Cutting Edge System


Recommendation: AMD Athlon 64 3400+ 1MB L2 cache (2.2GHz) Hammer core
Price: $414 shipped (retail with heatsink and fan)

For the third week in a row, we recommend yet another AMD Athlon processor. This time, it's AMD's Hammer series of processor, dubbed the Athlon 64. This choice was probably one of the most difficult of all the choices here today, as both AMD and Intel offer blazingly fast processors for almost exactly the same price at this particular speed grade. However, what finally pushed us over the top was the Athlon 64 3400+'s 64-bit capability. Since all current Pentium 4 processors can only run 32-bit code, AMD's Athlon 64 is unique because it can run 32-bit code just as well the competition in addition to 64-bit code. This will be advantageous to users because later this year, 64-bit compatible applications (for example, video games such as Unreal Tournament) will be released to the public as well as Microsoft's Windows XP 64-bit Edition, which contains support for AMD's Athlon 64 processor. As you may have read right here on AnandTech, we conducted several tests with the preview version of Windows XP 64-bit Edition and were impressed by some of the performance gains that 64-bit computing is able to bring to the desktop. The poor results that we received in other areas with the beta version of Windows XP 64-bit Edition were almost solely due to the fact that we did not have complete drivers. However, by the end of the year, or possibly sooner, this will not be the case because complete drivers and 64-bit applications will be available, and we're likely to see even more performance gains from having a 64-bit processor.

Runner-up: Intel Pentium 4 3.4C (512K L2 cache) Northwood
Price: $421 shipped (retail with heatsink and fan)

The highest-end version of Intel's Northwood core (the 3.4C) chosen here today came in a close second behind AMD's Athlon 64 3400+. Both offer virtually the same performance in today's applications depending on exactly which applications you use. If you're strictly a desktop user and do a lot of encoding, then you will want to stick to the 3.4C over the 3400+ for now. If you're a gamer, then you should stick to the 3400+ instead of the 3.4C. We suggest that you research for yourself and see which processor fits you best by first reading AnandTech's latest CPU article on this matter. One other advantage of going with a Pentium 4 is Hyper Threading. Hyper Threading can increase performance quite drastically in multi-tasking situations, but is less and less noticeable as clock speed increases. In today's applications, HT offers very little benefit, though future iterations of HT that we haven't tested yet are supposed to be promising.

One thing we'd like to make clear before you move on is the labeling system Intel uses with their high-end processors. An Intel Pentium 4 labeled with a "C" after its core clock speed (3.4C in this case) is based on the Northwood core, has 512K of L2 cache, and is built on (mostly) 0.13-micron technology. A Pentium 4 labeled with an "E" after its core clock speed (3.4E for example) is based on the Prescott core, has 1MB of L2 cache, and is built on (mostly) 0.09-micron technology. Finally, a Pentium 4 labeled with an "EE" after its core clock speed (3.4EE for example) is based on the Northwood core, has 512K of L2 cache plus 2MB of L3 cache, and is built on (mostly) 0.13-micron technology. The C, E, and EE Pentium 4 processors all run at 800MHz FSB and are dual channel DDR capable. We explained in great detail why you want to stay away from Prescott E processors here. If you can spare the money, the Pentium 4 EE (Extreme Edition) processors are considered to be the absolute fastest available desktop processors, slightly inching out rival AMD's Athlon 64 FX51. However, prices for these processors are extremely prohibitive, especially the Pentium 4 EE processors, and why we can't recommend either the Pentium 4 EE or Athlon 64 FX processors here today.

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  • kherman - Wednesday, March 3, 2004 - link


    Grado SR-60s for $60. Supposed to be one of the best for the price without an amp.

    Just for those that are curious. As a note, they are better than $100 headphones by big names like Sony, Pioneer, etc...
  • VagrantZero - Wednesday, March 3, 2004 - link

    The 76GB Raptor is defintely a better buy than it's little brother. For less than twice the price [its $231 on newegg] it offers twice the capacity plus a sizeable performance increase [2 36Raps in Raid O can't keep up with a single 76Rap]. Here's a short clip from storagerreview's preview of it:

    Enter the second-generation Raptor! Announced September 15th, WD's revised offering promised to address nearly all of the complaints leveled against the firm's first entry. Maintaining the line's unique 10,000 RPM spindle speed, the Raptor WD740GD features the following improvements:

    * 74-gigabyte capacity - perhaps the most significant improvement is the migration to a two-platter flagship design. WD also plans to introduce a revised single-platter, 37 GB unit, though perhaps not until most WD360GD units sell through the market.

