Midrange Buyer's Guide - September 2006

by Jarred Walton on 9/26/2006 8:25 AM EST
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  • thart - Friday, October 13, 2006 - link

    1. The DDR-2 Memory has gone up in price and now costs considerably more than standard DDR. DDR-2 adds absolutely zero in performance to any AMD system. Therefore the best value by a considerable margin remains Socket 939 and standard DDR.

    2. This Mad Rush to Dual Core is insane. There is practically zero difference in everyday performance. Almost no applications yet exist to really take advantage of it. A 1.8 GHz Athlon-64 3000 Single Core costs $55 for the retail box. The least expensive 2.0 GHz Athlon-64 3800 Dual Core costs $164.00 for the retail box. The actual difference in performance of these two is very small and certainly not worth 3 times as much!

    3. The nVidia 6150 chipset based Micro Boards are the best I have ever seen. They include Gig Net, Firewire, SATA II 3.0, Raid, S Video Out, Dual Monitor support, splendid 7.1 Audio, and the best on-board Video anyone has ever seen. How one can possibly justify twice as much for the full size MOBO - plus another $100, or more, for a decent Video Card, is hard for me to understand.

    4. The Rosewill Towers and Power Supplies cost a fraction of what Anand recommends. The Rosewill PS'es are just fine and the towers are the easiest to work in and have more bays than any of the ones they recommend, or that I have ever used before.

    5. The NEC DVD Writers are great if you run only Doze. But they DO NOT work on any Linux system. Recently purchased a Retail Box NEC and received no cable(s) whatsoever, no DVD Software Decoder - just NERO 7 OEM. The Retail Box Lite-On DVD Writers with Lite-Scribe are better choices, I think.

    6. Few folks need the Media Center OS. Only advantage I see is if you do install and use a Radio/TV Tuner/Capture card - which almost no one does. Not a thing wrong with plain old $89 Doze XP Home OEM for 99% of users. Nothing in the PRO Version that I need here either.

    Sure wish someone would explain to me why I should spend well over 3 times as much for a Dual Core Socket AM2 than the more than adequate Socket 939 Single Core choices?
    Reply
  • MadBadger - Sunday, October 08, 2006 - link

    Hi,

    Just wanted to thank you folks at Anandtech for the guide. Perfect timing and extremely useful. I do have some questions though. I'm planning on building my first computer and I was hoping you could give me some advice. This is what I'm looking to get out of my next system and the tentative system that I put together:

    1) Usage – Other than office-type tasks I’ll be using it for photo editing (hobby) and gaming (occasionally). I like all types of games (fps to rpg) as long as they’re entertaining. I probably won’t be gaming all that much, but when I do game I like to be able to enjoy most of what it has to offer. I’m tired of the slide shows.

    2) Upgradeability – I’m looking for a system that’s fairly future proof (good for at least 2-4 years).

    3) Reliability – The most important trait for me. The last thing that I want to deal with is an unstable system.

    System build:

    Processor Core 2 Duo E6400 (775 - 2.13 GHz 2048K)
    $220.00

    Motherboard Intel 975x D975XBXLKR
    $227.00

    Memory ???

    Video Card Sapphire Radeon X1900GT 256MB
    $195.99

    Sound Card X-fi XtremeMusic
    $120.00

    Hard Drive Seagate 3.0Gbps 320GB 7200RPM 16MB Barracuda 7200.10
    $95.00

    Optical Drive NEC ND-3550A 16X DVD+/-RW
    $28.99

    Display Samsung 971P 19-inch LCD Monitor
    $329.99

    Case APEVIA (ASPIRE) X-CRUISER-BK Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case
    $59.99

    Power Supply OCZ GameXStream OCZ700GXSSLI ATX12V 700W Power Supply 100 - 240 V
    $124.99

    Bottom Line $1,401.95 - shipping - memory


    Since I’m looking for stability and reliability, I don’t plan on doing much, if any, overclocking.

    With that in mind, do you think it’s worth $60 to upgrade the video card to an XT?

    I’ve also been debating upgrading the processor to an E6600. Honestly though, that’s probably more than I really need.

    Also, I’m clueless as to what type of memory I should get. I’m looking for the cheapest memory that’s stable and reliable (preferably with a good warranty). Any recommendations?

    Any general advice for someone about to build their first computer?

    Cheers and hope you can help!

    p.s. I know that your mobo round up is coming later next week, but I'm such an impatient person. Given what I'm looking for, do you recommend a different mobo?
    Reply
  • khenderson - Monday, October 09, 2006 - link

    Jarred, as a follow up to MadBagder, let me nuiance the memory question a bit. (You've already helped me once on this thread regarding the PSU.) I'm following your guide and planning to upgrade to something like the x1900XT. I'm not interested in headroom for future upgrades and I'm aiming at moderate overclocking (2.9-3.2) using only the stock intel fan. Anyway, it sounds like MadBadger and I are going for very similiar systems.

    Reviewing some overclocking basics, if my FSB is overclocked to 400 and I'm using DDR-800, and I'm using base timings, then I'm not really overclocking the memory at all. Correct? In that case can't I just go with the cheapest (name brand) DDR-800? Also, keeping my hardware in mind, it is correct to assume that the performance increase from 5-5-5 to 4-4-4 isn't very sigificant? I ask because I'm trying to determine if it's worth OCing the memory or paying a little more for beter timings.

