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 - $96 shipped

Not surprisingly, AMD's Athlon XP 2800+ is still our choice for mid-range users this week. Its stellar bang for the buck (and indeed, most Athlon XP processors) is simply unbeatable at the moment. 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). You may luck out and receive a 2800+ that comes unlocked (for you overclockers out there), but we wouldn't hold our breath knowing that AMD hasn't shipped factory unlocked 2800+ processors for a few months running.

Over the last couple of months, we started to see Athlon 64 processors find their way into the mid-range user's price range. The lowest priced Athlon 64 is the 2800+ version running at 1.83GHz, currently selling for $173 shipped from many popular online vendors. However, we should note that the Athlon 64 2800+ comes with only 512K L2 cache instead of the standard 1MB L2 cache that come with the vast majority of Athlon 64 processors currently shipping. In addition, the $173 price tag is OEM, meaning that you have to buy your own cooling, which costs 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 motherboards like 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, a feature that offers superior sound quality if you're using speakers with a receiver and optical out. This feature is one of the reasons why we ended up choosing the AN7, as users get the MCP-T South Bridge that, in all likelihood, is going to be much more useful for everyday tasks (gaming especially) 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 and the same motherboard. Purchasing either one is a fine choice for an Athlon XP 2800+ processor.

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


View All Comments

  • qquizz - Friday, June 25, 2004 - link

    I would go with the Barton 2500+ if your an overclocker. Overclocks better/same as 2800+ according to overclockers.com database.
    $75 OEM
  • yankee428 - Thursday, June 10, 2004 - link

    1. I have some friends who comment that they used AMD over Intel recently and needed to go out and get fancy cooling systems because AMD runs hot. This cost them about $30 and basically blew the saving that motivated them to choose AMD in the first place.

    2. Often you quote a price on proc's in your guide, but that price is usually for OEM chip only. Does not include the cooling system.
  • slurmsmackenzie - Tuesday, June 08, 2004 - link


    i read a review in here that put the asus sis655tx as equal or better that most of it's 865 875 counterparts. including the p4p800. while being 15% cheaper. i know the price is higher, but the oc'ing capability on the 2.8 is the hands down favorite for me. i'm a mutitasking encoding junkie! divx rocks!
  • D9r - Saturday, May 29, 2004 - link

    You recommend the ABIT "AN7" nForce2 Ultra 400 motherboard ($96).

    How does that compare with the ECS "KT600-A" (VIA KT600 + VT8237 chipset) ($45)? Both seem to have the same or similar features.

  • jamessmiddleton - Wednesday, May 26, 2004 - link

    The one thing that this review seems to ignore regarding the Athlon64 2800 vs. the AthlonXP 2800 is that you will be able to upgrade to a higher clocked Athlon64 in the future while the XP has no upgrade path that does not require a new mobo. This combined with the 64bitness ensure that the Athlon64 rig will have a significantly longer usable lifespan than the XP. Well worth the $80 for a midrange system, in my opinion. I think that the low end Athlon64 should be the midrange proc of choice for some time to come. Reply
  • gherald - Tuesday, May 25, 2004 - link

    Well #19 that depends on what you're doing with your system... Intel is clearly better at multimedia encoding and getting insane Quake 3 Arena fps :) Reply
  • MAME - Tuesday, May 25, 2004 - link

    no point comparing intel to amd, amd is the clear winner in price and performance Reply
  • Tostada - Monday, May 24, 2004 - link

    The summary at the end says "Western Digital 800BB (40GB) $68" ... I'm sure this is a typo, seeing as the WD800JB 80GB is $68 at NewEgg.

    I do think it is quite odd that WD drives are always recommended, though. Samsung/Hitachi drives are both quieter and cooler, and Hitachi SATA drives are much faster. Do WD drives even use FD bearings? WD is really behind the times, and I really don't like the way they refuse to tell you the transfer rate and platter count of drives. Sure, the drives they send the review sites have 80GB platters, but when you buy one you might get a drive with 40GB platters, because it's the same model number.

    If you're already getting a motherboard with SATA on it, you should be getting a SATA hard drive. The 80GB SATA Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 with 8MB cache and 3-year warranty is $73.25 at NewEgg, and it's extremely fast. It matches the 36GB Raptor in most benchmarks, and is much faster than the WD800JB.

    High-End DriveMark 2002:
    Raptor 740GD: 585 IO/sec
    Raptor 360GD: 467 IO/sec
    Hitachi 7K250: 442 IO/sec
    WD800JB: 375 IO/sec

    StorageReview Gaming DriveMark 2002:
    Raptor 740GD: 749 IO/sec
    Raptor 360GD: 588 IO/sec
    Hitachi 7K250: 588 IO/sec
    WD800JB: 477 IO/sec

    WB99 Max Read Transfer Rate:
    Raptor 740GD: 71.8 MB/sec
    Raptor 360GD: 57.4 MB/sec
    Hitachi 7K250: 60.4 MB/sec
    WD800JB: 49.3 MB/sec

    Idle Noise:
    Raptor 740GD: 42.3 dB/A
    Raptor 360GD: 43.1 dB/A
    Hitachi 7K250: 41.5 dB/A
    WD800JB: 45.0 dB/A

    So, the Hitachi SATA drive is quieter, 25% faster than the WD800JB and costs $5 more. They both have a 3-year warranty.

    I've used plenty WD drives, and I can't criticise anybody too much as long as they're smart enough to get something with a 3-year warranty, but in this situation it's ridiculous to suggest the WD drive.

    The only other choice is the Raptor 74GB, which is $200.
  • TrogdorJW - Friday, May 21, 2004 - link

    The only reason I would consider an Athlon 64 2800+ would be if it overclocks well. Relative performance against a 2.8C P4 isn't as nice as comparing a 3000+ to a 3.0C P4 or a 3200+ to a 3.0C. And we all know that a 2.8C can overclock like Big Ben on crack.

    I know this isn't the overclocking system, but with 2500+ Mobile chips costing ~$30 less than the 2800+ and pretty much guaranteed to at least run as fast as the 2800+ with even low end heatsinks, I'm not sure I would stick with Athlon XP on a mid-range non-overclocked system. Either upgrade to a 2.8C P4 or go with the Athlon 64 3000+.

    Of course, last time I ran one of my PCs at stock CPU speeds was... hmmm.... 1996, I guess. Pentium 120. *sigh* Those were the days.....
  • crimson117 - Friday, May 21, 2004 - link

    On the main processor page, you say that while the Athlon 64 2800 is nice, at it's too expensive compared to the price/performance of the Barton 2800.

    Recommended mobo/cpu:
    Barton 2800 ($120) + AN7 ($96): $216

    and the alternative mobo/cpu is:
    P4 2.8C ($179) + ASUS P4P800 Deluxe ($119) = $298 ($83 more than barton)

    But you could get a A64 2800 with lan/audio mobo for about the same money as the pentium alternative!

    Shuttle nForce3 150 AN50R ($125 shipped at ZipZoomFly) + A64 2800 Retail ($184 shipped at ZipZoomFly): $309 ($94 more than barton)

    So for $11 more than your P4 alternative, you have 64-bit capability. I think anyone building a midrange system would appreciate getting next generation technology for $11 more, and it would be a more meaningful "alternative" than a P4 since not only would you get more speed, you'd get an entire new class of capabilities.

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