Buyer's Guide: High-End Systems - November 2000by Mike Andrawes on November 16, 2000 12:00 PM 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 933 - $375 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 DirectX 7 (and now DirectX 8), we should begin seeing more games that are capable of using SMP.
While Pentium III’s up to 1.13GHz have already been announced by Intel, and recalled, don’t even waste your time trying to get a hold of one at this point. 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 Pentium 4 will be arriving later this month, but it remains to be seen whether Intel will have another paper launch or if processors/systems will actually be available. Of course, the question of the Pentium 4's performance is also up in the air.
The fastest readily available Pentium III is the 933 MHz model, so that’s what we’re going with. They’re currently available for around $375.
For more information on all Pentium III's, read our Pentium III 1GHz Review.
– Intel OR840 - $300
Our choice of dual Pentium III’s narrowed down our motherboard options very quickly. While the Microstar 694D Pro has finally shown us the potential of VIA Apollo Pro 133A chipset in SMP mode, the i840 with RDRAM is still able to maintain a slight performance lead. Those looking to save quite a bit of money on their motherboard and memory should definitely take a look at the 694D Pro, but since this is a dream system, we'll go with the slightly faster i840 despite the large price premium.
It should be noted that while we've seen the i440BX overclocked to a 133 MHz FSB successfully, only a few dual i440BX boards are even Coppermine capable, much less able to run at 133 MHz FSB with two CPU's in place. The option is there if you don't mind an overclocked system, but we'll stick to the Apollo Pro 133A and i840/i820 for more reliable dual operation. It should also be noted that the i815 is not an SMP capable chipset, as Intel has aimed it squarely at the value market.
ServerWorks has a couple of PC133 SDRAM chipset entries in the dual processor Pentium III market, but for now, those solutions remain somewhat unproven. Hopefully we'll be able to get a sample into the AnandTech labs for thorough testing shorly. Be warned, however, that the semi-reasonably priced ServerWorks Server Set III LE does not support AGP in any form. You'll have to get the considerably more expensive Server Set III WS to get AGP support.
Of all the i840 boards out there, the OR840 from Intel is the only one that fits our requirements and is relatively easy to get a hold of. 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. We've been hoping to revise the motherboard selection as more i840 boards became available, but it seems that the i840 has been orphaned by motherboard manufacturers.
– 512MB PC800 RDRAM (2 x 256MB RIMM’s) - $1000
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 $500 for a 256MB stick. RDRAM prices are still dropping, but not nearly quickly enough for the majority of users.
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 256MB, we need 2 sticks in order to get a total of 512MB RAM.