    Further up the thead you recommend OCZ-667 over OCZ-800 because the 800 is considered a poor overclocker. (BTW, thanks for the voltage tips) If I'm looking to run the memory at no more 800 max (FSB400X2), then does this change your recommendation in any way? Along those lines, is the OCZ-667 known to be pretty stable overclocked to 800? I'll probably upgrade in 2-3 years and I really don't want to worry about the ram burning out in a pc case with stock cooling. That said, newegg is running a sale on OCZ right now. Unless there's some surprise recomendation worth waiting for in the next guide, I think I'm ready to buy. $25 isn't a huge difference. Which way would you lean?

    OCZ GOLD 2GB 667 (4-4-4-12) - $195 (shipped, after rebates)
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...

    OCZ GOLD 2GB 800 (5-5-5-12) - $220 (shipped, after rebates)
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...

    (S.O.E. sticks are similiarly priced but I'm assuming the Gold heatspreader is superior)

    One thing I like about your guide is that you've done a good job giving us a good bang-for-buck recommendation. Sure you could break guides up into several categories as some have suggested, but when the overclocking is straight forward and offers a significant increase in performance, I think it's prudent to include it. Considering there haven't been a lot of other guides recently, this well rounded guide hit the spot very well.

    Ken

    PS: I think you've got a small typo on Page 5 regarding E6400 speed "The base clock speed is now 2.16 GHz with an 8X multiplier." Should be 2.13.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, October 10, 2006 - link

    I don't know if either of you saw my latest high-end buyers guide that was published a couple days ago, but if you take some of the information in that guide combined with this guide, and then throw in some of the information from Wesley Fink's memory reviews, that might help out a bit with trying to figure out what to purchase. That said, let me address a few points.

    First, the prices on the E6600 have dropped quite a bit in the last month or so, finally putting it at a price that you can reasonably consider for an upgrade. The larger L2 cache can improve performance by anywhere from 5-15%, depending on the application you're running. It also comes with a higher clock speed, so you end up with a CPU that's anywhere from 18-30% faster, even without overclocking. The CPU also costs about 50% more ($100 more), but it's still a reasonable option.

    In terms of motherboards, MadBadger indicates he's considering the Intel BadAxe motherboard. It's not a terrible motherboard, but honestly I would get the ASUS P5W DH over any other 975X motherboard, and the fact that it has the same price as the Intel BadAxe makes it a no-brainer. Even if you don't plan on overclocking, the ASUS motherboard is much better in my book.

    Figuring out which memory to get is very difficult right now. It is true that you can use a one-to-one ratio and overclock pretty far, although with an E6300 or E6400 even a 400 MHz front side bus is likely going to limit your CPU overclock. (One more reason to get the E6600.) For tasks like image editing, definitely get 2 GB of memory. Beyond that, timings don't make a huge difference, as the court to architecture seems to do a good job of mitigating any impact of memory performance. The only thing to note is that DDR2-800 memory that is rated at CL4 will very often overclock to DDR2-1000, whereas the CL5 memory usually won't get past DDR2-900 (if that).

    The http://labs.anandtech.com/alllinks.php?pfilter=197...">OCZ PC-6400 2x1024MB EL Gold is not the most compatible memory around -- some motherboards will simply refuse to POST with it -- but it shouldn't have any problems in the ASUS P5W DH, and with the current price + rebate it's probably your best bet right now in terms of value+performance. Part of the reason I didn't recommend it in this midrange guide is because it has more problems running with P965 motherboards than it does with 975X motherboards (as far as I'm aware).

    Finally, in regards to graphics cards, ATI should be launching their Radeon X1950 Pro towards the end of this month. http://www.dailytech.com/article.aspx?newsid=4472">DailyTech has some details, and it looks set to offer better price/performance than the X1900 XT 256MB. It's not faster in all cases, and in fact it's often slower, but I wouldn't be surprised if it does better in CrossFire performance. Besides, it uses less power and it's a single slot design, and it will probably continue to be in production for longer than the X1900 class GPUs (which are probably all going to start shifting to X1950 cards I would bet).

    If you aren't averse to getting something other than ATI hardware -- recognizing that if you're using an Intel 975X or P965 chipset and are ever going to consider dual graphics cards, then you will want stick with ATI for now -- the new release of the NVIDIA 7900 GTO is a great value. A little bit of overclocking and you may be able to match 7900 GTX performance, for about two thirds the cost. I think right now that ATI has superior hardware available, but NVIDIA still has the better drivers and dual graphics card solution (RV570 addresses the second shortcoming, however).

    Hopefully that covers all of the questions you two had. If not, you can always e-mail me back -- I don't tend to pay much attention to my articles' comment sections after a couple weeks. :-)
    Reply
  • MadBadger - Wednesday, October 11, 2006 - link

    Hi Jarred, thanks for the reply! Lots of useful information. I have some more questions for you though. Hopefully you give this article another look sometime today, but I'll drop it in your mailbox as well.

