CPU and Motherboard Recommendations

CPU: AMD Athlon XP 2000+ retail (heatsink and fan included)
Motherboard: ASUS A7N8X-X (nForce2 400)
Price: CPU - $57 shipped. Motherboard - $65 shipped

The AMD Athlon XP 2000+ continues to be AnandTech's runaway favorite for Entry Level Systems month after month. We had favored the Athlon XP 1800+, but AMD decided to level off its prices on Athlon XP processors at the 2000+, so it only made sense for us to upgrade our recommendation from an 1800+ to a 2000+ with the negligible price difference. Both the Athlon XP 1800+ and the 2000+ are essentially identical to each other feature-wise, save for one important feature, their clock speed. The Athlon XP 2000+ operates at 1.67GHz while the 1800+ operates at 1.53GHz. As we mentioned countless times before, Athlon XP processors (particularly the entry level kind) offer excellent performance in today's business applications and games while being very light on the wallet. For $57, the Athlon XP 2000+ is as close to a steal as you can get, and of course, will satisfy even the cheapest of cheap systems. Any old CPU cooler should do with an Athlon XP 2000+, even if you buy the retail version that comes with cooling. But if you're looking for something quieter than retail cooling, we suggest mounting a Panaflo L1A fan to reduce noise. You should also try experimenting with your BIOS' speed fan control or even a separate Windows program to reduce noise.

Also, it doesn't hurt to read up on AnandTech's very own Budget CPU Shootout from last December for detailed information on how your Athlon XP 2000+ might perform. Keep in mind that the 2000+ isn't listed in our benchmark charts there, but you can still get a good idea of the performance of the 2000+ by approximating based on how their siblings perform. Though this shootout was published some months ago, the results are still very accurate and applicable to today's programs.

The ASUS A7N8X-X and its older derivatives have been a favorite among the editors here at AnandTech for quite some time, and continue to be a favorite to this day. We have written extensively on ASUS' nForce2 motherboards in the past, namely about their exceptional reliability, feature sets, and excellent price points. The performance that the nForce2 400 chipset brings to the ASUS A7N8X-X is an especially nice bonus considering the price tag, as this is basically the same chipset that you'll find in high end Socket A motherboards minus the dual channel DDR memory support, which is totally unnecessary for entry level user's needs. We've had lots of personal experience with this particular ASUS model, and simply put, we love this motherboard to death. Due to the type of chipset used with this motherboard, you will be able to upgrade to the best Athlon XP processors in the future, namely the 400MHz FSB kind.

All in all, we can't think of much that will go wrong with this motherboard, especially considering how mature BIOS support is at this stage in its long life. Some users who have experience with ASUS' older nForce1 motherboards will certainly adore the A7N8X-X.

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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  • leigh6 - Tuesday, August 10, 2004 - link

    Without reading Anandtech's Entry level thread I built an entry level system for my sister in law. Her needs were exactly what you had in your initial description of the build. Coincidentally I used most of your components you recommended. So some comments.

    1. The Seagate Hardrive was PERFECT. Quiet, fairly inexpensive, plenty of storage wtih 80g and with a now 5 year warranty a no brainer.

    2. Radeon 9200se. PERFECT. Absolutely needs nothing better. It does the job and more.

    3. Processor was the 2500 Barton . (Would have used the 2000 but had an extra retail 2500 laying around). Either one would have been fine and I do not think there would be a noticable difference for what she and her 3 kids need. WOULD stay with the 2000 for budget reasons and not use this for an upgrade.

    4. Case. I though my choice was a no brainer.
    Antec slk 2600 with a 300W PS. Not the prettiest case. But for the same price as your model ($65.00) I thought was a much better choice.

    5. Ram. Happen to use 512 Kingston Value Ram DDR 3200. (With many rebates available on this product the final price comes to around $75.00) direct from Kingston.

    6. Motherboard. I wish I had read this before the build. But I did get lucky. The motherboard I am using has been rock solid. But the next build will be with you're recomendation.

    Now a suggestion for the overall concept of your article.

    30 percent of the price of the system is the monitor. I believe that the keyboard, mouse, speakers and MONITOR should be left out of you base price. I think adding the monitor to the final base price of the system unintentionally makes the price look like it is a little too high to be a budget system and running closer to the low end of "Mid Range". So the base price would be $372.00 and NO ONE would agrue the merits. Then seperately discuss the peripherals with prices and then add them WITH Monitor, Keyboard, Mouse, and Speakers. (Most have these already before there build).

    Just my thoughts, Leigh

  • gherald - Tuesday, August 10, 2004 - link

    Here we go again, same as last month...

    The reason to use a 9200SE rather than an onboard nforce2 is text quality. People who build entry level systems care about this sort of thing, and for this a cheap ATI is clearly better than an onboard nforce unless you happen to use Linux, for which ATI drivers suck :(

    To #2 and whoever else mentions Doom 3 or a better 3D video card: congratulations on COMPLETELY MISSING THE POINT of "entry level," now get lost.

