Choosing a Platform

The 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.

Index AMD CPUs and Motherboards
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  • Tides - Thursday, October 21, 2004 - link

    when i think mid-range i do find it hard to look below 9800/6600. Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Thursday, October 21, 2004 - link

    This article wasn't focussing on a system where gaming will be a major consideration. The reason for recommending a 9600 Pro (or X300) for discrete graphics is that DX9 hardware will be required for Longhorn when it arrives. A 9800 Pro would be overkill for that. Reply
  • neogodless - Thursday, October 21, 2004 - link

    Okay, the price on the 19" monitor IS definitely a typo though! Also, personally I'd spend a touch $100 more for a 9800 Pro (over the 9600 Pro) if at all possible because I think a ~10% increase in overall cost for a much better gaming experience is worth it... Reply
  • neogodless - Thursday, October 21, 2004 - link

    n/m... I see it's the 939 pin part... going on the assumption that dual channel increases that chips performance enough for a 200+ higher rating... Reply
  • neogodless - Thursday, October 21, 2004 - link

    The Athlon 64 3200+ (90nm) is a 2.0Ghz 512kb cache part? Is that a typo? Should that read Athlon 64 3000+ ? Reply
  • tappertrainman - Thursday, October 21, 2004 - link

    Great Job! I definitely like these style "guides" rather than the CPU motherboard guides by themselves. Also, I think a great idea would be to start an "upgrade" guide similar to these. You could have an entry-level mid-level and high-end upgrade guide each month? Thanks for the hard work. Reply
  • gimper48 - Thursday, October 21, 2004 - link

    Very good. I am impressed. However, are we going to see benchmarks in these anytime soon? Reply
  • southernpac - Thursday, October 21, 2004 - link

    I am very inclined to take your recommendation and use a Raid 1 (mirrow) back up strategy. Do I incur a performance "price" for making the constant back-up? If so, will it be significant enough for a simulations gamer to really notice the difference (I'll be using a higher-end system)? Reply
  • Kong Basse - Thursday, October 21, 2004 - link

    Thank you for another good article.
    The article was absolutly not too long, only proclaim that I have is: The 9600 id getting a little old by now, but then again, it still isnt too bad for gaming, even though it hardly runs Doom3 and HL2.
    Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Thursday, October 21, 2004 - link

    I've just finished reading it and amazingly, I can't fault any of your recommendations!

    I'd say you've covered pretty much everything you set out to starting with solid recommendations for a base system, and providing excellent reasons for why someone might want to choose one of the alternatives suggested.

    Probably the best system guide to date. Well done.
    Reply

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