Buyer's Guide - Entry Level, January 2005

by Jarred Walton on 1/9/2005 12:05 AM EST


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  • JarredWalton - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    Next Guide is due out "soon" - like this weekend probably.

    As for PATA vs. SATA, the performance difference is negligible. The cables are a different story. PATA (also called IDE/EIDE) uses 40 pin connectors and 80 pin cables. SATA gets by with a cable that's about 1/4 as large, and the connector is only about 1 cm wide instead of 5 cm or so. Rounded IDE cables help, but the IDE connector is still rather a pain in the butt.

    Also, SATA is point-to-point, which means there are no worries about master/slave settings. Each SATA device is on its own channel. The theoretical performance of SATA is higher than PATA, but in practice all current hard drives are limited by the hard drive's sustained transfer rate.
  • Fauno - Thursday, January 20, 2005 - link

    Dumb question: what´s the difference for SATA and PATA?
    Tkx for all.
  • Fauno - Thursday, January 20, 2005 - link

    Mr. Jarred, thank you for the great newsletter!
    I would like to see an improved, i mean, something
    better than the Budget and Performance scenarios.
    How long may i have to wait for your next guide?
    I´m anxious because i´m in hurry to make a brand new computer.
    Thank you vey much.
  • micronot - Monday, January 17, 2005 - link

    Show me the Benhchmarks ---

    I have no complaints about the selections, but it would have been nice to also see how these systems compare on a few benchmarks. This would help show a price to performance ratio.
  • erinlegault - Wednesday, January 12, 2005 - link

    How do think nForce motherboards have instability at default settings?

    I know VIA has been very reliable since their Apollo Pro 133 chipset, I have owned several. But, to say Nvidia nForce chipsets are unstable is unfounded. The various flavors of nForce 2, 3 and now 4 are the probably the best chipsets ever made.

    I have no opinion about the initial nForce chipset, I personally never give first timers a chance. This is probably the chipset you call unstable, but what company does not produce a first generation product that isn't perfect.
  • bob661 - Tuesday, January 11, 2005 - link

    I don't recommend Nforce boards to non-enthusiasts because of instability or just plain quirkiness (sp?). I figure a geek wouldn't mind troubleshooting and tinkering but I don't assume that for newbies or general users. VIA has always treated me kindly and I don't have people coming back to me after I build them a computer complaining about quirks. I remember when VIA was the quirky, problem-ridden chipset but I haven't seen that for at least 5 years. We use computers with that chipset at work as CAD workstations (29 machines) and there's no instability. Reply
  • Live - Tuesday, January 11, 2005 - link

    If the 6600 is an option in PCIe why not as AGP it is available in both? Reply
  • woodchuk - Tuesday, January 11, 2005 - link

    Have to agree on the VIA and SIS chipsets, not only because they tend to lose sound drivers and such occasionally, but the nVidia solutions seem bulletproof.
    Also, the Semprons I've built recently are very disappointing in anything that likes a lot of cache, either Tbird or Barton equivelents are faster.
  • justly - Tuesday, January 11, 2005 - link

    Thanks again, although I really wasn't expecting a responce to my last post.

    I understand the reluctance tward integrated video, but to be fair there are two reasons for building a budget system one is obviously because you cant afford the alternitive, and the other is because you know you dont need the alternitive. If someone is simply trying to make a performance system fit a tight budget then I would expect them to have problems simply because that is not the correct way to make a performance system. Is this the type of person that you are making a budget guide for? if so then I guess I misunderstood the purpose of the budget guide.

    I'm NOT intentionally trying to argue with you, it just irritates me that the impression I (and I think others may also) get from the article is that Nforce is not just the chipset of choice but that it seems to be the only chipset that is acceptable, and now I see you say "a less expensive chipset isn't necessarily inferior". That was the point I was trying to make.
    A lot of what you say makes sense, but a few things don't (at least to me), one being that you assume cheaper capacitors, resistors, fabrication facilities, etc (along with cheaper chipsets and less features) are used to make a budget board, but unless the Nvidia chipset is cheaper or the board has less features then the only way a Nvidia motherboard can compete in price is to use as cheep or cheeper parts or fabrication facilities yet you still claim it is more stable/compatible, how can this be? ok maybe it is the BIOS, I guess I just have a hard time believing that every non-Nvidia moterboards out there has problems with their BIOS.
    My experiances are a little different than yours. I have had very little or no problems with SiS or ALi drivers in the past (VIA is a different story). When the K6-2/III was popular I had both ALi and VIA based motherboards and I would say without a doubt that I liked the ALi better. On the Athlon platform I can also say without a doubt that I liked the SiS better than the VIA. While I personally haven't owned a Nvidia chipset I do know of more than one person that had problems with them (and they where not budget builds either, in fact they where top of the line in most cases).
    Having a bias is normal everyone has them, I just think with a following as large as what Anandtech has you should try to hide that bias a little better. Maybe it is time you try a SiS or ALi/ULi chipset again, you might be pleasantly surprised. Then again maybe you know yoou need more than SiS or ULi can give you in that case continue on with your "self-perpetuating bias. :p" just kidding, have a nice day and thanks for the insight regarding your recommendation.

