Weekly Buyer's Guide: Mid-Range System - May 2004

by Evan Lieb on 5/20/2004 12:05 PM EST


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  • qquizz - Friday, June 25, 2004 - link

    I would go with the Barton 2500+ if your an overclocker. Overclocks better/same as 2800+ according to overclockers.com database.
    $75 OEM
  • yankee428 - Thursday, June 10, 2004 - link

    1. I have some friends who comment that they used AMD over Intel recently and needed to go out and get fancy cooling systems because AMD runs hot. This cost them about $30 and basically blew the saving that motivated them to choose AMD in the first place.

    2. Often you quote a price on proc's in your guide, but that price is usually for OEM chip only. Does not include the cooling system.
  • slurmsmackenzie - Tuesday, June 08, 2004 - link


    i read a review in here that put the asus sis655tx as equal or better that most of it's 865 875 counterparts. including the p4p800. while being 15% cheaper. i know the price is higher, but the oc'ing capability on the 2.8 is the hands down favorite for me. i'm a mutitasking encoding junkie! divx rocks!
  • D9r - Saturday, May 29, 2004 - link

    You recommend the ABIT "AN7" nForce2 Ultra 400 motherboard ($96).

    How does that compare with the ECS "KT600-A" (VIA KT600 + VT8237 chipset) ($45)? Both seem to have the same or similar features.

  • jamessmiddleton - Wednesday, May 26, 2004 - link

    The one thing that this review seems to ignore regarding the Athlon64 2800 vs. the AthlonXP 2800 is that you will be able to upgrade to a higher clocked Athlon64 in the future while the XP has no upgrade path that does not require a new mobo. This combined with the 64bitness ensure that the Athlon64 rig will have a significantly longer usable lifespan than the XP. Well worth the $80 for a midrange system, in my opinion. I think that the low end Athlon64 should be the midrange proc of choice for some time to come. Reply
  • gherald - Tuesday, May 25, 2004 - link

    Well #19 that depends on what you're doing with your system... Intel is clearly better at multimedia encoding and getting insane Quake 3 Arena fps :) Reply
  • MAME - Tuesday, May 25, 2004 - link

    no point comparing intel to amd, amd is the clear winner in price and performance Reply
  • Tostada - Monday, May 24, 2004 - link

    The summary at the end says "Western Digital 800BB (40GB) $68" ... I'm sure this is a typo, seeing as the WD800JB 80GB is $68 at NewEgg.

    I do think it is quite odd that WD drives are always recommended, though. Samsung/Hitachi drives are both quieter and cooler, and Hitachi SATA drives are much faster. Do WD drives even use FD bearings? WD is really behind the times, and I really don't like the way they refuse to tell you the transfer rate and platter count of drives. Sure, the drives they send the review sites have 80GB platters, but when you buy one you might get a drive with 40GB platters, because it's the same model number.

    If you're already getting a motherboard with SATA on it, you should be getting a SATA hard drive. The 80GB SATA Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 with 8MB cache and 3-year warranty is $73.25 at NewEgg, and it's extremely fast. It matches the 36GB Raptor in most benchmarks, and is much faster than the WD800JB.

    High-End DriveMark 2002:
    Raptor 740GD: 585 IO/sec
    Raptor 360GD: 467 IO/sec
    Hitachi 7K250: 442 IO/sec
    WD800JB: 375 IO/sec

    StorageReview Gaming DriveMark 2002:
    Raptor 740GD: 749 IO/sec
    Raptor 360GD: 588 IO/sec
    Hitachi 7K250: 588 IO/sec
    WD800JB: 477 IO/sec

    WB99 Max Read Transfer Rate:
    Raptor 740GD: 71.8 MB/sec
    Raptor 360GD: 57.4 MB/sec
    Hitachi 7K250: 60.4 MB/sec
    WD800JB: 49.3 MB/sec

    Idle Noise:
    Raptor 740GD: 42.3 dB/A
    Raptor 360GD: 43.1 dB/A
    Hitachi 7K250: 41.5 dB/A
    WD800JB: 45.0 dB/A

    So, the Hitachi SATA drive is quieter, 25% faster than the WD800JB and costs $5 more. They both have a 3-year warranty.

    I've used plenty WD drives, and I can't criticise anybody too much as long as they're smart enough to get something with a 3-year warranty, but in this situation it's ridiculous to suggest the WD drive.

    The only other choice is the Raptor 74GB, which is $200.
  • TrogdorJW - Friday, May 21, 2004 - link

    The only reason I would consider an Athlon 64 2800+ would be if it overclocks well. Relative performance against a 2.8C P4 isn't as nice as comparing a 3000+ to a 3.0C P4 or a 3200+ to a 3.0C. And we all know that a 2.8C can overclock like Big Ben on crack.

    I know this isn't the overclocking system, but with 2500+ Mobile chips costing ~$30 less than the 2800+ and pretty much guaranteed to at least run as fast as the 2800+ with even low end heatsinks, I'm not sure I would stick with Athlon XP on a mid-range non-overclocked system. Either upgrade to a 2.8C P4 or go with the Athlon 64 3000+.

