System Summaries

That takes care of the recommendations for four different systems. We've included AMD and Intel variants for both platforms, though we have to say that we prefer two of the choices over the others. The Intel Gaming solution is really not the best fit for that market, while the Pentium D with 2GB of RAM really provides a lot of value for the Office and Professional market. (Yes, the AMD X2 is also very good in that market, though it does cost more.)

Gaming Systems

AMD Mid-Range Gaming System
Hardware Component Price
Processor Athlon 64 3000+ Venice 512K 1.80GHz (939) - Retail 146
Motherboard DFI LanParty UT SLI-DR 165
Memory Patriot PC-3200 2x512MB Extreme Performance XBL 150
Video Card XFX 7800 GT Overclocked 379
Hard Drive Western Digital SATA II 160GB 7200RPM 8MB Caviar SE 81
Optical Drive BenQ DW1640 Black (OEM) 43
Case Cooler Master Cavalier 3 CAV-T03-UK 76
Power Supply SunBeam 550W NUUO SUNNU550-US-BK Modular PSU 86
Display Acer AL1914smd-8 19 inch 8ms LCD 301
Speakers Labtec ARENA 685 5.1 Speakers 48
Keyboard and Mouse Logitech Internet Pro Desktop 23
Bottom Line 1498

Intel Mid-Range Gaming System
Hardware Component Price
Processor Pentium 630 2MB 3.0GHz (775) - Retail 175
Motherboard ASUS P5ND2-SLI Deluxe 199
Memory Corsair PC-5300 2x512MB XMS2 C4 137
Video Card XFX 7800 GT Overclocked 379
Hard Drive Western Digital SATA II 160GB 7200RPM 8MB Caviar SE 81
Optical Drive BenQ DW1640 Black (OEM) 43
Case Cooler Master Cavalier 3 CAV-T03-UK 76
Power Supply SunBeam 550W NUUO SUNNU550-US-BK Modular PSU 86
Display Acer AL1914smd-8 19 inch 8ms LCD 301
Speakers Labtec ARENA 685 5.1 Speakers 48
Keyboard and Mouse Logitech Internet Pro Desktop 23
Bottom Line 1548

$1500+ for a "gaming system" seems like an awful lot of money, doesn't it? The $400 price of the upcoming Xbox 360 looks like a bargain by comparison! However, consider this for a moment: you don't need a display for the Xbox 360, as you use your TV - or alternatively, add the cost of a TV to the console. Furthermore, you can't do most business work on a console. Email, word processing, spreadsheets, surfing the Internet - some of those might be possible to a limited degree, but consoles certainly won't match the overall utility of a personal computer. If you're like many people, you already need a computer in your home. For gaming, you're pretty much just adding a $400 graphics card (and even a $200 graphics card would suffice).

If you can use your current monitor, speakers, keyboard, and mouse, and if you go with the EVGA bundle, you could get the price of a fully capable gaming system down to just over $1000, shipped. You could also go the other direction and buy 2x1GB of RAM, a faster CPU, a big LCD, and more HDD capacity (or multiple drives), resulting in a truly High-End system costing over $2000. Neither option is "correct", so spend what you want to spend and use this Buyer's Guide as exactly that: a guide on what you might want to purchase.

If you want other options on how to balance the Gaming performance against cost, drop the SLI support and get the Office motherboard selection, and drop to an Antec Sonata-II instead of the separate case and PSU. You save $114 on the either configuration. You can go with a cheaper graphics card as well - $230 for the X800XL, and you're right at the $1250 price point. Personally, though, we'd rather spend the extra money for the 7800GT.

