CPU and Motherboard Recommendations

CPU: 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 - $102 shipped

AMD's Athlon XP 2800+ gets the nod this week for its, you guessed it, incredible bang for the buck. 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). $120 for the performance you get with a 2800+ Barton is an extremely attractive deal, no if's, and's, or but's about it. While AMD is pushing hard for their Athlon 64 processors, the lowest priced Athlon 64 still hovers well over $200 shipped retail online. And while the performance is considerably better with an Athlon 64, for mid-range systems, the extra cost probably isn't worth it. Then again, it all depends on your needs. An Athlon 64 3000+ (512K L2 cache) goes for $222 shipped retail online, and while costing about $100 more than the 2800+, it offers much better gaming performance, among other applications.

March 24th UPDATE: AMD Athlon 64 2800+ processors are currently available for $173 at Newegg.com and $190 at GameVE.com.

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 this board lacks. However, one thing it does lack is IDE RAID, which the Gigabyte 7N400 Pro2 offers, in addition to everything else the ABIT AN7 offers. However, we should note that the 7N400 Pro2 doesn't come with the MCP-T South Bridge, which offers superior sound quality if you're using speakers with a receiver and optical out. This is why we ended up choosing the AN7, as users get the MCP-T South Bridge, which in all likelihood is going to be much more useful for everyday tasks 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 in the same motherboard.

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.

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View All Comments

  • reep - Thursday, March 25, 2004 - link

    i would save ~50$ by going for the 2500+ instead of the 2800+ - the difference in performance is hardly worth it. instead, that money could be brought to much better use by spending it on 2x512mb of ram. Reply
  • NeoGodless - Thursday, March 25, 2004 - link

    I agree with #10... this is really the mid range buyers guide. In addition, the dual channel motherboards I've had experience with simply need at least memory slots filled to enable dual channel, and adding additional memory does not disable it. Reply
  • magratton - Thursday, March 25, 2004 - link

    I think many of you are missing the point here. If you want to do the AXPM 2500 and overclock it then that is the "Overclockers" Guide. This guide is for folks who don't know much (a little more than the average joe per se) and want a good system for their needs. To that end these recommendations are pretty decent to me and will certainly make the average gamer around town looking to save a few bucks plenty happy for a while. Either way, people will be much happier with the cost and effectiveness of this system in the long run than the stuff they can pick up at their local (and online) mass-market dealer.

    As to the TogdorJW's comments on RAM, yes, 512MB is really the MINIMUM nowadays, and some note should be given that if you are using this for gaming spending a few more dollars to get to 1GB RAM should be looked into.
  • Myrandex - Thursday, March 25, 2004 - link

    I would get the <$145 Radein 9800se 256bit 128MB from newegg and softmod it to a full blown 9800, and ditto with previous posts about the 2500+ CPUs instead of the 2800, and on the alternative choice I would put the new Athlon64 2800+ instead of that P4.
  • mlsaxx - Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - link

  • TrogdorJW - Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - link

    Oh, one other thing. I know this is the mid-range, and an extra $100 on RAM is a lot of money. However, it really has to be recommended for anyone that does a lot of gaming, especially on the Athlon XP system. Since you lose dual-channel if you occupy all three memory slots, the 512 MB configurations you recommend are going to be lower performing if they are later upgraded. (I would love for you to do some benchmarks on this, incidentally!) This isn't a real problem for the P4 alternative, since you can upgrade to 4x256 for 1 GB of RAM when it suits you.

    Anyway, for gamers looking at spending the extra money on the Radeon 9700 Pro graphics card, they really need to be aware of how many games are starting to break the 512 MB threshhold. I have 1 GB of RAM and a Ti4200 graphics card, and Battlefield: Vietnam and UT2K4 both run perfectly fine for me at 1024x768 and moderate detail. Others running faster graphics cards (9800 Pro) with 512 MB of RAM are posting a lot of complaints in the BF:V and UT2K4 forums. It might bump the price up another $100, but spending $90 on 2x256 MB of RAM for an Athlon XP and then ditching that to go up to 2x512 in a few months would not be cool.
  • TrogdorJW - Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - link

    Sounds like the new Athlon 64 2800+ will probably become the alternative CPU/mobo next time the mid-range system comes around. Not sure about the longevity of that solution, but then, nothing lasts forever. Highly mature and stable PCI/AGP is probably better than version 1.0 PCIe and DDR2 for the next 18 months.

    For the rest, this is the mid-range system *without* overclocking. In that segment, the 2800+ is a pretty good choice, although the 2600+ is also an option. Can't complain too much about the choices, although I'm certainly itching to see what sort of overclocks can be achieved with the new A64 2800+. :)
  • PrinceGaz - Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - link

    You could pay more for an XP3000+, or spend just $80 on an XP2500+ and overclock it a bit but thats not what I'd get.

    I'd spend $95 on an XP-M 2500+ (still saving over twenty dollars compared to the recommended XP2800+), set the voltage to the normal 1.65V of an XP2500+ (non-mobile), set the FSB to 200MHz and the multiplier to 11, and bingo -- you've got an XP3200+ :)
  • gofor55 - Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - link

    Unless you have RAID 0 test results on the ITE based GigaRAID onboard controller, you need to STOP touting this feature. I own a 7N400 Pro 2 and the GigaRAID performance is terrible. It's even a crummy when used as an IDE interface. I had to disable it and add a RocketRAID controller. Reply
  • wassup4u2 - Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - link

    Why the AXP 2800+ instead of the 2500+? The 2500 is tons cheaper ($81 retail, shipped on newegg), and is only 250MHz slower. It still offers the 333MHz FSB and 512Kb L2 cache. Plus, it's very easily overclockable to the 2.08GHz that the 2800+ offers, even with the retail cooler. Get a better cooler and, presto, you can have yourself a nice little $81 Athlon XP 3200+. Reply

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