CPU and Motherboard Alternatives

CPU: AMD Athlon XP 2500+ Retail (heatsink and fan)
Motherboard: ABIT NF7-S Rev.2 (nForce2 Ultra 400)
Price: CPU - $86 shipped. Motherboard - $91 shipped

For an additional $29, you can purchase an Athlon XP 2500+, which runs at 1.83GHz on a 333MHz DDR FSB and comes with a 512K L2 cache, over the Athlon XP 2000+ that runs at 1.67GHz on a 266MHz DDR FSB and comes with just 256K L2 cache. So, in contrast to the Athlon XP 2000+, the 2500+ runs roughly 167MHz faster, comes with double the L2 cache, and has a FSB that is 67MHz faster. All this adds up to better performance that, depending on what applications are run, you may or may not notice. You will be receiving a better performing processor with the 2500+, but don't be surprised if the extra $29 doesn't net you a compellingly different experience compared to the 2000+. Gamers will probably benefit the most from the additions of clock speed, FSB and L2 cache increases with the 2500+, so keep that in mind.

There are other subtle differences between the Athlon XP 2000+ and the 2500+ that are worth noting here, like the 2500+'s higher Vcore (1.65V instead of 1.60V) and larger die size. The Athlon XP 2500+ is also quite an excellent overclocking CPU, and has been for months now, even though they are shipping multiplier locked these days. You may want to check out AMD's mobile version of the 2500+, details of which you can find here.

Also keep in mind that while Athlon 64 processors and motherboards have been widely available for many, many months now, they are still not priced cheaply enough to merit any type of recommendation in an entry level guide. They deserve plenty of recognition in a mid-range guide, however. Perhaps when enough Socket 939 processors permeate the market, the prices on Socket 754 Athlon 64 processors will fall around (and maybe below) the $100 mark, at which point, it would become appropriate to recommend them in an entry level guide. Also keep in mind that Sempron Socket A and Socket 754 processors are coming out in the near future; in fact, they're slowly trickling in now. We suggest that you read our take on Sempron here.

In a lot of ways, the ABIT NF7-S Rev.2 (also known as the ABIT AN7) is a beefier version of the ASUS A7N8X-X. This is primarily due to the NF7-S Rev.2's better feature set, which includes SPDIF, an MCP-T South Bridge for superior sound, and a dual channel DDR capable chipset in the nForce2 Ultra 400 (versus just the nForce2 400, non-Ultra, found on the A7N8X-X). Pushing SATA into the low end mainstream is very important for the development of that technology, too. Also, if you're at all interested in overclocking, the NF7-S Rev.2 is certainly the cream of the crop, along with perhaps the DFI NFII LAN Party series.

If you are still interested in what other motherboard alternatives are out there for entry level users, we suggest that you take a look at nForce2 Ultra 400 boards, which are shipping with features like native GbE, Firewall, and 4-drive RAID. These are the same features found on nForce3 250Gb motherboards. They are just starting to trickle into the market and they may just be in your price range.

Listed below is part of our RealTime pricing engine, which lists the lowest prices available on the Intel 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.

CPU and Motherboard Recommendations Memory and Video
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  • Booster - Thursday, August 26, 2004 - link

    I have to add I can't agree on this value system configuration to the extent that I'd call the choices really unpractical. That system of yours may look good on paper, but have you actually tried to use such a system daily? I bet you'd hate it in a week, and here's why.
    First, the monitor choice. It's by far the most important choice of all, and you recommend a crappy Samsung CRT. This is ridiculous. Try to read web pages, e-mails and text documents on that CRT and I bet you get a headache after no more than just 2 hours (at least that's my personal experience). The only thing that CRT is good for are games, movies and other multimedia stuff, but not for doing any actual work. And games and movies aren't the point of a budget system, according to your own words. Now that LCD prices are rapidly declining, a 15 inch LCD (cheapest of the cheap, with no DVI, in the $300 range, just $150 more than that CRT, and without unnecessary expense of a $50 video card - only $100 - you'll get so much just for additional hundred bucks!) would be so much easier on the eyes of a budget user. That would also eliminate the need for a costly $50 video card, which is, simply put, a complete waste of money in that system (because even the worst quality integrated video would be sufficient to produce no-ghosting image on a 15 inch LCD with 1024*768 resolution at 60 Herz).
    Second, the CPU choice. Athlon XP is a bad choice. It has more power than the Celeron? It sure does, but that's not the point of a budget system, as you say. Price and reliability are more important, I agree, then you need a Celeron, b/c say a 2.0 boxed Celeron costs the same, but it's by far more reliable - it wouldn't burn, in fact it's indestructible, and the boxed cooler is of much higher quality than Athlon XP's bundled cooler, not to speak lots quiter. Performance? Who needs performance in a budget system like that, but the Celeron is fast enough to run anything that system is supposed to run, anyways. Plus take into consideration that you can get a completely integrated Celeron motherboard (with onboard video) for much less than the ASUS board you reccomend, and that the Celeron system would run really cool and quiet and wouldn't require extra case coolers like any Athlon system does, not to speak of high power (and thus expensive) PSUs - a no-brainer choice IMO.
    The case - who needs an ATX case? It's too big, and since there wouldn't be much expansion, a Micro ATX case would suit this system so much better.
    I have to add I agree with this guide's choice of a Seagate hard drive, I was going nuts when I saw you recommend WD in previous guides (those drives suck, they're too loud and there's pretty much nothing else they offer over competing products).
  • xilef - Friday, August 13, 2004 - link

    How about this system that includes dual channel, Barton Core, DVD and a subwoofer for less money. Shipping is less than $50. I've saved this system at Newegg as AugustCheapo.

