Stage 1 is well worth it, in my opinion.
Here is what I have done so far.
Tactrix cable - $80
Gabedudes stage 1 map (version R29) - FREE!
It is really super easy to flash your ECU, and the folks over at osecurom are pleasant to work with. Just take your time and follow the instructions to a tee.
Log with Enginuity software from time to time to make sure everything looks okay. Trust me... it is not as overwhelming as it appears. Learning to tune is overwhelming, imo. :eek:
Gabes maps are pretty conservative so you do not need to be to concerned about bombing your engine. Just keep an eye on things by logging!
I love how stage 1 has improved my "around the town" driving. The turbo spools a little quicker and the power band is smoothed out nicely. It is a noticeable difference. Just not huge like going stage 2 would be.
Then I recently got a used Prodrive axleback for $200. I love the deep mellow rumble it provides. Badabing badabang.. for $280 my WRX sounds awesome and has a little more pep than stock.
Then I tossed in a used COBB short shifter (generation 1 for $50) and installed Kartboy front and rear bushings ($60).
I'm lovin' my WRX even more now. And I am not concerned with the warranty. I can flash back to the stock map in 15 minutes and put all of the other stock stuff back on in about an hour.