CPU and Motherboard Recommendations

CPU: AMD Athlon 64 2800+ 512K L2 1.8GHz retail (heatsink and fan included)
Motherboard: MSI K8N Neo Platinum (nForce3 250Gb)
Price: CPU - $186 shipped. Motherboard - $131 shipped

This week, we have finally switched from recommending Athlon XP processors to Athlon 64 processors. The two biggest reasons for this change are: 1) prices on "low-end" Athlon 64 processors have come down noticeably over the last few months, and 2) motherboards to support Socket 754 Athlon 64 technology that were worth buying (namely VIA K8T800 Pro and nForce3 250Gb chipsets) have finally become available from major motherboard makers in acceptable quantities. AMD's Athlon 64 2800+ running at 1.8GHz and coming with a 512K L2 cache is a very fast mid-range processor that has a distinct advantage over Intel due to its ability to run 64-bit operating systems and 64-bit applications if the need were to ever arise. Microsoft has officially and unofficially supported AMD's move to 64-bit desktop computing for years now, and even Intel themselves said they would make their future Prescott processors compatible with AMD's 64-bit technology (dubbed x86-64). So overall, as a mid-range processor, you simply cannot beat the value of an Athlon 64 2800+.

This choice was more difficult to make. Epox does offer a similarly great motherboard to MSI, and so to us, it was indeed almost a tossup. But MSI's K8N Neo Platinum was ultimately chosen because it offered a few extra BIOS features and a slightly lower price. Anyway, offering the nForce3 250Gb chipset itself is easily the biggest feature that the K8N Neo Platinum motherboard carries. This one-chip solution offers native Firewall capability, 4-drive SATA/IDE RAID, and native GbE (Gigabit Ethernet). MSI adds in features like IEEE 1394 FireWire support, 8-channel sound and superb BIOS features and overclocking ability, making this, simply put, an awesome motherboard. MSI plans on using this type of blueprint for their Socket 939 motherboards too, as well as for the nForce3 250Gb Ultra (which adds official 1GHz HT support), and that can only mean more good news for MSI's Athlon 64 market from top to bottom. For more information on MSI's K8N Neo Platinum and Socket 754 motherboards, take a look at Wesley's MSI K8N Neo Platinum review here and Wesley's Socket 754 roundup here.

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.

Index CPU and Motherboard Alternatives


View All Comments

  • SKiller - Friday, June 18, 2004 - link

    "Bottom Line $1592

    Ouch... a little expensive for a mid-range system, isn't it?"

    How so? Most people I know who have what could be considered a high-end system, have at least $2k worth of components (usually more). $1600 is well within what could be considered mid-range.
  • TrogdorJW - Friday, June 18, 2004 - link

    If you keep everything but the CL2 RAM recomendation, you could further reduce the price to under $1000. On the "upgraded" version, going with the OCZ 3500 and a more moderate Antec SLK3700-BQE case would drop the price under $1500, and the monitor and speaker upgrades could probably also go to get you a very good gaming system for $1265. In case anyone out there wanted a suggestion from me on that point. :) Reply
  • TrogdorJW - Friday, June 18, 2004 - link

    And since you keep neglecting to put this in the guide, I'll keep posting it here. The Alternative system summary:

    P4 3.0C $224
    Asus P4P800-E Deluxe $112
    2x512 Mushkin Level One RAM $306
    128MB Radeon 9800 Pro $204
    NEC 19" Diamondtron $326
    Kingwin K11 plus 360W PSU $116
    Onboard sound $0
    Logitech Z-5300 $147
    Onboard Gigabit Ethernet $0
    Western Digital 1200JB (120GB) $87
    NuTech DVD+RW $70
    Bottom Line $1592

    Ouch... a little expensive for a mid-range system, isn't it? And since the CPU/motherboard could really still go either way, it's worth mentioning that the alternative system with the Athlon 64 2800+ would cost $15 less: $1577.
  • TrogdorJW - Friday, June 18, 2004 - link

    You made some really great improvements in a lot of areas with this version of the guide - congratulations! I like the mention of the WD whine in the hard drive section, as well as the suggestion of upgrading to 1 GB. Still, the memory choices are really quite odd, as the above posts agree.

