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

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  • toyota - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    it make more sense just to get the 7900gt now or get a 19inch lcd. no point in waiting a year for Vista to utilise a DX10 card. thats a long time suffer.
  • gersson - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    Makes perfect sense to me.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    Not everyone plays a lot of games, and I basically mention that the 7600/X1600 are what I consider the minimum for a current system. They should be able to run Windows Vista without any trouble, and even play some games. For $50 more, getting the GT with the much higher clock speeds was a reasonable upgrade. If you're serious about gaming, of course you can get a better GPU. I tried to make that clear by stating it at least two or three times. For non-gaming purposes, I like to have as big of a monitor as I can possibly get. Using stuff like Photoshop in widescreen mode is really nice, since all of the tool windows can fit on the sides while I edit regular aspect ratio images in the middle.
  • Iscabis - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    It is not actually a couple hundred more.

    It is only 769.95 shipped at the moment. Plus it has height adjustment (not sure how many care about that). I will be getting one this summer, unless the 2407 is the same price. Hopefully the 2407 makes the 2405 go even lower on price.
  • Iscabis - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    Sorry my mistake. That site deceived and advertised free shipping. It is still 782 shipped from a different site though.
  • neutralizer - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    I'd have to say that the LanParty is probably a better choice since I have a NF4 SLI Infinity and the support that DFI provides for it isn't very good considering its been so long since its release they still cannot fix the temperature sensor to display properly in Windows.
  • cozappz - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    I am a little confused why AnandTech keeps saying AM2 will not bring a significant increase in performance over S939. AMD _clearly_ stated the change to AM2 is due to DDR2 adoption and unification of high, middle and low-end processors on the same socket, and it is expected to run on NF4 until NF5xx is released. But, if you want to buy an AM2 mobo, wait a couple of monts after release! Childhood ilnesses are inevitable both for AM2 and NF5xx.
  • One43637 - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    while i agree that the WD250KS is a great value for performance, there is something that i think buyers should know about that drive. it runs hot.

    i don't know why, but that drive runs on average 18C higher then my WD 74GB Raptor that's 2 slots away from it. i have a good case in the P180, and i have good airflow. 3xPanaflow 120x38, and 1 Nexus 120x25 in the fan slot behind the HD in the bottom enclosures. it's just odd that Speedfan constantly shows that drive between 48-55C depending on use while my Raptor is around 32-38C.
  • SonicIce - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    True, mine runs hot as well. When my computer is idle, its hotter than both my CPU and videocard. It's usually in the mid 40's while my 80gb WD was in the mid 30's. I thought there was something wrong with it at first, but if you're having the same temps then maybe its meant to be like that.
  • BigLan - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    "It also sports two X16 slots (with X8 bandwidth in SLI mode)" - The board runs both slots at 8x bandwidth all the time, not just when in sli mode. AFAIK it doesn't have any performance impact, but I spent a long time looking for the setting to change my board to x16/x1

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