CPU and Motherboard: VALUE OC Alternatives

CPU: AMD Athlon XP 2500+ Mobile Barton (512K L2 cache)
Motherboard: DFI Infinity NFII Ultra (nForce2 Ultra 400)
Price: CPU - $88 shipped (OEM). Motherboard - $91 shipped. HSF - $12 shipped

There is a lot to be said for the overclocking value of an Athlon 64 2800+ or 3000+ combined with a 2nd Generation 754 board, like a MSI K8N Neo or Abit KV8 PRO. We have used these combinations with outstanding results. However, it is still hard to beat the value of an Athlon XP on a flexible nForce2 motherboard for bang-for-the-buck.

Of the 4 recommendations for Overclocking system, the Athlon XP is the poorest ultimate performer, but there is no denying the incredible value that the Athlon XP platform delivers. You will also find the ultimate performance level of the overclocked Athlon XP will not be much lower than the Intel Pentium 4 system, and the total cost for motherboard and CPU is a little less than either the Intel CPU or the Asus motherboard. You can't find value better than this.



The current darling of the Athlon XP overclockers remains the Barton mobile chips. Operating at 1.45V instead of 1.65V, and with other electrical layout changes, the mobile 2500+, for example, consumes only 45 watts at stock speed and has that much more voltage headroom. The fact that it is factory unlocked, unlike the regular 2500+, also makes the mobil XP chips that much more attractive for overclocking. The mobile 2500+ multiplier is adjustable from the stock 14X up to 22X+, and downward as low as 5X, depending on the motherboard. This is vitally important to overclockers because this allows them to squeeze more performance from their chip without having to resort to problem FSB speeds.

The unlocked speeds and multipliers allow great flexibility with the 2500+ mobile. While the 2500+ is rated at 133 FSB CPU with a multiplier of 14 (the Desktop 2500+ is 166x11), most overclockers have no problem reaching the 11x200 speed of the top-of-the-XP-line 3200+. In fact most 2500+ reach even higher, many to 2.4GHz and beyond, which are performance levels much higher than any Athlon XP curretnly available. The 2600+ mobile looks even more promising as an overclocker, with a 133MHz higher speed at 1.45V, though we have not yet tested the 2600+. With specifications of the same 45 watt power consumption and a 15x133 FSB, it is hard not to be tempted when it is less than $10 more than a 2500+.

On a DFI motherboard, we have reached over 2.5GHz with a 2500+ at just 1.7V, which is close to the normal voltage for a regular 2500+. Other Editor's have typically found stable performance around 2.4GHz at 1.65V, which is faster than the fastest 2.2GHz of the stock 3200+ Athlon XP, and even better performance at higher voltages.

When you over-volt your CPU, you should normally be careful of how much you do. 1.65V to 1.7V should not be an issue with an Athlon XP mobile, and even 1.80V should not dramatically reduce CPU life. However, over-volts of 1.85V and above will likely reduce the life of your CPU, with the risk of a very quick death. This is not as big an issue with a CPU that costs $88, but what is pocket change for some is a lot of money for others, so be cautious and smart. The higher the voltage, the higher the heat, and the more cooling that is needed.



If you check Forums devoted to overclocking, you will find the DFI NFII LANParty has become almost a legend in the Athlon XP overclocking community. It is the only nForce2 Ultra 400 motherboard that we have seen to reach a FSB of 280 under any set of conditions, and we also see many end-users who reach 250FSB with this board. The full-blown NFII LANParty also comes with everything but the kitchen sink at a cost of around $140, which makes it a bit pricey for a value OC system, unless you happen to need or want the UV slots and LAN cable, FrontX, and a PC Transport carrier. However, many don't realize that the same outstanding board is available without all the pretty stuff and accessories, as the NFII Ultra Infinity.

None of the overclocking options are missing from the Infinity - they are just as fantastic as those found on the LANParty - and at around $90, it is hard to beat the value of the Infinity NFII board. You will find CPU Frequency adjustments to 300, and AGP can be fixed at any setting between 66 and 100. Memory voltage extends from 2.5V to a truly outstanding 3.3V to accommodate even the fussiest high-speed DDR. CPU voltages extend to 2.0V, chipset to 1.9V, and AGP from 1.5V to 1.8V. These ranges are simply outstanding and frankly, a bit dangerous with air, but they should make even water and phase-change overclockers happy.

The NFII Ultra Infinity even has the MCP-T southbridge for those who care about the excellent Sound Storm audio provided by that southbridge. DFI even provides the CMOS reloaded feature from the LANParty boards that allows several different BIOS setups to be saved - a very handy feature for overclocking. Overclockers will also be happy to find the 4 mounting holes around the CPU socket for heavy-duty cooling; although, we do find the CPU area has too many components around the socket that could interfere with some of the larger cooling solutions. In the end though, at a price of around $90, most everyone will find reason to be very happy with the nForce2 Ultra 400 DFI as the base for a Value overclocking system.

Listed below is part of our RealTime pricing engine, which lists the lowest prices available on the AMD nVidia motherboards from many different reputable vendors:



If you cannot find the lowest prices on the products that we've recommended on this page, it's because we don't list some of them in our RealTime pricing engine. Until we do, we suggest that you do an independent search online at the various vendors' web sites. Just pick and choose where you want to buy your products by looking for a vendor located under the "Vendor" heading.

CPU and Motherboard: VALUE OC Recommendations DDR Memory
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  • rwinder - Tuesday, August 03, 2004 - link

    I think it is a wonderful guide. Kudos for having the nads to do it, knowing that there would be "experts" that would give you crap about your recommendations. Don't let them deter you.

