I have never been a big fan of Shimano chains (much of this due to their price) and have preferred Sachs chains instead. However, the new 'Power Link' chains from Sachs don't "thrill" me either as I tend to shy away from gimmicks!
As alternatives: KMC chains are well made, available in 5spd thru 9spd, and about half the price of Shimano. Also, have you tried any of Grant's Sunrace chains? I know they work with Suntour friction (ha, ha) and do well with indexing systems (8spd or less). and the price from Rivendell is (was?) $10.00. I have put these on some bikes I have sold over the past year or so (all indexing - but Grant sells the proverbial ton to "frictionists"!). They also look pretty fancy.......
Mike Kone also had a large supply of Regina Corsa chains @ $5.00 ea I believe, and while they are certainly the 'bottom feeders' from Regina, I have these on a couple of my bikes and have had no trouble with them (friction 5 & 6 speeds).