Choosing a Platform

The core of any computer begins with the choice of a motherboard. The motherboard will determine what type of RAM, CPU, graphics, and other accessories can be used, so we need to take a look at the bigger picture before we get down to the selections. What we want is the best performance for every task, but unfortunately, there is no universal choice. The overall performance competition between platforms is often a draw, depending on the application used. That said, we have done our best to analyze the relative performance for several categories of use and come up with our platform selections.

For most tasks, AMD currently holds the lead - whether you want a budget CPU like the Sempron-754 3100+ or the all out speed of the Athlon FX, AMD leads Intel in pricing and performance. Unfortunately, there is one drawback with AMD right now, and that is the lack of shipping motherboards with support for PCI Express graphics cards. This muddies the water somewhat, and we'll address this more in the graphics card selections. That is really more of a concern for those interested in gaming, however. Software development has been an area that AMD configurations have dominated ever since Intel introduced the Pentium 4, and that has not changed. The shorter pipelines and lower latencies of AMD CPUs help them out a lot in compiling, not to mention the "free" support for 64-bit computing for those willing to use Linux or the Beta XP-64 OS. Content creation remains a strong point for Intel, which means that it is basically a draw with AMD. If you do a lot of audio or video editing, and depending on the choice of application, Intel's Pentium 4 can still come out on top.

One rather gray area for debate is the multitasking performance of the platforms. Raw benchmarks do not always reflect the actual user perception. A typical benchmark will max out the processor usage for the duration of the benchmark and then report a final value, whereas most users pause frequently during their use of a computer. What we really tend to notice is when we actually have to wait on the computer. For example, if you are encoding MP3s or a video in the background while you surf the web, you will find that web pages tend to load slower than normal. That is to be expected, but how does something like Intel's HyperThreading affect performance? Our feeling is that HyperThreading helps to alleviate the perception of slowdowns in multitasking, while it may not actually improve benchmark performance. Remember that numbers do not always tell the whole story, and we'll leave it at that.

Let us reiterate that both AMD and Intel make very good processors that provide ample performance for all but the most demanding of users. The lead is often less than 10% in most applications, and you would be hard pressed to tell the difference in day-to-day use. If you have strong feelings one way or the other in the AMD vs. Intel processor debates, you could really choose either one and go away happy. We are providing baseline recommendations, but we leave the actual building and tweaking up to you.

Index AMD CPUs and Motherboards


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  • Confusednewbie1552 - Saturday, October 23, 2004 - link

    Great, I've had my computer for 2 months and have been only using it for only a month and already it becomes mid-range. =( I was expecting it to last until at least by spring of 2005 Reply
  • Degrador - Saturday, October 23, 2004 - link

    I know the graphics issue has been mentioned in these comments already, but I just thought I'd add my 2 cents. A gaming article sounds like a great idea, but many people out there looking for a good computer want an all-in-one system. Especially for family buyers, they'll want systems that can do anything, whether it be office work / home business / kids schoolwork / games / burning CDs & DVDs / web surfing / etc. As such, the alternatives are really really great this time, as they give details and reasons for why people should change to other parts. However, I still think you should have included an option for a faster graphics card. You've given alternatives a high end 300GB 16MB cache HD, as well as the (debateably) higher end Raptor, along with high end RAM, and a separate sound card and good speakers, yet no alternative for even a modestly good AGP graphics card (let's be honest, the 9600 Pro is rather mediocre for the games and cards out there these days). I'm certainly not suggesting a 9800 Pro should be the primary graphics recommendation, but perhaps at least an alternative (or even X600 / 6800).