    Of course, last time I ran one of my PCs at stock CPU speeds was... hmmm.... 1996, I guess. Pentium 120. *sigh* Those were the days.....
  • crimson117 - Friday, May 21, 2004 - link

    On the main processor page, you say that while the Athlon 64 2800 is nice, at it's too expensive compared to the price/performance of the Barton 2800.

    Recommended mobo/cpu:
    Barton 2800 ($120) + AN7 ($96): $216

    and the alternative mobo/cpu is:
    P4 2.8C ($179) + ASUS P4P800 Deluxe ($119) = $298 ($83 more than barton)

    But you could get a A64 2800 with lan/audio mobo for about the same money as the pentium alternative!

    Shuttle nForce3 150 AN50R ($125 shipped at ZipZoomFly) + A64 2800 Retail ($184 shipped at ZipZoomFly): $309 ($94 more than barton)

    So for $11 more than your P4 alternative, you have 64-bit capability. I think anyone building a midrange system would appreciate getting next generation technology for $11 more, and it would be a more meaningful "alternative" than a P4 since not only would you get more speed, you'd get an entire new class of capabilities.
  • Pollock - Friday, May 21, 2004 - link

    Well, if you've never noticed, the buyer's guides get recycled all the time...

    I do agree that a retail 64 2800+ would be much better than an XP 2800+ for only $67 more. Especially since socket 754 prices should fall a bit more when socket 939 comes out here soon (WHEN!?!).

    Actually, TrogdorJW if you were paying attention to the weekly ads last week, you could have gotten 2 512MB sticks of Kingston HyperX 4000 for $200 from Best Buy.
  • gherald - Thursday, May 20, 2004 - link

    #12, yes that is exactly what they are suggesting. Nvidia's FX debacle is well-known, and good luck finding products from any other company that are in the same league as ATI and Nvidia. (though this may change soon, cf. XGI and Creative Wildcats)

    Now I will admit that the newer 5700, 5950 and 5900 XT are viable cards compared to their god-awful predecessors, but they still do not quite offer the price/performance value ATI has.

    It is a pretty well known fact that the ATI drivers still have slightly more compatibility problems than Nvidia's, but for the most part they work great, assuming the rest of your system is compatible. So if you were going to buy 100 cards for 100 random PCs then perhaps you would be safer going with Nvidia. But once an ATI driver and card are proven to work with a given rest-of-hardware combination -- as AT has no doubt verified for the purposes of this guide -- they by and large work perfectly thereafter and deliver somewhat better price/performance compared to Nvidia's offerings.
  • TrogdorJW - Thursday, May 20, 2004 - link

    You know, I've been using WD hard drives in almost all of my systems for the past couple years, and finally, the whine got to me. I got a new Antec BQE3700-SLK case with nice, quiet 120mm fans. The whine of the hard drive is now *extremely* noticeable, and rather irritating if you're watching a movie with a quiet sequence. The drive in question is the WD 800JB suggested in this article.

    I just picked up some Samsung SATA 160 GB drives and a 120 GB IDE (using RAID on the SATA) in order to reduce noise from my hard drive. So, while performance may have suffered a bit, my ears are happier. I imagine that for the $85 price, the Antec case is also quieter than the CaseEdge and Kingwin cases you suggest. We could use a new configuration called "Quiet System" to add to the current mix? Heheheh.... Seriously, though, I would love to get more input on what parts make a truly silent PC (without watercooling).

    Also, it kills me that for about $30 more, I picked up 1 GB of RAM (two Kingston DIMMs) for a friend only two and a half months ago. Ouch! And my 1GB Mushkin 3200 Level One "only" cost me $213 at the end of February as well. I guess with prices climbing this high, it's now hard to recommend 1 GB for mid-range systems. Too bad. Far Cry, Battlefield, and UT2K4 all benefit noticeably from the extra RAM.
  • lupis42 - Thursday, May 20, 2004 - link

    One minor note. Both video and video alternative are ATI cards. Are you suggesting that there is no other manufacturer worth the money for a midrange card? I have had 2 ATI cards, and I have had major system stability issues with their cards and drivers. Reply
  • gherald - Thursday, May 20, 2004 - link

    "However, we should note that the Athlon 64 2800+ comes with only 512K L2 cache instead of the standard 1MB L2 cache that come with the vast majority of Athlon 64 processors currently shipping."

    Er, the 3000 also has 512k. The 3200 and 3400 have 1MB. So in terms of models offered I'd say the 512k/1MB is split 50/50. That of course is ignoring the AthlonFX, though I think that's perfectly fair since we are talking mid-range systems here... but EVEN IF YOU INCLUDE THE FX, 33% have 512k, so saying the "vast majority" have 1MB of L2 is completely inaccurate. In addition, very few FXs are being shipped, so if you make the comparrison based on units sold my point is still valid.

