AMD introduced the Athlon II X2 and Phenom II X2 early last month. These new processor options extend the 45nm process and the updated Phenom II architecture to lower price points, which is certainly good news. However, the real impact with the top-line Phenom II X2 at $102 is in choices for budget systems with a cost below $800. Those CPUs bring tremendous power to budget systems, as you will see in our upcoming updates to our sub-$800 buyers' guide.

Intel made the world's fastest Core i7 even faster at about the same time AMD was filling in Phenom II at the bottom. The new 3.33GHz Core i7-975 is the fastest Core i7 but it comes with a $1000 price tag. The 3.06GHz Core i7-950 is a more affordable $562 and it does revise some i7 price points. However, the new changes are at the $562 and up price range, which is definitely the high-end range.

The action at the top and bottom don't have much impact on midrange systems, which is where most of our readers spend their money. Priced from around $700 to around $1700 for a complete system, there are plenty of options to from which to choose. You will mostly see refinements to previous guides, a few hot new board choices, and some best value components that have emerged since our last midrange guide.

The midrange base system has dropped a bit and now starts at $700 for the basic computer without peripherals. That has less to do with price reductions this time than with our change of the optical drive to a 32X DVD Sony burner instead of a combo Blu-Ray reader/DVD burner. Many commented BD playback was a bit pricey for a midrange value system, so we have chosen the latest Sony Optiarc 32X DVD burner for the value midrange. The BD/DVD combo is still the choice for performance midrange systems, and naturally you can mix and match optical drives depending on your personal needs and wants.

Phenom II X4 and X3 options have matured rapidly since their introduction a few months back, providing new choices for building a great Phenom II quad- or tri-core midrange system. Intel options have changed little as the market mostly prepares for a new midrange Intel socket in the next month or two. Manufacturers are gearing their Intel efforts toward new Socket 1156 motherboards, which will be home for upcoming Core i5, i3, and even a few Core i7 processors.

You can now build a decent entry level PC for around $500 - including a 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. As we discussed in our sub-$800 buyers' guide, these cheap entry systems are very capable of doing everything that many users need from a computer. Nevertheless, that $500 machine 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 detailed at closer to $800.

Most of our readers are looking to buy in the next rung up the ladder, broadly defined as the midrange. A midrange system generally provides plenty of performance for the cost, while ensuring that the components still have some staying power in the market. That's our focus for this guide. We'll spec out two Intel systems and two AMD systems. The first value pair targets a base system price of around $700, with a complete system price of around $1100. These $1100 systems represent the best-bang-for-the buck in the midrange.

The second pair of systems target midrange performance. At about $500 to $650 more than value midrange, these $1600 to $1800 complete systems invest that extra cost in performance improvements and upgraded peripherals. The midrange performance segment builds 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.

Intel Value Midrange
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  • erple2 - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    To be fair, the article also suggests that you can add a second graphics card for more performance at almost every step of the way.

    While it's true that 750W is substantially more than you'd need at these performance levels, please also see:">

    There's some (though not that much) more subtlety to the choice than just picking for max wattage.

    I suppose the argument could be made that you'd like to pick the PSU such that it's maximum efficiency is reached along where the system will spend the vast majority of it's time. The choice at the low end of the midrange seems spot on with 500-600W PSU's - they tend to reach their peak efficiencies in the 150-350W range, exactly where these lower midrange systems will consume from idle to maximum usage.
  • C'DaleRider - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    About the comment, "The Editors' Choice BFG Tech LS-550 power supply has been discontinued."

    You'd better tell BFG about this....they're still listing it on their website and, at least according to JG, product manager for BFG power supplies, they've just introduced a new updated LS-550.


    (Hint: just because Newegg doesn't stock it doesn't mean it has been discontinued.)
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    The current model that we tested and gave the Gold Editor's Choice award has been replaced with an updated model we have not tested. Newegg and others report the model we have tested has been discontinued.

    We often see "updated" power supplies performing very differently than the models they replace. Until we have some experience with the new LS-550 model we prefer to recommend power supply brands we know well like OCZ and Corsair.
  • Noya - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    I bought the UD3p and a Q8200 off eBay last year when live cashback made it a steal. With the xigmatek s1283 I was able to hit 3.3ghz (475x7) without even pushing the temps. Then the blue screens started a few months's now at stock 2.33ghz and still has a random blue screen once a week or more. Why you ask? Cheap ass Crucial Ballistix (DDR2-800), the ones that had great reviews in a memory shootout last Nov/Dec here or Toms. Now I have 8gb's of shite memory and reading about 'lifetime warranty' replacements sounds like I'll have to RMA every 3-6 months :( Damn you appealing rebates!
  • Summer - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    ... just THIS weekend $20 price increase!
  • SiliconDoc - Wednesday, August 5, 2009 - link

    And the $30 rebate on the 4890 recommended is not only 20, so it's $180 AFTER rebate, or $200 bucks plus shipping, plus the hassles with the paperwork.
    Good timing for again for red rooster fans - amazing.
  • SiliconDoc - Wednesday, August 5, 2009 - link

    And the $20 rebate on the 4870 recommended is GONE - it's $150 now.
  • Summer - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    BTW, great article. I thought the mentioning of stretching the mid-level budget to get an i7 was dead on. The 920 is easily within reach if you're already pushing money into a similarly priced Phenom 955.
  • GeorgeH - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    I was really hoping NVIDIA would find a way to compete with ATI before the LGA-1156 + back to school sales start, but with $170 4890's it's not looking good.

    Hopefully they'll have at least one competitive product by Christmas - the lack of real choice in the GPU space is getting boring. :)
  • erple2 - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    Right now, Gigabyte has a GTX275 available for 185 with a 20 dollar MIR. That's at least somewhat competitive with the 4890. only about 10-15% more expensive.

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