    First of all, thanks again for the info, it cleared up a lot of the uncertainty that I had. In particular, I think I'm doing ok with the whole memory situation. Let me run it by you though, and please correct me whenever I’m incorrect.

    This is my understanding of the issues with Conroe chips and the choice of memory:

    Basically, all Intel chips are "quad pumped". What this means is that data is transmitted 4 times for each clock cycle. When the Conroe chips say that their FSB = 1066 Mhz, that's an effective rate. The actual rate of the FSB = 1066 Mhz/4 = 266 Mhz.

    The case is similar with memory. DDR memory stands for “Double Data Rate” memory. This basically means that DDR memory is “double pumped”. In this case, data is transmitted 2 times for each clock cycle. Therefore, when DDR memory is operating at 800 Mhz, that is the effective rate. The actual rate of the DDR memory = 800 Mhz/2 = 400 Mhz.

    Furthermore, for performance purposes, the Conroe chips seem to operate well (optimally?) when the FSB is synchronized with the memory speed (i.e. a 1:1 FSB:Memory ratio). So, if you want a 1:1 ratio, then the actual speed of your FSB = 266 Mhz, needs to equal the actual speed of your Memory = 266 Mhz. Using a 1:1 ratio:

    FSB Speed x CPU Multiplier = CPU Speed

    Using this equation, we can calculate the CPU Multiplier for each Conroe chip since we know the native FSB Speed of each chip = 266 Mhz (266.5 really, but approx. 266) and each individual CPU Speed. For example, with the e6400, which has a native CPU Speed of 2130 Mhz, the CPU Multiplier = CPU Speed / FSB Speed => 2130 Mhz/266 Mhz = 8. So, the multipliers for the Conroe chips are as follows:

    e6300 = 7
    e6400 = 8
    e6600 = 9
    e6700 = 10
    e6800 = 11

    The multiplier is basically how many times faster the CPU is set to operate over the FSB (e.g. the e6300 is set to operate 7 times faster than the FSB, the e6400 8 times etc.)

    With this information, we can determine potential bottlenecks of the system. For example, in khenderson’s case where he wants to overclock the actual FSB Speed to 400 Mhz, using a CPU Multiplier of 8 (for the e6400), the theoretical max CPU Speed is 400 Mhz x b8=3.2Ghz. With the same FSB Speed, the theoretical max CPU Speed for the e6600 = 400 Mhz x 9 = 3.6 Ghz (which is why you suggest evaluating an upgrade to an e6600, since it looks like the FSB will be the limiting factor for max CPU Speed. I remember reading an article that mentioned motherboard instability around 495 Mhz FSB for an ASUS board [P5B Deluxe?])

    If he wants to push his system past 3.2 Ghz he either needs to increase the FSB Speed or he needs to increase the CPU Multiplier. However, in this case, the actual FSB Speed (400 Mhz) = the actual Max Memory Speed (800 Mhz / 2). Therefore, unless he can up the CPU multiplier, he will need to overclock his memory speed. So, unless you want to push your system past this theoretical limit without increasing the CPU multiplier (or being able to increase the CPU multiplier), you don’t need to purchase RAM that is good for overclocking.

    Since there are so many different motherboards, sticks of memory, and processors, the sheer number of potential combinations is tremendous. This makes choosing the right type of RAM, mobo and processor so important. Certain combinations just work better than others.

    …Right?

    Apologies for the super in depth explanation, I just want to make sure that my train of thought is correct.

    Assuming that what I wrote is correct, just out of curiosity, which variables alter the voltage of the system (and therefore the temperature)?

    Ok, moving on to my other questions (I hope you’re not banging your head against your monitor yet!)

    About the motherboard, how reliable is ASUS and how good is their support? I don’t know anyone else that’s in to computers, so all I have to base my opinion on are sites like http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...">Newegg">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82... where people post their experiences with the products. From what I’ve gathered, it just seems like the http://www.newegg.com/Product/CustratingReview.asp...">Intel board">http://www.newegg.com/Product/CustratingReview.asp... is reliable, stable and has good support. It seems to just “work”. For me, those are the most important deciding factors for a motherboard purchase.

    I realize that user reviews aren’t always the best gauge for determining a product’s usefulness, but typically when there are enough reviews, you can get a general sense for “the real picture”.

    My last question has to do with timing and pricing. I was hoping you could give me your point of view on my current plans for building this system. First of all, here’s my new build:

    Processor Core 2 Duo E6600 (775 - 2.4 GHz 2048K)
    $315.00

    Motherboard Intel 975x D975XBXLKR *possibly ASUS P5W DH*
    $227.00

    Memory CORSAIR XMS2 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit [Ordered]
    $230.00

    Video Card Sapphire Radeon X1900XT 256MB *possibly 1950 pro*
    $230 (?) or $250

    Primary HDD Western Digital Raptor WD740ADFD 74GB 10,000 RPM
    $150.00

    Secondary HDD Western Digital Caviar RE2 WD5000YS 500GB 7200 RP
    $170.00

    Optical Drive NEC ND-3550A 16X DVD+/-RW
    $28.99

    Case Silver Ultra Aluminus case [Ordered]
    $40.00

    Power Supply OCZ GameXStream OCZ700GXSSLI ATX12V 700W Power Supply 100 - 240 V [Ordered]
    $105.00

    Total = $1516

    Biggest changes are losing the sound card and display (decided to keep using my trusty GDM – 400 PS) and diverting those funds towards better storage and a better CPU.

