Buyer's Guide - Mid-Range, January 2005

by Jarred Walton on 1/21/2005 11:09 AM EST


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  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    ^^^ Er, Foxconn is at, not GameVE. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    44 - This was written by January 18th and published Jan 21st. Things change rapidly, which is why the Buyer's Guides are really just a snapshot in time. There are several NF4 boards now available at Newegg, including the Chaintech and an MSI Neo4 Platinum. Odd that the Chaintech lists "NVIDIA 7.1-channel audio" - is SoundStorm back with NF4? I don't think I had heard about that. The Gigabyte board is also available from quite a few other resellers besides Newegg, of course. There's even a $109 Foxconn NF4 board at GameVE. Interesting! Not that I've had any good Foxconn experiences, but $109 is attractive. Reply
  • jleandro - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    Don't want to be a pain, you guys review whatever boards you think are worthy, but I just checked Newegg and here's what they had IN STOCK:

    CHAINTECH NVIDIA nForce4 Ultra Chipset Motherboard For AMD Socket 939 CPU, Model "VNF4/Ultra" -RETAIL US$ 135

    MSI "K8N Neo4 Platinum" NVIDIA nForce4 Ultra Chipset Motherboard For AMD Socket 939 CPU -RETAIL US$ 159

    GIGABYTE "GA-K8NXP-SLI" NVIDIA nForce4 SLI Chipset Motherboard For AMD Socket 939 CPU -RETAIL US$ 249

    ASUS "A8N-SLI Deluxe" nForce4 SLI Chipset Motherboard For AMD Socket 939 CPU -RETAIL US$ 265

    Interesting that the Gigabyte K8NF-9 was actually not in stock.
  • hawksballer - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 24, 2005 - link

    41 - Guide editors changed a few months back. The "alternative" configurations have always been more expensive, and they include *all* the alternatives, usually. If you were to take this Guide's alternative (NF4) and stick with the recommend parts everywhere else, price would drop considerably. I haven't made a point of highlighting this, but I did change the pricing targets a bit on the Guides.

    For the budget, I typically try for $500, but I usually end up closer to $600. Compromises to drop the price are possible but undesirable, i.e. go with 1x256 MB of RAM. The Budget altenative I generally target slightly below the Mid-Range, so $900 to $1000 is usually where it lands.

    The Mid-Range has been bumped to $1250 by default, which generally allows for a very good all-around system with few (if any) compromises. The alternative Mid-Range I try to keep under $2000, although closer to $1750 is desirable.

    I haven't done any High-End or OC Guides, but High-End will be in the $2000+ range (maxing out at $4000 or so with *all* the trimmings), and the OC Guide is really just about any of the above price goals. I'm working on one of those.

    Hopefully that answers your questions. If you want to trim costs a bit on the Mid-Range, going to a slower CPU and GPU usually cuts close to $200, but then it's no longer an all-around system.
    #40: The Chaintech may very well be available in Hungary, but it is not at all available in the US right now. Newegg is the one of the few sites that even list it, and any boards have disappeared *FAST*. If you picked on up without difficulty where you live, more power to you! Lucky #@$^&*%! ;)
  • wilburpan - Monday, January 24, 2005 - link

    Is it just me, or have the Mid-Range and Entry Level Buyer's Guides suffered from price inflation? It seems to me that way back when, the price points for these two were a solid $1000 and $500, respectively. Now the Entry Level Guide has a budget of up to $1000, while the Mid-Range Guide is pushing $2000.

    I can understand that picking price points is an arbitrary process, but I would think that for comparing what your computer dollar buys you over tme, it would be nice to remain consistent.
  • jleandro - Monday, January 24, 2005 - link

    Can't understand why the Chanitech NF4 Ultra Zenith is not considered to be available.

    I live in Hungary (not the prime tech spot) and this board has been available for some time, most retailers have it.