    Other than that, great guide :)
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, October 23, 2004 - link

    Wow! The 90nm parts are "hot" - not in terms of temperature but in terms of demand. They'll come back down soon enough. Hell, at $266 not counting the cost of an aftermarket HSF you might as well get the 130 nm 3500+ retail. Monarch Computers is still saying $215 and $179 for the 3200+ and 3000+ parts, respectively, but they are out of stock until ~Oct. 29. Patience may be required if you don't want to spend more than $200. I think the suggested price of the 3200+ was $199 originally, but demand has pushed that up quite a bit. Reply
  • AlphaFox - Friday, October 22, 2004 - link

    A64 3200+ 90nm 939 is now $266!!! I dont get how it went up $75 in the past 2 days! Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 22, 2004 - link

    A few quick comments:

    Seagate vs. Samsung: As far as I can tell, they're about the same. Yes, Seagate comes with a 5 year vs. 3 year warranty. I've got both, and neither one has given me cause for complaint. Which is "better"? I call it a tie, and since I went with Seagate last time, I decided to toss in a Samsung this time. As the article states, Samsung, WD, Seagate, Maxtor, and Hitachi all make very similar drives. "Reliability" when you're talking about mostly new versions is almost impossible to guess.

    NEC vs. Pioneer: Hacked firmware is not necessary, and the drive performs extremely well. There should be a review up sometime soon.

    Prices for the Real Time Pricing Engine seem to be having some issues, so double check them. As for the Mushkin RAM listed in the article, it is not the "Blue" line but an older version. Newegg has it for $75 a DIMM (as of the time of writing).

    #37: You can have a bad example of any company out there. I've had ASUS and Abit boards in the past that I had to RMA. Does one bad experience make the company untrustworthy? I don't think so, and I continue to use Abit and ASUS boards. For socket 939, the selection is very limited, and we've had good results with the MSI Neo2 Platinum. YMMV, of course. I'm not sure why you even bothered with MSI. If the boards was DOA, Newegg will replace it with no hassle in our experience. It takes an extra two weeks or so, unfortunately.

    #34 brings up an interesting argument. If you actually went out and bought the same hardware that goes into a Dell or other OEM system, the price would be a lot lower than what is listed here. Don't even get me started on reliability and warranty concerns. The price of OEM systems appears attractive, but in the end you get what you pay for. DIY PC builders will always get better performance and reliability for the money. Obviously, that's not an option for Apple computers.
  • RandomCoil - Friday, October 22, 2004 - link

    As with post #33, I don't understand the switch from Seagate to Samsung. The Seagate should be sufficiently fast for this system and the 5-year warranty and quiet operation are significant pluses. Reply
  • sophus - Friday, October 22, 2004 - link

    i think the RAM was underpriced (and i realize things might have changed since publication):

    Mushkin Blue Line 184 Pin 512MB DDR PC-3200 - Retail

    clicking the link above (and choosing -> $103 ...need 2 so $206 -> $227

    this leads to a difference (approx) of $50 to $75. $200-225 compared to original listed price of $150.

    i wanted to be all over 1GB for $150 but was unable to find the price 8(
  • Bugler - Friday, October 22, 2004 - link

    You say that the Neo2 939 board has one problem, that being the difficulty removing larger graphics cards. Their bigger problem is unreliability.

    For months I followed your recommendations for MSI but after the 754 DFI came out, I delayed my purchase awaiting a 939 DFI board. The past week I got tired of waiting for DFI and went ahead and purchased the MSI 939 board.

    The damn thing is dead on arrival. In addition, I emailed their tech support before they opened this morning. No response. Newegg had me call MSI. After being put on the call hold dialer for about five minutes, the machine finally said they were hanging up and that I should leave my contact number for tech support to call me back.

    However, they never did. Screw MSI---RMA to new egg.
  • tolerant - Friday, October 22, 2004 - link

    There are a bunch of 128mb sapphire 9600 pro's on newegg, including an opengl 2.0 bulk card, and an opengl 2.0 retail card. I recently ordered both the 2.0 bulk and retail cards, and instead of being 400 core/300 mem as expected, they ran at 391 core/229 mem. I'm not sure if I had two defective cards, but they got sent back. The price seemed too good to be true when I purchased, and I believe that $108 is a little low too, so if you order this path, make sure you get a 400/300 card. Reply
  • AlphaFox - Friday, October 22, 2004 - link

    It should be noted that the prices for 90nm CPUs is wacked out: the 3200+ 939 90nm is now $246 and the 3000+ is $215. they have been going UP in the past week; im glad I got my 3200 for $191 a few days ago! Reply

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