    I plan on using the Raptor as the primary drive (for speedier day-to-day performance) and the RE2 for storage.

    A question about the RE2. I know that it’s meant for a RAID setup, and because of the TLER (time-limited error recovery) feature of the drive, WD doesn’t recommend it to be used as a single drive (due to an increased potential for data corruption). But, I read a review that stated that WD told them TLER can be disabled. Do you know if this true? If so, is there any other reason not to get it? The price per GB is $0.34 and the performance results that I’ve seen have been pretty impressive. It’s also quiet as a cat.

    The last question is of the “your best guess” variety. I read that Bad Axe 2 is due out soon, most likely at the same time as Kentfield. Currently, it’s rumored that this will happen in mid November. If I waited until then, how much do you think I could save on the CPU, Motherboard (if I decide to go with the Bad Axe 1), and the GPU (do you think this will drop within that time frame)?

    Wow, crapload of questions, and way longer than I planned, apologies. Hopefully you're still awake and able to help me out. :) I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!
    Reply
  • khenderson - Friday, September 29, 2006 - link

    Thanks Mr.Walton for this guide as it's just the kind of thing I've been waiting for.

    I'm planning to follow the recommendations pretty closely aiming at an OC range of 2.9 - 3.2. I'm a gamer, so as suggested I'll probably look to step the 1900GT to a X1900XT 256MB or something around there, prices permitting. Beyond that I want to use the stock fan, have no intention of running SLI, and I'm not interested in leaving room for future upgrades. Finally I'm planning to use an off-board sound card and two hard drives. All this considered, might a 550watt PSU be overkill? I ask in part because I'm interested in Antec's P-150 case that comes with only a 430watt PSU. On the other hand I think the specs on the 1900XT call for a 450watt PSU even for non-SLI use. I don't care about case cosmetics, but I don't want any cooling worries when OCed to around 3 Ghz and of course quieter is better. I'm assuming I'll need the memory speed & quality recommended by the guide, but I was hoping to save a little cash on the case/PSU and put that towards a better graphics card. Any advice appreciated.

    Antec P-150 Case
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...


    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, October 01, 2006 - link

    The Antec cases are good, but not so much their PSUs. Even the best Antec PSUs today seem to be inferior to many other similarly priced brands - popularity has led to lower quality apparently. Two years ago, I wouldn't have hesitated to recommend Antec PSUs; today, I'd go with a similar wattage Fotron Source, Enermax, Seasonic, OCZ, etc.

    Seasonic is widely regarded as one of the best PSUs, with their 330W generally being better than something like and Antec 450W. They are also very quiet, and efficiency is as high as 85% (compared to 70-75% on many competing brands)... but they're no cheaper than the 550W FSP I listed. :|

    I picked up a Sunbeam NUUO 550W a while back and it's still running strong (with SLI even!), and they're a bit less than the FSP I listed. You could most likely drop to a 450W decent quality model and be fine.
    Reply
  • jonp - Monday, October 02, 2006 - link

    The question of power supplies is interesting and so is the answer. Back in http://www.anandtech.com/guides/showdoc.aspx?i=275...">Pre-AM2 Mid-Range Buyers' Buide, May 2006 you had very warm words for the Enermax ELT400AWT 400 watt. It lists on Newegg now for $79.99 while the Fotron FSP550 is $112.99. If 550 watts isn't a requirement, would you still recommend the ELT400AWT? Although the Seasonic S12-330 is $59.00 at Newegg so maybe the additional 70 watts aren't worth the additional $20.99 in cost -- or do I have the wrong Seasonic unit? With memory prices rising so rapidly, one has to look at saving expenses in all of the other components without making too many sacrifices in performance, quality, reliability etc. I like the price, and your comments on quietness and efficiency of the Seasonic unit... Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, October 03, 2006 - link

    There are other places to shop besides Newegg! ;)

    http://www.ewiz.com/detail.php?p=PS-FS550GC">$88 plus shipping

    I would at least consider the Seasonic S12 330W over the Enermax 400W. Unfortunately, the next step up on Seasonic S12 is the $77 380W. Almost $20 more for an extra 50W - as bad as CPU scaling! Somewhat interesting that 500W to 550W is only $10 more, though both are too expensive. Then again...

    http://www.3gplaza.com/estore/control/Computer3G/p...">S12 430W for $81 is a good deal - I'd say that's the equal of the 500W PSUs for sure, maybe even the FSP 550W (but without SLI support).
    Reply
  • khenderson - Monday, October 02, 2006 - link

    Thank you, that clears things up for me on the PSUs. As for the P-150 I was able to find it sold without the PSU, under the name SOLO with a new paint job. They did some good sound dampening with this case, but compared to the Soprano you suggest it lacks fans in size and number so I'm leaning toward the P-180 although I heard it's a bit noisey. (I wanted more sound damping than the Soprano and I don't like the top mounted interfaces, otherwise the fan layout and basic design seem ideal). Anyway, my last question is, as a general rule do you think I'll need at least 3 fans to provide enough cooling to match the hardware and OCing recommended in your article?

