Buyer's Guide: High-End Systems - June 2000by Mike Andrawes on June 13, 2000 3:34 AM EST
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Not having to worry about price is a luxury few people have, but it never hurts to dream up what you would buy in such a situation. Or maybe you’ve just won the lottery. Perhaps it’s not even your own money involved thanks to a grant or simply an ungodly budget. Whether dreaming or actually looking to buy, putting together the dream professional system can be a tricky, but fun, proposition. Below are our picks for such a system.
– Dual Pentium III 866 - $650 x 2
The CPU is probably the most critical, as well as the most controversial, component of any system. The old AMD versus Intel battle wages on stronger than ever before with the Athlon and Pentium III. It’s a touchy subject among many die-hard fans of each processor type, but for the professional dream system, we have to go with an Intel CPU for one key reason – SMP. While the benefits of SMP vary greatly depending on the applications in use, professional apps are generally the ones best able to take advantage of SMP. Recently, games have begun to take some advantage of SMP, starting with Quake 3: Arena. Now that Windows 2000 supports SMP and DirectX7, we should begin seeing more games that are capable of using SMP.
While Pentium III’s up to 1GHz have already been announced by Intel, don’t even waste your time trying to get a hold of one at this point. Even if they were available, Intel has actually not qualified the 1 GHz Pentium III for SMP operation according to their own site. We also decided to pass on the new Pentium III Xeon’s since the only difference between them and the standard model is the Slot-2 interface that it uses and the higher price.
The fastest readily available Pentium III is the 866 MHz model, so that’s what we’re going with. They’re currently available for just about $650.
For more information on all Pentium III's, read our Pentium III 1GHz Review.
– Intel OR840 - $400
Our choice of dual Pentium III’s narrowed down our motherboard options very quickly. The i440BX, i820, and i840 are the primary SMP chipsets available right now. Tyan has already announced the Tiger 133, a dual Slot-1 board based on the VIA Apollo Pro 133A chipset. Since it’s not available yet, it is immediately out of the running here.
We wanted to take full advantage of the 133 MHz FSB speed of our CPU, as well as AGP 4X and Intel’s Accelerated Hub Architecture (AHA). That of course meant either the i820 or the i840. Since cost is not an object on this system, the choice was simple – the i840 since it offers the advantage of dual RAMBUS channels, which provide a total of 3.2GB/s of bandwidth. Without the cost factor holding us back, our dream system is equipped with RDRAM as well.
Of all the i840 boards out there, the OR840 from Intel is the only one that fits our requirements and is currently available. It also throws in an optional onboard Intel 82559 ethernet controller and an AGP Pro 50 slot. There is also optional AC97 audio onboard, which may be sufficient if you don’t really use sound that much in your work. But why cripple a system like this with host-based audio? We’ll disable it and add a true hardware based PCI card later.
Unfortunately, the OR840 choice means overclocking is out for now. As more i840 boards become available, we’ll revise the motherboard selection with something that will allow us to push our CPU’s. If you are into overclocking, an i440BX board running at 133 MHz FSB may actually be the fastest platform for the Pentium III. If you're considering this option, remember that both the chipset and the AGP bus will be running out of spec.
– 512MB PC800 RDRAM (4 x 128MB RIMM’s) - $2200
Not having to worry about cost is a beautiful thing and really comes in handy when choosing a memory type, especially since you can easily spend more on memory than most people spend on their whole system. As such, we had no hesitation in picking RDRAM for our dream system even though they cost $550 for a 128MB stick. Since we’ve got two RAMBUS channels on our OR840 motherboard, we need to install our RIMM’s in pairs. Even without that requirement, what dream professional system would be complete with 512MB of RAM total? Since the largest RIMM readily available on the market today is 128MB, we need 4 sticks in order to get a total of 512MB RAM