As shown in our recent Entry-level Buyers' Guide, you can now build a decent entry-level PC for around $500 - including an 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 Ubunti or another Linux variant, you can get your desktop system cost down to about $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 in the bargain systems and reached prices closer to $1000. The next ladder rung is broadly defined as midrange. Most of our readers are looking to buy in the midrange category, which generally provides the most performance for the dollar and computing solutions with some staying power in the market.

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.

For today's Midrange Systems Guide we will put together two Intel systems and two AMD systems. The first pair are targeted for a complete system price of around $1500 - without monitor and OS that would be somewhere around $1200. This segment targets the best value possible with each component giving the overall best-bang-for-the buck in the midrange.

The second pair of systems target Midrange Performance. At about $500 more than Value Midrange, these $2000 complete systems invest that extra $500 in performance improvements. Without the 24" monitors and OS, the Performance Midrange systems would cost around $1600. 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.

In the last few weeks we've looked at almost all the components you would need to build your new PC. This includes motherboards, memory, cases and power supplies, video cards, displays, and storage. Since we have already covered component classes and individual items in detail, you will find the above a useful reference to the components chosen in the system guides.

Intel Value Midrange
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  • RonnieJamesDio - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    With the internet alive with horror stories about the Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1 TB drives failing in massive numbers I would think Anandtech would withhold such blanket approval of this part until the dust settles. I mean, the equivalent WD part costs 10 bucks more on average and in the last storage roundup they couldn't really choose between them!
  • Gary Key - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    We are recommending either the WD Caviar Black 1TB or the Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST31000333AS 1TB drives. To be honest, the new Hitachi EK71000 is not bad either if the price comes down. However, we did not and will not recommend the ST31000340AS 1TB drive due to lingering concerns about the quality of the drive at this point.

    We have requested additional information from Seagate concerning the current problems with the 340AS drive but have not experienced those problems with the 333AS at this point. Seagate did comment to us that we should not expect to see the same problems with the 333AS drives due to a different platter/head design along with optimized firmware.

    I have tested four 333AS drives in a Promise NAS unit over the past month by running several VMware applications and other tests that abuse the disks on a constant basis. Temperature readings have ranged from 10C to 50C in a controlled setting and the drives have yet to show a problem when allowed to shutdown for periodic breaks, which have shown to be a major cause of failure on the 340AS drives.

    In the meantime, the WD Caviar Black 1TB drive is a favorite of ours and continues to be the drive we utilize in our new test beds.
  • formulav8 - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    My lord, I would hate to see what you see a Low-End system price to be? This is deinitely not a real world guide from my experience...

  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    Cripes people... it's just a term. Wes put together a $500 to $1000 guide a couple weeks back, so it makes no sense to start the next level guide at $1000. I think you're all intelligent enough to look at both guides and pick and choose parts based on your final budget. You want a $1250 PC? How about taking the $1500 starting price of the base "midrange" systems in this guide and then downgrade a few parts?

    E8400 saves you $25 or so.
    If you don't overclock, you can save $40 on the HSF.
    Don't need 1TB of storage? Then how about a 500GB HDD to save $55?
    No sound card saves another $50.
    DVDR instead of BRD-ROM saves $70.
    $80 for speakers that you may not use.

    There you have it: the $1450 Intel system is now only $1130, and you can still downgrade the GPU if you're not a serious gamer.

    The goal of our buyers' guide has always been to give you a good overview of the market and some reasonable recommendations. There is no "perfect" system that will please everyone, and all the complaints about the definition of "midrange", "entry", "budget", "high-end", "dream", etc. are all missing the point. Are these good systems for $1500 to $2000? Are there any serious flaws? Minor quibbles about whether or not you need that much storage are easily fixed.

    Personally, I'd go quad-core Penryn right now over the various other options. That's $100 more than the E8500, but with overclocking you can still get close to the same performance. The">Q9450 is still a good buy if you can find it (2x6MB cache is better than the Q9400 and Q9300, not to mention the cache-limited Q8200). I also always recommend getting a better display if at all possible - assuming you didn't do that some time in the past 3-5 years, naturally. A good display can last through many PC upgrades.
  • 7Enigma - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    Completely agree. It's all semantics. 1/3 of the comments are complaining about the wording of what mid-range is? At least bring a real criticism to the discussion.

    Now can someone comment on the HSF recommended in the Intel mid-range build? I posted an earlier comment and didn't get an answer but the Xigmatek is no where to be seen that I could find on Anandtech. I ended up ordering it along with the C2D 8500 today, but am going to be pissed if there was a better or cheaper (or both? :) option. Could someone link to me the data that the article referenced?

    From the article:

    "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."
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    I tested the OCZ variant of the Xigmatek a couple of months ago and found it performed near the top compared to other coolers in its price range. It did not reach the performance levels of the more expensive Thermalright Ultra 120 Extreme, but it was in that ballpark.

    At the time I was working hard on Digital Camera reviews and news and we decided to can the article and devote more time to other review areas.

    The Xigmatek is actually available from others as well, but the price for the Xigmatek brand was the best I could find for this cooler. It is a good match to Core 2 processors since they are not generally super difficult to cool. You will be pleased with the performance.

    The Core i7, on the other hand, is something of a cooling challenge (I tried hard to stay positive and not say 'nightmare'). So much so that I will be publishing reviews of Socket 1366 coolers in the nest few weeks. No one is really doing a good job in testing Socket 1366 coolers so we are working on an i7 cooler test platform and testing procedures right now.

    Core i7 overclocks well IF you can cool it properly, but it is already pretty hot even at stock speeds with the Intel Retail 1366 HSF.
  • 7Enigma - Wednesday, January 14, 2009 - link

    Thank you very much for the reply! I had assumed as much since you mentioned it had been tested but I was going crazy looking again and again at 2008 cooling articles unable to find even the slightest mention of it. $/performance is definitely what I'm shooting for on my latest build and it seems that your recommendation is perfect.

    My only concern is that it uses pushpins for mounting (or spend an additional $15 (not including shipping) for the backplate). Hopefully it won't be too difficult to mount, but I thank you again for this recommendation.

    It may be worthwhile to update this buyers guide to mention that although Anandtech does not have posted data it falls between X and Y on the list for OC'ing, and maybe a 1 sentence mention of installation/noise levels. I'm sure someone else that used the guide for a new build had a similar question as I did.

    You guys really are the greatest at not only writing excellent articles but backing up your articles with responses to comments.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    I wouldn't be surprised if this is an item that Wes has tested but hasn't had a chance to write up yet. (Or perhaps Matt tested it.) I know from personal experience that the testing is only half the battle when it comes to producing an article. :)
  • takumsawsherman - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    Why the Tuniq tower instead of the Thermalright? The Thermalright seems like a far better cooler based on the reviews on this very site...
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    Price performance... the Ultra 120 eXtreme is a great cooler, but with a fan it's often twice the cost of the Tuniq 120. All that for a difference of perhaps 2-4C? Take the $50 and put it elsewhere if you want better performance.

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