    $120 for two 256 MB DIMMs on a single-channel RAM setup? WTF? How will the vaunted 64-bit of Athlon 64 CPUs be of any real use when you've filled two of your three DIMM slots and only have half a gig of RAM? (64-bit isn't all that great right now, and I don't think it will be for at least another year.) Once 512 MB DIMM would have been better, or even two 512 MB Mushkin 2.5-4-4-8 DIMMs for only $156.

    As for the recommended 1 GB of Mushkin on the alternative list, that's great RAM - I have it in one of my systems. I also paid $230 for it back in February and wouldn't dream of spending $306 on it now! You could get 1GB of PC4000 RAM for that prices - granted, not low timings, but if you're thinking of overclocking a P4, you would want better RAM than PC3500. I would suggest OCZ's PC4000 as the alternative for P4 systems at that price: http://www.newegg.com/app/ViewProductDesc.asp?desc...

    For the Athlon 64, getting PC4000 RAM is overkill, as good PC3500 will likely perform just as well if not better. In that case, on the high-end, the Mushkin Level One is a nice pick. But that's really too expensive for any mid-range system, so why not stick with PC3500 but get lower timings while knocking off $76? http://www.newegg.com/app/ViewProductDesc.asp?desc...
  • abravo01 - Friday, June 18, 2004 - link

    Well, I was playing my klipsch promedia 5.1 on a sb live 5.1. Just got an audigy2 upon reading your may high-end guide and the difference is incredible: now I am truly in love with my sound!

    Thanks for the information.
  • glennpratt - Friday, June 18, 2004 - link

    Well I would disagree... I prefer the higher end Logitechs over Creative no matter what the material. And the price makes me forget about Klipsch. Reply
  • GokieKS - Friday, June 18, 2004 - link

    "Why do they always recommend Creative speakers for "audiophiles"? Any "audiophile" would know that they are pure crap and would either use an HT setup with their PC or some Klipsch Ultra 5.1s."

    Most of them are, but the SoundWorks MegaWorks/GigaWorks speakers are excellent, and are really a better choice for music (as opposed to gaming/movies) than Logitech and Klipsch's high-end offerings.

  • WarmAndSCSI - Friday, June 18, 2004 - link

    Why do they always recommend Creative speakers for "audiophiles"? Any "audiophile" would know that they are pure crap and would either use an HT setup with their PC or some Klipsch Ultra 5.1s. Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Friday, June 18, 2004 - link

    Overall a very good recommendation and in line with what I'd go along with today for my next system, but with two important differences.

    Memory. A gigabyte is a must for this class of system but theres no way I'd spend over $300 on those 2x512MB PC3500 CAS2 sticks, when you could get some PC3200 CAS2.5 for little over half the price. The amount saved would be more than enough to up the processor from an A64 2800+ to a 3200+, giving you performance out the box equivalent to a decent overclock of the 2800+ with low latency memory. And you'll still have some left over to spend elsewhere.

    Hard Drive. The most GB/$ now lies in the 160GB to 200GB region, and 200GB SATA drives are only $129 from Maxtor and WD which is a reasonable price component to include in this kind of system (especially if you had been considering spending over $300 on memory). The Maxtor drive is the obvious choice as it has no whine thanks to its fluid-bearings, is of similar speed to the WD, and comes with a three year warranty. As to whether you need 200GB, its always nice to have the extra space and sooner or later you'll probably be glad of it. In the meantime the drive will be faster as all the data is towards the outside keeping seek-times short and transfer-rates high. The rest of the money saved on the memory will pretty much cover the additional cost of a 200GB drive over an 80GB one.

    So for the same cost, you could stick an A64 3200+ in and a 200GB drive, just by using 2x512MB PC3200 CAS2.5 modules instead of PC3500 CAS2. It may not have the same overclocking headroom, but this isn't the overclocking system guide anyway. And a larger (or faster if only partially used) hard-drive is always nice.

    Apart from those two very minor quibbles, an excellent article in a series which always makes me consider alternatives for my next box.
  • zyzzix - Friday, June 18, 2004 - link

    Excellent article, Evan. My question is about the strength of the MSI mobo recommendation. While it's no doubt feature packed, the ABIT/VIA Pro offers an interesting alternative for OCers. Curious that some high profile names like Abit and Asus have passed on the 250, to date. Reply

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