CPU and Motherboard Recommendations

CPU: AMD Athlon XP 2800+ 333MHz FSB (512K L2 cache) Barton
Motherboard: ABIT AN7 (nForce2 Ultra 400)
Price: CPU - $120 shipped (retail heatsink and fan). Motherboard - $104 shipped

AMD's Athlon XP 2800+ gets the nod this week for its, you guessed it, incredible bang for the buck. An Athlon XP 2800+ Barton running at 333MHz FSB goes for just $120 shipped online, and that includes an AMD approved HSF (heatsink and fan). $120 for the performance that you get with a 2800+ Barton is an extremely attractive deal, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Over the last few weeks, Athlon 64 processors have dropped into the mid-range user's price range. The Athlon 64 2800+ running at 1.8GHz is the lowest priced Athlon 64 currently available, at $173 shipped from many popular online vendors. However, the Athlon 64 2800+ comes with only 512K L2 cache instead of the standard 1MB L2 cache with which the vast majority of Athlon 64 processors are shipping, and the $173 price tag is OEM, meaning you have to buy your own cooling (an extra $20-$25). So really, the lowest priced Athlon 64 is still going to cost near $200. While still an attractive buy due to the Athlon 64's excellent gaming performance and 64-bit capability, Athlon XP and Pentium 4 processors still seem to be the best mid-range buy at this point. Though, we may eat our words if 64-bit programs and general 64-bit support come sooner rather than later. That remains to be seen.

ABIT has done a great job with their nForce2 Ultra 400 series of motherboards, even if their relationship with NVIDIA can be somewhat tenuous at times. The AN7 comes with great features like SATA RAID, rear SPDIF, and room for 3 IEEE1394 FireWire ports. In addition, you get the benefit of the best performance possible from any Athlon XP chipset available in the NVIDIA nForce2 Ultra 400. Overall, there are very few things that this board lacks. However, one thing it does lack is IDE RAID, which the Gigabyte 7N400 Pro2 offers, in addition to everything else offered by the ABIT AN7. However, we should note that the 7N400 Pro2 doesn't come with the MCP-T South Bridge, which offers superior sound quality if you're using speakers with a receiver and optical out. This is why we ended up choosing the AN7, as users get the MCP-T South Bridge, which in all likelihood is going to be much more useful for everyday tasks than the IDE RAID on the 7N400 Pro2. Both these motherboards cost just about the same amount, so the choice is yours if you'd rather have better sound or IDE RAID.

You may also want to take note that the ABIT NF7-S Rev.2 that we've talked about here extensively is virtually the same motherboard as the AN7. The primary difference is the Guru overclocking technology onboard the AN7 and a different BIOS to support that technology. Essentially, the AN7 and NF7-S Rev.2 are one in the same motherboard.

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.

Index CPU and Motherboard Alternatives


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  • TrogdorJW - Tuesday, April 27, 2004 - link

    That's not true, Evan:


    5900XT for $175. ;) Of course, that's still $28 more than the cheapest 9600XT cards, so people may or may not want to take that route. Really, though, I know some people that wouldn't touch ATI cards. (They're all Linux geeks, though. Heheh...)

    Also, on the case, the Antec SLK3700-BQE cases kick some serious ass, depending on your taste. Very quiet. I repeat: VERY quiet! The 120mm fan that comes with the case is near-silent, as is the power supply. Yeah, it's more expensive, at $75, but that power supply is going to be hard to beat for the price. Most Antec 350W PS cost at least $40, if not $50.

    And hell, let's be honest: pre-modded cases with a window on the side are okay for some, but others really prefer a classy look. Matching the silver case with beige parts looks tacky, as does the window. Gamers might thing it's cool, but many prefer a silent case that doesn't scream "LOOK AT ME!" (Yes, I'm 30+ now, so I no longer need a cool looking car or computer to feel good about myself.)
  • Evan Lieb - Sunday, April 25, 2004 - link

    Grishnakh, you cannot find 5900XT's for lower than $180. 9800 Pro cards can be had for $196. The difference in performance and IQ is worth the extra cost of the 9800 Pro. The 9600 Pro is considerably less than both, though performs noticeably slower. Problem is, we don't want to recommend video cards in the $200 range when lots of mid-range users will not need more power than a 9600 Pro.

