Baseline AMD High-End Platform

Base High-End AMD Athlon X2 AM2 System
Hardware Component Price
Processor AMD Athlon 64 X2 (AM2) 4600+ - 2.4GHz 2x512KB Windsor $245
Motherboard MSI K9N SLI Platinum - nForce 570 SLI AM2 $135
Memory GeIL Ultra 2GB (2 x 1GB) DDR2-800 4-4-4-12 $280
Video Card 2 x EVGA 512-P2-N573-AR Geforce 7900GTO 512MB $504
Hard Drive Seagate 3.0Gbps 320GB 7200RPM 16MB Barracuda 7200.10 $95
Optical Drive NEC ND-3550A 16X DVD+/-RW $34
Operating System Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2B (OEM) $115
System Total $1408
Complete Package $1995 - $3971

Starting with the AMD basic high-end offering, it should come as little surprise that you still get a powerhouse of a computer for the cost. A fast processor, dual graphics cards, 2 GB of RAM, and a good amount of hard drive space will keep all but the most demanding users satisfied. We won't be putting together an equivalent Intel system, as we already mentioned, but it could certainly be done. Let's take a closer look at a few of our component choices, and discuss some of the alternatives you might want to consider.

The choice of motherboard determines in a large part what sort of system you are going to build. A high-end gaming system will come with dual X16 PCI-E slots, often with full X16 bandwidth to each slot. The truth of the matter is that PCI Express graphics cards are rarely starved for bandwidth, so dropping down to X8 bandwidth won't have a dramatic impact on performance. We saved about $40 by going with the MSI K9N-SLI Platinum motherboard, which uses the nForce 570 SLI chipset as opposed to the nForce 590 SLI chipset. The motherboard won't overclock quite as far as some other offerings, and during our testing for the review we found that it seemed to hit a brick wall very quickly once you passed a certain point. If you can live with the approximately 315 MHz top bus speed "limitation", however, the board still performs admirably.

Moving on to the processor, we have chosen what is best classified as a moderately fast AMD offering, the Athlon X2 4600+. When the AM2 processors first launched, the 4600+ carried a price tag of nearly $600. We didn't really recommend the processor then, but with the updated price of roughly $250 it becomes a lot more attractive. We considered recommending an upgrade to the 5000+, with a price of roughly $365, but at present many places that stock the CPU at that price are backordered. Besides, as we've already stated, Intel definitely has the performance advantage anyway, so if you're looking at getting a reasonably high-end AMD system you might as well save a bit of money. Overclocking is always an option, and we have found that most dual core AMD AM2 processors top out somewhere between 2.6 and 2.8 GHz without resorting to extreme cooling, in which case you would again be better off saving the money and getting a slightly slower stock clock speed.

The choice of memory sparked some serious debate here at AnandTech, as well as a vigorous search of many vendors along with our own pricing engine in an attempt to find the best performing memory at the lowest cost possible. We mentioned this in our last midrange guide, and we will reiterate the point here: DDR2 memory prices have skyrocketed over the past couple of months. You could find 2 GB of reasonably performing DDR2 memory for only $150 two months ago, but now the cheapest price you will find for such memory is $200, with the better performing options costing over $250. Given that our baseline AMD configuration is more of a "budget high-end" system, we tried to keep the costs down as much as possible. We still wanted to get some DDR2-800 memory with CL4 timings, however, as memory with those specifications generally marks the beginning of the high-end RAM. Our own memory reviewer relayed the following information, which is worth repeating: "Corsair, Crucial, Kingston, G.Skill, GeIL, Mushkin, OCZ, Patriot, Super Talent, and TEAM (and several others as well) have all been very competitive at the same speed grade in DDR2." Basically, if you buy memory with the same specifications, the difference from one manufacturer to another is not going to be huge. With this in mind, we looked for DDR2-800 memory with good timings and tried to find the lowest current price. As you can see, we ended up with a GeIL Ultra 2x1GB kit. If prices change in the near future and one of the other manufacturers offers DDR2-800 CL4 RAM at a better price, they would get our pick for "budget high-end" memory.

