AMD Motherboard and CPU Recommendations

We've already covered the basic dilemma with the AMD platform right now: to PCIe or not to PCIe, that is the question. You hopefully know yourself well enough to have made a decision on whether you want to be an early adopter or if you want to trail behind the bleeding edge and take a conservative approach. Our recommendations, incidentally, are made in light of what is actually available right now. We look at several vendor sites as well as our own RealTime Pricing Engine to find out what is currently in stock. That means there are exactly three PCIe boards from which to choose, and two of them are really in the high-end performance market (the SLI boards).

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AMD Platform Recommendation

Motherboard: MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum (NF3 250 Ultra)
Price: $139 Shipped
Processor: Athlon 64 3200+ 90nm (Retail)
Price: $215 Shipped

On the conservative approach, we continue to stick with the AGP platform and the nForce3 250 Ultra chipset. The MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum [RTPE: MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum] has worked very well in our testing, and we have several systems using it that are running without any problems. Tweaking and overclocking options are very good if it's something that you're interested in, and you get known reliability and performance with a low chance of any unforeseen bugs in your system. If living on the bleeding edge and potentially troubleshooting your new PC on a regular basis is not your idea of a good time, this is still the most sensible platform. Realistically, this will probably be the last time that we actually recommend this platform, as the new nForce4 motherboards - not to mention alternatives using the ATI Express 200 chipsets and perhaps even some VIA PCIe solutions - should reach the point where we can give them a full recommendation by the time we next run our Mid-Range Guide.

For the processor, we opt for the 90nm Athlon 64 3200+ part [RTPE: ADA3200DIK4B]. It offers plenty of power with a reasonable price. Overclockers will also appreciate the added clockspeed headroom and reduced heat of the 90nm parts, but that's a topic for another Guide. A 3500+ would be nice, but the 90nm parts are too expensive while the 130nm 3500+ has a higher power draw. Our tests showed that the power draw of the 90nm parts is significantly lower than the 130nm parts. So, if you're the one actually paying the electricity bills, the 90nm parts will easily save you money over time, relative to the 130nm parts - particularly if you leave your PC running 24/7.

Click images to enlarge.

AMD Platform Alternative

Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-K8NF-9 (NF4 4X)
Price: $146 Shipped
Motherboard: ASUS A8N SLI Deluxe (NF4 SLI)
Price: $197 Shipped
Processor: Athlon 64 3500+ 90nm (Retail)
Price: $324 Shipped

For those who like to live on the edge, PCI Express boards are finally starting to appear at retail. Finding them in stock, unfortunately, can be difficult, and this affects our recommendation. You'll have to wait for a full review, but our "mid-range" suggestion right now is to pick up the Gigabyte GA-K8NF-9. Newegg has listed the Chaintech VNF4/Ultra [RTPE: Chaintech nForce4 Ultra VNF4] for a couple weeks now, but either they're disappearing so fast that they're almost never in stock, or they may not really be available yet. The Chaintech looks to be the potentially better performer, as it includes the Ultra version of the nForce4 chipset instead of the cheaper 4X version. The difference, if you recall, is that the Ultra has an unlocked HyperTransport multiplier that should offer more in the way of overclocking, while the 4X is supposed to be locked at a 4X HyperTransport multiplier (800 MHz) - at least, it's not validated to run at anything other than 4X. If you're not concerned with official validation, the Gigabyte GA-K8NF-9 [RTPE: Gigabyte nForce4 GA-K8NF-9] is readily available from several sources, and it includes some additional features like IEEE1394b.

If you're really serious about shifting to PCI Express boards right now, a better pick would probably be the ASUS A8N SLI Deluxe [RTPE: ASUS nForce4 A8N-SLI Deluxe], which is available for about $200 now from several locations. Gigabyte and MSI also offer SLI boards, but they're less available and even more expensive than the ASUS. We've talked a lot about the benefits of SLI vs. non-SLI, but let's just say that it's the only option that makes a lot of sense to us at this moment in time. If you really want to make the shift to PCI Express, you might as well get an SLI motherboard at the same time. It's a high-end option, of course, but so are all PCIe graphics cards above the 6600GT.

For the processor on our alternative platform, we've upgraded to the Athlon 64 3500+ processor [RTPE: ADA3500DIK4B]. Spending more for the 3800+ will take us well out of the mid-range price segment, as the 3800+ costs nearly twice as much as the 3500+ - even the 3500+ is rather expensive. We use the 90nm 3500+ as opposed to the 130nm version (which is cheaper at present). With the potential SLI video cards sucking down a lot of power, it can't hurt to cut the processor's power consumption.

Index Intel Recommendations


View All Comments

  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - link

    ^^^ Er, Foxconn is at, not GameVE. Reply
  • 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. Reply
  • 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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