This Month

The high-end buyer's guide has also finally made its return after a long hiatus. A lot has changed in that time, so let's take a look bakc at some of the happenings of the past few months that bare upon the high-end guide.

When we published the last edition of this guide, DDR compatible chipsets had just been officially released, but were not actually available for purchase by end-users. You could get a system from a big name OEM, but you were out of luck if you were building a computer from scratch. The situation is now completely different, with no less than four DDR chipsets on the market from AMD, ALi, VIA, and SiS. The KT266 still needs some time to mature, while the SiS 735 is available on the open market just yet. Fortunately, the AMD 760 and ALi MAGiK1 can now be found in motherboards from most major manufacturers. Our experience has shown that the AMD 760 is a better overall performer, so it's our current recommendation for a DDR Athlon platform.

Watch out for NVIDIA later this year as well - they've got a DDR chipset of their own with the nForce that brings along a 128-bit DDR memory interface, integrated GeForce2 MX graphics, AMD's Hyper-Transport linking the north and south bridges, a prefetch mechanism in the north bridge known as DASP, and the best sound you can get integrated in the south bridge. Of course, we'll have to wait and see how the final product turns out, but it sounds great on paper.

At about the same time as the emergence of DDR, the Pentium 4 was just hitting the streets and looked to be an overpriced and underpowered part, despite the high clock speeds it ran out. Since that time, clock speeds have been ramped up even further - now up to 1.7 GHz - and there have been massive price cuts. More recently, a Xeon variant has appeared. The Xeon also runs at 1.7 GHz, but it's big advance over the Pentium 4 is that it supports two-way SMP systems using the i860 chipset. Depending on the applications you run, a Pentium 4 or Xeon system is a definite contender, putting Intel back into competition in this guide.

Unfortunately for Intel, they've just lost their trump card, SMP support, with AMD's launch of the 760MP chipset and the Athlon MP processor. Better yet is the fact that the 760MP and Athlon MP were available immediately upon launch as individual components, unlike the Intel Xeon. Even if the Xeon were easy to get a hold of outside of a complete OEM system, the Athlon MP is still faster in the vast majority of the benchmarks and is considerably more cost effective to boot.

In the graphics card arena, the GeForce3 is finally available from NVIDIA, with a lower than originally expected suggested retail price of $399 that dips even lower online. The GeForce3 technology is a major step forward for 3D graphics thanks to the programable pixel and vertex shaders, but unfortunately there's very little to take advantage of it at this point in time. If you must have the best graphics, and plan on keeping the card for a reasonable amount of time, go with a GeForce3. Otherwise, the GeForce2 Pro is probably a better compromise of price and performance. The GeForce2 Ultra is pretty much being discontinued as its more cost effective for the board manufacturers and NVIIDA alike to build GeForce3 cards.

The professional version of the GeForce3, the Quadro DCC has also been announced, but getting one outside of an OEM system is next to impossible right now. So the Quadro DCC is out of contention for this edition of the guide.

On the memory front, prices have continued to fall quite rapidly. RDRAM still comes at quite a price premium over SDRAM, although prices on all memory types have dropped considerably. DDR SDRAM is also quite easy to get a hold of now and has pretty much reached price parity with SDR SDRAM. Even Registered ECC DDR SDRAM modules command only a small premium over standard unbuffered DDR SDRAM.

Index Dream System

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