4. Building a Mainstream System

A mainstream system is one that seeks balance at a reasonable price point. A mainstream system uses top-quality (but midrange in terms of performance) components throughout, because that is where you find the best value for your dollar. What differentiates a mainstream system from a budget PC is that the former makes fewer compromises. Whereas price is always a very high priority for a budget PC, it is less important for a mainstream system. If spending more money yields better performance or reliability, or adds desirable features, a mainstream system gets those extra dollars, whereas a budget PC probably doesn’t.

Relative to the budget PC, the mainstream system gets more expensive components, particularly where they pay off in additional performance, convenience, or data safety. Typically, it will have a better motherboard, a faster processor, more memory, more disk storage, better external peripherals, and additional features. Considered individually, the incremental cost of better components is usually quite small. But taken collectively, the difference adds up fast. Depending on which components you choose, a mainstream system may cost 50% to 100% more than a budget system. That extra money buys you higher performance now and later, and extends the period between upgrades. If a budget PC will meet your needs for 12 to 18 months without upgrades, a mainstream system may suffice for 24 to 36 months or longer, depending on the demands you put ...

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