    Thanks for the advice. Looking forward to future articles by you.

    Ken

    Antec Solo case (P-150 w/face lift)
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...

    Antec P-180 Case
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, October 03, 2006 - link

    For a moderate system, I like PSU fan + front fan + rear fan (all 120mm if possible, with lower RPMs). More than two case fans gets to be overkill, and you could probably run a single 120mm rear case fan without problems. Reply
  • jonp - Thursday, September 28, 2006 - link

    I think the E6400 base is 2.13GHz not 2.16Ghz.
    http://www.intel.com/products/processor/core2duo/s...">http://www.intel.com/products/processor/core2duo/s...
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 28, 2006 - link

    It is. Did I mess that up somewhere? Ah: I had it right in the table but missed it in the text below. Sorry. It's been corrected now. Reply
  • jonp - Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - link

    The MSI P965 Neo-F takes a beating by Newegg buyers:

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...

    The trouble folks are having with the MB make me wonder
    if the choice should be rethought? Or at least, if you're thinking
    about it, read the experiences folks are having so you are
    prepared make the choice work for you.
    Jon
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - link

    The original BIOS adhered directly to Intel's specs so memory not capable of 1.8V at boot or over DDR2-800 JEDEC had issues. (Of course this happened on just about all of the P965 boards! P965 at launch was a joke - just ask Gary Key.) MSI is still working on updating the BIOS, but the current version now works fine with DDR2-800 or below 1GB modules. You did note that the system recommendation included 2x1GB of DDR2-667, right?

    Anyway, this is a base P965 board, and it has limited overclocking and other capabilities. Anyone buying it thinking they are going to get an awesome OC is nuts, and that's likely where the negative comments on Newegg come from. Buying higher-end RAM and putting it in a lower-end motherboard often results in problems. I have a lot of motherboards that won't POST at all with some OCZ DDR2-800 RAM that wan'ts 2.2V for 3-3-3 timings, or 1.8V for 5-5-5 timings.

    How far can the MSI P965 go? I believe the current BIOS limit is 350 MHz, with 325-333 being a reasonable target. Set your RAM for DDR2-533 and the FSB for 333 MHz, and you shouldn't have issues (provided the CPU can handle the OC - and almost every 2MB Core 2 Duo should do that OC without problems).

    As I mentioned above, anyone can get on the internet and post a "review". We have no idea if they're really experienced or just complete noobs, and you certainly get what you pay for to an extent. It's a good baseline motherboard, but it won't set any performance records. We tried to keep the budget as close to $1000 as possible, so every $25 increase becomes significant.
    Reply
  • jonp - Thursday, September 28, 2006 - link

    As an alternative I would like to consider the Asus P5LD2, ver 2.01g which supports Core 2 Duo.
    Memory: DDR2-667 and 4GB -- this fits midrange to me
    PCIe: 1 extra
    PATA: 4 additional ATA100 *** especially good for those of us still in transition
    SATA 3GB: 4 instead of 5
    SATA RAID: included
    Albeit not the Deluxe version from the http://www.anandtech.com/showdoc.aspx?i=2753&p...">Pre-AM2 Mid-Range Buyers Guide, May 2006 but a more mature solution (than the MSI) with features that help make the Core 2 Duo/SATA transition and it's almost the same price.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 28, 2006 - link

    The MSI board fully supports up to 8GB of RAM as long as it's DDR2-667 or lower. (Officially at least - it should now run 4x1GB DDR2-800, though perhaps not at super-tight timings.) About the only advantage of the ASUS 945P P5LD2 R2.0 is that it has more IDE ports. The MSI board has FireWire. Which is more important? That's up to the individual - for HTPC use FireWire is great, but not too much else for the majority of users. I can make a similar argument about IDE support.

    The Buyer's Guides are written targeting new PC builds rather than as a specific upgrade recommendation. It could be that the ASUS is a better upgrade option for those that have IDE hard drives they want to keep. In most areas I wouldn't call it "better" than the MSI, though - just different. It's also $14 more than the MSI, and getting very close to the Gigabyte S3 in price.
    Reply
  • jonp - Thursday, September 28, 2006 - link

    The Gigabyte S3 is $8 more than the Asus and has the same 2 PATA device support as the MSI.

    Does the MSI P965 Neo-F support 1394? I couldn’t find it on the Newegg nor MSI web sites – confused.

    Different: Is the Asus less finicky about memory and more OC friendly than the MSI or is that my misimpression?

    Jon
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 28, 2006 - link

    Oop... you're right, the stock P965 doesn't have firewire. Got it confused with the MSI K9A board.

    For memory support, the 945P doesn't officially support DDR2-800, so if you impose the same limitation on the MSI P965 it should do just as well on RAM support. Both will likely unofficially support 2x1GB DDR2-800 memory (the ASUS only with overclocking). In terms of overclocking, both are going to top out around the same ~333 FSB. Chipset performance of P965 is slightly better than 945P (less than 5%, though).

    If you're set on using more than two PATA devices, then you will need an older motherboard with more IDE ports or you will need a board with an extra chipset to add the support. As I said, I don't find it to be too big of a deal (I haven't purchased an IDE drive in a long time).