    * 37 GB Platters - the aggregate areal density of the new Raptor will remain the same as the first. Linear density, however, has been increased, to achieve:

    o 72 MB/sec outer-zone transfer rates - though STR remains non-consequential in the large majority of uses, some folks were disappointed with the 55 MB/sec that the first Raptor delivered. WD is confident enough with new yields to spec a transfer rate that rivals the best available from today's disks.

    o 4.5 millisecond seek time - the Raptor WD360GD specs at 5.2 milliseconds.

    * Firmware-level TCQ - matching a feature available on all contemporary SCSI drives, the new Raptor will feature tagged command queuing? that is, device-level reordering of outstanding requests for more efficient service times.

    * FDB motors - though quiet from an emitted sound-pressure perspective, the original Raptor emitted a slight high-pitch idle whine that could irritate sensitive ears. WD has been on the slow side when it comes to migrating to fluid bearing motors when compared to other manufacturers. Fortunately, the new Raptor uses quieter and ostensibly more reliable FDB motors.

    NOTE that the 76GBs raptor has come down considerabley since the article was written. As stated before, the OEM goes for $231 on newegg:
  • Dismal - Wednesday, March 3, 2004 - link

    Cool. Now if the games I wanted to play would just come out I could actually build a system like this. I've never actually put one together myself, so I was very pleased to see these articles posted here. Great job AnandTech! Now if I can just get through configuring all the cpu, memory, and other bios settings that I don't know much about I'll be all set ;-P
  • SDA - Wednesday, March 3, 2004 - link

    Yeah, like everyone else said, more storage needed, and it's great of you to keep this a system people might actually buy.

    As for speakers, in my opinion, Klipsch Promedias are a liiiittle bit overrated. It would have been nice to see headphone recommendations there as well (in that price range, if you actually used 'em a lot, that'd be, what.. HD580s with an amp? Or is that too high-end), but hey.
  • mostlyprudent - Wednesday, March 3, 2004 - link

    A few things?

    1. Why Mushkin Level One instead of Level II? I've read your memory articles crowning their PC3500 Level II the faster DDR400 memory you've ever tested.

    2. I have also read that the new 73GB Raptors are faster, on TomsHardware I believe.

    3. I also agree that you need a second storage drive - perhaps a PATA 250GB Maxtor Diamond max Plus 9.

    4. Lastly, I really appreciate that you were at least conscious of price. I've read other articles calling for system in the $7,000 range. Thanks for keeping this grounded in reality!
  • lisnter - Wednesday, March 3, 2004 - link

    Exactly (almost) the hardware setup I've been considering!

    I would use two Raptor 74GB drives and a single large (~200GB) data drive and as I don't have time to play games (due to two wonderful little kids) I'd opt for a still plenty fast GeForce 5700 video card (XFX? Gainward?). My main requirement is to support dual LCDs. Any other suggestions?

    Thanks for an informative article and truly excellent site.


  • Evan Lieb - Wednesday, March 3, 2004 - link


    I know you love SCSI! :p
  • Evan Lieb - Wednesday, March 3, 2004 - link


    Why WOULD we recommend a Promedia system? What makes them better than the ones we recommended?

    Thanks for pointing out the spelling error.


    I'm not aware of the 74GB Raptor being any faster than the 36.7GB version.
  • mechBgon - Wednesday, March 3, 2004 - link

    Cutting-edge... with an ATA drive? Where's the 15000rpm Fujitsu MAS-series Ultra320 SCSI drives?

    Sorry, couldn't help myself ;) As you were...
  • BCinSC - Wednesday, March 3, 2004 - link

    Only 36GB Raptor? 73GB is allegedly much faster and double the space to boot.

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