Sometimes you just have to adhere to that old principle, "You need to spend money to save money." Well, I try that line on my wife about six times a year and usually it works at least once - maybe twice depending on how the kids are acting. It actually worked today (selling off a garage full of car parts helped a great deal from a budget viewpoint). I decided to upgrade a couple of computers in the home from the rather thermally challenged Phenom 9950BE to the cooler running and faster Phenom II before summer arrives.

Now, my first choice was the Phenom II X3 720BE as it just has that near perfect blend of performance and value, just like the Q6600 I am using right now to type this short story. I almost pulled the trigger on two of the 720BE processors last night but I am glad I waited. More like I had yet another setback in DDR3 testing as the Core i7 D0 stepping had turned our test results upside down (more on that later) and the last thing on my mind was an upgrade. Anyway, an interesting shoppers alert hit the email account this morning that featured the Phenom II X4 940 and now I am glad I was distracted last night. Not that I had an easy decision to make based on my thoughts about the 720BE, but in the end I decided a slightly higher clock speed and extra core outweighed the slight cost penalty and potential upgrade to DDR3.

If you check out our Bench analysis tool then you'll know AMD's quad-core Phenom II 940 is serious competition in terms of both price and performance to the similarly priced Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200. I already have a couple of really nice AM2+ motherboards from ASRock and ASUS in these systems along with 8GB of memory. That just leaves a CPU and video card as my last two items to upgrade in these systems before they are sealed up and left for the kids to use until the next great game or social networking site requires an upgrade.

Up first is the Phenom II X4 940 that is now priced at $168.99 with free shipping from ZipZoomfly. That's a terrific deal that's obviously influenced by AMD's preparations for their new 955/945 series, due out shortly. This a $35 premium over the 720BE, but considering the number of video/audio applications we utilize along with the constant need to have every messaging, social networking, and browser window open, a fourth core and increased speed is worth it for us.

Second up is the video card. Both machines have a Sapphire HD4850 512GB currently installed in them. Those cards are actually overkill for the typical SOHO system, but the kids like to game and with their new monitors now running at a 1920x1080 native resolution instead of 1440x900, a slight performance upgrade is required. This was a difficult choice, from both a budget perspective and the numerous cards available on the market. Yes, this is a great time to buy a video card geared towards the performance crowd. A HD 4870 1GB seemed like the natural choice considering the current price structure but the more I thought about it, the more a GTX 275 or HD 4890 made sense for the long run as these boxes would be locked up for two years or more.

I am reconsidering my choices now as a GTX 260-216 or HD 4870 1GB would have hit my price point and needs exactly as it turns out. I almost went that direction until I succumbed to that evil galactic force known as marketing. The motto "More Power" overcame the sensible side in me. After using both the HD 4890 1GB and GTX 275 cards in testing for the last week or so, I became more and more enamored with the GTX 275. It pains me to say that as I have not been a big fan of NVIDIA as of late, especially from a professional viewpoint (ah, the stories one could tell). Feelings aside, the GTX 275 is a nice bit of technology with excellent support from not only NVIDIA but developers as well.

I wanted to keep both the cards the same due to support reasons. Unfortunately, I cannot charge my kids $50 an hour for tech support so having the same setup makes sense for several reasons. Not only is upgrading the system's software easier from the home network server, but it also means my youngest daughter does not play the "he always gets better stuff than I do" card. However, in this case, it made sense to split up the choices.

One, I prefer to spread the money around to the various companies as competition is good, but also, my son is heavy into gaming. That means he always wants the latest game and at this point, NVIDIA just has better developer support than AMD. Also, he tends to experiment with the computer when it comes to video editing and encoding so the CUDA support planned or available is a bonus for him. That means a GTX 275 is going into his system.

The other machine has an edutainment usage pattern, although 3D gaming is also important. With that in mind and the fact that my daughter wants to setup a small home entertainment system in her room so she will not have to spend any more time than necessary with us (the joys of raising teenagers), meant an HD 4890 would be more than enough for her needs. The HD 4890 features 7.1 LPCM audio output, which fits perfectly with her new (well used in my test room) A/V receiver, something the NV cards are lacking at this time.


The purchasing decision for both cards really came down to price for the most part. While features, support, warranty, and availability were obviously important, knowing how both cards would be utilized meant I could focus on price. I ended up choosing the Sparkle GTX 275 at $259.99 with free shipping and Call of Duty: World at War, a game my son wants to play on the PC now (so I save $40 with this bundle) after spending very little time with it on the Xbox 360, except in Zombie mode. The PNY card is now offered with the same price and software bundle if branding is important. The ASUS card was also offered at the same price along with the same game software package but shipping was not free.

