Take a moment to browse around just about any Internet forum that deals with computing technology and you will almost certainly find numerous people asking for advice on what parts to buy, what sort of system to build, how much money to spend, etc. It has been several months since we last published any Buyers' Guides, so with this update we aim to cover several of the most popular market segments. We will take a look at both entry level and midrange offerings, with some comments specifically on gaming and overclocking.

It shouldn't be surprising that in the past few months we've seen quite a few price changes, and particularly in the realm of CPUs the battle being waged between AMD and Intel has resulted in rapid price cuts. We're not done yet either, as we expect to see further price drops in the coming weeks and months, followed of course by the launch of various new processors from both companies. This intense competition may not be the best thing in the world for the bottom line of the participants, but for the time being the consumer is reaping the benefits. Let's just hope all of the parties involved remain with us for a long time to come.

Some of the other areas have also seen quite a few new product launches, specifically motherboards and graphics cards. In the graphics department, NVIDIA just launched GeForce their 8500 and 8600 GPUs. We had hoped to see some impressive performance numbers out of these parts, something to carry on the legacy of the GeForce 6600 GT. While the cards offer some new features and certainly aren't terrible, the price/performance for the most part simply maintains the current status quo. DirectX 10 parts are now available at price points starting at $100, and midrange performance parts fall just under the $200 price point. Depending on the intended use, the new products may or may not fit your needs. If you're not in any hurry to upgrade, however, AMD will be launching their R600 series graphics parts within the next month or so, and waiting to see how those actually perform and how much they cost might not be a bad idea.

The past few months have also seen the launch of Microsoft's latest magnum opus: Windows Vista. While we'd love to give the new operating system a full recommendation, the fact of the matter is that driver availability/stability/compatibility remains something of a sticking point. We're still definitely at the stage where Vista is more for early adopters than for everyone, and the majority of us at AnandTech continue to run Windows XP as our primary operating system. Given that Windows Vista has been touted as a better platform for gaming, it's ironic that gaming performance/compatibility is currently one of the major sticking points. Once we start to see games that actually launch with DirectX 10 support, we expect the driver situation to finally mature to the point where most people will prefer Windows Vista. At present, individuals are going to be forced to decide between staying with a tried and true platform or potentially dealing with some quirks of the shiny new operating system in exchange for the new features.

As usual, we will be providing several different system configurations. However, it is nearly impossible to provide a comprehensive look at all of the different components currently available and worth consideration in even a small market segment. We will be listing our primary recommendations, but depending on individual needs and availability there are numerous other options that we won't be able to cover. If you have questions, feel free to ask - either in the comments section or in our forums. We will do our best to provide advice. With that said, we'll start with our entry level AMD configuration.

Entry Level AMD
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  • yyrkoon - Saturday, April 21, 2007 - link

    I agree with Jarred somewhat, but I have always said: 'buy now, with upgrades in mind'. Meaning, if you are tired of waiting to upgrade, buy what you want now , based on what is currently availible, and make sure the components you choose, will give you as much flexability towards upgrading a CPU here, more memory there, a video card a year down the road, whatever.

    It has been sometime now, since you could buy parts, without feeling like you just wasted a wad of cash on something that is going to be outdated in ~6-12 months. SO . . . buy with upgrades in mind, which means everything I have said above, and 'research' on your behalf, since you are the only one who really kows what you really want/need.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, April 20, 2007 - link

    I always tell people to wait until they don't feel they can wait any longer, because new products are always coming out. Intel will be releasing some new Core 2 models in the near future, cutting prices, etc. and AMD will be coming out with Barcelona at some point (sounding like maybe late July?) The same goes for NVIDIA and AMD/ATI. If you're ready to upgrade/buy and you need something right now, though, Then go ahead and take the plunge. I don't think Penryn is going to be as big a deal as the initial Core 2 launch - slightly faster, slightly cheaper, but nothing revolutionary (though the video encoding numbers are looking promising, and overclocking as well should be improved at least slightly).
  • MarxMarvelous - Friday, April 20, 2007 - link

    Nice article - just in time for me to start prepping for a new rig...