  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 10, 2005 - link

    Let me go back to an earlier statement, just to make sure we're all on the same page. I said the following on page 2: "There are boards that use the VIA K8M800 chipset with its S3 UniChrome Pro graphics, and there are also boards that include the SiS Mirage graphics. Performance and reliability of either one are questionable in our opinion." Just to make this clear, the "questionable" aspect is specifically in regards to the integrated graphics - lowest common denominator graphics almost always cause me grief. Some will only support 24-bit color, which is not 100% compatible with all applications, forcing you to use 16-bit mode at times. Others simply perform very poorly even in 2D applications, and then there's the supported refresh rates which may end up being 60 Hz at any resolution above 1280x1024.

    Okay, now back to the topic at hand....

    Memory compatibility issues can come from a variety of areas. For example, even with an Intel 865PE chipset, you're not going to see identical performance or compatibility across all motherboards. It probably has a lot to do with the BIOS, not to mention some other items like quality and location of capacitors, resistors, etc.

    THG did a memory comparison maybe six months back where they tested about 10 to 15 different brands of RAM on 10 to 15 different motherboards. I don't recall the specifics, other than the ASUS K8V SE Deluxe was the most compatible motherboard (working with all the RAM types used) and that the Corsair RAM was the most compatible RAM.

    As I'm not a BIOS programmer or motherboard manufacturer, I can't say for sure what causes the issues that some boards experience, but I can hazzard a guess. Let's assume you're trying to make a budget board that will sell for $25 less than other motherboards. The first step is usually to go with a cheaper chipset, i.e. SiS or ALi or VIA as opposed to Intel or NVIDIA. (I don't know how expensive NV chipsets are, but I know that Intel is regarded as the most expensive out there.) Now, a less expensive chipset isn't necessarily inferior, but I have a feeling a lot of motherboards that use cheaper chipsets also use cheaper capacitors, resistors, fabrication facilities, etc.

    I would guess that this is why the ASUS A8V Deluxe and the Abit AV8 are still very good boards even with the VIA K8T800 Pro chipset. They also cost nearly as much as competing NVIDIA boards. As with all things, compromises are made to reach any price point. If most motherboards with a certain chipset sell for $85+ and a new board comes out that only costs $70, you can be almost sure that either features or quality were cut - possibly both. Long-term reliability of cheap motherboards has never been good for me, although I'm sure others have had okay experiences.

    Beyond that, I don't have any real concerns with the VIA A64 motherboards. SiS and ALi/ULi are a different matter, although I freely admit that I have avoided using motherboards with those chipsets for years. Finding comprehensive chipset drivers for NVIDIA, Intel, and VIA motherboards is generally a simple matter; not so with SiS and ALi (in my experience). Drivers always end up mattering, and the easier it is to get all the drivers installed, the better.

    In the end, it's a Catch-22 situation: I don't trust SiS and ALi/ULi based motherboards as much as NVIDIA and Intel based motherboards due to some bad experiences. The only thing that would really convince me that they no longer have problems would be extended use of such a motherboard over a two year period. However, when I look at the prices and it's only $10 more for a board that I already trust, why take a chance?

    I'm only one person, with limited access to hardware (even if I have more access than most people, I can't just get anything I want). No one has perfect knowledge of how specific boards will work over a 4 year period, so we end up guessing based off of previous knowledge. My previous knowledge says that SiS and ALi boards are more likely to have issues over an extended period of time, but what I really know is that *previous* SiS and ALi boards had a lot of problems. Yup, it's a self-perpetuating bias. :p
  • justly - Monday, January 10, 2005 - link

    Jarred, Thanks for the responce, and I can certainly understand why you would dislike writing a budget guide.

    If what you say is true "In a single review with high-end components (which is how we generally handle reviews), a lot of motherboards work very well. When you start dropping down to cheaper RAM, however, it's amazing how frequently system instabilities seem to end up being caused by the motherboard choice." then maybe what is really bothering me is not so much your review but the way motherboard reviews are conducted.