    Also, the 2.8C is 20-30% faster than the 2800+, though closer to 20% in most instances. The "C" stands for 800MHz FSB in the U.S. by the way, I'm not sure what it stands for in your country.

    Ballistics, yes, guides are not recommended for fanboys. ;)
  • Grishnakh - Saturday, April 24, 2004 - link

    This "Midrange" is going to high
    Yes, Athlon XP 2800+ + 9600 Pro + 512MB seems reasonable..., however, C/P is low
    Additionally, if you partially change VGA alternatively to 9800 Pro for $196...or, tell you the truth.. In Taiwan, an Aopen Aeolus GFFX5900XT... is just $150

    "ATI has either led or has had a clear lead over NVIDIA in terms of performance and price" seem cannot be applied on 5900XT vs 9600Pro/XT

    Anyway, finally it would under 1000 with
    Athlon XP 2800+ + FX5900XT even R9800Pro...the cost is midrange... but the performance is topping...
    Exclude GF6800, Even Athlon 64 3400+ with 9800XT hardly yield a 30% performance boost in general.

    This is still a good guidance, especially for general public, however, there is 2 untruth in this article.

    1. P4 2.8CG did not as 20%~30% fast as 2800+...
    Do you know which CPU in P4 CG line is 20%~30% slower than P4 2.8CG...the answer is NO... because there are no P4 2.3CG or P4 2.0CG.
    An Athlon XP 2800+ is clocked in 2.083G...Even P4 2.4CG just slower than that...Is P4 2.4CG slower 20~30% than P4 2.8G?
    So, Yes, Athlon XP 2800+ is slower, but only about 10%

    2. FX5900XT, especially Aopen, providing a extremely low price for this...
    You just deliberately ignore the truth that the best buy in following three card.
    9800Pro in $200/ 5900XT in $150 / 9600Pro in $125
    Obviously, the answer is NVIDIA 5900XT.. neither 9800Pro nor 9600Pro
  • Grishnakh - Saturday, April 24, 2004 - link

  • Ballistics - Friday, April 23, 2004 - link

    Oops! AMD was processor of choice. :)

    I commented on last months mid-range system and was not happy that nVidia did not even get a mention. I jumped to the vid card section only to be once again surprised that nVidia is being portrayed as having inferior video cards compared to ATI.

    The FX5900XT is TWICE as fast as the 9600XT in most every benchmark. Does it cost twice as much???? NOOOOOOO! $189 shipped!!

  • Ballistics - Friday, April 23, 2004 - link


    Some people despise ATI and their buggy drivers. Some people will not build an AMD box. Why not try and reach out to everyone by offering an Intel and AMD solution, as well as an ATI and nVidia solution? The GeForce FX5900XT runs CIRCLES around the paltry 9600. I beleive that it has the best price:performance ratio.

    BTW AMD and nVidia rule!!

    It's OK to be a fanboy, unless you are writing for the masses.... If you are a fanboy, and write for the masses, at least have the courage to identify yourself as a fanboy! :P
  • IceVoltageccs - Friday, April 23, 2004 - link

    Evan the Antec SLK3700 is Sonatas little brother which is one the the best mid-towers in the market it is a very easy case to build with that has a great ps. (and a three year warrenty)Also the AMD Athlon 64 2800+ is avable in retail packages for around $184.00 add that with a Asus K8V Basic for $100.00 and you have a great system for the same price of the p4 2.8 sys you have. Reply
  • IceVoltageccs - Friday, April 23, 2004 - link

  • Evan Lieb - Friday, April 23, 2004 - link

    Thanks for the comments guys.

    yanon, we didn't recommend the CaseEdge's PSU for this guide. And the SLK3700 is actually $35 more than the CaseEdge, while offering absolutely nothing useful for a mid-range system.
  • yanon - Friday, April 23, 2004 - link

    I don't know why they keep on recommend that $40 CaseEdge case with a cheapo powersupply. For $20 more, one can get an Antec SLK3700 with a 350 Watt Antec powersupply. Most likely a user can reuse (unless manufacturers decided to switch away from ATX) a computer if he/she decided to do major upgrades on the computer 2 to 3 years from now. Thus, spending a little more on a computer is well worth it. Reply

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