    --Jarred
    Reply
  • evonitzer - Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - link

    It seems to me that having the Samsung monitor would be a big asset for gamers in that it supports a higher, and very common resolution. Is this not really a big consideration? Personally, I like the look of 16x12 a lot better than the 1280x1024 that my 17 and 19 inch screens have. And since I own an nvidia card, bumping up resolution works better that antialiasing sometimes. And on older titles, I can max out everything a little higher. Is this not a concern because of the high demands of new games, (ie. Oblivion) or because the jump from 1280x10 to 16x12 isn't really that big? Or something else? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - link

    1600x1200 is nice, but it's about the same total pixel number as 1680x1050 (a bit more) and it costs more. I would personally take the Acer 22" WS over 1600x1200 - widescreen looks awesome. If you prefer not to have to deal with getting WS resolutions to work, though, 1600x1200 is probably the best way to go for LCDs. Reply
  • Revolutionary - Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - link

    Having just built a system based on the 965P-S3, I want to make 2 comments:

    First, OCZ Platinum 6400 DOES NOT WORK in this motherboard. Its a known conflict not fixed by the F4 Bios. Do some searching in the forums and on Google.

    As for the difference between the S3 and the DS3: the singular difference is solid-state vs. fluid capacitors. There is no difference in overclocking performance; the solid state capacitors have a longer life-expectancy. Not even Gigabyte claims that the DS3 will OC better. Again, Google around a bit to see for yourself.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - link

    I have talked with to Gary Key, and the following is information from him as well as my own comments:

    The DS3 is doing around 510 in our testing, while we got around 460 stable on the S3. We've seen reports of up to 480 on it. The caps make a huge difference in overclocking as they run cooler, allowing higher clocks and additional stability.

    And he has had no issues with running the OCZ Platinum Rev. 2 DDR2-800. There is a big difference between RAM not working, and RAM not working when you simply run everything at default settings. The OCZ RAM does like more voltage than stock. It is rated at 4-4-4-15 2.2V DDR2-800, and while it may run fine at 1.8V 4-4-4-15 in some circumstances, it is designed to run with higher voltages.

    Unfortunately, just doing a Google on information doesn't mean the information is accurate. Any monkey with a keyboard and an internet connection can post content to the internet, but we don't know if they really have a clue what they're doing. A beginner that can't get OCZ + S3 to run properly because they assume "Auto/SPD" should just work fine will blast both products. High-end enthusiast RAM often requires special considerations like bumping the voltage level up to 2.0-2.2V. We even posted appropriate settings, though:

    "The OCZ 2x1024MB PC2-6400 Platinum Revision 2 ran at 4-4-3-10 with 2.2V at up to DDR2-900, 5-4-4-12 at DDR2-1000 with 2.3V, and topped out at about DDR2-1033 at 5-5-5-12 with 2.3V."

    And the OCZ RAM is generally out of stock right now. You can try the G.Skill RAM which performs about the same. It costs a bit more, however:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...">G.Skill DDR2-800 Note that the G.Skill will also require more voltage than 1.8V (or even 1.9V), and in testing it will generally run about the same as the OCZ Platinum 2.
    Reply
  • Sunrise089 - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    Although the Anandtech forums can be usefull for this sort of info, I always enjoy seeing a new system price guide, and find them one of the most usefull parts of the site. I'm not sure how sustainable one guide every two weeks will be (are you guys going to stop making the individual part guides since system guides will come out so often?) but if you can make it work then great. One thing I would love to see however is budget, midrange, high-end, and overclocking guides. I think the fourth category has at least as many followers as the high-end segment, and it might make your midrance guide quicker to write, since you could ignore overclocking performance. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    I find it difficult *not* to talk about OC'ing, but I suppose I could try and then move that into a separate guide. Hmmm.... If we have the price guides up and running again, I may cut it down a bit, but for now system component prices are changing enough that every other week is pretty sustainable. Reply
  • Sunrise089 - Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - link

    One of the specific reasons I would prefer a seperate OC'ing guide is because while I might build a PC exactly as described in the midrange guide if I were building it for a family member, I would have to make several additional decisions if I were buying it for myself and wanted to overclock. In an overclocking PC I would want to add an aftermarket HSF, maybe consider a different PSU, and be much more interested in specific OC'ing performance in the memory and motherboard. Although it's nice to see that at X23800+ or a Core2Duo6600 can overclock, if the guide doesn't tell me what additional choices I need to make in order to take advantage of the overclocking headroom then it isn't really serving as a "buyer's guide" to the overclocking user. Therefore it seems a good idea to me to add the specific guide for overclocking in order to allow for overclocking specific reccomendations. Reply
  • yacoub - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    Most of us can do a LOT better for the money because we won't need to buy a new case, keyboard, mouse, display, harddrive, optical dive, etc. Most folks will only need to upgrade the motherboard, RAM, and CPU. Some also their GPU.

    So if you estimate $200 for a CPU, $200 for a motherboard, and $250 for RAM, you're looking at under $700 for an upgrade to the latest and greatest.
    Reply
  • Murst - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    I think you miss the point of this review.

