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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  • crimson117 - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    Would that include a midrange 19-20" monitor (~150-200), Windows OS ($100), midrange speakers (~$75), and midrange keyboard/mouse ($25)? That's at least $400 right there, leaving just $200-$400 for the rest of the parts.
  • ifkopifko - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    Exactly... I wonder where the low end starts and ends according to this.

    Also... A little bit overkill PSUs in the value midrange builds, don't you think? And why oh why 16:9 monitors instead of 16:10?

    But otherwise... good review... And now just the benchmarks are left ... :-)
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    Another possibility is Entry - under $750, Mid-Range - $750 to $1500, High-End - $1500 up.

    The concern here is that there are still dream $600 to $1000 processors for sale. The LOWEST-priced Core i7 machine is still $2000 as a balanced system, and based on a $300 Core i7 CPU. The other two are $600-$1000. That, and another couple of higher-end Phenom II CPUs would shift the definitions again.

    If lower prices fit your mid-range search look at the top systems in the System Buyers Guide: Under $1000 and the lower systems in this Midrange Guide.
  • 7Enigma - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    I have (im)patiently been waiting for this review before I start the process of building my mid-range system and will be reading this article very carefully and hopefully the comments section can bring to light some extra info.

    Thank you Mr. Fink
  • Jorgisven - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    "G.Skill triple-channel DDR2-1333 6GB"

    Hang on a sec...DDR2? @ 1333?
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    Both typos have been corrected. With the Phenom II intro there have been many recent price changes and configuration changes.
  • elerick - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    The chart shows $120 for the Phenom II 940 black. Should be a little higher.

    Been a good read so far, still not done.

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