Intel Platform

We mentioned before that gaming enthusiasts might prefer maximum single core performance for the short-term. Given that AMD single core processors are significantly faster at gaming than Intel processors, we would only consider single core processors from AMD. Intel also offers much cheaper dual core processors, making it even more difficult to recommend anything else. Overclocking and other factors can still play a role, and as long as you're not interested in 64-bit support, the AOpen i975Xa-YDG and Core Duo T2300/2400 remain an interesting possibility. If I were about to go out and spend $400-$500 on a new motherboard and processor, and I wanted an Intel platform, that AOpen board would get my current pick. However, Intel's Presler processors are also pretty potent, and motherboards are significantly cheaper - plus you get 64-bit support, though that still isn't in widespread use. All of the comments about selecting an appropriate motherboard still apply, but we chose a motherboard that we've had good experiences with.

Click to enlarge

Intel Motherboard: ASUS 945P P5LD2 Deluxe
Price: $151 shipped (Retail)
Intel CPU: Pentium D 930 2x2MB 3.0GHz (775) - Retail
Price: $212 shipped (Retail)
Total: $363

Even with a reasonably expensive motherboard, our Intel platform is significantly cheaper than the AMD platform. The ASUS motherboard comes with a well designed layout, two X16 slots (the one of them is limited to X4 bandwidth), FireWire, good overclocking support, and a wide open CPU socket area that will allow the use of just about any heatsink on the market. The Presler 930 processor comes clocked at 3.0 GHz by default, and at that speed the X2 3800+ is certainly faster. Once you overclock the Presler to 4.0 GHz though, things become more interesting. We would still give the Athlon X2 system the edge in overall performance - at stock clock speeds or overclocked - but there are a few applications that are very optimized for Intel's NetBurst architecture, and some people simply prefer Intel systems. Note also that the Pentium 930 will definitely run hotter and require more power than the X2 3800+, but you should all be aware of that fact by now.

Alternatives on the Intel side of things are almost more confusing than the AMD side. In most situations, we would recommend using an Intel chip set for an Intel processor. However, if you want to run SLI, you'll need to switch to an NVIDIA chipset. Motherboards using the NVIDIA nForce4 chipsets are almost all cheaper than boards using Intel chipsets, but my personal experience is that they require a lot more user knowledge in order to get them configured optimally. You also have to be careful about proper support for Presler and Smithfield 820 CPUs, as the early nForce4 SLI chipsets can still be found floating around on some of the cheaper motherboards. If you want guaranteed SLI support as well is support for the Presler processors - not to mention good overclocking features - spend the money on the ASUS P5N32-SLI Deluxe. If you want all of the extras but you want CrossFire support, go for the ASUS P5WD2-E Premium. The P5WD2 also reportedly supports Conroe, giving you a good upgrade path for six months from now.

If you're looking for different CPU options, we would mostly recommend looking at the cheaper CPUs. The Pentium D 805 and 820 are both pretty cheap, especially for a dual core processor. If you want to overclock, we recommend getting an aftermarket heatsink, as that will often get you another 200 or 300 MHz as well as lower temperatures. The Thermaltake Big Typhoon, Scythe Ninja, and Zalman 9500 are a few of the top air cooling solutions currently available. All three of them are also huge, so don't plan on using them in a small case, and make sure the motherboard you select will work with them. (All three ASUS motherboards mentioned above work fine.) Again, here's an abbreviated list of potential alternatives.

