Inevitably, around this time of year people repeat two questions like a daily mantra. What do you want for Christmas? What should I ask "Santa" to bring me? (Feel free to insert your own appropriately politically correct holiday references.) We won't try to say that it's better to give than to receive, but assuming the giving and/or receiving involves a computer geek, we can at least try to provide some good advice on what sort of packages might bring the most joy to this holiday season.

We try to do regular Buyers' Guides that put together several variants of a complete computer system at various price points, and we've recently covered the entry-level and midrange segments. For the holidays, we're going to scrap putting together complete systems and instead focus on a "best of" list of components for the various price ranges. By the time we're finished, you can also use the recommendations to put together a complete system if you so desire; just make sure everything is compatible and you should be fine. (In other words, don't grab that el-cheapo power supply and plan on running a tricked out CrossFire or SLI setup.)

Before you begin down the dark path of upgrading, however, it helps to take a step back and try to determine exactly why you're upgrading in the first place. If you have a three or four year old computer, it might be best to start from scratch rather than attempting any piecemeal upgrades. By the time you've added a new motherboard to accommodate that new processor, you probably also had to grab some new memory, an upgraded power supply, and a PCI Express graphics card. Add the optical drive, hard drive, and case and you have a new system!

If your computer is only a year or two old, wholesale upgrades might be more than you really need. Yes, you can easily find faster processors if you want, but if you already have a dual-core socket 939 Athlon/Opteron you might be able to wait a little longer. If you have a PCI Express compatible motherboard and are mostly concerned with gaming performance, you can probably get by with a new graphics card, some extra memory, and perhaps Windows Vista - what's DX10 hardware good for if you don't have an appropriate OS, right? Similarly, if you've been storing tons of videos and are running out of space, all you really need is a new hard drive. That's an easier and cheaper solution than adding a bunch of hardware you might not need.

We're going to break this Buyers' Guide into a couple parts, in order to keep things manageable. We'll start today with the major system components: processors, graphics cards, motherboards, and memory. The second installment will cover the remaining components and accessories. So let's get to the heart of the computer: the CPU.

A Plethora of Processors


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  • guptasa1 - Thursday, November 22, 2007 - link

    Any chance I can get a clarification on this?

    Planning to buy soon (possibly this friday) and actually like the looks of the X38T - what's inferior about it to the Asus? (Asus was my second choice.) If it's just benchmarks, BIOS updates may address that, but if it's being revised due to a problem or something, I'd like to know. Thanks. (Great roundup btw.)
  • vailr - Wednesday, November 21, 2007 - link

    Fry's BF ad has a Q6600 + ECS motherboard combo priced at: $198. "Limited to 1 per customer. No substitutions, no rainchecks."">
  • Jodiuh - Wednesday, November 21, 2007 - link

    "...but new buyers will prefer to experience the goodness of two 8800 GT cards running Crysis."
    I would like to experience this goodness, but I've gotten bsod's and poor performance in Vista x64 and 2 frames more in XP when NOT using SLI. :( Guide! Guide!!
  • CrystalBay - Wednesday, November 21, 2007 - link

    Crossfire 3850's smoke despite their 256 Vram disadvantage... Reply
  • Le Québécois - Wednesday, November 21, 2007 - link

    On page 5 : " Let's not even get into a discussion of performance requirements for Crysis, Hellgate: London, or Unreal Tournament 2007. "

    Epic has changed the name to Unreal Tournament 3 for a while now.

    Also on page 5: " We showed in our recent HD 3870 article that CrossFire performance roughly matches what you get from a single 8800 GTX "

    If I remember correctly, Anand stated that he could only test the HD 3850 in Crossfire and almost had to beg to receive ONE HD 3870 from AMD. If Crossfire HD 3850 is more or less equal to a single 8800GTX, can't we expect Crossfire HD 3870 to be more powerful than that?
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, November 21, 2007 - link

    Updated. I actually missed that it was 3850 CF vs. the 8800 GTX. Of course, we still have to deal with the fact that CrossFire often doesn't work properly on new games until a driver update. AMD is working to address that concern apparently, and we should see profiles in their drivers (finally!) at some point soon. Reply
  • SerpentRoyal - Wednesday, November 21, 2007 - link

    P35 Neo2-FR is $100 after rebate. Abit has an equivalent in the form of IP35 for $95 after rebate. IP35 is identical to IP35-E, plus six SATA ports, 1394a, heat pipe cooling, and ICH9R for on-board RAID. LAN port sits on PCI-E.

    IP35 and IP35-E share the basic power module section found in the IP35 Pro. Their on-board CPU and fan headers can also control the speed of a 2-wire fan. The stock 11 BIOS is stable and can easily hit 490MHz FSB with a capable CPU.

    I'll make it easy for the editor to pick the winner. Let's compare the P35 Neo2-FR against the two Abit boards. Abit IP35-E has been selling for $65 to $70 after rebate since September 2007. It's 30% cheaper than the MSI because it doesn't come with RAID, eSATA. Board has four SATA ports instead of five on the MSI. Abit IP35 adds RAID, 1394, and six SATA ports. IP35 lacks eSATA, but it's $5 cheaper than the P35 Neo2-FR.">
  • kd4yum - Wednesday, November 21, 2007 - link

    " some of our suggestions might indicate we do not like our friends or family members. " this one.
  • pauldovi - Wednesday, November 21, 2007 - link

    Where is the GA-P35-DS3L and GA-P35-DS3R in the motherboard sections. The DS3L is a $85 motherboard that is amazing. The -R is the same with with RAID capability. They easily match those $200 range boards.

    G.Skill has a 4GB kit on newegg for $120. If that isn't a deal I don't know what is.
  • retrospooty - Wednesday, November 21, 2007 - link

    "Where is the GA-P35-DS3L and GA-P35-DS3R in the motherboard sections."

    Ummm... Page 4? ;)">

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