    One suggestion: Could you benchmark the performance of your recommendations (and alternatives) so us readers can make the price/value judgements?
    Reply
  • mindless1 - Monday, August 02, 2004 - link

    Seems kinda like we had to read whole article to get to the end, no?

    The point is, primary suggested parts were NOT appropriate for a "value o'c" system. Value does not mean merely not to choose most expensive parts in one or two areas. FOr the described value system there would be zero benefit to spending the extra $150 (over what needed spec parts would cost) on fancier case/PSU, and only a half-dozen %, at best difference in memory costing twice as much... that's not value at all, it's much higher than avg cost for new system in the market today.
    Reply
  • lazerasa - Monday, August 02, 2004 - link

    You people whining about the case, memory, and video card on the value selections... read the systems summary page, there are other, cheaper recommendations there. Read the whole artice before you start your whining. Reply
  • mindless1 - Monday, August 02, 2004 - link

    CM Stacker is a nice case but c'mon, who's going to build a value o'c system and spend $262 on case + PSU?

    Likewise, someone would have to be kinda stupid to spend $300-odd $ on high end memory for the value o'c system unless /required/ by the particular 'board just to get 1GB or more stable. Other suggested systems would be a more appropriate platform for that memory.

    BTW, the OCZ 520W PSU is not all that great. It IS fancy, but the base design (including after the cosmetic tweaks) cannot support 520W. Sadly it may be no better than a Sparkle 350W yet priced 3X higher. Don't be fooled by a $3 big anodized heatsink or "good" reviews where they don't subject it to a heavy load... after all that was the whole point of 520W, no? TO someone who knows PSU, it only takes a very short glance at that PSU to know why it can't support 520W.
    Reply
  • cnq - Saturday, July 31, 2004 - link

    Wesley,

    I agree with many of the comments: we may not agree with all your picks, but we really like the enthusiasm and obvious energy that you've poured into your picks and your writeup.

    Now for a little more feedback :)

    There wasn't any "value" video card pick.
    Was that intentional, or an oversight? I can understand that the next gen vid cards are *so* far ahead in performance that you would urge your readers to spring for one, but still it seems that you should toss in a value pick.

    So, thinking of the Athlon2500 buyer who (presumably) can't spring $400 for a next-gen vid card, what would you recommend in the $175-$199 price range? My picks would be a 9800pro followed by a 5900XT. (True, the 5900XT was born to overclock [390-->500 seems the norm ], but that doesn't mean it catches up to an overclocked 98pro in absolute performance.)
    Reply
  • rjm55 - Saturday, July 31, 2004 - link

    29 and Wesley
    Thanks for clearing up the Athlon XP mobile info. I was a bit confused with the difference in the specs with desktop Barton, but now its clear. If you gotta have a XP, it looks like the 2600+ Mobile is now the one to get.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Friday, July 30, 2004 - link

    #29 - You are correct and I actually do know better. The multipliers and FSB have been corrected in the Athlon XP section on page 6.

    #31, #32, and #33 - I fully understand that many look at overclocking to bring more value to their computer buying. There are also others who use overclocking to bring new performance highs to their computer platform. As I stated in the review, these 2 goals are often at odds. That is exactly the reason I have done BOTH Performance OC and Value OC recommendations and alternates.

    If Value is your main OC concern, then throw all the rocks you like at my Value picks, but please don't assume the Performance OC buyers don't exist or don't matter. I can assure you from emails and discussions on Forums that Performance OC is also an important concern for many buyers who OC their systems.
    Reply
  • WheelsCSM - Thursday, July 29, 2004 - link

    I agree with Z80. While I understand that different people view value differently, I can't see how a $390 video card or $175 case can be considered value in anyone's book. Other than that, I think this was an excellent article, and I look forward to future overclocking system recommendations. Reply
  • Z80 - Thursday, July 29, 2004 - link

    I'd say that most of your readers, like me, see overclocking as just another means to squeeze more "bang-for-the-buck" out of our PC dollars. We like to run well in the benchmarks but at the same time spend half of what a typical Dell customer might spend for the same performance. In my opinion, you missed your "Value OC" goal by a mile. If it wan't for your last statement "go with a cheaper case for $100 less. Second, buy an ATI 9800 PRO for $200 less and overclock the heck out of it. Third, go for one of the CAS 2.5 value DDR400 memories from Corsair, Geil, OCZ, Kingston, and others; this could save you about $125. These three substitutions reduce the price by $425 and get the core system price down to $836" Maybe you should look at factoring in a bang-for-your-buck cost comparison factor like you did with a recent video card review. Reply
  • Z80 - Thursday, July 29, 2004 - link

    I'd say that most of your readers, like me, see overclocking as just another means to squeeze more "bang-for-the-buck" out of our PC dollars. We like to run well in the benchmarks but at the same time spend half of what a typical Dell customer might spend for the same performance. In my opinion, you missed your "Value OC" goal by a mile. If it wan't for your last statement "go with a cheaper case for $100 less. Second, buy an ATI 9800 PRO for $200 less and overclock the heck out of it. Third, go for one of the CAS 2.5 value DDR400 memories from Corsair, Geil, OCZ, Kingston, and others; this could save you about $125. These three substitutions reduce the price by $425 and get the core system price down to $836" Maybe you should look at factoring in a bang-for-your-buck cost comparison factor like you did with a recent video card review. Reply

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