To Buy, or not to Buy?

We haven't done a Buyers' Guide for a while, and enough things have changed in the midrange sector that it's high time we rectify the situation. We're going to try and narrow the focus a little bit this time, so there will basically be two system recommendations: one for AMD and one for Intel. That's not to say there aren't plenty of alternatives, and we will be listing many of the other options on individual component pages. The simple truth is that there are a lot of reasonable choices out there, so just because we don't list something explicitly doesn't mean that it's a bad choice. If you have any questions, you can always email me or ask our forum members for advice.

If you follow the computer hardware scene, you're probably already questioning the timing of this Buyers' Guide. AMD will be launching their new socket AM2 platform in just a few more weeks, so going out and purchasing a new system right now based on their older 939 platform doesn't seem to make much sense. However, the truth of the matter is that socket AM2 doesn't appear to be ready to add much in the way of performance. Basically, it will change memory types, there will be a couple new high-end processors, and later on we should also see some budget Sempron processors for the platform. This is the midrange sector, though, so we can immediately toss out chips like the FX-62 that will cost over $1000. Likewise, we can toss out the low-end single core Sempron chips. Given that this is a brand new platform, it's also reasonable to expect prices to be somewhat higher than the current platforms, and choice of components is also going to be limited - mostly in the motherboard area, but that's a critical component.

What it all comes down to is that we really don't expect AM2 to seriously change the outlook of the AMD market. It certainly won't be a bad platform, but we expect most midrange buyers will wait at least several months before switching, as that will give the platform a chance to mature, and it should also bring lower prices. High-end buyers will definitely want to wait, because at the top of the performance spectrum the new platform should offer the potential for another 10% more performance. Overclocking enthusiasts might also want to wait, if for no other reason than to see how DDR2 affects the price/performance overclocking scene. The current prices of DDR2-533 and DDR2-667 are much lower than competing DDR offerings, and while latency is slightly higher, you can get much higher bandwidth - that's especially if you want 1GB DIMMs. For the remaining potential buyers as well as upgraders, there is much less incentive to wait for the new platform. Waiting a few more weeks might save you $20, but that's probably about it.

What about Intel and the new Core Duo 2 chips? That question is a bit more tricky to answer. We fully expect Core Duo 2 to outperform anything else Intel currently offers, potentially by as much as 35% for the same price CPU - maybe even more! However, the launch date for Conroe is still two months away, and you still have to worry about the cost of motherboards, motherboard availability, not to mention the nature of version 1.0 hardware. The Intel overclocking enthusiasts can probably be happy short term by purchasing something like the AOpen i975Xa-YDG and Core Duo T2400. Unfortunately, that particular motherboard is rather expensive, and the Core Duo processors aren't cheap either. You basically end up matching the performance offered by AMD X2 overclocking at a higher price. Socket 775 975X motherboards are also expensive, and we're still not 100% sure they'll all work with Core Duo 2 chips, but they do potentially provide an upgrade path.

If you're willing to wait and find out how the market develops over the next couple months, that certainly isn't a bad idea. As we always say, you really only need to upgrade your computer when you're unhappy with the current level of performance. Plenty of people are still running old socket 478, 462, and 754 systems, and they're perfectly happy with the level of performance and they have. The "latest and greatest" computer games (in terms of graphical complexity, not necessarily gameplay) almost certainly struggle on those older systems without reducing the graphics quality, but if you don't play games you probably won't care about or notice the "missing" performance. We will of course be providing updated Buyers' Guides in the future, but for the most part we don't recommend waiting for the Next Big Thing to show up - you could potentially end up waiting forever for the "perfect" time to buy. Our Buyers' Guides are simply a recommendation for what we would buy at this point in time, and not an indication that we think you need to upgrade if you're running slower hardware.

AMD Platform
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  • jonp - Friday, August 11, 2006 - link

    Just to note, Asus P5LD2, PCB version 2.01G, BIOS version 1207 supports the Core 2 Duo (Conroe) processors!
    http://support.asus.com/cpusupport/cpusupport.aspx">http://support.asus.com/cpusupport/cpusupport.aspx
    Reply
  • jiulemoigt - Saturday, May 13, 2006 - link

    I really have wonder somedays if reviewers even understand their target audience anymore. My favorite statement in the entire article "CRTs pretty much target the budget market exclusively these days", this has to have been in ignorence, I can understand they weigh too much and take up too much space, but if your suggesting that displays which have higher resolutions and refresh rates being cheaper makes them budget market, I'd love to be the guy that sells you hardware. Most LCD are inferior exspecailly at the prices you talking about, at four hundred dollars you can get a professional crt which will display at 2048x1536 at 75Hz or 1920x1200 at 85Hz.
    So instead of recomending a cheap LCD with questionible quality you might want to point out those CRT displays you personaly dislike as an option for people on a budget to get the best options possible as not everyone can afford the nice LCDs likeone that cost more than the whole system price.

