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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  • Jorgisven - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    I think one of the big qualms about calling this "mid-range" is that in general, the mid-range has been defined by the absence of the exponential cost/power ratio taking place. Right now, there is a substantial cost for only a fractional performance increase in these systems over something that costs half as much. Even with as much as the claimed "30 percent" performance increase, you're spending twice as much or more. You can build an amazing system, referencing the entry-level article, and the E7300 comes within 72% of the 965! Not the 920... however, the price of that system is 42% of even the 920. Granted, it's not just the processor that's different...With just an extra $50-100 on that entry-level upgrading to the E8600, you get within "88%"! So, in the end, we'll call it a 10% performance increase for a 200% price increase. (because that article references the 965, not this lower 920. I guessed on the 2% difference between the two).

    And a GTX280? Since when is that mid-range performance? It's pretty overkill for the 1920x1080 res of the monitor in my opinion (but it's just that). I'm of the opinion that you should not spend more on your graphics card than your display for a few reasons:

    Displays are harder to upgrade, due to higher cost of shipping when trying to sell. Also, they technically aren't supposed to be thrown away (heavy metals) so they are more expensive to take care of if/when they break out of warranty. I would typically spend more on the monitor, and if needed, upgrade the card later, rather than the other way around.
  • strikeback03 - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    Using the numbers published in Anand's release review of the Phenom II, here is the advantage the i7 920 holds over the E8600 and the E6750. The E7300 was not tested, and the E6750 generally performed better than the tested E7200, which is why I picked it to roughly represent E7300 numbers. All these are such that 100 means twice as fast or half the time to complete.

    920 over E8600: 50.6, 38.7, 72.4, 136.3, 44.8, 84.3, -6.8, 103.3, 148.6, 111.5, 43.2, 87.6, 64.2, 114.6, 59.3, -5.7, -3.4, 42, -2.7

    920 over E6750: 97.1, 82.2, 118, 214.1, 89.7, 135.4, 24, 174.2, 216.7, 184.5, 100.4, 151.6, 122.2, 180.9, 94.2, 11.9, 19, 74.8, 2.9

    Other than some current games and single-core Cinebench, the 920 is generally at least double the E6750 and 60% faster than the E8600. Replacing the processor, motherboard, memory, and power supply from the E7300 system guide with those from the 920 system guide gives a system price of $1268, so 52.2% higher for what is often more than 100% more performance in tested benchmarks. Obviously for lots of games or other single-threaded programs and internet, etc, the cheaper system is fine, but the 920 offers lots more performance for not a ton more money and on these programs does better than diminishing returns. Getting the price of an E8600 from Newegg today, switching that for the E7300 costs 983, making the $1268 920 system 30% more expensive for upwards of 60% better performance in CPU-intensive applications.
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    As I stated on the first page it is my belief that a mid-range system, as defined in this article, should be “computing solutions with some staying power in the market”. I certainly don’t expect that of Entry or Bargain systems. That is the reason I stretched to select Mid-Range systems with Phenom II and an entry i7 Socket 1333 system at the top.

    As I said in the Guide, I had first put together a balanced Phenom 9950 system at the $1400 complete system price point. When Phenom II was introduced with an entry $235 920 part (just $55 more than the price of the 9950 on that day) and a top 790FX motherboard dropped its price to $105 it made more sense to pick Phenom II instead at that same $1400.

    The Guide was ready to go last week with very different system selection. We did not have a Phenom II or an i7 in our recommendations then. However we knew Phenom II was coming Thursday, and we also knew it would shake up our System selections. That is why we reworked all the systems over the weekend and delayed posting until today.
  • Jorgisven - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    Granted, by the time it gets around to upgrading a system using the Wolfdale or Yorkfield architecture, they will be hard pressed to find something better to upgrade to, as it seems that technology is getting dropped. I just feel this article is about 5-6 months early. I think the prices for these parts will be "mid-range" in about that time or so. So I guess this is a good planning article if you're not doing it this month or next...

    A well thought-out article, but I just disagree with the timing, a bit.
  • tester3000 - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    That system is clearly not mid-range. Mid-range is around $800. That's a freaking high end and the $2000 is ultra-high end. Not many people can afford over $1000. $800 is the sweet spot for most people. Without monitor of course. Add another $200 for monitor.
  • boboko - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - link

    >"That system is clearly not mid-range. Mid-range is around $800. That's a freaking high end and the $2000 is ultra-high end. Not many people can afford over $1000. $800 is the sweet spot for most people."

    Maybe. But the type of people who read Anand Tech and build a system from components will almost always keep about half the stuff from their old system. I'm getting ready to build a new PC, and all I'll buy is the CPU, MB, and memory. I'm still debating whether to buy a new video card, or wait a month or two for the prices to go down. But I'll keep my drives, my monitor, my case, my OS, my power supply, and my sound card and speakers, so even using these components that you claim are out of anyone's price range, I'll only be spending around $500, and I might make some of that back selling my old MB and CPU as a barebones that I stick into one of the several cases and PS's I got for free after rebate when Fry's was selling them evey month.
  • strikeback03 - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    well, "most people" buy prebuilt from Dell or their local Best Buy, etc. For those building their own system, $1500 would generally qualify as midrange.

    The budget guide had a few builds under $1000 including monitor.
  • Jorgisven - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    I'd agree. "Most people" will not be reading articles like this. "Most people who are looking at building their own" have a good idea of their budget, and it's generally higher than "most other people", because performance and control is more important generally speaking.
  • elerick - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    I have to agree with the author on this. He talked about the idea of reworking midrange, but ultimately stated his case for not changing.

    You can't please everyone, I build a new rig every 2 yeaars and I always do exactly what this author has put into an article. He choose the latest arcitectures and then picked the most affordable version / upgradeable. That is why the Core i7 920 ($300) and Phenom II ($235 & $275) were picked. I couldn't agree more with those picks for the month of January. Next month those picks could change, based on Intels counter pricing to Phenom II launch.

  • 7Enigma - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    From article:

    "Phenom II performance is more in line with Intel's latest Core i7, and for that reason we really wanted to select the Phenom II 920 for the AMD Value Midrange."

    OK, the new Pheom II processors are definitely a good step in the right direction but this is a bit misleading to say IMO.

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