    Chances are, if you're upgrading your system, then yes, you will be upgrading certain parts. However, even if you're upgrading certain parts, your post seems rather strange. Most people will probably consider upgrading the gfx card before upgrading the cpu/mb/ram. Also, if you upgrade your mb, chances are that it is not pci-e so you will have to upgrade your sound card as well. But I guess that all depends on how often you upgrade (I'm thinking of a 2 year cycle from what I do)

    But anyways, this review is about what type of system you can build for 1-1.5k. It is not about what part Joe can put into his own computer to make it faster, althogh some of us certainly look at their recomendations when we do choose to upgrade specific parts.
    Reply
  • yacoub - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    I guess you missed my point. I wasn't critiquing the review, just adding a note related to it. A lot of folks probably run s939 boards right now, and may have even already picked up a cheap X2 dual-core CPU recently so they are obviously going to focus their next upgrade on GPU.

    Other folks here are running s754 or similar generation Intel setups that were 1st gen PCI-E and not dual-core compatible, and probably have recently upgraded to a good GPU but are looking to upgrade their system core (cpu, mobo, and RAM) soon since that will be significant for them.

    The second group is who I was talking about.

    As far as audio cards, my X-Plosion 7.1 DTS should work fine for a while, as most boards have at least one PCI slot.
    Reply
  • RamIt - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    "The Gigabyte GA-965P-S3 first showed up in our labs as a pretty mediocre offering, but with the latest BIOS updates it has turned into a real gem. The Gigabyte DS3 will still overclock a bit better in terms of maximum bus speed"

    What gives? The s3 and the ds3 are the basicly the same motherboard with almost identical bioses with the exclusion of the caps. How could the ds3 clock better than the s3?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    Caps are often one of the most critical factors in overclocking. Obviously, the difference isn't huge, and neither is the difference in price (about $20 more for the DS3). "A bit better" means that you will really have to be pushing hard to reach that point; RAM is likely to give out before either motherboard. Reply
  • RamarC - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    IMHO, the upgraded Intel config can be improved quite a bit for $82 more ($37 more w/available rebates). I'd move up to an E6600, select ASUS P5B-E mobo, and use dual hard drives in matrixRAID. An Antec Sonata II w/450W PS would be subbed in for the case. This config will be plenty fast in 'stock' form and still has some OC headroom.

    Core2Duo E6600 . . . . . 319
    ASUS P5B-E . . . . . . . 164
    OCZ 2GB Gold Gamer DDR2-800 . 260
    GeForce 7900GS
    or Radeon x1900gt . . .. 206
    2 WD 1600JS 160GB . . . . 124
    LiteOn 165H6S retail . . . 42
    Acer AL2216WBD 22" WS . . . 337
    Antec Sonata II w/450W PS . 110
    Logitech Premium . . . . 30
    Windows XP MCE . . . . . 120
    Total . . . . . . . . .. . $1,712

    Reply
  • rjm55 - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    I'm in total ageement with your idea. I was more than a little surprised to see the lowest 2MB cache Core 2 Duo as the choice in the first Intel, but I figured it would be fixed in the the upgrade choice with a 4MB cache model. It wasn't. The 4MB cache does make a performance diffence and is always faster at the same speed. I would pick a E6600 for my own midrange system.

    I would also choose a lowend 975 for the true dual x8 Crossfire. Abit has a decent 975 board for $159. This would actually be $5 less than your setup with a 965 board.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - link

    I added some clarification on the "upgraded" Core 2 page for you guys. :)

    Basically, your selections are perfectly acceptable alternatives, but if I were to put up my upgraded build with overclocking agains your upgraded builds, I would wager I can get better overall performance. Not everyone wants to overclock, and that's fine, but my picks were made with a bit more of an overclocking bias.

    The $260 OCZ DDR2-800 doesn't OC very well at all, while the $280 RAM does much better. In fact, the $260 RAM you link has had some compatibility issues with some motherboards (it wants to POST with higher voltages for the listed timings, IIRC), so you would be better off getting the $220 OCZ DDR2-667 in my book.

    The bottom line is that you have to determine what you want to do with the PC. For gaming (you mention CrossFire), spend a lot of money on the GPUs before you even worry about upgrading the CPU (unless you run games at 1024x768). If you plan on running X1900 CrossFire, though, you really better think about upgrading to a nice PSU like the Fotron Source listed. For X1900 XT CrossFire (or X1950 CF), you should probably go with a Fotron Source 700W (or OCZ GameXStream, Thermaltake 700W, or several others which are just rebranded FSP units).
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    I unfortunately have to say that Antec PSUs have gone way downhill in the past year. Ask Gary how many dead Antec units he has sitting around. Other than that, though, you demonstrate exactly what I tried to point out: there are a ton of different ways to attack a midrange build, especially at the $1500-$1700 price point. We went with better RAM and a much better PSU with a lower end CPU. RAID won't really help performance much IMO (unless you want RAID 1 for redundancy), and I would rather have a single drive instead of two drives for the same amount of storage (cheaper too).