    As for the case, #4 is a good case in point (bad pun) but we've been through this before. None of us understand what Evan/Anand have against Antec, but they are clearly a better case choice in *every* respect *including* price, and that's pretty much been the consensus for as long as these guides have been around.

    512mb is allways a good idea, even if you're just running xp + wordpad + browser... it can be used for other things like DISK CACHE. There's simply no reason to build a system with only 256mb nowdays unless you are a total bum or live in some third world country and thus cannot afford a decent setup.

    As for dual channel, I wouldn't worry about it. My preference for entrys has always been a single stick of 512mb since I feel that will be more useful 2-3 years from now when it comes time to disassemble this system and spread the components around to other ones, but that's just me. If 2x256mb works for you then so be it, just be sure you get a motherboard that supports dual channel well, such as the NF7/AN7 from Abit.
  • cosmotic - Monday, August 9, 2004 - link

    Sorry, I thought all nf2s had dual channel... And I've never used a video card (intigrated or otherwise) that could not handle high resolution, although I rarely use integrated video cards.

    maybe theres hould be an extreme value system, value, best bang-for-buck, overclock, and super high end system buyers guide.
  • VIAN - Monday, August 9, 2004 - link

    sorry bout that
  • VIAN - Monday, August 9, 2004 - link

    I am completely fine with a Web Surfing system having 256MB of RAM, without integrated graphics, it's probably already too much. LOL.

    You don't need 512MB for Web Surfing. 512MB is what's recommended today for gaming at least, in early 2003, it was 256MB the least. Why would Web Surfers need more than that.

    Unless you're setting up some kind of CHEAPO server, there would be no reason for more than 256MB.

  • Cocophone - Monday, August 9, 2004 - link

    The machine I'm upgrading from is a 1gHz Celeron with 128 ram with Windows 2000.

    I use it as a media server and web stuff and it swaps out the memory far to often. There is nothing worst than swapping out to the hard drive.

    For me 512 MB of ram was worth the extra cost. Like #14 says upgrading to 512 ram is more noticable than going from 3 to 2.5 latency.

  • Degrador - Monday, August 9, 2004 - link

    Ok, a few things here...

    We've been saying in these comments for about the last 5 entry articles that 512MB is a far better option than 256MB with low latency, so even if the recommended isn't 512MB, at least make the alternative more ram instead. Lower latency is never going to give a noticeable improvement to an entry user - it bearly gives a noticeable improvement at any stage.

    Also, the nforce 2 integrated video is a much better option than buying a 9200SE. The only reason a 9200SE might be more preferable is if you'd think about swapping over the motherboard at some other stage. However an entry purchaser is likely not to do that, at the very least, not for quite some time. This'll likely be when PCI Express has taken over, and even if it isn't, swapping over a motherboard would likely mean practically new everything for an entry user.

    While practically nothing requires 512MB RAM, it can also be said that practically nothing requires more than a pentium 1 processor, but having an athlon xp / 512MB of ram is certainly going to be a better option. Especially for future usage. And while the price is the most important factor, every entry level purchaser wants to keep their system for a long time. So simply recommending the cheapest components would make for a useless article - the underlying purpose behind these articles is to give people an indication of what they should buy. And as most people have been saying, everyone wanting to keep their computer for more than a year should seriously be considering at least 512MB of memory.

  • PotatoMAN - Monday, August 9, 2004 - link

    I really think that for an entry level system it is hard to fight for 512 mbytes of RAM over 256 - Win XP pro runs OK on 128 let alone 256 - so why spend more for performance on an entry level system? Granted, we want the user to use the computer for ~1.5 years w/out the hassle of upgrading/tampering with the machine, but the major focus of the article is price. To my knowledge, I can't recall any programs that REQUIRE 512 of RAM other than games.
  • PrinceGaz - Monday, August 9, 2004 - link

    #9- I see you went for 512MB for your bargain system, a very wise choice.

    Given the intention of the article is to recommend something which you can: "keep this entry level system for quite a long time without modification (read: at least 1.5 years)", after it recommended a stick of cheap 256MB Crucial RAM for the memory, why was the alternative not a cheap 512MB stick, instead of a lower latency 256MB stick? 512MB instead of 256MB is the biggest performance improvement you could make to that system if its going to be running Windows XP. If people building it are expected to run Windows 98SE or a Linux variant, you should clearly state that at the start of the article. Windows 98SE is very much on its last legs already though, so its not a very good recommendation.

    Apart from the memory issue, a good selection of components.
  • VIAN - Monday, August 9, 2004 - link

    Dual channel is less reliable and adds price. You would have to buy a mobo capable of Dual channel add 30 bucks for that and then two sticks of RAM, try finding 128MB sticks, hah, another 40 bucks. Not worth the performance increase.
    I agree, though, that if you are going all out on a "Web Surfing System", an integrated card might have been just as good and cheaper. You want price and speed is the last, so why wouldn't you go integrated.

    You make a very good arguement against integrated, but the monitor's optimal resolution is most likely 1024x768, so it wouldn't make a difference.

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