Intel 775 Alternatives
Hardware Component Price
Processor Pentium 805 Retail 126
Processor Pentium 820 OEM 158
Motherboard ASUS 975X P5WD2-E Premium 219
Motherboard ASUS P5N32-SLI Deluxe 198
Motherboard Biostar TForce4U-775 (nForce4 Ultra) 96
Intel 479 Alternatives
Motherboard Aopen 975X i975Xa-YDG (479) 287
Processor Intel Core Duo T2300 1.66 GHz Retail 254

AMD Platform Memory Recommendations
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  • ZJB298 - Wednesday, May 17, 2006 - link

    K, so I'm a huge newb, but what's the point of getting or switching to X16 over X8 if there is no performance impact? Is there likely to be more of a performance impact for a gamer or a higher-end graphics card than for a normal user?
    Basically, is it worth it for me to go searching for another, more expensive motherboard with X16 slots over X8 slots?
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, May 20, 2006 - link

    In my opinion, NO! Dual X16 is just a lot of marketing hype. The board that sport it might benchmark faster at times (by 5% or so), but 5% can be had through BIOS optimizations.
  • Crassus - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    Thanks for a new Buyer's Guide. I wondered when the next one would come for quite some time. It maybe not necessary to bring them as often as when they started, but right now I think they're spaced a wee bit too far apart.
    It's always a very helpful read and I use it not only as a recommendation of what to buy, but also as an indication of where the industry stands at this time, i.e. what the standard is for any given component. Keep up the good work and (maybe) update them a little more often again.
  • sabrewulf - 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"

    754 + PCI-E = perfectly capable of running with maximum eye-candy.
  • LoneWolf15 - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    And the percentage of Socket 754 mainboards with PCI-E is?

    Socket 754 performance is decent, but it's truly a dead-end. For hard-core gamers, I'd urge them to get out while they can sell their parts for reasonable cost, much like I'd have said to Socket 423 owners when the P4 switched to 478.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    Notice the "OLD" socket 754 part? Obviously, newer 754 PCIe boards are okay. LOL I still do a ton of work on my 754 + 6800GT system, though.
  • sabrewulf - Friday, May 12, 2006 - link

    Sorry I guess I didn't notice that word. I'm mostly just speaking up for people like my brother who last year wanted to upgrade his graphics card, but already has a 2.4 ghz 754 chip and couldn't afford a new video card AND an equivalent 939 CPU at the same time, so he got a cheap solid 754 PCI-E board instead. Works great for him, and with AM2 right around the corner, it looks like an even smarter purchase since he can pretty much skip 939 altogether.
  • LoneWolf15 - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    The thought of Socket AM2 didn't excite me, but not just because of the lack of performance. So I think this Upgrade Guide makes a lot of sense (well, at least if you don't need to do a mainboard upgrade at present time).

    Just the thought of having to completely reload Windows XP was enough to cause me (a month ago) to decide it was better to upgrade to 2GB of DDR and go from a Winchester 3000+ to an Athlon 64 X2 3800+, with no mainboard swap required. My MSI Neo 4 Platinum has been a good board. I plan on getting one year more at the very least out of it before I consider the new platform. I'm sure AM2 is the best option for anyone who still has an Athlon XP (unless they don't wish to save by not swapping out RAM) and that waiting for new Intel hardware is the best solution for anyone who currently has a Socket 478 system or earlier, but now that I have a system board I'm completely happy with, it's really hard to justify an upgrade that would require me to gut the OS...I no longer have that kind of time on a regular basis.
  • APKasten - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    I find it really hard to believe that 1GB of PC3200, even at low latencies, is worth almost $200. I can get 2 GB at higher latency (4-4-4-7) for about $150! Is the performance boost really worth that much money for just 1 GB? I was always under the impression that more RAM was better than having extra low latency RAM.

    I took AnandTech's recommendation to get the OCZ EL 512MB (2x256MB) Kit (2.5-3-2-6?) a few years ago. I replaced that with a GeIL 1 GB (2x512MB) kit at 4-4-4-7 last year and I have since had much better performance from my system. That was the only thing I changed on my box. So I guess my real question is, wouldn't 2 GB at higher latencies be better than 1 GB at lower latencies, bang-for-buck-wise?
  • APKasten - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    Holy crap. Nevermind...I just realized that it was a 2GB kit you were talking about in the article.

    Sorry. *rolls eyes*

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