Weekly Buyer's Guide: Mid-Range System - May 2004by Evan Lieb on May 20, 2004 12:05 PM EST
- Posted in
CPU and Motherboard RecommendationsCPU: AMD Athlon XP 2800+ 333MHz FSB (512K L2 cache) Barton
Motherboard: ABIT AN7 (nForce2 Ultra 400)
Price: CPU - $120 shipped (retail heatsink and fan). Motherboard - $96 shipped
Not surprisingly, AMD's Athlon XP 2800+ is still our choice for mid-range users this week. Its stellar bang for the buck (and indeed, most Athlon XP processors) is simply unbeatable at the moment. An Athlon XP 2800+ Barton running at 333MHz FSB goes for just $120 shipped online, and that includes an AMD approved HSF (heatsink and fan). You may luck out and receive a 2800+ that comes unlocked (for you overclockers out there), but we wouldn't hold our breath knowing that AMD hasn't shipped factory unlocked 2800+ processors for a few months running.
Over the last couple of months, we started to see Athlon 64 processors find their way into the mid-range user's price range. The lowest priced Athlon 64 is the 2800+ version running at 1.83GHz, currently selling for $173 shipped from many popular online vendors. 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. 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. While still an attractive buy due to the Athlon 64's excellent gaming performance and 64-bit capability, Athlon XP and Pentium 4 processors still seem to be the best mid-range buy at this point. Though, we may eat our words if 64-bit programs and general 64-bit support come sooner rather than later. That remains to be seen.
ABIT has done a great job with their nForce2 Ultra 400 series of motherboards, even if their relationship with NVIDIA can be somewhat tenuous at times. The AN7 comes with great features like SATA RAID, rear SPDIF, and room for 3 IEEE1394 FireWire ports. In addition, you get the benefit of the best performance possible from any Athlon XP chipset available in the NVIDIA nForce2 Ultra 400. Overall, there are very few things that this board lacks. However, one thing it does lack is IDE RAID, which motherboards like the Gigabyte 7N400 Pro2 offers, in addition to everything else offered by the ABIT AN7. However, we should note that the 7N400 Pro2 doesn't come with the MCP-T South Bridge, a feature that offers superior sound quality if you're using speakers with a receiver and optical out. This feature is one of the reasons why we ended up choosing the AN7, as users get the MCP-T South Bridge that, in all likelihood, is going to be much more useful for everyday tasks (gaming especially) than the IDE RAID on the 7N400 Pro2. Both these motherboards cost just about the same amount, so the choice is yours, if you'd rather have better sound or IDE RAID.
You may also want to take note that the ABIT NF7-S Rev.2 that we've talked about here extensively is virtually the same motherboard as the AN7. The primary difference is the Guru overclocking technology onboard the AN7 and a different BIOS to support that technology. Essentially, the AN7 and NF7-S Rev.2 are one and the same motherboard. Purchasing either one is a fine choice for an Athlon XP 2800+ processor.
Listed below is part of our RealTime pricing engine, which lists the lowest prices available on the AMD CPUs and motherboards from many different reputable vendors:
If you cannot find the lowest prices on the products that we've recommended on this page, it's because we don't list some of them in our RealTime pricing engine. Until we do, we suggest that you do an independent search online at the various vendors' web sites. Just pick and choose where you want to buy your products by looking for a vendor located under the "Vendor" heading.