    In any case a couple of comments:

    1) Re: Vista Drivers.

    Personally I haven't had any issues at all with driver support. I'd say unless you have components that are 4+ years old you will be fine, especially if you are buying a brand new system.

    2) Optical drive

    Noticed that you are recomending a Pioneer across the board which is EIDE. SATA DVD-R drives are now around the same price and seem like a better choice.">
  • JarredWalton - Friday, April 20, 2007 - link

    Thanks for the heads up - I may have to get one of those for my next PC purchase. But I didn't recommend Pioneer across the board (Lite-On in the cheaper builds to save a few dollars). Personally, I just don't do enough burning to care all that much about optical drives these days. All of the drives I have work fine, and I haven't had a drive fail in a few years (knock on wood).

    As for Vista drivers, there are still games that have performance issues under Vista (OpenGL especially), and certain things like SLI support on various cards (6000 and 000 GeForce lines) is still missing last I heard. I know most game issues can be worked around with a bit of effort (I think there are some registry tweaks to get STALKER to run properly, for example), but that's not the same as just *working* properly. I don't like having to jump through hoops to get CrossFire or SLI to work, and I don't like constantly putzing about trying to get games to run properly. For those reasons, I'm generally shying away from Vista still. I also have at least one system that totally locks (and then BSODs on restart after the failed install) if I try to install the latest (or any version actually) X-Fi drivers, so I have to use integrated audio in Vista on that setup. I pulled the card and put it in a different system now.

    It seems to me that Vista is fine for some people, but the more you push your system and applications, the more high-end your setup, the more problems people seem to have. It's mostly usable, but it still has a few more quirks than XP in my limited experience. Maybe in about six months I'll be ready to switch.
  • MarxMarvelous - Friday, April 20, 2007 - link

    Whoops, I didn't look through all the configs so I didn't spot the Lite-On (I've pretty much decided on switching away from AMD :). Anyhow, I also don't do a whole lot of burning but was just happy to be able to switch away from those fat EIDE cables and also be a little more future proof in case I ever want to switch the drive to a mobo with no EIDE connectors (will happen someday!).

    As for the Vista drivers, yeah it sounds like you're definitely more on the edge (SLI/Crossfire, OpenGL, X-Fi, etc). All of the systems I'm running it on are pretty standard (either laptops or desktops using onboard audio + single video card). All have been pretty rock solid thus far (knock on wood).
  • ancolboy - Friday, April 20, 2007 - link

    The article said it support 1333MHz, how so? MSI website never mention it. The article also said the board could allow overclock, but the board doesn't even allow user to change FSB frequency. Or did I miss something?
  • JarredWalton - Friday, April 20, 2007 - link

    Sorry - got some products mixed up and it didn't all come out right. The MSI board doesn't OC at all right now, you're right. I was debating between that and the Gigabyte S2 board, but the text didn't come out right. I've edited this now.
  • ancolboy - Friday, April 20, 2007 - link

    Thank you for clarifying it fast :) I am considering between intel or amd solution right now. Torn between performance and price, to top it up, linux compatibility.

    Hoping Gary's matx roundup (still writing it I guess) could help me decide which way to go.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, April 20, 2007 - link

    If you want OC and performance, I'd say the Gigabyte S2 is probably the best bet. If you're okay with less performance, I'd seriously consider the Biostar and ASUS 690G options with an X2 processor. Quite handy with the HDMI ports as well, if that's something you're interested in.
  • najames - Friday, April 20, 2007 - link

    I would swap out the Asus M2A-VM for the Biostar TA690G for a few bucks more. It is a solid overclocker/undervolter if you are inclined. The layout on the Biostar allows for wide passive cooled video cards too, plus you can still use both PCI slots. I am actually strongly considering buying a second TA690G setup.

    I'd also add 2GB of RAM for only $35 more.

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