Buyer's Guide: Mid-Range System - August 2004

by Evan Lieb on 8/23/2004 12:05 AM EST
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  • Zebo - Saturday, August 28, 2004 - link

    Alright, lets just settle in on your orginal statement about different users and uses.:) Overall great guide and I even kept 80% of your recs but some need this Horse power is gaming so mine reflects that.

    PQI memory is all the rage right now. Check ou this thread:

    http://www.ocforums.com/showthread.php?t=322406
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, August 25, 2004 - link

    Overall, it's a good guide. We still need a "gamer" system for the mid-range and high-end markets, as that seems to be what most people are having problems with. "Get a 6800 vanilla!" Well, if you game, go for it, but at $300, that's a waste for a lot of people. Personally, I couldn't see building a system without 1 GB of RAM, but 512MB in one stick is the only possible alternative. Even on P4, start with a 512 MB DIMM (at reduced performance) and go to 2x512 in the future. 256 MB DIMMs are just *so* 2002. :)

    My one complaint (sort of) is the Antec 2650-BQE case. I suppose some might differ on this, but I believe that case only has a 120 mm fan in the rear and an 80 mm in the front. The drive cage is also "old-style" Antec. For anyone that hasn't used the "sideways" drive setup in the Sonata and 3700-BQE Antec cases, I think they're head and shoulders above the 2650 design. Shipped, they cost $89 at Newegg, so I think it's worth the extra $10. Still, maybe some people like the old style HDD cage? I don't, but to each his own....
    Reply
  • jensend - Wednesday, August 25, 2004 - link

    For a mid-range system, I was surprised to see the A64 3000 and the P4 3.0C being recommended. The Paris core Sempron and P4 2.8C offer practically equivalent performance for roughly $30 less in either case (and the 2.8C uses up to 13W less juice than the 3.0C as well). 64-bit capability is not really much of an advantage in the midrange, where the amount of memory addressed will never force a 32-bit processor into PAE mode. Reply
  • Evan Lieb - Wednesday, August 25, 2004 - link

    Zebo, look up the differences between the Chaintech and MSI boards. You aren't paying $50 more for just GbE, you're paying $50 more for GbE, 3 FireWire 400 ports, twice the SATA connectors, two extra USB 2.0 ports, 7.1 sound instead of 5.1, and additional RAID functionality (0 + 1). Yeah, kind of important stuff, wouldn’t you say?

    And no, I’d say there isn’t that much difference between the 955DF and Diamondtron (I’ve owned both). Also, if you’re going to use PQI memory you might as well buy a PC Chips board powered by a Codegen PSU.

    Oh, forgot to mention, the lowest price I was able to find on an NEC FE991SB-BK was $279 shipped, not the $249 you listed. Where’d you find your price?
    Reply
  • Zebo - Wednesday, August 25, 2004 - link

    I already said the chaintech was inferior, question is gigabit which no one has in my house worth $50? Nope. The chaintech, overclocking and stabiliy wise was every bit as good as MSI in the 754 mobo roundup done here at anandtech and it's fiddy bucks less. You forgot the additional cost of the diamondtron which is just way better than any shadow mask samsung, use both side by side, you'll never suggest a samsung monitor again. Nothing wrong with PQI and it's half the price.

    Yup getting double video performance and being able to play all high res games on that beautiful NEC is pretty importatnt to me..Who were you targeting?
    Reply
  • 8NP4iN - Tuesday, August 24, 2004 - link

    i want to see how an overclocked sempron performs... Reply
  • Evan Lieb - Tuesday, August 24, 2004 - link

    thebluesgnr, thanks, I fixed that.

    zebo, you system comes out to $996, not $923. You're also using a clearly inferior motherboard and the cheapest of cheap RAM, and all just to upgrade your video card, which some users may not want to do if they don't game heavily. Again, think about it, different users have different needs.