Having selected an SLI motherboard, we of course chose to go with two NVIDIA graphics cards. There are many options currently available, but generally speaking we feel you should get the fastest single card you can purchase up until the GX2 before moving to dual graphics cards. In other words, we would take a single fast 7900 series card over two 7600 GT cards. Once you reach the cost of the GX2 (about $500), many new options open up. Two 7900 GT cards would have been a good choice a month or two back, but these cards have now been displaced with the launch of the 7950 GT and the 7900 GTO. The 7900 GTO is basically a 7900 GTX design, including the large, quiet heatsink/fan, only with lower memory and core clock speeds. Many people have had good results in overclocking the GTO to GTX clock speeds, but even at the stock speeds it will be a very fast card. The only drawback is that the cards are dual slot designs, and the GTO cards don't currently include HDCP support. Relative to the 7900 GT, you will definitely get better performance, as you get twice as much memory with a faster core clock speed.

A near tie in terms of getting our recommendation is the 7950 GT cards. These have a slower clock speed than the GTO but include faster memory, they take up a single slot, and you can get HDCP support. They also cost a bit more than the GTO and they make more noise. We decided to save money and sacrifice expansion slots, and with many games starting to stress GPU core performance rather than memory bandwidth we feel the GTO will be faster. It ends up being a decision between features and price, however, so you should choose whichever appeals to you more.

Rounding out our component selections, we chose to go with a single 320GB hard drive and the obligatory 16X DVD burner. In both cases, we had an eye towards performance as well as price. For 320GB hard drives with 16MB of cache, the Seagate 7200.10 is currently the lowest price and offers compelling performance. You could always go with a smaller or larger hard drive, although the difference in price between 250GB and 320GB isn't very large. With Blu-Ray and HD-DVD on the horizon, DVD burners are all becoming very similar in specifications and performance. Media compatibility will still vary, but if you get the drive manufacturer's recommended brand you shouldn't have any problems, at which point you can simply choose whichever is cheapest. Once again, that honor falls to the NEC ND-3550A, with LG Electronics, BenQ, LiteOn, Pioneer, and others following close behind. The only thing to remember is to get an optical drive with a faceplate that will match your choice of case.

We will wrap up with a brief note on the operating system selection. All of the systems we are putting together today should be fully compatible with Windows Vista once it becomes available, not to mention Windows XP, Linux, and many other operating systems. You should also be able to run either 32-bit or 64-bit versions of any of these operating systems, although the overall performance and compatibility of Windows x64 OSes at present is lower than their 32-bit offerings. You then need to decide which specific package to get within the OS family, and for Windows XP that means choosing between Home, Professional, and Media Center Edition. For anyone that runs more than a single computer on a network, we definitely don't recommend XP Home. Media Center Edition and XP Professional use the same code base, with a few minor differences. We feel MCE is the most versatile choice overall, and the fact that it is $20 cheaper helps to seal the deal. If you plan on running 4GB of memory or more, you will probably want to upgrade to a 64-bit OS, but we will continue to recommend 32-bit Windows and 2GB of RAM for the time being.

Index Upgraded AMD High-End Platform
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  • limiter - Thursday, October 19, 2006 - link

    I purchased one of the MSI 975x Platinum Powerup boards and the Giel ram suggested in this article and I am having issues with boot up and reboots. I have the ram at DDR2-800, 2.4v (which is what my set says to set the voltage at). I tried setting memory timings to automatic and manually at 4-4-4-12 (again what the memory claims it's timings are). Sometimes the system hangs before post on reboot, sometimes from cold start it starts then resets over and over, sometimes it says "Overclocking failed" with no changes to the CPU settings (just memory). Sometimes it boots up just fine... when it does it works great. I have 7.1 of the bios (official release right now), and I have read that a lot of other people are having the same issues. Also you need a PS2 keyboard to make any bios changes which is annoying. Any suggestions from the Anandtech people? Reply
  • thart - Friday, October 13, 2006 - link

    From: Terry Hart [mailto:tmhartsr@comcast.net]
    Sent: Thursday, October 12, 2006 11:41 PM
    To: Baliff, Michael; Werder, Nick; Shade, Tom; Santos, Jim; Rice, Robbie; Pope, Jeff; Hart, Scott; Rose, Sam; Johnson, Ken
    Subject: Stuff

    Ken, etc.

