Buyer's Guide: Value Gaming - September 2002by Matthew Witheiler on September 25, 2002 12:00 PM EST
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Processor - AMD Athlon XP 1700+ (1.47GHz) - $66
The prices in the low-end Athlon XP market have not altered much in the past seven weeks, forcing us to go with the same recommendation we made previously at only a slightly lower price.
The Athlon XP processor is a clear choice for any value gaming system. Gaming wise, the Athlon XP provides much more power than other processors in its price range. The price of the Athlon XP 1700+ fell only $2 in the seven weeks since our last value gaming buyer's guide and, sadly, none of the other Athlon XP processors shifted in price enough to make them a more viable option.
An additional $13 will upgrade your processor to the 1800+ (1.53GHz) but will only result in marginal performance gains thanks to the 66MHz clock speed boost. If you are looking to save a few bucks you can opt for the Athlon XP 1600+ (1.4GHz) for $12 less.
For more information about the Athlon XP 1700+ be sure to read our AMD Athlon XP article.
Motherboard - MSI MS-6380E KT3 Ultra2 - $80
Our last value gaming system recommended the MSI KT3 Ultra motherboard as the motherboard of choice. We decided upon the KT3 Ultra for a number of reasons. First, we were pleased at the price that the KT333 motherboard was being offered at (very close in price to the older KT266A motherboards). Secondly, we chose the KT3 Ultra because of its integrated 6 channel audio solution (provided by a Avance Logic ALC650 chip). Finally, we decided upon the KT3 Ultra because it won our Editors Choice Silver award in our KT333 roundup.
This time around we slightly modify our motherboard selection. Today we replace the KT3 Ultra with the updated KT3 Ultra2. The two are essentially the same motherboard except the KT3 Ultra2 now uses VIA's new southbridge solution, the VT8235, which adds USB 2.0 support. The board still maintains the quality build, stability, and integrated sound that got it here in the first place. The bottom line is that the KT3 Ultra2 is only $3 more than the KT3 Ultra was seven weeks ago and is the next logical step in the KT3 Ultra series evolution.
Memory - 256MB Crucial PC2700 DDR SDRAM - $74
We again chose to outfit our value gaming system with PC2700 (DDR333) memory. Using this memory one can take full advantage of the KT333's 333MHz memory bus speed. The choice to go with PC2700 memory over PC2100 memory was based on the fact that PC2700 memory will help gaming performance slightly while not really altering the cost of the system all that much.
The Mushkin memory special that we recommend last value gaming buyer's guide is no more. This week we turn to Crucial to provide the memory for our value gaming system. The price is now $12 more than it was last week but you are still getting memory from a name brand manufacturer that backs their memory with a warrantee. Again, we caution you from getting memory from a no name producer. Motherboards, especially of the KT333 variety, can be very picky when it comes to what memory it will accept. Trust us, the extra cash it will cost to go with a Crucial, Mushkin, Kingston, ect memory module well offsets the pain of trying to figure out why your system is not POSTing.
Video Card - ATI Radeon 8500LE 64MB - $87
Deciding which video card to power our value gaming setup is the most difficult task of all. We are left with a number of options at a variety of price points meaning that the "best" choice is not always clear. However, with ATI attempting to flush the Radeon 8500LE out of market to make room for the Radeon 9000 Pro, the low price of the ATI Radeon 8500LE was too much to pass up.
There are only really a handful of performance video cards out there that are in the sub $100 range. These cards include the ATI Radeon 9000 Pro, the NVIDIA GeForce4 MX 460, the Matrox G550, and, of course, ATI Radeon 8500LE. In the sub $100 level it is pretty easy to rule out the Matrox card for its sub par performance. The NVIDIA GeForce4 MX 460 comes close to the Radeon 9000 Pro and 8500LE's performance but eventually falls to the Radeon thanks to its DirectX 8.1 functionality and superior speed (remember, the GeForce4 MX is only a DX7 chip).
Deciding between the new Radeon 9000 Pro and the aging Radeon 8500LE was not easy. Eventually we decided upon the Radeon 8500LE thanks to the fact that it outperforms the Radeon 9000 Pro in the majority of situations (read why here) at a price that is only $7 more. Plus, if you are willing to overclock your video card a bit, the Radeon 8500LE can be pushed to Radeon 8500 speeds and beyond in most cases. We can't be sure how long the 8500LE will remain in the market, but once it is gone only the Radeon 9000 Pro will remain a viable option for our value gaming system on the ATI side (baring any significant price drops).
If you have the cash to spare and would like a bit more 3D gaming performance, take a look at the NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti 4200 64MB. The GeForce4 Ti 4200 rings in at about $130, putting it $43 more than the Radeon 8500LE but it does offer a performance boost. Like the Radeon 8500LE, you will have your hands on one fast card is you are willing to overclock your GeForce4 Ti 4200 a bit. Since all GeForce4 Ti 4200 64MB cards are created equal, just go with the least expensive board you can find.
For more information about the Radeon 8500, check out one of our various ATI Radeon 8500 reviews.
Monitor - Samsung 955DF - $185
A 19" or larger monitor was a must for our value gaming system. The system that we are configuring here should have no problem running even intense 3D games at resolutions of 1024x768 and above, making a high resolution monitor a must. The system will also run a good number of games fast, meaning that we can't have low refresh rates throughout the resolutions. The Samsung 955DF with its recommended resolution of 1280x1024 at 80Hz proves to fit the bill.
The 955DF is now fairly inexpensive as far as 19" monitors go. The monitor is $45 less expensive this value gaming buyer's guide and can now be had for $185.
You are fairly safe going with any name-brand 19" monitor, be it from Samsung, MAG, Sony, ect. We chose to go with the 955DF simply because we have had personal experience with it.
Be sure to check out our Samsung 955DF 19" Monitor review for more information.