    One other thing (just thinking out loud here), how does VIA and SiS chipset affect memory compatibility on a A64 system when the memory controller is part of the CPU??? Do the motherboard manufactures pay more attention to the memory trace lines on Nforce based motherboards (even budget ones) than SiS or VIA based boards??? ... I really think I need an answer to these before I can fully believe you, no offence but I will remain skeptical about your comment to not use VIA or SiS (at least on a A64) untill these are answered.

    Maybe you could make a recommendation on how motherboard reviews are conducted, that way Anandtech readers can be informed about these problems that are hidden from us by reviews that only use high-end components.

    Thanks again for the reply.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 10, 2005 - link

    Good point, PrinceGaz. Of course, my take is that the ability to run the "full" Aero Glass experience mode of Longhorn is essentially a requirement for most people. At the very least, a PC should be upgradeable to that level (with AGP/PCIe cards, not with PCI).

    18 - I don't actually recommend the FX 5200 as a card for any of the systems. I mentioned it only as the "fastest" PCI graphics card currently available. The 9550 might also be available in PCI version, in which case it would be something of a toss up, but I haven't heard of any ATI DX9 parts for PCI.

    #17 - Of course you can get a cheaper system that what I listed. What you've specced out is pretty much the cheapest "modern" system that could be put together. I personally wouldn't recommend that sort of configuration to a friend (or anyone else) without some serious reservations. Basically, it would be a case of "you can get this if you want, but I will not be held responsible for any shortcomings." You basically hit the point of diminishing returns, where $5 to $10 saved ends up costing you 10% of your overall performance (i.e. going from a Sempron 2400+ to a Sempron 2200+), or else you lose certain features that I consider desirable (DVD+RW support).

    It's a personal preference, really, so people can go either way. My feeling is that any *new* system should include at bare minimum the following:

    512 MB of RAM
    80GB Hard Drive w/8MB cache
    Sempron 2400+/Celeron D 320
    17" monitor
    DVD+RW support

    You certainly don't *need* any of those features for standard PC use, but I would definitely recommend spending the extra $50 or so to get them.
  • PrinceGaz - Monday, January 10, 2005 - link

    Excellent article, I couldn't really fault any of the choices, and good explanations were given of why they were selected.

    One minor point worth mentioning maybe related to Longhorn's graphics requirements, specifically where you say that for the "next version of Windows (codenamed Longhorn), 3D graphics support will actually be required in order to run it properly. Specifically, the word is that Pixel Shader 2.0 support will be required".It will run fine on DX7 hardware in 'Classic' mode (similar to how Windows 2000 looks). Only the 'Aero' and 'Aero Glass' modes require DX9 hardware. Full details on the likely requirements for the three modes can be found here-
  • delldell - Monday, January 10, 2005 - link

    Good article; however, the radeon 9550 graphics card is faster than the nvidia FX 5200 while also being cheaper :) At only $60 the 9550 clearly represents the best bang in the the low end video card market. Check out the review from
  • ChineseDemocracyGNR - Monday, January 10, 2005 - link

    I have a different idea of what a budget computer is.

    AMD budget:
    AMD Sempron 2200+ Retail $54
    ASRock K7S41 $49
    Corsair Value Select 256MB DDR400 $41
    Seagate 40GB 7200RPM 2MB PATA $56
    LG 52X32X52 CD-RW Drive $29
    same floppy, Case & PSU, Display, Speakers, Keyboard and Mouse as your AMD Budget. $251
    Total: $480

    AMD Performance Budget:
    AMD Sempron 2600+ Retail $86
    ASRock K7Upgrade-880 $47
    Corsair Value Select 2x256MB DDR400 $68
    Gigabyte ATI Radeon 9550 128MB DDR 128-bit $71
    Seagate 80 GB 7200 RPM 8MB SATA $69
    LG 52X32X52 CD-RW Drive $29
    same floppy, Case & PSU, Display, Speakers, Keyboard and Mouse as your AMD Budget. $251
    total = $621

    Intel Budget:
    Intel Celeron D 315 (2.26GHz) Retail $69
    ASUS P4S800-MX $60
    Corsair Value Select 256MB DDR400 $41
    Seagate 40GB 7200RPM 2MB PATA $56
    LG 52X32X52 CD-RW Drive $29
    same floppy, Case & PSU, Display, Speakers, Keyboard and Mouse as your AMD Budget. $251
    Total: $506