    Following links are to recent Anand Tech Recommendations for Mid Range and High End builds. I strongly disagree with their choices, especially for Mid Range.

    1. The DDR-2 Memory has gone up in price and now costs considerably more than standard DDR. DDR-2 adds absolutely zero in performance to any AMD system. Therefore the best value by a considerable margin remains Socket 939 and standard DDR.

    2. This Mad Rush to Dual Core is insane. There is practically zero difference in everyday performance. Almost no applications yet exist to really take advantage of it. A 1.8 GHz Athlon-64 3000 Single Core costs $55 for the retail box. The least expensive 2.0 GHz Athlon-64 3800 Dual Core costs $164.00 for the retail box. The actual difference in performance of these two is very small and certainly not worth 3 times as much!

    3. The nVidia 6150 chipset based Micro Boards are the best I have ever seen. They include Gig Net, Firewire, SATA II 3.0, Raid, S Video Out, Dual Monitor support, splendid 7.1 Audio, and the best on-board Video anyone has ever seen. How one can possibly justify twice as much for the full size MOBO - plus another $100, or more, for a decent Video Card, is hard for me to understand.

    4. These Rosewill Towers and Power Supplies cost a fraction of what Anand recommends. The Rosewill PS'es are just fine and the towers are the easiest to work in and have more bays than any of the ones they recommend, or that I have ever used before.

    5. The NEC DVD Writers are great if you run only Doze. But they DO NOT work on any Linux system. Recently purchased a Retail Box NEC and received no cable(s) whatsoever, no DVD Software Decoder - just NERO 7 OEM. The Retail Box Lite-On DVD Writers with Lite-Scribe are better choices, I think.

    6. Few folks need the Media Center OS. Only advantage I see is if you do install and use a Radio/TV Tuner/Capture card - which almost no one does. Not a thing wrong with plain old $89 Doze XP Home OEM for 99% of users. Nothing in the PRO Version that I need here either?

    http://www.anandtech.com/guides/showdoc.aspx?i=283...">http://www.anandtech.com/guides/showdoc.aspx?i=283...

    http://www.anandtech.com/guides/showdoc.aspx?i=285...">http://www.anandtech.com/guides/showdoc.aspx?i=285...

    Sure wish someone would explain to me why I should spend well over 3 times as much for a Dual Core Socket AM2 than the more than adequate Socket 939 Single Core choices?

    Terry
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 13, 2006 - link

    1 -- High-end DDR2-800 like the GEIL Ultra costs $280 for 2GB. High-end DDR-500 costs $250 minimum and comes with generally lower performance. AM2 is 5% faster on average compared to a similar 939 setup. DDR is a dead end, with the last batches being manufactured between now and January 2007. Does that mean you need to go out and upgrade from a DDR system to DDR2 system? Certainly not, but I definitely wouldn't save $30 to stick with an outdated platform if you're buying a new computer, which is the point of the buyer's guides.

    2 -- Obviously you have never run any serious multitasking applications. 3D rendering, video encoding, audio encoding, professional image editing, compression/decompression are all more than capable of utilizing more than a single processor core. If you never do anything more than surf the web, write e-mail, and use Microsoft office then you don't need dual cores right now.

    3 -- Obviously you have never used a really good motherboard if you think the 6150 chipset is the best motherboard ever. Or more specifically, you are assuming that your needs are the same as everyone else's needs/wants. I don't even want to think about trying to run games on a 6150 chipset. Of course, we've already run benchmarks http://www.anandtech.com/showdoc.aspx?i=2553&p...">comparing ATI and NVIDIA integrated graphics. Think those numbers look impressive? A dual GPU configuration like those used in this article packs about 20 times more graphical performance, which can be very useful for high-quality gaming. I don't even want to think about running Oblivion on any integrated graphics chipset.