    As to the DVI standard the standard is not the problem the hardware is dell's 30 LCD could probably handle the bandwidth, most CRTs can handle more but most LCD
    can not even hit 1920x1200 at 60Hz and those that do rarely hit the 75Hz DVI standard.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, May 14, 2006 - link

    As one example, let's check out Newegg.

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.asp?Subm...">Here are the 20 inch or larger CRTs

    Both models (yes, there are exactly 2 models currently carried by Newegg) have a maximum resolution of 1600x1200, and the maximum refresh rate at that resolution of 75 Hz. Both are invar shadow mask tubes, which means they are targeting a budget rather than quality. Aperture grille monitors were always better, in my opinion, and they certainly cost more to make.

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.asp?Subm...">What about 19 inch CRTs?

    The seven options there aren't any better than what was listed above. One of those displays might actually have an aperture grille tube, but I doubt it. In the past, I used to recommend the NEC FE991SB, which does indeed have an aperture grille tube. I bought one about 18 months ago for $250. That model is no longer available (unless you can get a refurbished display or you find one that has been sitting on the shelf for a couple years), and the newer FE992SB is once again an invar shadow mask tube.

    I have stated this on several occasions in the past, but CRTs are pretty much at a dead and now. If anyone is trying to make newer, better models, I don't know who they are. When I say CRTs are a budget option, what I mean is that you can't get new CRTs that are as good as the top models from three or four years ago. They represent one of the few components in computers that has actually gotten worse in the past two years. It's not that they can't manufacture better displays, but they feel that the market has moved to LCDs, and so any CRTs that they make are looking to cut costs more than anything else.

    I'm sure you can go out and find refurbished displays that are still very good, provided you want to deal with the large size. However, our buyer's guides make a point of recommending hardware that you can easily purchase, and we have never listed used/refurbished products. That's not to say he used to/refurbished is bad, but availability is very sketchy. I hope that explains my statement that CRTs are budget options these days.

    Regards,
    Jarred Walton
    Hardware Editor
    AnandTech.com
    Reply
  • johnsonx - Wednesday, May 10, 2006 - link

    quote:

    ... and a partridge in a pear tree.


    and I thought I was the only one who tossed that in at the end of a list; I even work it into casual converstation, how about you?
    Reply
  • Powered by AMD - Tuesday, May 09, 2006 - link

    QUOTE:
    "Plenty of people are still running old socket 478, 462, and 754 systems, and they're perfectly happy with the level of performance and they have. The latest and greatest computer games almost certainly wouldn't run on those older systems without drastically reducing the graphics quality, but if you don't play games you probably won't care about or notice the "missing" performance"

    I disagree. With my X800 XT and my Athlon XP 2300Mhz (real frequency), I can play everything at 1024x768, Im missing better resolutions and maybe AA in some titles, but no more than that. I dont "drastically" reduce visual quality, and I play smooth. When I start to see a Mayor change about smoothness, I ll buy a new PC. Meanwhile, Im done.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, May 09, 2006 - link

    I'm thinking specifically about F.E.A.R. and Oblivion. Running at anything less than 1280x1024 qualifies as a pretty major cut in graphical quality, at least in my opinion. Note that I'm not talking about all games here, just the "latest and greatest" -- meaning the most graphically intense. (And no, I don't think graphics makes a game much better. I think I will put that portion" to make that clear.) Reply
  • Belldandy - Tuesday, May 09, 2006 - link

    Good ideas presented. A HTPC guide with respects to HDCP, or at least something about DRM ie DVI-HDCP or some workaround where HD content can be displayed at native resolution at 1080p would be good. Also Home theater reciever audio hookup (with quality recommendations) would be helpful. Also case selection, noise, heat are potential problems that break a HT setup. Reply
  • chinna - Tuesday, May 09, 2006 - link

    We really need one good guide for HTPC soon. There are lot of people interested in building quite HTPCs now-a-days. Hooked to 32/37 LCD these are wonderful. But hardly find any good articles about it. There were few on tomshardware, but those were really a joke.

    I would like to see a good article on how to put together a nice HTPC system with reasonable budget, preferably with HD TV Tuner( not a gamers PC) and proper remote.
    Reply
  • toyota - Tuesday, May 09, 2006 - link

    whats the point in having a monitor that the 7600gt is going to struggle with? good luck playing any modern games at the native resolution. i think if your are interested in gaming on this level of computer you should stick with a 19 inch lcd. of course you could always spend a little more and get the 7900gt or x1800xt. Reply
  • MNOB07 - Tuesday, May 09, 2006 - link

    I like the guide a lot, but I agree. I would not recommend the 7600GT for a system costing ~$1500, instead I would go for the 7900GT. On the other hand the 7600GT won't be a bad choice if your going to be an early adopter of the best DX10 card when it comes out anyway and are trying to save money. Reply

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