    In fact I just bought one today for ~110 USD and will pick it up tomorrow.

    For instance, check under "alaplapok" (motherboard in Hungarian).
  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 24, 2005 - link

    38 - Thanks. It's corrected now. The marketing for the drive states "with SATA-II features" and somewhere along the line that got put in as SATA-II. :| Basically, the drive has hot-swap capability and NCQ, which are both SATA-II. It does not support 300MB/s, but then burst transfer rates really matter much. With sustained transfer rates of even the fastest drives maxing out around 70 MB/s, it will be quite some time before SATA-II transfer rates really show real-world benefit.

    37 - 0dB computing? I'm not sure I'm the one to address that, but it's certainly something to think about. I'll pass that along and see if we can acquire the parts for such a test. They're relatively expensive in comparison to fan-based solutions, unfortunately.
  • AnnihilatorX - Monday, January 24, 2005 - link

    A misleading information I just found and thought would like to point out...

    The Maxtor Diamond Max 10 300GB with NCQ 16MB cache (6B300S0) is SATA-I/150 in terms of transfer speed, but not SATA-II/300 as stated in page 6.

    "Maxtor 300GB SATA-II with NCQ and 16MB cache"
  • ceefka - Monday, January 24, 2005 - link

    Again a great guide. I was already interested in the Maxtor 300 GB SATA II. I guess in that case you'll have to go with the Gigabyte GA-K8NF-9 or any of the other nForce 4 boards.

    Would it be a challenge for AT to build a 0dB PC with high end components with Intel and AMD and compare notes. This machine should at least be a mid-range performer or just as high as you can go on 0dB.

    I wonder because I'd like to build something really quiet. I have already looked into components like Yesico FL420 and fanless CPU coolers, but I am not sure if all of that will work with also two Maxtor 300GB SATA-II's in
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, January 23, 2005 - link

    35 - Damn. Foiled. :) I forget these things over time. Wasn't the original Raptor TCQ and the newer version has something like "TCQ-II" which was supposed to improve on standard TCQ somehow? Anyway, our NCQ article didn't really show a major benefit for desktop use, but I've fixed the error now. Thanks! Reply
  • REMF - Saturday, January 22, 2005 - link

    "On the other hand, if improved performance is what you're after, the best two choices are either one of the 16MB cache Maxtor drives or the 74GB Western Digital Raptor [RTPE: WD740GD] with its 10,000 RPM design - both of these also offer NCQ, in case you were wondering."

    the Raptor offers Tagged Command Queuing, not Native Command Queuing.

  • JarredWalton - Saturday, January 22, 2005 - link

    Regarding post #30 and the NEC 3520A, a reader sent me an email informing me that the 3520A uses a new chipset and thus the 3500A is *not* upgradeable to the 3520A via a BIOS flash. Barring any contradicting views, I'll stick with that. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, January 22, 2005 - link

    31 - our RTPE doesn't currently differentiate between the ST3160023AS and the ST3160827AS, unfortunately. For example, the Newegg listing currently priced at $111.50 + $4.69 shipping is the appropriate NCQ model. In reality, the NCQ doesn't seem to be a big deal for non-server systems (just like RAID), but if it's only a few dollars more why not get it? That was my feeling. There are even a couple listings in the RTPE for the ST3160021AS. Basically, the RTPE bots match items according to size and features, but NCQ doesn't seem to be something they're aware of yet. Reply
  • kamaboko - Saturday, January 22, 2005 - link

    you know the saying, "can't please all of the people all of the time". i think that applies here. in any case, i found this guide useful since i'm looking at a near total ground up rebuild--minus dvd burner, audigy 2zs, and monitor. Reply
  • beakerman - Saturday, January 22, 2005 - link

    "With the added benefit of Native Command Queuing (NCQ), the Seagate drives continue to impress. The Seagate 160 GB SATA [RTPE: ST3160023AS]"

    According to Seagate, the ST3160023AS does not feature NCQ. I believe the drive you want is the ST3160827AS, which is actually a few $$ cheaper. Both drives are 160 GB SATA.
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, January 22, 2005 - link

    26 - Sorry, I got the wrong "updated burn speeds" in there. The 3500A is indeed capable of 16X DVD+/-R recording. The difference is that the 3520A can do DVD+RW at 8X and DVD-RW at 6X, while the 3500A is stuck at 4X for both. There's a reasonable chance, of course, that a BIOS flash of the 3500A can turn it into the 3520A. I updated the text with this information.