    "In addition, the $173 price tag is OEM, meaning that you have to buy your own cooling, which costs an extra $20-$25. So really, the lowest priced Athlon 64 is still going to cost near $200"

    No, it is only $14 more for the retail version. Duh!

    I see your...

    AMD Athlon XP 2800+ (retail) - $120
    ABIT AN7 (nForce2 Ultra 400) - $96
    2 X 256MB OCZ PC3200 EL (CAS2) - $135
    CaseEdge TS1 Mid Tower plus 300W PS - $74

    ... and I'll raise you a ...

    AMD Athlon 64 2800+ (retail) - $187
    ABIT KV8 Pro (K8T800 Pro) - $104
    1 x 512MB OCZ PC3200 Series EL Platinum Edition (CAS2) - $130
    ANTEC SLK1600 with 300W Antec PSU included - $42

    ... for only $38 more. The way I see things, that is a small price to pay for a better performing 32bit system that will not become obsolete as quickly due to the promise 64bit holds.

    To confirm my prices and see item descriptions, go to newegg.com and paste these into the search box:


    One final note: there is a $15 shipping charge for the SLK1600 from newegg, but I am confused as to how AT came up with their $74 figure and which PSU they are recommending. But either way, I still think the SLK1600 is a better deal.
  • hans007 - Thursday, May 20, 2004 - link

    i think that rather than get extra expensive ocz memory , a amd 64 2800+ and a single stick of 512mb pc3200 elixer or lower brand name memory (such as stuff on sale at frys) would make this a better system and cost about the same. Reply
  • ZobarStyl - Thursday, May 20, 2004 - link

    Great guide, perfect mid-range system...and guys, with mobo sound like that it IS a midrange system...every guide that comes out someone asks for nicer things when frankly the point of the budget/mid guides is to give you the most bang for you buck. I agree with dankim for any system that's isn't ultra high-end media encoding a 64 would be a much better solution, and the 2800 A64 is only 8 bucks more expensive than that P4...it's only a matter of time before the A64 drops under the P4 in price...then what are they going to recommend as an alternative to AMD? =) Reply
  • dankim333 - Thursday, May 20, 2004 - link

    Good point XRaider. I just skipped to the end just to see the price comparison between the two, but nada...

    Oh, and of course, the point could be made that the alternative Intel configuration costs about as much as an AMD64 2800 solution, which is definatively superior in most benchmarks. But, I'm just picking nits...
  • XRaider - Thursday, May 20, 2004 - link

    Opps.. sorry about above..
    Maybe you should also price out the alternative system (intel) so people could compare prices/performance on all of these guides you publish. Thanks.
  • XRaider - Thursday, May 20, 2004 - link

  • Evan Lieb - Thursday, May 20, 2004 - link

    Actually thatsright and Cygni, the only reason I suggested onboard sound is due to the fact that we recommended the ABIT NF7-S Rev.2/AN7, which comes with the MCP-T South Bridge and therefore nForce2 APU (SPDIF and optical out included via the I/O panel). But maybe I'll add a note about adding an add-in sound card next time. Reply
  • Cygni - Thursday, May 20, 2004 - link

    I agree, onboard sound is great for Entry level or Budget systems, but by the time we are hitting mid range, its time to spend the $23. ESPECIALLY when using nice a$$ speakers like those. And especially when you can get a Via ENVY 24HT-S based card for $23 at Newegg. Some of the best sound quality in the business at $23? WELL worth the money, imho. Reply
  • thatsright - Thursday, May 20, 2004 - link

    Great put-together for a mid-range system. Right now, I lean a bit toward the P4 CPU's, but for low-Mid range systems, the Athlon XP can't be beat. But of course, a few suggestions:

    -If your trying to keep the overall price tag below $1K, I would still suggest upgrading the video card choice to the Radeon 9800 Pro. Thought it costs an extra $70 more than the 9600 pro, you get such a HUGE performance jump due to the double pipelines

    -Even a 'old' Sound Blaster Live 5.1 for around $25 is infinitely better (perhaps with the exception of the Nforce Soundstorm chip) than on board sound as it takes away horsepower from the CPU to do it's sound processing.

    -I have the same Western Digital 120GB 8Meg cache HD for nearly a year. BUT virtually all HD's sold today only offer a 1 year warranty. You can get the exact same Western Digital HD from NewEgg for the same price, but it is backed by a 3 year warranty for the OEM drive. The #1 criteria when I buy a HD is the warranty length.

    Thats it, really. I think this is the 1st Anand Tech Weekly buyers guide that I agree with wholeheartedly. Good Job Evan!
  • Evan Lieb - Thursday, May 20, 2004 - link

    mkruer, it has been corrected, thanks. Reply
  • mkruer - Thursday, May 20, 2004 - link

    Alright AMD deals listed twice (Once for the CPU and Motherboard Recommendations, and the other for the CPU and Motherboard Alternatives)
    Are you saying that the Alternative is also AMD based? LOL

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