    Intel Performance Budget:
    Intel Celeron D 325J (2.53GHz) Retail $89
    ASRock 775V88 $58
    Corsair Value Select 2x256MB DDR400 $68
    Gigabyte ATI Radeon 9550 128MB DDR 128-bit $71
    Seagate 80 GB 7200 RPM 8MB SATA $69
    LG 52X32X52 CD-RW Drive $29
    same floppy, Case & PSU, Display, Speakers, Keyboard and Mouse as your AMD Budget. $251
    total = $635
  • qquizz - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    Just to clarify:
    Of course ddr400 memory can run at 333 speed. My point is that the memory must be run at 333 to be supported by the motherboard using onboard graphics. This is the case with all NF2 boards with onboard graphics that I've seen.
  • Jep4444 - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    its mainly old Via boards with issues(i mean original K8T800) and for the purpouse of this article an NF3 can be had cheaper than a K8T800pro on 754 so it is a justified move but to say Via chipsets have problems is just not right

    When it comes to 939 boards, the K8T800Pros(specifically from Abit and Asus) have been the best boards out
  • erinlegault - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    The one thing I think was missing from the graphics section is overclocking options. Overclocking is a great way to gain extra performance from a product. Besides what ATI and others do to turn a Radeon 9600 into a Pro or XT is overclock it and provide adequate cooling and provide faster memory. Why should a user pay a company to overclock a product when they can do it themselves.

    I personally like Abit's options. They have a line of products based on the Radeon 9550, just an underclocked 9600. But, they have two products, the R9550-Guru and the R9550XTurbo-Guru, which supports their V-Guru overclocking utility. With adequate cooling these products could posibly be overclocked to the 600 MHz of the 9600XT. On the memory, side the Guru has 3.6ns memory that is comparable to the 3.3ns memory of Abit's 9600XT product and probably can't be overclocked much above the stock 400 MHz. But, the interesting part about the XTurbo-Guru is that the memory is 2.5ns and can be easily overclocked. And if you look at the product images, I think adequate cooling is already provided for overclocking.
  • qquizz - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    It should be noted that for the budget motherboard:

    "Supports DDR266/333 with internal graphic core, DDR266/333/400 with external add-on card."

    In other words, if you wanna use ddr400, it is only supported if you use a discrete video card. If you use the onboard video, only ddr266/333 is supported.

  • JarredWalton - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    Justly - The memory compatibility issues with Nforce3 250 are pretty much confined to the EPoX boards as far as I've heard. All other NF3250 boards will run two DS DIMMs at DDR400. VIA chipsets in general still have some issues. The motherboard is such a critical component that I really don't like to cut any corners, even in the budget sector.

    In a single review with high-end components (which is how we generally handle reviews), a lot of motherboards work very well. When you start dropping down to cheaper RAM, however, it's amazing how frequently system instabilities seem to end up being caused by the motherboard choice.

    Honestly, I dislike writing the budget guide selections, just because there are so many questionable parts. I always try to push customers to spend an extra $30 or so on the motherboard if nothing else. Maybe I'm just superstitious, but I've had several "cheap" systems fail after a year or so due to the motherboard.
  • edlight - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    Warning for Corsair Value Select: If you want to run dual channel get one of their dual channel kits containing a matched pair. I bought one stick and another a month later, and they are totally different and won't run dual channel at all on my Asus A7V880. In fact, one is single sided and one dual sided. The memory isn't made by Corsair at all.

  • justly - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    I really don't have a problem if you prefer the Nforce 3-250 chipset BUT to call the "performance and reliability" of either VIA and SiS "questionable" for a budget system seems a bit (actually quite a bit) narrow minded.

    If this where a overclocking or performance guide I would have less of a complaint, but for a budget guide I think you should elaborate on why these chipsets are so "questionable". Has Anandtech pionted out these "performance and reliability" issues in any reviews of either VIA or SiS, because the ony complaint I can recall had to do with overclocking.
    You even mention that a Nforce 3-250 board (Epox) has "memory compatibility issues" so Nforce 3-250 is not void of "performance and reliability" issues either.

    A BUDGET GUIDE is about two things "reliability and cost", performance is a "distant concern" (does this sound familiar? it should its on the first page). So when it comes to the motherboard why is "performance" now a concern (especially when performance differances between A64 motherboards seem trivial compared to other components)?