    4 -- Rosewill is about is generic of a brand as you can get. While that might be okay for the cases, I would never recommend a $50 power supply for use in a system that costs well over $2000. I'm pretty sure you're convinced that every buyer's guide should be a budget buyers guide, but some people actually like to have the fastest computers available, and some of us actually make use of them.

    5 -- Every motherboard I have ever purchased comes with IDE cables that can be used with your optical drive. Perhaps if you purchased the cheapest motherboards on the market, along with IDE hard drives, you might only get a single cable and find yourself in a difficult situation where you have to go out and spend an extra $4 on another cable? As far as whether or not they work with Linux, I can't say I've tested it, but I'm confused as to why they wouldn't work. Finally, you can get DVD software decoders for free if you need them.

    6 -- Have you ever tried to share your various folders on the network using XP Home? Yes, you can share certain folders, but you can't simply share the whole hard drive, and you will never be able to access certain folders over the network. As I stated in the article, if you only run one computer in your house, he certainly won't notice the difference between XP Home and XP Professional. As for Media Center Edition, it has virtually all of the features of XP Pro plus a bunch of extras of its own, and it costs $30 less than XP Pro.

    Why should you spend more money for dual core socket AM2 system? Well, if you had read this guide carefully, you would notice that I actually don't recommend buying the AM2 systems at all. For people that actually want maximum performance, Core 2 Duo has anything available from AMD beat hands down. Anyway, you obviously shouldn't go out and buy a high-end computer, because clearly you aren't doing anything that needs it.

    I have actually been using a socket 754 system as my primary computer for the last two years, and only the last couple of months did I finally decide to migrate all of my work onto a faster system. Do I notice the difference in performance? You darn well better believe it! Not just in games either. I can do work in Photoshop much faster than before, especially when working with multiple images. But there are plenty of times when the system sits idle just waiting for me to give it something to do, and clearly at such times my new faster system is no better than my old system.

    You might want to read the conclusion one more time, as it contains statements targeted directly at people like yourself: "The best time to upgrade is when you are no longer happy with your computer... or perhaps just after winning the lottery. Many of us still have computers that are over two years old that we use on a regular basis, and while they may not be the fastest systems on the planet, for a lot of tasks they are perfectly adequate."

    I'm glad you're happy with your single core socket 939 system. Just because it's adequate doesn't mean that I should recommend it for anyone going out on purchasing a new computer today. Should someone with an old Celeron system upgrade to socket 939 right now? That would be a pretty pointless upgrade, considering that it doesn't cost much more money to change to something else that would be faster and more future proof. It would be like talking to someone who has an old 1970s car that they're finally going to get rid of, and recommending that they upgrade to a used car manufactured in 1995, because after all that's 25 years newer than their old piece of junk.... In fact, not only should they upgrade to a 1995 model, but they should pay $10,000, because that's a much better than paying $14,000 for a decent 2006 model car.

    Regards,
    Jarred Walton
    Editor
    AnandTech.com
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Saturday, October 14, 2006 - link

    There are also a few other things that you cant do in XP home, such as run as a server, or run IIS, ect.

    Also, I'm not sure whether dual core CPU will be taken advantage of in XP home, although early versions of XP home wouldnt reconize Hyper Threading CPUs (they would only show in the device manager as a single CPU, where in XP pro, they would show as dual CPUs), they have since 'fixed' this, but I havent played in XP home for a very long time, so I can not be sure. Reguardless, 'real' dual CPUs wont be taken advantage of in XP home.

    As Jarred pointed out, more than 'simple file sharing' is not supported in XP home, which may be fine for the casual user, but I think we all can agree the majority of the people reading these comments are not the average user. File permissions also are not as flexable as in XP pro (if availible at all), which in certain situations, can be a big deal.

    There are probably a few things I've missed, but whatever, you get the point.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, October 13, 2006 - link

    Hey Jarred, I'd like to add, that I'm currently using a Asrock AM2NF4-SATA2 board, and as a test, I installed XP, etc, and PLAYED Oblivion on the onboard 6100 graphics . . .

