CPU and Motherboard Recommendations

CPU: AMD Athlon 64 FX53 1MB L2 cache (2.4GHz) - SOCKET 939
Motherboard: MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum - SOCKET 939
Price: CPU - $829 shipped (retail heatsink and fan). Motherboard - $145 shipped

For those looking for the best performance possible, it would be tough to recommend anything other than the Athlon 64 FX53. The Athlon 64 is currently the fastest processor that you can buy, the Dual-Channel Socket 939 is the top-performing A64 Socket, and the FX is the fastest 939 processor. The FX also has the distinction of being the only processor that is completely unlocked. That means that you can adjust multipliers both up and down, to obtain the highest possible speed at the fastest DDR400 memory timings, or to obtain the highest FSB that your high speed memory can run or your CPU can reach

With Intel's recent introduction of Socket 775 came a new 560 Pentium 4, which runs at 3.6GHz. While the 560 is closer in performance than the previous 3.4GHz P4 or the 3.4EE, the FX53 is still the top-performing CPU. In addition, all current Pentium 4 processors can only run 32-bit code, so AMD's Athlon 64 is unique because it can run 32-bit code as well or better than the top competition in addition to 64-bit code for the future. All-in-all, the FX53 represents a good choice if you are building a high-end system, whether in the newest Socket 939 or the older Socket 940.

We chose Socket 939 for the future, since this appears to be AMD's primary socket moving forward. Socket 939 also has the added feature of being able to use any of a very wide selection of commonly available unbuffered DDR memory instead of the harder to find and more expensive registered DDR required by Socket 940 motherboards. You will get almost identical performance at almost the same cost with the Asus SK8V motherboard, the socket 940 FX53, and OCZ DDR433 Registered DDR memory. These selections are proven performers and are only very slightly slower than the Socket 939 in any benchmark.

While they are just beginning to appear in the retail channel (finally!), the MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum stood out in our recent Socket 939 roundup as a top performer and earned the AnandTech Gold Editor's Choice. Perhaps even more important for performance, the K8N Neo2 was the only board in the 939 roundup to match and actually edge ahead of the standout memory performance of the legendary Asus P4C800-E in our overclock tests. The K8N Neo2 actually reached a Clock Frequency of 290 (DDR580) with fast DDR550 memory that we used in our overclock tests. Wherever you can take the FX53, the K8N Neo2 will go - to the limits of your CPU or memory.

When the day is done, the K8N Neo2 will continue to impress with a full implementation of the features of the nForce3-250Gb/Ultra including fast on-chip LAN, any-drive RAID that allows IDE and SATA hard drives to be combined in RAID arrays, and an on-chip Firewall. The feature set compares well to any premium Socket 939 on the market and will not disappoint. You can count on a working AGP/PCI lock with adjustments from 66 to 100, CPU multipliers from 4X to 20X, HyperTransport adjustments from 1GHz to 200MHz (5x-1x), and CPU frequencies from 200 - 300. You also get a full range of voltage adjustments - vCore to 1.85V, memory voltage to 2.85V, and vAGP to 1.85V. This is even a board for the beginning overclocker, since there are automatic overclocking selections in Core Cell that set everything for you. You just choose the % overclock from 1% to 11% and the board does the rest.

The MSI provides everything that you would expect in a high-end motherboard for the Athlon 64. Memory up to 4GB is supported in Dual-Channel mode. Support is also included for up to 8 USB devices and 3 Firewire devices. There is also a second Gigabit LAN port for added flexibility. On-Board audio is provided by the latest Realtek 7.1 ALC850 with SPDIF I/O.

We have never tested a perfect board, and as much as we like the K8N Neo2, there are still areas for improvement. MSI has answered one suggestion by providing an improved CPU frequency range to 350 in the latest 1.1 BIOS. Another improvement MSI could make is to provide finer adjustments for CPU ratios, providing 0.5X ratios like some of the competing boards. Last, there is no real voltage adjustment for HT or chipset voltage, and that would add to the flexibility. However, in the end, it's hard to complain about a board that does so much so well. The MSI is a great board to house the FX53 for the High-End system.

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.

