance with the dual-channel Blade memory. It is rated at 5-5-5 timings at DDR2-1150 and just 1.8V. The low voltage design provides more overclocking headroom. This OCZ kit is more expensive than we normally chose for a value midrange system, but at $80 it is still a great performance value and is worth the cost.

Index Value Midrange Common Components


View All Comments

  • ChrisOjeda - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    Will onboard video (like ASUS M4A78T-E) be a solid solution for somebody that does no gaming, but would like to make a home theatre box for watching movies, playing music, and viewing pictures using a Windows solution. I have no intention of gaming on the machine and don't want to spend more than necessary for a video card. Assume all other components the same. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    Yes. If you're a stickler for audio, make sure it's an IGP that can handle multi-channel LPCM audio output. NVIDIA has had this for a while, Intel added it a year or so back, and">AMD just added it with the R785 (HD 4200). Reply
  • garydale - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    The AMD 790GX chip does pretty reasonable graphics for the non-gamer so I went with the Gigabyte GA790GP-UD4H (or some similar number) board. The six onboard SATA2 ports meant that my software RAID 5 array (4 x 500G) still allowed me to plug in a SATA DVD rewriter.

    With a Phenom II 940 processor, the total build (less monitor - still using an old Dell 21" trinitron) was pretty small. I found a 470watt PC Power & Cooling Silencer on sale last year and stuffed it in a case I'd picked up years ago.

    The processor runs quite cool thanks to the new cooler AMD puts on them - about the same temp I was getting with with an earlier Phenom X4 and a Gladiator Max cooler. It's the hard drives that are running hot, so I'll need to add another fan at the back to pump more hot air out.

    Just waiting for the Blu-ray burner costs to come down. They haven't really moved in the last year, which is disappointing. Does anyone have any idea on why the prices are staying high? I notice the media prices have been dropping, so when can we expect a $100 Blu-ray burner?
  • goinginstyle - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    I was surprised that I did not see a AMD 770 or cheap Intel P45 based system with the 4890 as the video card choice for the midrange system. The money you save on the board allows you to upgrade the video card choice and performance looks to be the same. Maybe overclocking is not as good but does it really matter that much.

    You end up with a single video card on the board but it also allows you to save money on the power supply choice, which might get you a better audio selection or two hard drives. I think having alternatives listed in these guides would be good, otherwise most of the choices were solid.
  • brybir - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    I was looking for the 780G as well. I think they were looking for "gamer" boards with the option to Crossfire or SLI or whatnot over strictly budget options since this is a "middle of the road" system guide for both casual gamer types as well as those in the upper end of the price range who want very good system speed.

    If I were building a mid range system (I am going to build one come early 2010 when Intel's i5 line is more flushed out and the new gen of graphics cards are released in oct/now) I would probably pick up a 780G board and use the money to go from the 4870 to the 4890 or even just use the money for a bump in LCD quality.
  • Black Jacque - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    This article makes some good points in graphics and CPU selection. However, it shows the Editors have a poor understanding of PC power consumption.

    By reasonable accounts, all the PSUs in the recommended systems have twice the rated wattage that the parts lists will draw at full core-burning maximum. For the mid-range, a 400W-450W PSU is more than enough.

    The recent, excellent Xbit Labs article "PC Power Consumption: How Many Watts Do We Need?" clearly illustrates that 750W PSUs are a waste of money in the mid-range when not going with SLI or Crossfire. This article shows the trend in PC parts is downward in power consumption.

    When building a mid-range machine, you need to keep your eye on your budget. You are trading dollars for performance in every choice. A 450W PSU is less expensive than a 750W PSU. That difference is one budget bump UP toward either a: faster CPU, an upgraded GPU, or more RAM.

    The high-wattage PSUs in the parts lists show a poor understanding of PC power consumption. Selecting lower wattage, PSUs that perform as needed in high performance situations (and more efficiently at idle) allows for higher performance parts to be used in the price/performance mid-range categories, or generally lower the cost-of-entry to a category. I expected a more canny and not “Big is Best” recommendation of PSUs in this article.

  • The0ne - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    While there's already arguments going back and forth on this it's usually a good idea to buy a beefier but not necessarily more expensive PS. The reason is because many users don't have the capability to determine precisely how much power their system is consuming. Hell, I'm an Engineer and I don't have the tools at home to even do it. So I can't expect the same for your average Joe to be capable of. Secondly, not all low range, mid-range or high end configurations are the same. Some have more components and some have the basics. Having more requires a bit more power.

    In addition, not all power supplies are created equal. Even same power supplies are not exactly the same. And while specs are great to look at chances are if you don't know what you have in the first place it's best if you look for a performance/price deal that is more than what you "think" you need.

    Due to reviews I keep seeing people make comments like "consumers only need 400-450 watt for their mid-range computer!" While this may be true for most cases it is not entirely 100% foolproof. For example, my 600watt PS in my main refuses to run my new 4870 1Gig video card where it's already powering my current 9800GX2. Why, I've no idea. I just know that I had spent hours trying to determine it with little success except the PS is not what the specs are telling me.

    So I pop in the OCZ 700, after doing some research and knowing I would have some good buffer afterward, and my system is running just fine. I'm not maxing it so I really don't have to pay attention to the tight specifications. What matters was that I bought it for $50 when it was on sale and there wasn't a similar PS that came close in price. That's what importantly :)
  • SiliconDoc - Wednesday, August 05, 2009 - link

    You don't need home tools to determine what PS requirements are, there are tools all over the internet - how about one form the experts:">
    Now they make PS's and you would think they would promote a higher number, but run through it once and you'll likely find a much lower result than you expected.
  • The0ne - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    Speaking of PS, here's the one I got...and it's on sale again for $49 after rebate :o">

  • Nfarce - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    "For the mid-range, a 400W-450W PSU is more than enough. The recent, excellent Xbit Labs article "PC Power Consumption: How Many Watts Do We Need?" clearly illustrates that 750W PSUs are a waste of money in the mid-range when not going with SLI or Crossfire."

    Uhm, yes and no. As someone who recently build an E8400 mid range gaming system who also has the Corsair 750W, there are things you need to consider other than pure wattage. For instance there are hardly any quality power supplies in the 450-550W range that offer 2 6-pin PCIe connectors (a requirement to run HD 4870/90 and GTX 260/275 cards). Finally, the ones that do aren't that much less expensive. If you are going to spend $75 on a minimum requirement power supply, it makes good long term sense to throw in another $25 and get a more powerful PS for your future upgrade needs. Power supplies, unlike other PC components, don't really drop in price over time.

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