George, I have a Delta 36-600 direct drive saw that I have had for many years and never had a problem with it. I bought it when money and space were very tight, but the saw has served me well and I see no need to replace it now that I have more space and money. With that said, if I were in the market for a new saw, I would definitely buy a belt driven contractor saw. They are quieter, more reliable in most cases, with more area on the table top. And there are several good saws out there in or close to your price range. Shop around for the best deal, and I hate to say it, but beware of Delta. I have several Delta tools and like them all, but they are older, and I've heard terrible things about service at Delta. Good luck and happy sawdusting.
Think about the way these 2 tools are built:
-Direct drive: spindle is directly connected to the motor shaft. If the motor dies, so does your saw; or, you have to buy the mfgr's motor & setup to replace it, which could well approach the original cost of the saw.
-Belt driven: the motor is independant of the spindle and arbor, the only connection being the belt. If the motor dies, it can be easily replaced.
Since motor death is not that common, you may want to consider the comparative quietness of the belt driven. It's also been my observation that the best saws are belt droven; lower-end saws are usually direct drive.
I have a direct drive saw from ACE hardware. It does what I need it to do but it is very loud (my wife can hear it upstairs. I'm saving to buy a better saw like the Grizzly 1023 series or one of the Jets. Another problem with my saw is that even though I am using blade stabilizers I still get a considerable amount of wobble on the cut. I feed it very slowly and steadily but it still happens. I'm sure it's the brand of saw but it is an additional consideration and reason to go with a better brand and drive type.