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View All Comments

  • decptt - Sunday, September 12, 2004 - link

    Sep 11, No OC guide again -_-"
    I am waiting for Fink' comment about HS/HSF.
  • rbils - Wednesday, September 08, 2004 - link

    Ignore me. I read the comments last week, and didn't bother to read them again before I posted today. Sorry! Reply
  • rbils - Wednesday, September 08, 2004 - link

    I didn't notice in the article, but are you using the included (retail) heatsink and fan that ships with the AMD processor? If so, do you feel that it is adequate as installed? I've read so much lately about 3rd party CPU coolers and thermal compound that it has me questioning whether or not the items shipping with the retail CPU are sufficient. Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Thursday, September 02, 2004 - link

    The 480W True Power has been more than adequate for my tests, BUT the OCZ 520W was my recommendation for the last Overclocking Guide. I personally believe the Antec 480W is more than adequate, but the OCZ 520W does provide an extra margin of safety - particularly if you plan to overclock your video card or seriously overclock the whole system. The OCZ 520 has the added advantage of both 24-pin and 20 pin compatability as well. If you can handle the OCZ price of $150 it is an excellent choice.

    As for coolers, water cooling and phase-change are outstanding, but specialized and expensive, and beyond the scope of our recommendations. I have had good success with the stock A64 cooler made by Ajigo, and it is MUCH better than past AMD coolers - even for some modest overclocking. If you want more, there are coolers that do a better job. My favorites are the Scythe Samurai, the Thermalright SLK948U, and the Thermaltake Silent Boost K8. The Gigabyte 3D Cooler Ultra GT is also great-looking, but it really doesn't add that much in the way of improved cooling over the stock fan. The Samurai, SLK948U, and Gigabyte are Universal HSF and will work on most sockets.
  • southernpac - Thursday, September 02, 2004 - link

    Congradulations on a comprehensive and well thought out guide. I will very shortly be relying on it a lot. Two concerns: As #16 has testified to his 480W PSU being inadequite, I would like for AnandTech to comment on this (we are relying on your advise in making this purchase). I realize that nVidia has revised their power requirement downward, but only after a lot of critism. As I don't want any more heat in the case than is really necessary, SHOULD more than 480W be shown necessary, I would also like your view of OCZ's 520W PSU.

    The one hole in the review certainly appears to be the lack of a recommendation for a better than "decent" (read adequite) cooler. If there are "better solutions" available - the high-end system should have it. Heat is the enemy of electronics, so the best cooler is worth while, particularly at only about $50. However it's not that simple - hence the need for a recommendation. #44 for example advocates his Zalman CNPS7000B-Cu, but if you look at Zalman's own site info on this cooler, Zalman specifically disavows moving any system having an installed cooler weigning over 450g. The 7000B-Cu weighs 755g (50% over Zalman's own limit). Many high-end coolers have similar weight. The just released Gigabyte 3D Rocket heat pipe cooler has just reduced it's weight to ONLY 500g's - but is it still effective now that it's aluminium instead of copper? Wesley please, we need a recommendation! In spite of the above - a great guide! Bill
  • NoGodForMe - Thursday, September 02, 2004 - link

    Great article.

    I'd be interested in seeing if the Thermalright XP-120 fits in the Asus AV8 and other AMD boards for the FX53.

    And most of these products are still hard to find. I'm sure someone will say they can get them, but it's very hard to do. For example, find me a BFG 6800 Ultra OC.
  • southernpac - Thursday, September 02, 2004 - link

  • gimper48 - Thursday, September 02, 2004 - link

    When is the next Overclocking Review?!! Reply
  • swampy11 - Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - link

    I certainly agree with your picks for the Hi-end set-up, but here is my question. With the new PCI-Express just around the corner and the supposed "horsepower" gain by this new architecture, should I jump in now with your suggested Hi-end recommendation or wait until the newer GPU and MB bear fruit.... probably fourth quarter?
  • Uff - Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - link

    Personally, I had quite a negative experience with my stock cooler, as soon as I locked the cam lever, it bent my motherboard just enough to make my RAM not make contact with the slots in the middle, resulting in failed boots. In addition to that, while it did keep my cpu temps at reasonable levels they were far from perfect.

    2 days later i received my Zalman 7000B-Cu and my temps dropped over 10C even if the cooler was running in silent mode (which is practically inaudible as opposed to the level of noise you get with the retail HSF).

    While the stock cooler might do its job (barely), this was, after all, a high-end guide, and there's nothing high-end about that HSF.

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