    28 - The "alternative" was meant as a closer to high-end option. 50% more for the CPU for 10% more performance is a rather expensive upgrade. The jump to the 3800+ is even worse, coming in at 100% more than the 3500+ for a 9% performance increase. I've updated the text slightly to make this more clear. For overclockers, I definitely wouldn't bother with the added cost of the 3500+.

    27 - I did mention the home theater aspect for the speakers (last part of the 5300e paragraph), but we're certainly not going to spec out an entire home audio setup, so there's not much to do other than mention it. Your comment ties into the next point:

    29 - 2.1 speakers aren't much cheaper than the 5.1s, and you can always just leave the rear speakers disconnected. Still, you have a point that some people really don't want more speakers. In that case, I'm not sure why they would bother with anything more than 2.0 speakers, though. There *are* great 2.0 and 2.1 speakers out there, but then you're almost better off looking at the home audio equipment instead of PC speakers. I dunno... I suppose the Swans are always an option. Anywat, I modified the text to include 2.0/2.1 speakers and headphones as something to consider, along with home theater audio. I moved this into a separate paragraph to draw more attention to it.
  • Dranzerk - Saturday, January 22, 2005 - link

    One suggestion for next buyers guide, I think all kinds system setups like 2.1 speaker systems, you should offer a 5.1 and 2.1 for each type instead of just 5.1.

    I know some personally don't like 5.1 sounding speakers, and prefer 2.1 speakers.

    The logitech Z3 2.1 fit that bill perfectly, you can find them for under $50 also, and they get great reviews.
  • Pjotr - Saturday, January 22, 2005 - link

    I think you are fooling buyers into a wrongful purchase when it comes to performance. In the AMD "Upgraded" PCIe Athlon 64 System you have gone from 3200+ for $215 to 3500+ for $334. The performance increase from 2.0 to 2.2 GHz is smaller than 10 %, in many applications like games it might even be close to 0.

    Instead of adding $119 for this 0-10 % performance gain, I think sticking with the 3200+ CPU and changing the graphics card from 6600GT to 6800GT (Leadtek A400) is a MUCH better choise, It will cost you £377 minus $190 = $187. If you want to come down close to the $119 difference don't get an SLI motherboard.

    This graphics upgrade will make wonders in anything graphics related compared to a 10 % CPU clock speed upgrade that is seldom noticed in anything.
  • Caligynemania - Saturday, January 22, 2005 - link

    Great article, just one comment. With your reccomendation of speakers and sound card as alternatives, you really should mention that a receiver/speaker combination would probably be most people's best bets. A good receiver will run slightly more than the sound cards you mentioned, but the selection for real speakers is infinitely better than computer speakers. Reply
  • Rocket321 - Saturday, January 22, 2005 - link

    Could someone explain what has changed between the NEC 3520A and 3500A. I checked the Anandtech Fall 16x roundup and it has the 3500A listed as DVD-R 16x.
  • Dranzerk - Saturday, January 22, 2005 - link

    Mmm, i bought my 930sb from Newegg about 6 months ago, guess they ran out fast. Oh well. :( Reply
  • N3cr0 - Saturday, January 22, 2005 - link

    Well, I think I may go with the system described with the ASUS board but a 3000+ processor to save some cash. As it stands right now, anything is an upgrade from my Celeron 1.2 system. The XFX 6600GT is also available for dramatically less then the Leadtek (40-50$ less) 6600GT, so I'm going to be going with that also.
  • Zebo - Saturday, January 22, 2005 - link

    "The Diamond Pro 930sb Mitsubishi monitor is also a excellent CRT choice for 19inch."

