Developments in the Midrange Market

As with the budget segment of the DIY computer market, the midrange segment has seen many exciting new developments since the start of 2012. Perhaps the most noteworthy change is that Intel CPUs are now entirely dominant in systems that will set you back about $1,000. Ivy Bridge-based chips are now available at every price point from $100 up, leaving only the pure budget category untouched (at least until we see the Celeron IVB part). If you're interested in more information, we have a lot of information available on Ivy Bridge.

As with the latest CPUs, the newer B75 chipset has brought out of the box Ivy Bridge CPU support to less expensive motherboards, filling out the Panther Point platform. Ian thoroughly covered the Z77 chipset and compared it with H77. The B75 chipset is similar to Z77 and H77 with a few important differences for midrange buyers: two fewer USB 2.0 ports (eight vs. ten), one less SATA III port (one vs. two), and support for neither Intel RST (firmware RAID) nor SRT (SSD caching). PCIe 3.0 and 2.0 configurations are the same on B75 as they are on H77. The important point is that B75 enables less expensive motherboards that lack features that might not be important to midrange system builders, allowing money to spent on faster CPUs, GPUs, better SSDs, etc.

That said, AMD's impending launch of its Trinity APUs might very well put AMD back into the midrange market. AnandTech will be covering Trinity chips in more depth as the new APUs start hitting the mainstream desktop market over the next few months. While the parts are already shipping in OEM desktops, retail availability of the APUs has not yet occurred. For now, you can read more our current Trinity coverage.

As is often the case, the GPU market remains dynamic, with both AMD and NVIDIA wrestling for your money at multiple price points by introducing new cards and lowering prices on existing cards. We'll discuss the GPU market in more depth on the gaming rigs page.

Another development of note for midrange buyers is that prices on many of the best SSDs have been cut in half (or more!) compared to late 2011. This means that respectably-sized (i.e. 120/128GB and above) SSDs that perform very well and have great reputations for reliability are now comfortably within reach of even the lower end of the midrange budget. High capacity SSDs (i.e. those around 250GB) are also within midrange budgets; for many purposes, this means you can eschew a mechanical hard drive entirely—and either spend that money on better CPUs, GPUs, or just keep it in your wallet. Fortunately for consumers, prices on mechanical hard drives are declining in the wake of the Thailand floods, so the wallets of those with more demanding storage needs won't be hurting quite as badly as they were earlier in 2012.

Finally, case manufacturers have released many compelling choices for midrange system builders. Over the next few pages, we'll highlight new enclosures from Fractal Design, Corsair, Lian Li, NZXT, and others.

With that out of the way, let's get to the builds! We'll start with gaming machines on the next page.


Midrange Gaming Machines
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  • Stas - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    and you get better efficiency with 220V, bastards XD
  • cserwin - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    Yes for the fan upgrades!

    Don't forget to include the cost of Windows 7. Of course, if you're building for Linux then the rules are a bit different.

    A lot of review sites exclude the OS cost and then publish Windows benchmark after Windows benchmark. Props to Zach for doing it right.

    Before the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, I felt differently. Screw Microsoft in 2001, right? But if Bill Gates can singlehandedly do more than all the governments on the planet combined to improve world health, then I figure I can pay the man for his software.
  • Streetwind - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    Ouch, you're right! I forgot the OS license. I just transcribed one of the various shopping lists I always maintain (it's a hobby), and I didn't put Windows on the list because I still own an unused license. However, others might not be so lucky.

    That said, I'll be interested in looking at licenses again later this year, because Microsoft seems to be changing a few things in their pricing structure with the advent of WIndows 8... and strangely enough, these changes seem to lean toward cheaper software.
  • atotroadkill - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    Did not realize I spent $1000 on a similar gaming rig build...I just buy parts here and there and build my PC over a course of 3 months...
  • Wardrop - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    I would have preferred it if Micro ATX cases were recommended wherever Micro ATX motherboards were. For system that will rarely see space consuming things like water cooling kits or banks of hard-drives, it seems a shame to put all these otherwise thoughtfully selected components into such caviness, inelegant cases. Would have been nice to wrap all this gear up in a nice tighter fitting enclosure - performance, efficiency and value in a small package is always an attractive idea.
  • Streetwind - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    The problem is that the selection of good and affordable µATX cases is small. The market in that sector is pretty much divided between three segments:

    1.) Chopped down ATX towers, where a case designed for larger boards is simply made a little shorter, often without paying attention to the needs of µATX users
    2.) Premium HTPC cases meant to bring the look of brushed aluminum and the aesthetics of hifi modules into the living room, often at the expense of all usability and price
    3.) The plastic bomber parade, which tries to do what category 2 does using only $10 in materials and an untrained factory worker in China.

    There are probably less than half a dozen µATX cases on the market today that I would recommend directly, and they are all pretty much either priced at least twice as high as the suggestions in this guides, or are special designs like the Silverstone FT03 (or both, actually, as the example proves) that are not for everyone.

    The sad truth is, if you are looking at identical quality and utility, you are paying noticably more if you choose µATX over ATX, despite getting something smaller and the fact that putting a µATX board in an ATX case has zero downsides. So these cases remain a conscious choice an informed user must make, and not something you can blanket-recommend to the public.
  • TegiriNenashi - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    Why should anybody care what "you recommend"? Your arguments are plain silly: why should front cover be anything but plastic, what do you know about chinese workforce, and why do you think rolling sheets of metal should require talent and skills? As for mATX, as everything scaled down these days, I felt compelled to throw away that behemoth tower, get cheap Rosewill mAtx case, and hang mount it under the table. The space saving and ergonomics are much better now.
  • Streetwind - Wednesday, September 12, 2012 - link

    Why so angry?
  • antef - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    I went micro ATX for my recent mid range build for the reasons you mentioned...I only have one video card and one SSD/one HDD, no optical drive, and the size of ATX felt silly. But as Streetwind mentioned, there are less options in this category. I wanted to go cheap but most did not provide space for long video cards AND 120mm fans, it was either one or the other. I ended up getting the Silverstone PS07 and it's a very nice case but I would've preferred half the price.
  • TegiriNenashi - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    This sounds like a perfect case for case manufacturers to reevaluate their goals. Who needs 2 DVD slots nowadays? More than one 3.5" drive, seriously? No slots for 2.5 storage? Changing requirements like this (that is one 2.5 and one 3.5 drive only) would free enough space for couple 14 cm front panel fans, let alone 12 cm.

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