Buyer's Guide - Mid-Range, October 2004by Jarred Walton on October 21, 2004 11:00 AM EST
- Posted in
Choosing a PlatformThe core of any computer begins with the choice of a motherboard. The motherboard will determine what type of RAM, CPU, graphics, and other accessories can be used, so we need to take a look at the bigger picture before we get down to the selections. What we want is the best performance for every task, but unfortunately, there is no universal choice. The overall performance competition between platforms is often a draw, depending on the application used. That said, we have done our best to analyze the relative performance for several categories of use and come up with our platform selections.
For most tasks, AMD currently holds the lead - whether you want a budget CPU like the Sempron-754 3100+ or the all out speed of the Athlon FX, AMD leads Intel in pricing and performance. Unfortunately, there is one drawback with AMD right now, and that is the lack of shipping motherboards with support for PCI Express graphics cards. This muddies the water somewhat, and we'll address this more in the graphics card selections. That is really more of a concern for those interested in gaming, however. Software development has been an area that AMD configurations have dominated ever since Intel introduced the Pentium 4, and that has not changed. The shorter pipelines and lower latencies of AMD CPUs help them out a lot in compiling, not to mention the "free" support for 64-bit computing for those willing to use Linux or the Beta XP-64 OS. Content creation remains a strong point for Intel, which means that it is basically a draw with AMD. If you do a lot of audio or video editing, and depending on the choice of application, Intel's Pentium 4 can still come out on top.
One rather gray area for debate is the multitasking performance of the platforms. Raw benchmarks do not always reflect the actual user perception. A typical benchmark will max out the processor usage for the duration of the benchmark and then report a final value, whereas most users pause frequently during their use of a computer. What we really tend to notice is when we actually have to wait on the computer. For example, if you are encoding MP3s or a video in the background while you surf the web, you will find that web pages tend to load slower than normal. That is to be expected, but how does something like Intel's HyperThreading affect performance? Our feeling is that HyperThreading helps to alleviate the perception of slowdowns in multitasking, while it may not actually improve benchmark performance. Remember that numbers do not always tell the whole story, and we'll leave it at that.
Let us reiterate that both AMD and Intel make very good processors that provide ample performance for all but the most demanding of users. The lead is often less than 10% in most applications, and you would be hard pressed to tell the difference in day-to-day use. If you have strong feelings one way or the other in the AMD vs. Intel processor debates, you could really choose either one and go away happy. We are providing baseline recommendations, but we leave the actual building and tweaking up to you.