    Milkman95, we’re thinking of upgrading the memory, but are still trying to figure out how many users in this category really need a gig of memory. That said, with newer games coming out and heavy multitasking becoming more common in this segment, I’d say 1GB will be necessary in the near future. Only mid-range users who are on the cusp of high-end would need a gigabyte of memory.
    Reply
  • Evan Lieb - Tuesday, August 24, 2004 - link

    thebluesgnr, thanks, I fixed that.

    zebo, you system comes out to $996, not $923. You're also using a clearly inferior motherboard and the cheapest of cheap RAM, and all just to upgrade your video card, which some users may not want to do if they don't game heavily. Again, think about it, different users have different needs.

    Milkman95, we’re thinking of upgrading the memory, but are still trying to figure out how many users in this category really need a gig of memory. That said, with newer games coming out and heavy multitasking becoming more common in this segment, I’d say 1GB will be necessary in the near future. Only mid-range users who are on the cusp of high-end would need a gigabyte of memory.
    Reply
  • Milkman95 - Tuesday, August 24, 2004 - link

    Good guide as always. My only comment is that i think its time to move the mid-range ram to 1 gig. 512 is nice, but gamers will notice performance limitations on newer games such as UT2k4, D3, HL2. I would say currently the ram is the limiting factor on this PC not the video card. Reply
  • mino - Tuesday, August 24, 2004 - link

    #12: 4.) that was the reason a wrote IMHO there ...
    You made a point there.
    Reply
  • Zebo - Tuesday, August 24, 2004 - link

    Hire jpayton to writer these guides.

    This system will destroy what you have for much less. Better monitor, Better video card and expensive ram is a waste. Heck you could have a gig of ram and still be less than $1000. Is the GB's firewall, and gigabit ethernet worth $50? Not to me.

    CPU & Cooling AMD Athlon 64 3000+ (retail cooler) $169
    MOBO- CHAINTECH "VNF3-250" nForce3 250 $75
    Memory 512MB PQI PC3200 $69
    Video Card 128MB Sapphire Radeon 9800 Pro $193
    Monitor NEC/MITSUBISHI FE991SB-BK SuperBright Diamondtron CRT 19" $249
    Computer Case Antec SLK2650-BQE Mid Tower (includes Antec 350W PSU) $79
    Sound Card Onboard sound $0
    Speakers Logitech Z640 5.1 $56
    Networking Onboard 10/100/1000 Ethernet $0
    Hard Drive SAMSUNG 80GB 7200RPM IDE $63
    CD-RW Lite-On 52x32x52x16 Combo Drive $43

    Bottom Line - $923
    Reply
  • Locutus4657 - Tuesday, August 24, 2004 - link

    Nice recommendations Evan! I think it's about the first buys guide I've read that came close to offering the same hardware I actually ended up choosing for my own mid-range system (some of my choices are pricier but hey). For comparison, here's what I came up with.

    A64 3000+ With Thermaltake Silent Boost K8 cooler
    Chaintech ZNF250 MB (nForce 250 & 6 in 1 card reader!)
    1GB Corsair Value Select
    120GB WD PATA + 80GB IBM PATA
    ATI Radeon 9600XT
    Asus 52x32x52x CD-RW
    16x40x DVD-ROM (hand me down from previous system)
    ZIP 100 ATPI Internal
    Built in broadcom GB Ethernet (I think it's broadcom).
    Reply
  • KrazyDawg - Monday, August 23, 2004 - link

    SharkyExtreme also has a buyer's guide for value, mid range, and extreme if anyone wanted to see a different site's perspective. I'm not stating that AnandTech's guides are inadequate. It's just another review site. Both sites almost list the same hardware so it should help strengthen a user's decision. I don't agree with some of the hardware they added to their recent guides such as the generic ram for Intel but everything else looks good. Reply
  • gherald - Monday, August 23, 2004 - link

    > I went with the MSI Neo-FSR since I didn't need the extra features on the Platinum

    You're missing the point dude. It's not about features -- although they can be nice -- it's about the all around performance and reliability or shall we say "solidness" of the motherboard.

    The K8N is much better than the FSR in this and all other respects. Trust me, I've worked with both.. you made a mistake.

    Anyone who doesn't spend the extra $20 for a K8N Platinum is being foolish.

