Market Overview: $1700 Performance Midrange

Many things have changed in the nine months since our last midrange system guide hit the press, some for the worse—a moment of silence, please, for the passing of yesteryear’s RAM bonanza—but most for the better. ATI in particular deserves a nod for raising the bar for single-chip graphics card performance with its Cypress line (and, more recently, NVIDIA for its Fermi parts). All told, a ~$1700 complete system (~$1200 for the base) built around the i5-750 or one of AMD's Phenom II CPUs promises to deliver better performance than last year’s entry in most applications and beat it soundly in gaming and other graphics intensive tasks, all in spite of today’s significantly greater cost per GB of RAM. The icing on the cake? In a climate of ever-increasing energy costs and concerns, the current installment of the performance midrange system is significantly more energy efficient—particularly on the Intel side of the fence.

Our recommendations today skew pretty heavily toward graphics performance, with the single most expensive part—the factory OCed Gigabyte Radeon HD 5850—comprising approximately 25% of the base system cost (or about 18% of the complete system). Though it may be a little over the top for some, one look at graphics card comparison charts will tell you that things drop off rather precipitously after the 5850, with the drops in performance not corresponding all that sensibly to the drops in price. While there are plenty of less expensive cards that will still deliver acceptable performance—for many, at any rate—none seem to offer as desirable a mix of price, performance and future proofing (DX11) as the 5870’s little brother. For our midrange builds today, it feels just about right. If you're not worried about gaming or graphics, feel free to downgrade to something else, but we'd recommend sticking with at least an HD 5670 to get all the latest and greatest video decoding and power management features, or grab an HD 5450 if you're willing to skip out on a few extras like vector adaptive deinterlacing. Or if you don't care about DX11 right now and think CUDA is more important, you might prefer the GT 240.

As usual, we'll have both AMD and Intel recommendations today, with a common set of shared components. The story hasn't changed much when comparing AMD vs. Intel. You can get more cores at a lower price with AMD, but Intel will give you higher performance at the same clock speed (and generally higher clock speeds) along with substantially lower power consumption. If you're interested in Clarkdale over Lynnfield, you might also want to give Lloyd Case's recent article a read. Clarkdale certainly uses less power, but there's no beating quad-core Lynnfield performance. On the AMD side, the big question is whether you want to go with an older quad-core Phenom II, or if you want to spring for the new Phenom II X6. Considering the slightly lower power requirements and AMD's Turbo Core technology, we recommend making the move to X6 if you're going the AMD route.

Now let's get to the specific recommendations; if you're looking for performance comparisons we suggest looking at our Bench results for the recommended processors.

Intel Performance Midrange System
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  • Makaveli - Thursday, May 13, 2010 - link

    This article was fine the rest of you guy should stick to buying Best buy PC's

    I also found this hilarious

    "$1000~$1800 = top end, dual video card systems for uber gamers."

    A top end gaming PC is $2000-$5000 range!

    thanks for the write up Mike and Jarred!
  • ereavis - Friday, May 14, 2010 - link

    Why would you not go with the more modern WD1002FAEX with twice the cache? If you had to spend $10 more at all, it's on sale at $100 every other week
  • geokilla - Saturday, May 15, 2010 - link

    $1700 is not midrange... And with $1700 I can get a Core i7 build instead. Come on guys.

    P.S. I'm Canadian so things are more expensive up here.
  • Navitron - Sunday, May 16, 2010 - link

    I'm gonna take a wild guess and say that writer of this article is mainly a mac user.

    Heres a system I specced out in 10 min on newegg, Core i7 with an SSD for $1,700.
    (Prices on newegg as of 5/16 9:14 PM PST $1,723.84)
  • 7Enigma - Monday, May 17, 2010 - link

    I'm sick of reading through all of these comments complaining about what $1700 means. Here's a recommendation to avoid this in the future: just drop the name.

    System Buyer's Guide: $1700

    Done. No more whiners with nothing better to do than complain that this is/isn't midrange, and instead focus on the actual part recommendations themselves. That's the point of the article!
  • Highlander944 - Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - link


    I tend to agree with others who've posted that $1700 is NOT midrange. This is certainly upper mid range since performance increases from here are marginal at best and $1700 bucks is a good deal of money.

    Next, what's with the benchmarks? I mean seriously. Your recommending a "system" why in the world would you bench the graphics at anything but native resolution of the LCD? The gaming benchmarks are utterly useless! Who is gonna lay out that kind of money for the 'system' and not game at 1900x1200? The only reason to not game there is if you can't... which we don't know because you didn't bench that!
  • shamans33 - Thursday, May 20, 2010 - link

    1) Articles needs a title change: Something like "Mid-High End Gaming Machine"
    2) The system isn't $'s $1182.
    3) 5850 is high end. Seriously, a $300 graphics card is high end.
    4) PSU is overkill.
    5) CPU is borderline high end.

    This machine seems a tad expensive for a midrange gaming machine.

    People who take your advice literally might think that a mid-end gaming machine is expensive @ nearly $1200. You can practically play any game and/or do anything with this machine....the only limitations are 4 GB of ram and non-SSD storage.
  • shamans33 - Thursday, May 20, 2010 - link

    Might be nice to start seeing a mini itx buyer's guide.
  • MEH - Wednesday, May 26, 2010 - link

    I used to have time (and enjoy) putting together my own system, but now with 3 kids it's not likely to happen. I also don't like the more generic alternatives at the big PC companies. Are there other companies who will build a system with components I select, maybe similar to what's here in the guide or with other things I choose?
  • MIDIman - Thursday, May 27, 2010 - link

    I'm looking at the difference between the i5-750 and the i7-930 routes, and maybe its just me, but doesn't the i7 route make more sense?

    In both cases the motherboards are almost precisely $200. I'm comparing MSI's USB3-supported motherboards at newegg.

    In both cases, the CPUs actually cost the same. I can get the i7-930 from microcenter for $200.

    RAM appears to be the only difference, but the difference is much more negligible - $50 maybe?

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