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Spring 2010 midrange retail desktop roundup

Review round up of five midrange desktops available at retail this spring.

With the budget desktops wrapped up a few weeks ago, we've shifted our attention to reviewing the midrange desktops available at retail locations around the country. We covered five systems this time, with the price ranging from $649 to $879. Click here for the full list.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Though we pretty much hated Dell's budget desktop offerings, we have a much better opinion of its one midrange PC. The Inspiron i580-5108NBC was one of the fastest systems in the midrange group thanks to its 3.2Ghz Intel Core i5 CPU. It also had the best assortment of desktop-oriented features, including a graphics card, a 1TB hard drive, and 8GB of DDR3 RAM.

The other systems in this category were better overall than the budget units, and we were struck in particular by the Gateway and HP Pavilion Elite that respectively offered a TV tuner and a Blu-ray drive, with no major performance sacrifices or price hikes. We don't necessarily think those features are ideal in a midtower PC, which is why the faster Dell and its 3D card get the nod, but it's also nice to see that niche shoppers won't have to lose too much in going after those specific components.

We also find it interesting that the 1TB hard drive seems to be the standard in desktops from $550 on up. All five midrange desktops have a 1TB drive, including the $879 Pavilion Elite. Three of the six budget systems also have a 1TB drive as well, including the $549 Gateway DX4831-01e. That's a $330 spread with no drive capacity increase. The perils of predicting volume and speed limits for anything in computing are well documented, but we wonder if 1TB, at least for now, defines a general ballpark beyond which the typical consumer sees little added value.

Up next we have a single Dell Studio XPS 8100 in our high-end retail coverage, so we'll be comparing that system with a few nonretail configs. Stay tuned.