We provide nearly weekly updates to the various component categories in our Price Guides, and the information contained within those articles should be enough to tide you over until we update our full Buyer's Guide. We (that is, really I, Jarred) have not updated our Buyer's Guides as frequently as some would like, so we're going to make a better attempt at keeping things updated on a monthly basis. In order to facilitate that goal, some of the discussion about why certain parts are better than others will be omitted, as you can read more about our latest CPU, graphics card, storage (HDD/DVDR), and motherboard recommendations elsewhere.

We do our best to consider all the options, but the simple truth is that without spending numerous pages on each Buyer's Guide, we can't explain every facet about each pick. There are always alternatives to the choices that we make, and you can substitute parts as you see fit. If you don't like our motherboard, or you want a slightly faster (or slower) CPU, GPU, etc., then you can make that change. The overall goal of the System Buyer's Guides is to provide a complete recommendation for every component needed to build a new computer. Some parts are very personal selections, and we won't dwell too long on those choices. If you have a set of speakers or a display that you prefer over our pick, by all means, go with what you like. However, if you're overwhelmed by the number of decisions that need to be made, picking up the exact choices listed in our Guides should give you a reliable computer that anyone would be happy to own.

We're covering the Mid-Range Guide in this article, which is really our favorite sector. The Budget Guides force us to make many compromises that we really aren't happy with. A $500 to $750 computer will be good, but it's not something most enthusiasts would really want. The High End is the other extreme: sure, we lust after those parts, but the truth is that we don't really feel that most people should be spending upwards of $2000 on a computer (unless money isn't a concern at all). The Mid-Range sector is where we get the best overall build, combining quality and performance for a reasonable price.

$1250 is the rough goal, but we'll be going as much as $250 over or under that mark. If $250 extra is too much money, then honestly, it might be better to consider whether or not you really need to spend even $1000 on a computer. $750 computers will do everything that you need them to do, meaning everything but serious gaming or professional work. For professional work, $250 should be a negligible one-time (or once every two years) expense. Gaming, on the other hand, is not even remotely a necessity. It's a hobby, and it's an expensive hobby at that. $250 is the cost of four or five retail games, and most gamers will spend far more than that over the course of the year. If you're able to afford gaming as a hobby, it's not unreasonable to assume that you can spend a few extra hundred on a purchase, provided that the performance warrants the additional expenditure. We should also mention that our prices are current as of the time of writing; in this case, September 7th - check the RealTime Pricing Engine for the latest information.

Our recommendations for the Mid-Range Guide this month are going to be focused around showing the flexibility that a $1500 budget gets you. To that end, we'll be looking at two builds (Intel and AMD) targeted at the gaming enthusiast, and we'll have two other builds (again, Intel and AMD) that look more towards the office/professional market. (We could call it the "SOHO" market, but that's an overused buzz term that we'd just as soon avoid.) Remember, we're buying a complete system with keyboard, mouse, display, speakers, etc. Periodic upgraders can hopefully avoid buying a new display and speakers at the very least. Once you remove those from the equation, we're looking at spending just over $1000 for a computer upgrade. If you sell off your old system to a friend or family member and recoup some of the cost, it's entirely possible to stay close to the cutting edge of technology with an initial investment of $1500 followed by $250 to $500 for upgrading each year.

Gaming CPU and Motherboard Recommendations
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  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - link

    This recommendation has nothing to do with marketing. Does anyone *need* this fast of a card? Well, if you want to play certain games at 1600x1200 (or 1920x1200), then yes, this level of hardware will be required. If you're okay with 1024x768, then the 7800GT is overkill. However, you're talking about spending $300 for a new GPU. That would get you a 6800GT, X800XL, or X850Pro. For 25% more money on the GPU, you will get a card that is">far more than 25% faster in most 3D games. (Unless you continue to run at 1024x768 without AA enabled.)

    That's not marketing, that's the simple truth. A 7800GT is 25 to 75% faster than the current $300 cards. If you've already got a good gaming system, there's no need to upgrade right now. If you're running two year old hardware and want to upgrade to something faster, though, why come up a bit short? It's not like I'm suggesting that you spend the extra $100+ to go from a 6800GT to a 6800Ultra or from an X800Pro to an X800XTPE. You *can* cut costs on the hardware, but if anything I'd ditch the SLI board and enthusiast RAM rather than downgrading the GPU - at least in a gaming system.
  • jonah42 - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    Yes a good guide, some thought provoking choices but you have forgotten the importance of a good sound card. You do not mention the quality of the onboard sound of the DFI board - I think goud sound quality realy brings a game to life - adding to the cinematic feeling greatly. If you want good multichannel placement then the Audigy 4 is a must, for best sound qaulity then a good Envy24 based card is recommended - eg Audotrak Prodigy or equivalent.
  • PrinceGaz - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    Onboard sound quality is more than good enough for most people these days, and if they want improved sound quality it would be better spent on higher-quality speakers than on a discrete sound-card.

    For gamers an Audigy 4 is unnecessary, a cheap Audigy 2 or Audigy 2 ZS would be perfectly adequate. Or you could always fall for Creative's hype and blow a fortune on an X-Fi of course. I'm perfectly happy with the sound from the Karajan module on my DFI board, but I do occasionally consider getting an Audigy 2 [ZS] for games.
  • yacoub - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    BlueGears X-Mystique - $99 and I believe it does not resample sources like the Creative cards do. If it does, there are other options out there for around the same price that don't.

    So anyway, you're looking at an affordable non-Creative soundcard that offers great sound reproduction. It's hard to ask for more than that short of a pro-level card. :)
  • ceefka - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    I agree with your point of view here, though I wouldn't recommend a board that doesn't feature Firewire. Sure it is possible to buy a PCI card for Firewire (where are the PCI-E 1x/2x Firewire cards by the way?) but you might want to save the ever diminishing number of PCI-slots for something else than a PCI-card?
  • ceefka - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    Forget what I said. I just found one from">SIIG
  • ceefka - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    but you might want to save the ever diminishing number of PCI-slots for something else than a PCI-card?

    bummer, that shoud have read:

    but you might want to save the ever diminishing number of PCI-slots for something else than a Firewire PCI-card?
  • flatblastard - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    .....but I can't seem to get past the fact that the system must be overclocked to actually reach the level of "Mid-range". Buying the exact parts in the guide and build without overclocking will result in an "entry-level" rig. I know we don't have to buy EXACTLY the same parts, but still, I wouldn't call that a mid range rig, not by a long shot.
  • yacoub - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    Or just don't go dual-core if you want more CPU speed -and- the faster GPU. :)

    Sure if you encode Div-X while you game it wouldn't perform as well but honestly people who does that??
  • JarredWalton - Monday, September 19, 2005 - link

    It doesn't *have* to be overclocked. I've got an article that will show the performance scaling of several options, and while the overclocked 3200+ is definitely faster, I'd take a stock 3000+ with a 7800GT over a 3800+ with an X800Pro. I mean, do you want 30% faster frame rates at 1024x768 (which is what you'd get with a faster CPU), or do you want 50% faster frame rates at 1600x1200? I don't know that those percentages are exact, but I'll look at those in the article.

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