A mainstream PC is one that seeks balance at a reasonable price point. A mainstream PC uses top quality (but midrange performance) components throughout, because that is where you find the best value for your dollar. What differentiates a mainstream PC 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 PC. If spending more money yields better performance or reliability, or adds desirable features, a mainstream PC gets those extra dollars, whereas a budget PC probably doesna't.
Relative to the budget PC, that means the mainstream PC gets more expensive components, particularly where they pay off in additional performance, convenience, or data safety; more memory; a fast dual-core processor; redundant disk storage; better peripherals; and additional features. Considered individually, the incremental cost of better components is typically 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 down the road, and extends the period between upgrades. If a budget PC will meet your needs for 12 to 18 months without upgrades, a mainstream PC may suffice for 24 to 36 months or longer, depending on the demands you put on it.
In this chapter, we'll design and build the perfect mainstream PC.