AMD Platform

Starting with AMD, we immediately get to the most difficult part of the selection process. There are many good processors and motherboards on the market right now, and choosing one of each and calling it the "best" is not possible. Let me tell you my philosophy. Right now, for any computer that costs over $1000, I am going to be extremely hesitant about purchasing anything other than a dual core processor. That's based off of the way I use my computer: while I run plenty of tasks (e.g. games) that won't take advantage of the second core, I also run many tasks at the same time. Multitasking will inherently benefit from multi-core processors, and the overall experience is improved enough that I'm willing to spend an extra $150 for this upgrade. If all you ever do is play games, for the time being you can get by with a single core processor, and putting the extra money into a faster graphics card will improve the overall gaming performance more.

The second factor that needs to be considered is overclocking. In terms of the CPU, this isn't a major consideration, since almost all AMD chips currently overclock to around 2.6 GHz or more; overclocking considerations have a major impact on your choice of motherboard, however. If you don't intend to overclock at all, most motherboards will be fine. Your primary concern should be the features offered - do you want FireWire, RAID, high-definition audio, multiple graphics card support, etc.? Those of you who are interested in running multiple graphics cards will also need to decide between SLI and CrossFire platforms. Personally, I like to overclock, because it's entirely possible to get one of the cheapest processors and come close to matching the fastest processors on the market. A $300 X2 3800+ overclocked to 2.6 GHz is only about 5% slower on average than a $1000 FX-60. It will require more effort to reach that level of performance, but I'm willing to put forth the effort. Here then are our selections for the base AMD platform.

Click to enlarge

AMD Motherboard: DFI nForce4 SLI Infinity
Price: $115 shipped (Retail)
AMD CPU: Athlon 64 X2 3800+ 2x512K 2.0GHz (939) - Retail
Price: $297 shipped (Retail)
Total: $412

That takes care of more than one fourth of the allocated budget for our midrange AMD system. However, you get a lot of performance for the price. The motherboard comes with all the standard features (SATA2, IDE, USB 2.0) as well as FireWire support. It also happens to overclock reasonably well - perhaps not quite as well is something like a DFI LANParty or ASUS A8N32 SLI Deluxe, but close enough for the needs of the price/performance conscious overclocker. It also sports two X16 slots (with X8 bandwidth in SLI mode), so of course you have the potential to run SLI, but for the midrange sector we're not going to go with dual GPUs. About the only caution we have to give in regards to the motherboard is something that we generally say with most motherboards: plan on manually specifying your RAM timings. The vast majority of "memory incompatibilities" that we encountered have been caused by people running "auto" timings and expecting everything to work fine - or even worse, they load the "optimized" BIOS settings with value memory and wonder why the system doesn't run. If you buy 2.5-3-3-8 memory, we strongly recommend setting the timings manually to those values - though of course you can try "overclocking" the memory to faster timings.

What about alternatives? On the motherboard, there are literally dozens of reasonable candidates. You can choose to go with a CrossFire motherboard if you prefer ATI chipsets, or you can forget about multiple X16 slots and downgrade to something like the nForce4 Ultra chipset. EPoX, MSI, ASUS, DFI, and quite a few other manufacturers are reasonable choices. For maximum overclocking, especially on the lower cost motherboards, we recommend sticking with DFI or EPoX. Many other brands will top out at around 250 MHz HyperTransport bus speeds, which is pretty average for current AMD motherboards. On the processor side, single core chips like the 3000+, 3200+, 3500+, and 3700+ are all potential candidates. You can also go with one of the Opteron models, including the dual core 165. We would stick with lower cost processors for overclocking, but if you don't want to overclock you can basically throw as much money as you want at the CPU. We did put together a list of a few reasonable alternatives, which you can find below.

AMD 939 Alternatives
Hardware Component Price
Processor Athlon 64 3000+ Venice Retail 119
Processor Athlon 64 3500+ Venice OEM 161
Processor Athlon 64 3700+ San Diego OEM 192
Motherboard EPoX EP-9NPA+Ultra 91

Index Intel 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!">
  • 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.
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, May 14, 2006 - link

    As one example, let's check out Newegg.">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.">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.

    Jarred Walton
    Hardware Editor
  • johnsonx - Wednesday, May 10, 2006 - link


    ... 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?
  • Powered by AMD - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    "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.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, May 9, 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.)
  • Belldandy - Tuesday, May 9, 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.
  • chinna - Tuesday, May 9, 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.
  • toyota - Tuesday, May 9, 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.
  • MNOB07 - Tuesday, May 9, 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.

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