Office Systems

AMD Mid-Range System
Hardware Component Price
Processor Athlon 64 X2 3800+ 2x512K 2.0GHz (939) - Retail 361
Motherboard EPoX EP-9NPA+Ultra 98
Memory Corsair PC-3200 2x512MB Value CL2.5 89
Video Card Connect3D Radeon X700 Pro 128MB 98
Hard Drive Hitachi SATA 250GB 7200RPM 8MB Deskstar T7K250 NCQ 120
Optical Drive NEC 3540A Black (OEM) 42
Case and Power Supply Antec Sonata II + SmartPower 2.0 450W PSU 115
Display Acer AL1914smd-8 19 inch 8ms LCD 301
Speakers Logitech Z-3e 2.1 Speakers 73
Keyboard and Mouse Logitech Internet Pro Desktop 23
Bottom Line 1320

Intel Mid-Range System
Hardware Component Price
Processor Pentium D 820 2x1MB 2.8GHz (775) - Retail 248
Motherboard ASUS 945P P5LD2 132
Memory Corsair PC-4200 2x1024MB Value 163
Video Card Connect3D Radeon X700 Pro 128MB 98
Hard Drive Hitachi SATA 250GB 7200RPM 8MB Deskstar T7K250 NCQ 120
Optical Drive NEC 3540A Black (OEM) 42
Case and Power Supply Antec Sonata II + SmartPower 2.0 450W PSU 115
Display Acer AL1914smd-8 19 inch 8ms LCD 301
Speakers Logitech Z-3e 2.1 Speakers 73
Keyboard and Mouse Logitech Internet Pro Desktop 23
Bottom Line 1315

Our Office configurations are a little less painful on the old pocketbook, ringing up at just over $1300. As with the Gaming setups, reusing your current display, speakers, etc. could reduce the cost quite a bit, getting under the $1000 price point. For the AMD setup, you might consider upgrading to 2x1GB of RAM, since multitasking that can take advantage of two cores is also more likely to surpass the 1GB RAM usage mark. The Intel system comes with 2GB of RAM, but the processor is definitely slower than the X2 3800+. It might be worth considering a CPU upgrade for the Intel system, but we're not really sold on the bang for the buck that it offers.

Some of you are probably wondering how the dual core CPUs perform in gaming systems. Many games work fine, though some have issues with two cores being present. (There aren't any current games that can actually utilize both cores, unfortunately.) Anand has mentioned recently that he's looking into gaming compatibility. We do have a modified version of the setaffin.exe Freeware program that might prove useful - unlike setaffin.exe and runfirst.exe, you can set the application to run on any CPU core instead of just CPU 0. If you'd like, give it a try - it's unsupported software, and we take no responsibility for what it might do to your system, of course. It's also available under the GPL license free of charge. (Thanks to Russell Pickett for providing the basis of the tool; simple, yet effective! We've avoided providing a direct link to his web page to avoid overloading his home server.)

Conclusion

We hope that you've found this Buyer's Guide to be useful, and we'll be releasing additional Guides more frequently in the future. Your comments, suggestions, and criticisms are welcome. As we've tried to make clear, there is no perfect system that we can recommend for every person. If you're willing to spend $1250 or so, however, there are plenty of decisions that can be made to tune the system to your needs.

We did not include an OS in the total cost of any system, so that would add $90 to $135 (when purchased with hardware) to the price for Windows XP. We should also mention that there has been some confusion about XP Home and dual-core support. XP SP2 will indeed support both cores; it is licensed as a single socket product, so it supports HyperThreading as well as the Pentium D and X2 processors. Even though it will work, we prefer the added flexibility of XP Professional and feel that it is worth the extra $45.

You could also ditch Microsoft altogether and go with Linux or some other Unix derivative - probably not for gaming, but OpenOffice with Linux actually makes for a rather potent office system. We wouldn't give such a setup to your grandparents, but more knowledgeable computer users shouldn't have too much trouble figuring out how to get such a system working properly.

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  • GMAN003 - Friday, October 7, 2005 - link

    First of all, Great guide Jarred! Because of your article I am now an AnandTech member for life! @$$kissing aside, here are some of my questions and suggestions for your article.

    1) Would you have noticed any significant speed gains by using different memory types such as DDR500 memory as recommend by DFI on their website? Yes, I know, its more expensive, but for the enthusiast on a budget, wouldn't overclocking memory be more up my ally especially for any future processor upgrades?