Figuring out which HD 4890 card to purchase was a bit more difficult as there were 14 choices compared to seven for the GTX 275. I was slightly biased as I already had an ASUS EAH4890 for testing at work and decided to go that route if possible or even pickup the TOP version of the card. Both cards had competitive pricing and excellent software bundles but free shipping was not included. Cards from HIS, MSI, Gigabyte, Sapphire, and PowerColor were all available at $249.99 with a $20 MIR along with Newegg throwing in an OCZ 4GB flash drive and free shipping. Any of the cards would be a good choice but after looking at the accessory kits, it came down to the MSI, Gigabyte, or Sapphire cards for our needs. In the end I picked the MSI OC HD 4890 card based on the slightly higher clock speeds compared to the other cards, not that it makes any real difference but it broke the tiebreaker.

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  • alyf - Monday, April 20, 2009 - link

    "Both machines have a Sapphire HD4850 512GB currently installed in them."

    Wow! Can you use them as RAM disks? ;)
    Reply
  • crimson117 - Monday, April 20, 2009 - link

    How can you bore us with all that computer mumbo jumbo and then make us wait 7 DAYS to hear about your sweet new dishwasher! You evil, evil man! Reply
  • slashbinslashbash - Monday, April 20, 2009 - link

    Fry's B&M has the Polk RM6750 for $200 through Thursday. Assuming your sales tax is less than 10%, it should come out cheaper than the deal linked in this article, although you will have to drive there and get it. Fry's have been running this same deal off and on for quite a long time, actually. Reply
  • poohbear - Monday, April 20, 2009 - link

    u bought ur teenage daughter a 4890 for a HTPC??? jebus can u be MY dad?!?! (and im 31)

    Seriously though, wouldnt it be better to post this on the forum instead of on the front page of Anandtech since u'r promoting a sale by a 3rd party? Are you guys getting commission to advertise or what??
    Reply
  • lopri - Monday, April 20, 2009 - link

    Gary is 72 years old.. his daughter is 43 last I heard.

    And he's got 7 (or maybe 8) kids.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Monday, April 20, 2009 - link

    I'd hope a PhenomII 940, 8GB RAM, and a GTX275/HD4890 would be able to handle social networking sites for significantly more than the next 2 years. Reply
  • ratbert1 - Monday, April 20, 2009 - link

    Although an HD4890 may be a good deal for the price you paid, the nvidia card needs time for supplies to build up. Prices are at or above MSRP. The gtx260-216 reference card could be had for about $100 cheaper than what you paid for the gtx275 reference card(including rebates and games). That has better price/performance ratio for me, especially as the article started out being about "deals".
    I know you said you succumbed to the marketing pressures. I have done the same- purchased items as soon as they hit the market, only to have buyers remorse after seeing prices drop over the next several months. However the present economy has made me a more patient consumer.
    I did see that Phenom II 940 deal on ZZF over the weekend, and it was a great deal. I would have had to get a mb to go with it though, and I am not ready for that yet.
    Reply
  • LuxZg - Monday, April 20, 2009 - link

    Well, last year or two my situation with hardware (actually, with MONEY) had improved quite a bit, though even now I wouldn't be able to afford ALL that, my wife would probably hang me on a nearby tree ;) :D

    But today I finaly DID order that HD4890 (reference clocked) and two WD 640GB Black drives I was hoping for for quite some time..

    I actualy upgraded graphics from HD4870 (512MB) which I sold some 2 months ago.. so call me crazy :) But I did sell that 4870 card before all the price drops started, so I had to add just ~25$ to the money I got from the 4870's sale.

    All in all, nice article.. should be more of article like these, with a REAL world scenario, and someone actually spending the money, so that you can get a feeling "that man really cares about what he just bought"..

    Oh, and I'm glad that he too picked HD4890 for his daughter. While I do gaming more in the line of his son, I'm more into HT setup as his daughter, and don't care a bit about encoding video. So I believe my choice will also satisfy me.

    Just one thing lacking from this story, and which I need.. A shopping spree for monitor with 1920x1080 (or 1200) resolution :) Now that a new card is on the way, I REALLY need a new display to use up al lthat horsepower :D
    Reply
  • DeltaZero - Monday, April 20, 2009 - link

    We have 3 PCs in the family, one is 780G, one G965, and the one I used for gaming has 6800GS.
    Upgrading an HD4850? You're crazy)))))))))
    Reply

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