    POWMAX ATX Aluminum Mid-Tower Case with X-Window, Model "ALV90-511SEL" -RETAIL 35

    Rosewill 52x32x52x16 CD-RW & DVD Combo Drive, Model C523216, Retail 37

    Western Digital 80GB 7200RPM IDE Hard Drive, Model WD800BB, OEM Drive only 62

    Crucial 184 Pin 128MB DDR PC-2700 - OEM (2 pieces) 64

    PROVIEW PS709s 17" CRT Monitor –RETAIL 89

    ASUS "A7N8X-VM/400" nForce2 IGP Motherboard for AMD Socket A CPU -RETAIL 82

    AMD Athlon XP 2600+ "Barton", 333MHz FSB, 512K Cache Processor - Retail 95

    Logitech Z640 5.1 Speakers -RETAIL 49

    Total 513
  • Hoot - Friday, August 13, 2004 - link

    Systems recommended by popular sites like this one always seems to recommend an abit or asus, and they are not always the best choice. How about an mATX system with a very reliable Biosta M7NCG 400 - and it's also overclockabe if you get rev 7.2 (full voltage and multiplier control and will run mobiles.

    APEX Silver Mid-Tower Super Tower with 400W Mustang Power Supply, Model "PC-146/400W" -RETAIL (newegg $28.00)

    Biostar M7NCG 400 mATX (better than the Asus and has IGP to use when you sell the video card yto upgrade. ($65.00)

    Samsung 160 Gig HDD at newegg (IDE $87.00)

    512 MB Kingmax newegg $75.00

    Power color 9600 Pro newegg $126.00

    *This system get't you alot more storage. Better memory as most will not want 256 MB stick for a more power hungry system later - but add to the other 512 stick later to make a gig of ram. Also the powercolor 9600 pro is cheap and very good for gaming.

  • razor2025 - Thursday, August 12, 2004 - link

    I think for the money, a good alternative is Nforce 2 IGP board. It'll save anywhere from $30-40 for not having to get a graphic card. The performance of integrated GF4 MX is also decent enough to compete with GF 2 GTS/Ultra in 3D games. With the $30-40, you can add $10-20 and get two stick of same memory for dual channel. In a nut shell, for just adding $10-20 more, you can have a system with 512mb vs 256mb (big difference in real-world, even for budget PC), and a similar 3D performance (maybe a little slower than the 9200(SE).
  • Chaotic42 - Thursday, August 12, 2004 - link

    An XP 2400+ is $1 more. I'd have gone with that instead of a 2000+. Heck, a 2200+ is $6 cheaper.
  • Degrador - Wednesday, August 11, 2004 - link

    I would think that entry level being a general field should include just about all fields - average home users, web surfing, office apps, games, playing music - these are things most users would be doing, and most would be doing all of them (some concurrently even). Entry level is usually for family computers - where everyone needs to use the computer. Mostly 'cause they don't have the budget to have different computers for different family members, each comp with specific tasks.

    For instance, with a friend's family, his dad uses the comp for Autocad (he's a tool maker), his mum uses it for tax / financial management stuff, and he and his sister use it for school / uni work, playing music, and games.
  • gherald - Wednesday, August 11, 2004 - link

    Entry-level w/o a specific label means the most general field imaginable, i.e. average home users, office workers... you know, mainstream stuff. Video editing, gaming, and the like are all distinctly special cases.
  • ceefka - Wednesday, August 11, 2004 - link

    If you lable a system "entry level", I ask what field.

    What would make an entry, mid-range and high end gaming, video editing or DAW PC? Seems like we're talking about 9 different machines. Or you can make suggestions what to add or change depending on what you want the machine to do.

    Would it be possible to do a few benchmarks on the suggested configurations?
  • gherald - Tuesday, August 10, 2004 - link

    "entry level gaming" == "mid-range" in my book

    But if you actually think this entry system would be a workable base, it's not to hard to figure out what to change.. 512mb, a 9600, and definately go with the alternative Abit NF7 and 2500 Barton picks.

    Such a thing doesn't warrant a seperate article.
  • Z80 - Tuesday, August 10, 2004 - link

    Good article, I agree with all of the recommended components. I'm glad you didn't skimp on the monitor. A quality monitor can make all the difference in how someone perceives the usability of a system. I'd like to see an article on an entry level gaming system. I assume it would only entail a couple of minor upgrades to this system configuration.

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