CPU and Motherboard Recommendations

CPU: AMD Athlon 64 3000+ retail (heatsink and fan included)
Motherboard: MSI K8N Neo Platinum (nForce3 250Gb)
Price: CPU - $169 shipped. Motherboard - $126 shipped



Prices on Athlon 64 processors have gone down noticeably since the last time we recommended an Athlon 64 for our mid-range system. In fact, they've gone down enough that we are now recommending AMD's Athlon 64 3000+ instead of the 2800+ that we had recommended last month. The price discrepancy between these two processors is minimal, and the additional performance that you get from the 200MHz bump in core clock is well worth the small price increase.

Anyway, as we've extensively explained before, for mid-range systems, AMD's Athlon 64 line of processors have several advantages over Intel's Pentium 4 line of processors. For one, Athlon 64 processors have the ability to run 64-bit operating systems and 64-bit applications while also being able to run 32-bit applications and operating systems at full speed. Ever since Microsoft officially announced their support for AMD's move to 64-bit desktop computing, Intel has been essentially forced to adopt AMD's 64-bit technology (otherwise known as x86-64), a technology that may or may not be available in Intel's future desktop Prescott processors (it's currently available in their Nocona Xeon line). But for now, Athlon 64 is the only game in town for 64-bit desktop computing while also being the best choice for mid-range systems that run 32-bit operating systems like Windows XP.

Unfortunately, Socket 939 processors are not cheap enough to recommend to mid-range users quite yet, as they hover well above the $300 mark (3500+ version only). But have no fear, AMD's Socket 939 platform will be pushed further and further into the mainstream and will eventually phase out "inferior" Socket 754 platforms.



Epox offers a similarly great motherboard to MSI, and so to us, it was indeed almost a toss up between the two. However, MSI's K8N Neo Platinum was ultimately chosen because it offered a few extra BIOS features and a slightly lower price. Anyway, as you probably are well aware, the nForce3 250Gb chipset itself is easily the biggest feature that the K8N Neo Platinum motherboard carries. This one-chip solution offers native Firewall capability, 4-drive SATA/IDE RAID, and native GbE (Gigabit Ethernet). MSI adds in features like IEEE 1394 FireWire support, 8-channel sound and superb BIOS features and overclocking ability, making this, simply put, an awesome motherboard. MSI uses this same blueprint for their Socket 939 motherboards too, as well as for the nForce3 250Gb Ultra version (which adds official 1GHz HT support). As you saw in our Socket 939 Roundup last month, MSI has indeed produced the best Athlon 64 motherboards in two platform flavors that you can buy. This is a big step forward for MSI, whose image has been tarnished in the enthusiast community in recent quarters. For more information on the MSI K8N Neo Platinum, read here . For more information on Socket 754 motherboards, go to this link.

Listed below is part of our RealTime pricing engine, which lists the lowest prices available on the AMD CPUs and 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.

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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

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