High End Buyer's Guide - September 2004by Wesley Fink on August 30, 2004 12:22 AM EST
- Posted in
CPU and Motherboard RecommendationsCPU: AMD Athlon 64 FX53 1MB L2 cache (2.4GHz) - SOCKET 939
Motherboard: MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum - SOCKET 939
Price: CPU - $829 shipped (retail heatsink and fan). Motherboard - $145 shipped
For those looking for the best performance possible, it would be tough to recommend anything other than the Athlon 64 FX53. The Athlon 64 is currently the fastest processor that you can buy, the Dual-Channel Socket 939 is the top-performing A64 Socket, and the FX is the fastest 939 processor. The FX also has the distinction of being the only processor that is completely unlocked. That means that you can adjust multipliers both up and down, to obtain the highest possible speed at the fastest DDR400 memory timings, or to obtain the highest FSB that your high speed memory can run or your CPU can reach
With Intel's recent introduction of Socket 775 came a new 560 Pentium 4, which runs at 3.6GHz. While the 560 is closer in performance than the previous 3.4GHz P4 or the 3.4EE, the FX53 is still the top-performing CPU. In addition, all current Pentium 4 processors can only run 32-bit code, so AMD's Athlon 64 is unique because it can run 32-bit code as well or better than the top competition in addition to 64-bit code for the future. All-in-all, the FX53 represents a good choice if you are building a high-end system, whether in the newest Socket 939 or the older Socket 940.
We chose Socket 939 for the future, since this appears to be AMD's primary socket moving forward. Socket 939 also has the added feature of being able to use any of a very wide selection of commonly available unbuffered DDR memory instead of the harder to find and more expensive registered DDR required by Socket 940 motherboards. You will get almost identical performance at almost the same cost with the Asus SK8V motherboard, the socket 940 FX53, and OCZ DDR433 Registered DDR memory. These selections are proven performers and are only very slightly slower than the Socket 939 in any benchmark.
While they are just beginning to appear in the retail channel (finally!), the MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum stood out in our recent Socket 939 roundup as a top performer and earned the AnandTech Gold Editor's Choice. Perhaps even more important for performance, the K8N Neo2 was the only board in the 939 roundup to match and actually edge ahead of the standout memory performance of the legendary Asus P4C800-E in our overclock tests. The K8N Neo2 actually reached a Clock Frequency of 290 (DDR580) with fast DDR550 memory that we used in our overclock tests. Wherever you can take the FX53, the K8N Neo2 will go - to the limits of your CPU or memory.
When the day is done, the K8N Neo2 will continue to impress with a full implementation of the features of the nForce3-250Gb/Ultra including fast on-chip LAN, any-drive RAID that allows IDE and SATA hard drives to be combined in RAID arrays, and an on-chip Firewall. The feature set compares well to any premium Socket 939 on the market and will not disappoint. You can count on a working AGP/PCI lock with adjustments from 66 to 100, CPU multipliers from 4X to 20X, HyperTransport adjustments from 1GHz to 200MHz (5x-1x), and CPU frequencies from 200 - 300. You also get a full range of voltage adjustments - vCore to 1.85V, memory voltage to 2.85V, and vAGP to 1.85V. This is even a board for the beginning overclocker, since there are automatic overclocking selections in Core Cell that set everything for you. You just choose the % overclock from 1% to 11% and the board does the rest.
The MSI provides everything that you would expect in a high-end motherboard for the Athlon 64. Memory up to 4GB is supported in Dual-Channel mode. Support is also included for up to 8 USB devices and 3 Firewire devices. There is also a second Gigabit LAN port for added flexibility. On-Board audio is provided by the latest Realtek 7.1 ALC850 with SPDIF I/O.
We have never tested a perfect board, and as much as we like the K8N Neo2, there are still areas for improvement. MSI has answered one suggestion by providing an improved CPU frequency range to 350 in the latest 1.1 BIOS. Another improvement MSI could make is to provide finer adjustments for CPU ratios, providing 0.5X ratios like some of the competing boards. Last, there is no real voltage adjustment for HT or chipset voltage, and that would add to the flexibility. However, in the end, it's hard to complain about a board that does so much so well. The MSI is a great board to house the FX53 for the High-End system.
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.