    As for the CPU, the E6600 is definitely faster. With overclocking, it's lot closer, as the 2MB cache Core 2 Duos will generally overclock further than the 4MB cache CPUs. At that point, you have to decide whether you really need faster CPU performance or if you should improve something else. If you play games as your primary focus, even the X2 3800+ will be essentially tied with the E6600 until you start to get into much faster GPUs.
    Reply
  • RamarC - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    I'm a big fan of MatrixRaid. Dual 160s can be config'd as a 40gb mirror (boot, OS, important docs, etc.), and a 220gb strips set (game files, mp3s, dvd rips, page file, temp folder, etc.). A bit more expensive than a single drive, but a more performance and much safer.

    You guys obviously go through PSs more than me. Still, I'd rather spend about the same cash and get a faster stock system than one that I have to OC to reach the same level of performance.

    Reply
  • Araemo - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    I didn't see any discussion of it in the article, but which of those monitors are 24 bit(8 bit panels)?

    I'm rather picky about colors, and I wouldn't consider any 6 bit panels. I've seen 8 bit panels with good enough refresh times(Using overdrive) from some companies, but it can be such a PITA to find out for sure if a given monitor uses a panel that is 8 bit or 6 bit, that I would like to see that kind of information noted when a recommendation is being made...
    Reply
  • Super Nade - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    Hi,

    I have serious issues regarding the PSU's being recommended. Why are you guys skimping on a no-name, possibly dodgy PSU? To keep things in budget, I'd suggest cutting back on the case and the DRAM, possibly substituting a 17 inch display for the 19 inch. There are several good reasonably priced PSU's (say $80 range)available.

    I like the article and agree with most of the recommendations, but for the PSU :)

    Regards,

    S-N
    Reply
  • Revolutionary - Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - link

    Everybody questioning the choice of a Fortron-Source PSU because they "have not heard of them" needs to get a clue.

    They MAKE power-supplies as an ODM. Often the Antec, Enermax, whatever-pricey-name-brand-you-want-to-insert PSU is just a re-badged FS model.

    And if you check out the "cool-n-quiet" community, you will find that FSP actually has quite a following. I've personally used 3 of their PSUs (I'm still using one, actually: a 300W 120mm fan model that I bought about 3 years ago...).

    Mass marketing brand awareness does not a good component make.
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    quote:

    I have serious issues regarding the PSU's being recommended.
    While I am one to usually advocate buying a 700W or above power supply for any system ;-> , we looked at the baseline system requirements and determined the included power supply from Gigabyte was adequate to meet the systems needs. There are numerous case/power supply choices in this range and most of the tier one case suppliers provide decent power supplies. I for one like the Cooler Master Centurion 5 combo with their 380w power supply for a base system. Obviously, if you designed a system around the base configuration and wanted to overclock your system (in the case of the AMD unit, also run SLI) then a better power supply is certainly warranted.

    In the upgraded configuration I think our power supply choice reflected one of the best price/performance choices in the 500W~600W range. There was another FPS 550W power supply that was actually at the top of our list for a couple of more dollars but it was sold out at the majority of on-line stores.

    :)
    Reply
  • fungry - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    i can pretty much agree the appear to be skimpy PSU... never heard of them either. Apart from that, couldn't you say a 1000USD PC pricy enough? I'm not sure, but i consider this to be a mid range o_O. Reply
  • Araemo - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    FSP group is a well-regarded PSU brand. I did quite a bit of research on it this year, and the anecdotal evidence(Large #s of users) recommending them for longevity and quality is suprisingly overwhelming, for a company I had almost never heard of.

    They definately aren't bargain-basement either, but they do skimp on features in their cheaper PSUs(Why would ANYONE build a PSU with only one SATA connector? Only two I can understand, barely, but one? geeze...)
    Reply
  • KraftyOne - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    About the recommendation to buy Media Center Edition...it is built on XP Professional and is pretty easy to modify to basically become professional so that you can join a domain. Here is insturctions from some guy on how to do so:

    http://extended64.com/blogs/rafael/articles/404.as...">http://extended64.com/blogs/rafael/articles/404.as...

    There is no reason to spend the extra money on XP Professional.
    Reply
  • KraftyOne - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    typo:
    insturctions = instructions
    Reply
  • mostlyprudent - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    Other cases I would choose include:
    COOLER MASTER Centurion 5 CAC-T05-UWC Black/Silver Aluminum Bezel, SECC Chassis ATX Mid Tower Computer Case 380W Power Supply - Retail $75
    or
    ntec NSK 4400 Black/Silver 0.8mm cold-rolled steel construction ATX Mini Tower Computer Case 380W Power Supply - Retail $75

    Both offer a little more in the power supply area.
    Reply
  • vailr - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    LIAN LI PC-7B plus II Black Aluminum ATX Mid Tower Computer Case - $79.99
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...
    OCZ Gold 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) - ($209.99 after $20.00 Mail-In Rebate)
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...
    Zalman USA ZM-460-APS 460W VER2.03 Sli Capable (not stocked at Newegg)
    http://www.shentech.com/zm460apsdh.html">http://www.shentech.com/zm460apsdh.html

    Reply
  • mostlyprudent - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    BTW, the Intel table omits the keyboard/mouse combo. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    Fixed, thanks! Been a long night.... Reply
  • mostlyprudent - Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - link

    I have been waiting for this one. Thanks Reply

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