Writing new Buyer's Guides month after month gives you a certain perspective on the market. One of the things that we've come to realize is that waiting for future performance in the way of faster components is generally a waste of time. The fact of the matter is that many of the "Next Big Thing" upgrades, which we often look forward to, either end up taking far longer than expected to materialize, or else they only improve performance by 10% to 20% for the same price. If you're waiting for a price drop on an item, how much is your time really worth? Naturally, if you have a decent computer and don't really need the upgrades, waiting never hurts. Newer and better parts are always coming out. Once you're ready to upgrade, though, we would recommend that you take the plunge and not look back.

For this month's Mid-Range Guide, PCI Express and Athlon 64 are finally available...barely. Are they worth it? The answer depends on the individual and the goals for the system. If you want the best potential for upgrades, go for PCI Express, and probably even spend the extra money on an SLI motherboard. For the infrequent upgraders, it really doesn't seem to be all that big of a deal. If you don't need a lot of graphics performance, the budget to mid-range price segment is basically a tie in terms of price/performance. However, price/performance is only one side of the equation. Stability and reliability are still somewhat unknown with PCI Express motherboards, as it is version 1.0 hardware – the so-called "bleeding edge" of hardware.

If that doesn't seem like a big deal to you, recall that the initial Athlon 64 socket 754 motherboards had quite a few minor problems. For instance, RAM compatibility and tweaking/overclocking features were somewhat problematic. New technologies almost always have some issues, and socket 939 PCIe is not likely to be any different. 939 PCIe chipsets were slated originally to launch as early as September of last year, but then they were delayed several times, and only now are they finally becoming available. What caused the delays, and have they now fixed all the potential problems? As for the causes, certainly there were some technical difficulties that had to be addressed. There's always a chance that we won't encounter any glitches on the final hardware, but more likely than not, a few minor problems will surface that some people would just as soon avoid. If that sounds like you, we would recommend that you stick with the tried-and-true approach of AGP platforms. On the other hand, if you want to take the plunge and are willing to deal with some potential teething problems, go for it.

Our recommendations in this Guide will cover both options. As usual, we're going to be shooting for a specific price point with our Guide; in the case of this Mid-Range Guide, that target will be roughly $1250. We'll have a few options, including the requisite AMD and Intel recommendations as well as some alternatives. As in most recent Guides, we continue to feel that AMD has the upper hand in terms of price as well as performance, but we don't want to neglect our Intel holdouts. Let's start with AMD.

AMD Recommendations
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  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    ^^^ Er, Foxconn is at, not GameVE.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    44 - This was written by January 18th and published Jan 21st. Things change rapidly, which is why the Buyer's Guides are really just a snapshot in time. There are several NF4 boards now available at Newegg, including the Chaintech and an MSI Neo4 Platinum. Odd that the Chaintech lists "NVIDIA 7.1-channel audio" - is SoundStorm back with NF4? I don't think I had heard about that. The Gigabyte board is also available from quite a few other resellers besides Newegg, of course. There's even a $109 Foxconn NF4 board at GameVE. Interesting! Not that I've had any good Foxconn experiences, but $109 is attractive.
  • jleandro - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    Don't want to be a pain, you guys review whatever boards you think are worthy, but I just checked Newegg and here's what they had IN STOCK:

    CHAINTECH NVIDIA nForce4 Ultra Chipset Motherboard For AMD Socket 939 CPU, Model "VNF4/Ultra" -RETAIL US$ 135

    MSI "K8N Neo4 Platinum" NVIDIA nForce4 Ultra Chipset Motherboard For AMD Socket 939 CPU -RETAIL US$ 159

    GIGABYTE "GA-K8NXP-SLI" NVIDIA nForce4 SLI Chipset Motherboard For AMD Socket 939 CPU -RETAIL US$ 249

    ASUS "A8N-SLI Deluxe" nForce4 SLI Chipset Motherboard For AMD Socket 939 CPU -RETAIL US$ 265

    Interesting that the Gigabyte K8NF-9 was actually not in stock.
  • hawksballer - Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - link

  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 24, 2005 - link

    41 - Guide editors changed a few months back. The "alternative" configurations have always been more expensive, and they include *all* the alternatives, usually. If you were to take this Guide's alternative (NF4) and stick with the recommend parts everywhere else, price would drop considerably. I haven't made a point of highlighting this, but I did change the pricing targets a bit on the Guides.