    Too bad no one sells it:(
  • Zebo - Saturday, January 22, 2005 - link


    Another good mobo is epox 9NDA3J... it's $45 less than MSI..same clocks many say better with new bios. I post at 330 HTT now vs 315 before.. My mem OCs much more too..
  • JarredWalton - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    20 - NEC and Mitsubishi "merged" on the monitor segment. The NEC FE991SB is almost the same monitor as the Diamond Pro 930SB. The 930SB did have a few advantages, like a 110 KHz hoizontal scan rate and a slightly higher max resolution, and perhaps a few cosmetic differences.

    Unfortunately, the 930SB is no longer available online as far as I can tell (and it did cost a bit more). That's why it's no longer in the Guide. If you can find one, it's still a great monitor, although I wouldn't pay much more than $285 for it.
  • Dranzerk - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    The Diamond Pro 930sb Mitsubishi monitor is also a excellent CRT choice for 19inch. Very nice monitor, gets great reviews, and cheap to boot.

    I beleive it used to be Anandtech buyers guide..maybe another type? check it out
  • JarredWalton - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    #17 - certainly something to think about, although there are so many possible causes that a lot of people don't tend to list in forums. For example, are they overclocking? What sort of PSU are they running (as a 300GB three platter hard drive inherently uses more power than an 80GB one platter drive)?

    Most of the posts seem to be related to having RAID issues. I won't even get into the subject of RAID, but having two of those drives running is going to further increase the power demands. What sort of GPU do they have, CPU, etc.? People looking at running two or even three $200 drives are probably putting in other high-end hardware as well, and a 480W PSU - even a quality Antec, Enermax, etc. - may not be able to handle the power demands.

    Anyway, the Maxtor is merely listed as an alternative. Plenty of people are using them without any problems, but they're also not using two of them in most instances.
  • PrinceGaz - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    Those are a truly excellent set of recommendations for systems in that price-range, Jarred. Compared with your first few guides which I considered to have quite a few poor choices; I read through this guide from start to finish, and without exception either agreed with your choices or would have went with something so close it made no real difference.

    I'm very close to building an nForce4/A64 box and regularly looking at my options (the only thing I'm waiting for now is the E0 A64 revision), and at some points what you wrote was so close to my own thoughts that I almost felt as if I was reading something I'd written myself!

    The only bone I'd pick is with SLI. I'll probably get an SLI board, but not for the SLI capability but because they tend to have more PCIe sockets generally if you run in non-SLI mode and treat the second x16 as a x1. I'll never buy another legacy PCI card, so the two PCI cards I already have are all I'd ever want to put in a new PCIe system, therefore the more PCIe sockets it has the better. The MSI Neo4 SLI board fails miserably in that respect as it has no PCIe slots at all apart from the two x16 slots, so at most you can put a single PCIe x1 card in. I hope MSI gets suitably slated in the forthcoming review because of that.
  • mad nebraskan - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    With all due respect, the recommendation of the Maxtor 250GB drive in combination with the MSI Neo2 MB might not be a good one. I helped a friend who had serious issues trying to get a RAID 0+1 to work using this board. We finally gave up and bought Raptors. A quick search of the net found this forum:
    Now, the problem might be fixed with the latest BIOS, but I don't think it it.
    Just some thoughts from a guy who banged his head against this particular problem too many times.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    Rand - That doesn't surprise me too much, given our recent article showing that the NF4 Ultra and NF4 SLI are the same chip with a tweaked package. I would guess there's a reasonable chance the NF4 4X is the same as well, with other modifications to the package. As far as I know, what I put about their difference is the "official" NVIDIA stance. If the 4X is just the "validated" version... well, not a big deal, really. I'll modify the text a bit to reflect this. Reply
  • KristopherKubicki - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    N3cr0: The nForce4 board you mentioned is not shipping yet.