    I'd take an A64 3000 paired with a K8N over a A64 3200 paired with the FSR any day!
    Reply
  • BopTop - Monday, August 23, 2004 - link

    This weekend I ordered a system almost exactly like this for my first ever self-build - I went with the MSI Neo-FSR since I didn't need the extra features on the Platinum, got an Athlon 64 3200, gig of Corsair ValueSelect Ram after reading So's memory recommendation on the forums, and a GeForce 6800 GT - granted, it costs more than the midrange system, but for my budget, I was looking for a very capable gaming computer that could run DoomIII well. Reply
  • Swaid - Monday, August 23, 2004 - link

    Time for me to chime in on my experience with that NuTech drive, its utter garbage! I had problems with it reading stamped CDs (motherboard and video card driver CDs), it would literally lock up the system when seeking! Even the lastest firmware didn't help the situation. The NEC (2500A with DL bios hack) drive I have been loving, though I don't bother with Dual Layer burning since it's too damn expensive still! I have had zero problems with those and I regret ever straying from that drive for my system builds since the NuTech drive was a nightmare from the get go. Lots of false hope in that NuTech drive. Reply
  • NightCrawler - Monday, August 23, 2004 - link

    Nutech DDW-082 burner is a piece of junk !!!!!


    Stay away from this burner and this company !!!!!

    Pioneer, LiteON or NEC have all been reviewed at cdfreaks.com and cdinfo.com and come out way above in terms of writing quality.
    Reply
  • gherald - Monday, August 23, 2004 - link

    1) Indeed, 2x256mb makes zero sense on a single-channel platform like socket 754. Go with a single stick of 512mb, folks.

    2) Yes the 74G is noticeably better than the 36G and a better investment (I should know, I own 2 of each)

    3) I agree The CRT Recommendation is good.

    4) Here is where we differ. Strongly. Now I feel like starting a rant about motherboard manufacturers to knock some sense into your head... you really need to "get with the times." Your statement about MSI may have been true a year ago, but as the article says:

    "MSI has indeed produced the best Athlon 64 motherboards in two platform flavors [s754 and s939] that you can buy. This is a big step forward for MSI, whose image has been tarnished in the enthusiast community in recent quarters."

    This is 100% correct. I've personally worked with five socket 754 motherboards: One via-based MSI, two MSI K8Ns, and two via-based Epox. Of these, one of the epox has died, the other performed "ok." The via-based MSI has also been "ok" but the two MSI K8Ns are absolutely stellar. And the new non-standard-ATX MSI layout is *VERY* nice.

    For now, MSI leads the pack in A64 boards.
    ABIT does so for Intel and legacy Socket A.

    ASUS seems to have been floundering ever since the pioneering A7N8X was challenged by the NF7, although their post-canterwood Intel boards do look interesting.

    Epox used to be an overclocker's dream, but now that the other major players have gotten their act together Epox really has nothing notable to offer except bad support.

    Gigabyte still makes pretty good boards, but they're overpriced as usual.
    Reply
  • mino - Monday, August 23, 2004 - link

    1.) since You recommend A64 s754 as primary alternative, it DOES NOT make sense to recommend dual memory config -> BTW 2 modules per channel cause need for 2T timing on A64 which makes bigger penalty than going from CAS2.5 to CAS2!

    2.) HDD alternative makes NO sense. When You want to recommend Raptor then chose 74G part! Also some 80G/160G Samsung P80 SATA would be much more reasonable for mid-range

    3.) I really appreciate that for CRT alternative you chose high-end part since these times it is hard to fing good 19"CRT if man does not know exactly what to look for.

    4.) Epox A64 board would IMHO be MUCH safer way to go, since I have not seen serious product from MSI(here called "microshit") in last 2 years.
    Except MSI's server boards naturally.

    Besides that, nice guide.
    Reply
  • ciwell - Monday, August 23, 2004 - link

    One thing I noticed is that the Pricing Engine for the Storage drives lists a Seagate 200GB hard drive for $32.00 from Dell.

    Clicking on the link brings me to the Dell page, but the drive is really $132.00...odd. Not sure what is up with that.

    Other than that, great guide.
    Reply
  • KristopherKubicki - Monday, August 23, 2004 - link

    The 2510 is junk for dual layer burning. I think quality has gone up a bit in the last 4 months, but when it first came out it burned coaster after coaster.

    But then again, same for the QSI/Nutech stuff.

