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  TechSpot's Mid-Level PC Buying Guide

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Unlike our high-end PC Guide where we are willing to pay for certain premiums, our mid-level buying guide puts an equal emphasis on performance and price, ideal for most do-it-yourselfers.

There are two big goals for this guide. The first goal is to assemble a real enthusiast-level computer that will fly along in the office or at the LAN party. The second goal is to make sure you can also pay next month’s rent. With these two goals in mind, I’ll share and explain some of the best choices for hardware and provide links to the best places on the net to score the best deals.

* Note that for listing peripheral prices we did not choose the lowest available, but we give rough averages from many reputed online merchants, so this can translate into a real conversion once you go out shopping for the parts.

Processor

AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800 (2.0 GHz, Dual core)  - $340 or
Athlon 64 3800+ (2.4 GHz, Single core) - $320

The Athlon 64 remains a very sexy product for both high-end and budget markets, so it makes sense to include options from AMD in this month’s update. The Athlon 64 comes in two major flavors – single and dual core. What you choose to power your system will be heavily influenced by how you use your PC. The X2 is an elegant solution that offers greater overall speed and smoother operation for applications that support multi-threading (great for video/graphics editing & content creation). The Athlon 64 3800 single core CPU is a more brute force approach, giving top performance without multi-threading support (great for many games and older software).

Highlights:

 

Motherboard

DFI LanParty UT NF4 Ultra D (Socket 939) -  $125

There are plenty of great boards to choose from for a mid-level system, but the DFI LanParty NF4 Ultra definitely stands out with features, price, and performance that really cater to the enthusiast. Here we have a nice list of features, including PCI-e/x, SATA II x 4 and PATA with RAID 0/1 options, 1GB Ethernet, USB 2.0 x 10, Firewire x 1 and a nifty 2000MHz FSB. The Ultra doesn’t offer SLI, but for about a $30 up-charge you can nab the very sweet SLI version of this board. As an added bonus, it’s a great overclocker and has plenty of options to play with. The layout is great and the board is quite a looker, for those of you who might opt for a windowed case.

Highlights:

  • 2000MHz front-side bus (Hyper transport)

  • SATA II x 4 / IDE channels with RAID 0/1 capability

  • SLI available (For SLI model only)

  • USB 2.0 & Firewire

 

Graphics Card

ATI Radeon X800 GTO 256MB - $175

If you plan on enjoying any newer games, a great video card is a must. There is a broad array of options out there, but the best value has to be the X800 GTO. It combines high performance and middle of the road expense very well, performing closely to cards which cost $100 more. The specs include 256MB/256-bit memory @ 440/980MHz, 400MHz GPU, 12 pipelines and runs just short of the X800 XL. Word on the street claims Sapphire’s special GTO² version is unlockable to 16 pipelines with great success, making this one incredible deal for the modding community as well.



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