  • Jep4444 - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    I think the Asus A8V Deluxe would of been a better motherboard recomendation than the MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum. The Asus board is pretty much the best 939 AGP board out and it costs less than the MSI aswell. Reply
  • Avalon - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    'Samsung calls the 997DF a "perfectly visually flat" tube. What they really mean is that the surface of the glass is perfectly flat, but the inside of the glass is very slightly curved. Most people will never notice it, but we feel that in the interest of full disclosure, it should be mentioned'

    Yes. Thank you for pointing that out, Jared. I purchased this monitor about a month ago, and noticed it right upon powering it up. No matter how much you adjust the geometry, there is always a slight curve. I was so angry at one point I was either going to hit it with a bat or return it. Now I've just learned to deal with it, and I'm no longer really bothered by it.

  • Rand - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    Slight addendum to my above post-I just tried nVidia's hardware firewall.. it's working fine.

    Apparently that also runs on the basic nForce4.

  • Rand - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    Slight addendum to my above post-I just tried nVidia's hardware firewall.. it's working fine.

    Apparently that also runs on the basic nForce4.

  • Rand - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    "The difference, if you recall, is that the Ultra has an unlocked HyperTransport multiplier and will generally offer more in the way of overclocking, while the 4X is locked at a 4X HyperTransport multiplier (800 MHz)."

    I believe that's since been proven false.
    There are a couple threads in the Motherboards forum about overclocking on said board, and I haven't seen anyone comment on any difficulties adjusting the HTT.

    My own board is running at 300x3 HTT (900MHz HTT) right now. (Adjustable from 2-5X), though it did need +0.2V to the chipset to run stable at 1000HTT.

    The differences right now between the NF4 and NF4 Ultra would appear to be 3Gb/s SATA vs. 1.5Gb/s SATA, and official support for 1000HTT vs 800HTT.
    As well as not supporting nVidia's firewall.

  • geogecko - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    Where are all the nForce4 Ultra (non-SLI) boards? Really looking forward to ASUS A8N-E Premium, but no news, except that some have said this board will never exist?! Reply
  • Gage8 - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    I don't know, this guide just confirmed for me that now is not the time to buy if you want stability and upgradability (new word?).

    Nforce2 taught me not to buy revision lesson learned, bring on Nforce4 revision 2.x.
  • N3cr0 - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    Just curious why the MSI K8N Neo4 Platinum/SLI wasn't put in as an SLI board for the AMD choices. It seems to be lower price then the Asus board. I'm going to get one of the two boards and can't really figure out what the differences are aside from some networking items. (That and the HyperTransport which I dont get at all) Reply
  • bigpow - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    Very nice write-up.
  • spartacvs - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    To unhaiduc,

    A good place to start is
  • unhaiduc - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    does anyone know of any canadian stores that sell the ViewEra V172D Silver 17" LCD?
    the best canadian deal for a decent 17lcd that i could find is the BenQ FP783.. its got 1280 native res, dvi/analog, and is 12ms ( has it for $373.75CAD after rebate)
  • Glassmaster - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    On page 2 with the AMD recommendations there is a typo: "[RTPE: MSI 915P Neo2 Platinum]" of course this is an intel board.

    Great guide!

  • bupkus - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    Does the XFX 6600GT AGP 128MB have the same heat-sink issues as the PCIe version? Reply
  • arfan - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    I need full review NF4 Ultra n SLI, I want motherboard DFI Ultra, n I hope all manufacture motherboard make board like DFI Ultra ( 2 SLI X16). Why after 3 mounth chipset NF4 release, there are less motherboard come, I don't understand. How long I must wait ? :( Reply

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