    If I sound upset because of this then you are correct. I offen hear review sites hope for more competition in the chipset market (things like wishing some board manufacturer would try to make a performance board with a SiS chipset) and then I read things like this. If you really want to see some competition then the least you could do is not cut them from the market that they are targeting with their product without explaining why.
  • ChineseDemocracyGNR - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    "Intel has socket 478 parts, and these are often cheaper than the more recent platforms, but longevity is something of a concern."

    I agree that longetivy is a concern, but the socket 478 platform is not necessarily cheaper. Intel released the Celeron D in LGA775, starting with the 2.53GHz model (the lower ones are to be discontinued in Februrary according to the Inquirer). The LGA775 is a "J" version, which adds NX support for less than $5 more compared to the socket 478 version.

    Given this, I would switch the Intel budget system to the Celeron D 325J, a little more expensive than the 320. There are cheap LGA775 motherboards available, like the ECS 661FX-M7 ($53.50) and the ASRock 775V88 ($57).

    Another thing I would like to comment on is the Radeon 9600Pro suggestion. Newegg is selling 400/446 Sapphire cards as 400/600 (without saying it's an Advantage card) so be careful. I would suggest these for budget systems:

    SAPPHIRE ATI RADEON 9000PRO Video Card, 64MB DDR, 128-bit $46 shipped

    ABIT ATI RADEON 9550 Video Card, 128MB DDR, 128-Bit, DVI/TV-Out, 8X AGP, Model "R9550-Guru " -RETAIL $80 shipped
    This ABIT card comes with 3.6ns and overclocks to 500/600 (9600XT) more often than not.

  • bupkus - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    I just bought the Biostar 210V and according to their website this model does support a 400 fsb. Don't expect to overclock an AXP as there is neither a voltage nor a multiplier setting in the bios. The fsb for your cpu is set using jumpers which I hope also changes the AGP/PCI ratio as I'm told are unlocked. BTW, newegg had this model for fifteen dollars less than it is now, so look for possible sale prices. Currently $154. Reply
  • Avalon - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    You can get the Samsung 997DF 19" monitor for $202 shipped at, I bought it there two weeks ago. If the price hasn't changed....then I'd think $202 > $215 in terms of savings. Reply
  • Glassmaster - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    Great guide Jarred!

    Though I would rather not have seen the RAIDMAX PSU in there, it probably won't be as big a deal for the entry level budget system. It was good to see Fortron Source being mentioned too, as a cheap but reliable PSU alternative.

    You might also point people in the direction of the excellent power supply guide by computerpro3 of the hardforums.

    He lists the brands to stay away from, and those worth buying, along with links to newegg for his specific recommendations.

  • Spacecomber - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    I always enjoy reading these system guides; so, thanks for this latest one.

    A couple of minor comments.

    I don't think that the 120mm fan on the Antec SLK1650 cases is temperature controlled. At least one of the fans in the power supply is; so, perhaps that is what you were thinking. Nevertheless, the 120mm fan is fairly quiet and becomes virtually silent, if you use 7 volts for it.

    I have been a big fan of the Seagate drives, because of their 5 year warranties (started at the time when there seemed to be a trend toward 1 year warranties on hard drives). While my initial experience of these drives was how quiet they were, I have been hearing other complain of getting drives that were not that quiet. My most recent Seagate purchase was a 120GB PATA model, and I too noticed that it seemed to buzz relatively loudly when it was seeking. I don't think it is so much how loud the noise is, but it has a kind of annoying quality to it.

    Apparently, Seagate is involved in a lawsuit that alleges that Seagate stole their accoustic management technology from someone else. As a result, they have disabled this feature in their current line of drives. (You can use something like Hitachi's Feature Tool to see that accoustic management doesn't show up as an option on these drives.)

    So, while Seagate continues to offer a 5 year warranty, which nobody else does (except the WD Raptors), they no longer should be looked to when a quiet drive is one of your criteria, imo.

  • Pollock - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    I think you should forgo the SATA Seagate and go with the IDE version, which I've seen as cheap as $59-$62, saving you $7-10 for a pointless upgrade. Reply
  • bigpow - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    Entry Level Budget & Entry Level Performance labels should make the conclusion less confusing. Reply
  • kmmatney - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    Great review. The graphics section was very good, as well as the SFF section. Nice work.

    Although you did mention it, I think the Athlon XP-M is the best budget cpu, with a Barton core and unlocked multiplier. It is more expensive than the Sempron, but you can team it up with a $42 Asrock motherboard and overclock it 3200+ speeds easy, even with cheapo RAM.
  • mcveigh - Sunday, January 09, 2005 - link

    nice selection, I love the SFF choices.


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