    Needless to say, I ordered a 7600GT from newegg . . . as even @ 800x600 low settings, the system wouldnt play the game faster than 12 FPS, and gameplay was terrible. Hell, my old 3200+ XP system with a 6600GT spanked the crap out of it. Now, Im getting ATLEAST a steady 30 FPS, and the game plays much, much smoother.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, October 13, 2006 - link

    No one said you HAD to spend ANYTHING. This article wasnt written for YOU specificly. I basicly took it as a 'guidelines' article myself.

    1. My AMD 3800+ AM2 system gets 3 times as much menmory bandwidth comparred to my AMD 3200+ XP system

    2. Rush, or not, no one SAID yo uhad to.

    3. The nVidia micro 6150 boards are fine IF you dont care about the latest features used in current chipsets, and are ALL budget boards that dont always run 100% stable, even when set 100% stock (I know because I've built a few, and am replying from one right now)

    4. Rosewill PSUs . . . hah. thats about all thier good for, is a laugh.

    5. I think its fiarly safe to say that 95% of people who use cutting edge systems, dont use Linux, period, atleast, not for desktop system.

    6. Here, we're talking ENTHUSIAST, do you think an enthusiast is going to be using XP home ? I know I wouldnt.

    Single core wont multitask any hwere near as well as a dual core system, but hey, feel free to live in the dark ages, if you so feel the need, hell I have a friend who thinks its evil to install SP2 on XP, and refuses to upgrade past his P3 pentium, but, whatever floats your boat, no need to TRY and make someone feel bad about thier article because YOU dont agree with it. See ya *wave*
    Reply
  • AaronAxvig - Tuesday, October 10, 2006 - link

    If I really wanted a high end, no holds barred machine, I could spend way more than you did ($10,000+). For sure I'd go with 15k SCSI drives, RAIDed however to eke the most performance out. And then, I probably WOULD go off the deep end and get the dual-socket motherboard, because guess what: games are going to start using 4 cores (Alan Wake gets thrown around a lot here). Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, October 10, 2006 - link

    The thing is, the Alan Wake demo ran on an overclocked QX6700 and then they even stated that it would run just as fast at stock speeds. Translation: it didn't need faster quad cores. The next big question then becomes: how much does it really need quad cores over dual cores? I will wager it ends up being heavily GPU limited on dual-core systems, and quad core will only make a difference with 2 x G80/R600 or at lower resolutions. No one buying a $4000+ system is going to run at anything less than 1600x1200/1680x1050 if they can avoid it.

    Obviously, you can go higher than the $5600 system. We don't generally recommend even $5000 systems for the majority of people, and the number of people that should get a $10K PC is very small. I'd never put 2x15000 RPM drives in a home computer... high pitched whine, need for extra fans to keep the case cool, etc. means it's solely for bragging rights and not much else. Funny thing is, in most consumer oriented benchmarks a RAID 0 SATA setup is going to pretty much match RAID 0 SCSI. Most tasks simply aren't HDD I/O bound... and if they are, add more RAM!
    Reply
  • Justin Case - Tuesday, October 10, 2006 - link

    Why are clock speeds given for the AMD CPUs, but only model numbers for the Intel CPUs...?

    I don't remember Anandtech having any problem publishing AMD's clock speeds back when they were lower than Intel's (even though the CPUs were actually faster). So now that the situation is reversed (Intel has better IPC, but their CPUs' frequency is about the same), why the sudden omission of Intel's clock speeds (and just a reference to "you might get 3 GHz with overclocking")?

    Could it be because Chipzilla's marketing department sent its minions^H^H^H I mean "favourite journalists" a memo telling them to join in on the model number campaign or kiss their free preview samples goodbye? Nah, that couldn't possibly be it....

    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, October 10, 2006 - link

    Absolutely not! It's merely a matter of me forgetting to put the clock speeds in on the Intel chips. Trust me, when you're trying to hammer out the last bits and pieces of of the 7000 word article, put together the tables, and get everything posted before 8 a.m. Eastern time thing slip through the cracks. :-) I will go in update the tables now.... Reply

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