    2) For future guides, you may want to consider a more comparable AMD vs Intel office processor. From reading other articles on the web, isn't the AMD64 3800 X2 processor more comparable to an Intel Celeron D 830 processor? In fact, in some benchmarks I have seen the 3800X2 be faster than the Intel Celeron D 840 processor?

    3) I bought almost every part in your gaming system for a friend, except for the case/pwr supply and hard drive. Rolling the dice with an Aspire X-Navigator 500watt just for looks and a Raptor74GB for seek/write times. Any future posts on what you have been able to reach as "stable" OC levels and what your detailed bios settings are would be appreciated. From what I keep seeing around the web, most of my framerates in my games should be in the high 100's FPS. :-D Needless to say, I'm happy with the advice.

    Again, thanks Jarred.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 26, 2005 - link

    Heh - old post that I never saw. Glad you liked the article. For overclocking, there are many options. I wrote a "Venice Overclocking" article that covers many of the questions you asked. I'll be doing an Athlon X2 followup.

    I tried to make it clear in the article that the X2 was far superior in performance than the Pentium D. Price was a consideration, and if there were a cheaper X2 than the 3800+, I would have happily used it. Personally, I'd say the 3800+ actually outperforms even the Pentium D 840 in most benchmarks, and only heavy multitasking with four or more processes will favor the Pentium D 840EE. Once you look into overclocking, it really becomes no comparison. 2.6 GHz on the X2 3800+ compared to perhaps 3.2 or 3.4 GHz on the 820.
    Reply
  • Anubis - Sunday, September 25, 2005 - link

    especially of an office computer SLI is totally useless, you could save 100$ on the office comp and about 70 on the gameing one by going with a non SLI NF4 mobo Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, October 1, 2005 - link

    SLI was *not* recommended for the office configurations. The choice of the X700 Pro as the GPU should be clear evidence of that. Reply
  • Crescent13 - Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - link

    There are just a few minior things I would change...

    Jetway SLI motherboard instead of SLI-DR, it might be a bit better value for a mid-range gaming system.

    I personally don't really like XFX, because they don't have that great of service and support, I would get an EVGA 7800GT, of course, that's just my opinion :)

    I think I would get a hitachi 160GB SATAII hard drive, instead of western digital, hitachi has 8.5 MS seek time, western digital is 8.9 MS.

    I would choose a forton source PSU, instead of SunBeam, for more stability.

    I think the logitech x-530's would be a better choice than the labtec areana speakers.

    this is all just my opinion, it's still a good guide :)
    Reply
  • Googer - Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - link

    If you are running a Venice Core Processor why would you run PC3200? Venice is perfectly capable of running DDR500 with out over clocking. AMD Said So. Reply
  • Pythias - Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - link

    Because amd cpus benefit more form tight timings than bandwidth? http://forums.anandtech.com/messageview.aspx?catid...">http://forums.anandtech.com/messageview...amp;thre... Reply
  • SimonNZ - Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - link

    because low latency ddr500 cost a small fortune, well mine did anyhow and most people buying in the mid range of the market arnt going 2 notice the difference....hell i dont:P Reply
  • Pythias - Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - link

    From what I gather you arent going to notice ddr500 over ddr400 whay spend more money? Reply
  • cryptonomicon - Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - link

    uh..

    "With the motherboard and CPU that we've selected, though, you should be able to reach much higher speeds than 1.80GHz. 2.40GHz (267MHz CPU bus with the stock 9X CPU multiplier) is about as sure of an overclock as anything that we've seen."

    no. no overclock is guaranteed and i am pretty surprised i am seeing an advocation for overclocking in this guide. i overclock myself but a brazen statement like that is just inviting hoardes of people to try the board, and not even know what they are getting into. OCing should come into the picture on most gaming hardware but in this guide its more like the OC is sort of an assumed part of the value. i really hate seeing 'sure' associated with 'overclock'. that's just another 100, 200, 1000 people at dfi-street.com that i have to troubleshoot for because they don't know what they are doing. allright well that's just a rant, nothing personal.
    Reply

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