It’s been a while since we really tackled anything at the high end of the computing spectrum. Since our November Gaming Guide, there have been some major changes in most areas. About the only areas that haven’t changed much are the mass storage and optical storage areas and even those have a few new additions. We have a lot of ground to cover, so we’ll just get right into it and skip all the preliminary niceties.

The biggest decision up front is, as usual, the choice of platform: AMD or Intel. For the mid-range to high end markets, we can narrow our focus quite a bit. There’s little need to look at the budget Sempron and Celeron chips, and socket 754 and 478 don’t hold much interest. Upgraders might be interested in offerings for these platforms, but we'll defer to our recent article covering CPU cores rather than deal with that here. While PCIe cards are definitely the future, we'll also have some advice for those of you who may already have a capable system and are looking to last until the next platform transition – that's about a year or so off, in case you were wondering.

Looking toward the future, there has been quite a bit of coverage recently about the latest processors coming from AMD and Intel, particularly the dual core solutions. At present, none of the dual core chips are really available (other than in OEM systems), but if heavy multitasking describes your typical workload, waiting for the dual core solutions to appear in quantity might be worthwhile. What we’ll focus on in this Guide is the current single core setups, which for most people are still more than sufficient to accomplish any given task. For the High-End buyers – particularly those who want to buy a top-end computer once every three years and then use it with few upgrades – you'll definitely want to take a closer look at our Dual Core Performance Preview before laying down several thousand dollars on a current system.

A word about prices: We're using our RealTime Pricing Engine for the majority of the prices listed, although we also shop around at various online resellers for many of the products. If you can find components for less money from a dealer who you trust, all the better. We don't include mail-in rebates in our price quotes either, which can further reduce the cost. These prices are also just a snapshot in time – May 13 th, 2005 for this Guide – so they are bound to change.

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  • Calin - Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - link

    Oh, and no micro ATX board is the flagship of any mainboard manufacturer. VIA is the only one that has a small mainboard as the flagship (the Mini ITX platform)
  • Calin - Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - link

    Hi Tujan
    I think I would like to see more Micro ATX mainboards too. But the idea is that micro ATX boards are not in the segment that typical reviewers like. They usually lack any kind of overclocking potential, their expansion possibilities are very restricted, and in some cases the performance is lacking compared to their big brothers (ATX). Also, they usually have 2 memory slots (unlike 3 to 4 of ATX), and the layout is much more cramped.
    Advantages? There could be a price advantage, size and maybe cooling.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - link

    crimson117 - Hey, I gave plenty of options for more RAM. The fact is there are very few people that really need more than 1GB of RAM right now. If you need more than 1GB, I'd probably go for 2x1GB rather than 4x512MB, as that gives you the option of upgrading to 4x1GB in the future. Still, 1GB DIMMs are expensive, so 4x512 isn't a terrible choice. Just realize that unless you really need more than 1GB of RAM, you'll end up with slightly slower performance, as none of the boards we've tested will run with 1T command rates and maximum timings when using four DIMMs.
  • crimson117 - Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - link

    If you go for the AMD board, I'd recommend getting 4x512mb ram.
  • crimson117 - Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - link

    It is a crime to limit such great systems with a mere 2x512mb of ram.
  • KristopherKubicki - Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - link

    arswihart: All motherboard manufacturers do that.

  • arswihart - Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - link

    that chaintech card is one of the best values in computer hardware, it only has a few downsides, including lack of eq control, no eax (who cares?), can't use microphone input when hi-quality mode (24-bit 96 khz) is enabled, and no spdif in (who needs it?). The Hi-quality 24-bit 96 khz 2-channel mode is what this card is all about, and it is a noticable improvement over onboard audio.

    Regarding the Catalina card, the sound quality of the DAC's on that card are obviously worse than the Chaintech.
  • berkut7 - Monday, May 23, 2005 - link

    My brother owns the Chaintech soundcard, and the drivers do not have an option that allows control of either treble, or more imortantly (he has the Logitech's Z-560 speakers.) Plus, the soundcard doesn't feature any EAX support, but I don't think EAX even does anything to make games sound better.
  • Tujan - Monday, May 23, 2005 - link

    Im a little aprehensive about putting money into Nvidia now.Since there are plenty of other vendors wich have AMD solutions.True Nvidia is the one to best. But it simply cant be an all Nvidia show.

    Your article is most of dealing with what 'cost is for given components.Think that the smarter buyer is purchasing,especially the first time buyer,based on fact of 'future proofing . In a performance based category. The smarter buyer,is buying performance,they are buying cheaper components on a performance upgrade path.

    An example for the AMD setup,a 1.8 Winchester,could be used instead.And too a video card such as an ATI x600pro PCI-e. This shaves about 120.00 off of that notch. A 300+ LCD ? Dont think so. However anyway,the fact is the 'smarter buyer,is taking the cheaper expense,to a platform wich is 'performance.

    I know Ive seen the benchmarks for the different Video cards.It isn't a bragging thing to me.My grandma uses DDRMemory on here video card,with a 400Mhz Ramdac,but she uses it on a PCI-e board.

    The range of performance/platform is a little different for an Intel platform,where processors run from Celerons ,to EM64 Prescotts.Then stop at where we are now,the 945,955/dual core 'boards.But the range of upgrade is there,and its based on performance.The smarter buyer is taking the least expense,for the platform with the longest upgrade range.

    First time buyers are the most luckiest because they do not have to take second chances with their money.

    Would like to see more m-atx performance platforms.Motherboards w/o onboard graphics for example.There are only a few.However this would probably be something 'performance should win,over 'cost analysis.

    Like IDE,IDE went to IDE33 all the way through to UDMA133. Only criteria was the prerequisite of the 40 pin connector on the motherboard.

    Limiting 'range on a 'cost effective analysis is anybodies choice.If there is such a choice.
  • arswihart - Monday, May 23, 2005 - link

    i hope you didn't dump your 8rda+, you should send it to epox I know they will fix your caps or give you a new board

    my caps started bulging as well, without any problems though, but I sent it to Epox anyways and i had another 8rda+ with high-quality caps just over a week after i sent it out. Thats great customer service.

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