    Kristopher
    Reply
  • ceefka - Monday, August 23, 2004 - link

    BTW, I like these guides. They have proven to be helpful in understanding what vendors are offering.

    Most vendors keep their total set price low with crappy mobo's, slow and/or <512MB RAM, el cheapo AGP-cards etc. Very different from what happens here.

    I've been reading these guides and comparing them with fixed offerings. I know now I will build my own machine. 2 years ago I knew next to nothing of PC's and I would have bought a Dell blindfolded... Thank you AT!
    Reply
  • Booty - Monday, August 23, 2004 - link

    I was happy to see the Antec case recommended in this article. I think it's a much better case than some of the ones you've been recommending in the low-end and mid-range guides. Reply
  • ceefka - Monday, August 23, 2004 - link

    So let's say

    1. I'll replace the DVD-burner with the NEC 2510 2. put in 2x512MB of RAM
    3. stick to my old Dell 17" CRT monitor that can easily handle 1248 x 1028
    4. stick to the rest of the summary. Would I be happy with a system like this editing my Mini DV tapes?

    I especially wonder if someone would recommend another graphics card. I liked the connectivity of the Asus V9520 Home Theater, Geforce FX 5200, 128Mb,TV because it featured S-VHS in. That way I could also commit things from VHS-tapes to DVD. There is also de Studio 9 DV/AV from Pinnacle that you could add on later, but of course that will cost you extra.
    Reply
  • Illissius - Monday, August 23, 2004 - link

    I agree with most picks, but would have put the 9800 Pro as the default video card and perhaps a 6800 non Ultra as the alternative. An A64 3000+ coupled with a lowly 9600 Pro is among the more unbalanced gaming systems I've seen. Reply
  • RobertMcDonald - Monday, August 23, 2004 - link

    What about the nVidia 5900XT? Its predecessor (the 5900SE) did remarkably well for bang-for-the-buck back on the Q4 2003 graphics roundup. It's a bit more expensive than the 9600 Pro, but I believe the performance difference justifies it. Granted, it can't keep up with the *really* high-end cards, but in the mid-range, its bang-for-the-buck seems hard to beat. Reply
  • CeilingHoles - Monday, August 23, 2004 - link

    I agree with paxnot. Many people, including myself, have bought the NuTech DVD burner because of your recommendation. So far, all I've had is problems with this drive, and I'm not the only one.. The NEC 2150A is clearly the superior drive for the price range. Reply
  • paxnot - Monday, August 23, 2004 - link

    I generally believe that AT does a great job at putting forth excellent recommendation, but there is one recommendation in this article that is simply ridiculuos. I am talking about recommendation of the NuTech DDW-082 burner. This burner has been recommended month on month in this guide. But quite honestly, it's a piece of crap. I purchase this drive based mainly on AT's recommendation and I have regretted it ever since. I have tried several different media with this drive and the performance is still awful. If I burn movies faster than 1x, the movies come out with pixelated scenes. Further, the drive has abysmal read speeds. My year old vanilla-flavored dvd consistently outperforms the Nutech drive by a 20-50 margin. I believe that the NEC ND-2510A burner is superior to the NuTEch burner. Not only does it support Dual Layer media, but it has better media support. NuTech is a second rate company. It's website support is awful and limited. Furthermore, AT's recommendation rest on a $6 dollar price differential. 6 bucks!. You lose DL support, (yes, dl media is rare) but for 6 lousy bucks you get a resonable future proof drive from a trusted company. Shame on AT for recommending this inferior burner. Reply
  • thebluesgnr - Monday, August 23, 2004 - link

    Nice article Evan - well done. I really enjoyed this one.

    I have one small comment though (of course ;)

    "We should also mention that you don't have to get two pairs of 256MB modules if you think you'll be making big memory upgrades in the future. That is, you can opt for a 512MB OCZ PC3200 EL stick in order to save an additional DIMM slot for future memory expansion. "

    It should be made clear that this comment is specific to the main mobo/cpu pick (Athlon 64), and if you go with the alternative (Pentium 4) two sticks is highly recommended.

    There's also a small typo there - it says "two pairs" instead of one.

    Thanks,
    Reply

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