    For the budget, I typically try for $500, but I usually end up closer to $600. Compromises to drop the price are possible but undesirable, i.e. go with 1x256 MB of RAM. The Budget altenative I generally target slightly below the Mid-Range, so $900 to $1000 is usually where it lands.

    The Mid-Range has been bumped to $1250 by default, which generally allows for a very good all-around system with few (if any) compromises. The alternative Mid-Range I try to keep under $2000, although closer to $1750 is desirable.

    I haven't done any High-End or OC Guides, but High-End will be in the $2000+ range (maxing out at $4000 or so with *all* the trimmings), and the OC Guide is really just about any of the above price goals. I'm working on one of those.

    Hopefully that answers your questions. If you want to trim costs a bit on the Mid-Range, going to a slower CPU and GPU usually cuts close to $200, but then it's no longer an all-around system.
    #40: The Chaintech may very well be available in Hungary, but it is not at all available in the US right now. Newegg is the one of the few sites that even list it, and any boards have disappeared *FAST*. If you picked on up without difficulty where you live, more power to you! Lucky #@$^&*%! ;)
  • wilburpan - Monday, January 24, 2005 - link

    Is it just me, or have the Mid-Range and Entry Level Buyer's Guides suffered from price inflation? It seems to me that way back when, the price points for these two were a solid $1000 and $500, respectively. Now the Entry Level Guide has a budget of up to $1000, while the Mid-Range Guide is pushing $2000.

    I can understand that picking price points is an arbitrary process, but I would think that for comparing what your computer dollar buys you over tme, it would be nice to remain consistent.
  • jleandro - Monday, January 24, 2005 - link

    Can't understand why the Chanitech NF4 Ultra Zenith is not considered to be available.

    I live in Hungary (not the prime tech spot) and this board has been available for some time, most retailers have it.

    In fact I just bought one today for ~110 USD and will pick it up tomorrow.

    For instance, check under "alaplapok" (motherboard in Hungarian).
  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 24, 2005 - link

    38 - Thanks. It's corrected now. The marketing for the drive states "with SATA-II features" and somewhere along the line that got put in as SATA-II. :| Basically, the drive has hot-swap capability and NCQ, which are both SATA-II. It does not support 300MB/s, but then burst transfer rates really matter much. With sustained transfer rates of even the fastest drives maxing out around 70 MB/s, it will be quite some time before SATA-II transfer rates really show real-world benefit.

    37 - 0dB computing? I'm not sure I'm the one to address that, but it's certainly something to think about. I'll pass that along and see if we can acquire the parts for such a test. They're relatively expensive in comparison to fan-based solutions, unfortunately.
  • AnnihilatorX - Monday, January 24, 2005 - link

    A misleading information I just found and thought would like to point out...

    The Maxtor Diamond Max 10 300GB with NCQ 16MB cache (6B300S0) is SATA-I/150 in terms of transfer speed, but not SATA-II/300 as stated in page 6.

    "Maxtor 300GB SATA-II with NCQ and 16MB cache"
  • ceefka - Monday, January 24, 2005 - link

    Again a great guide. I was already interested in the Maxtor 300 GB SATA II. I guess in that case you'll have to go with the Gigabyte GA-K8NF-9 or any of the other nForce 4 boards.

    Would it be a challenge for AT to build a 0dB PC with high end components with Intel and AMD and compare notes. This machine should at least be a mid-range performer or just as high as you can go on 0dB.

    I wonder because I'd like to build something really quiet. I have already looked into components like Yesico FL420 and fanless CPU coolers, but I am not sure if all of that will work with also two Maxtor 300GB SATA-II's in

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