Price Guides August 2005: Motherboardsby Kristopher Kubicki and Howard Johnson on August 6, 2005 1:32 PM EST
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More AMD Motherboards
We say this every time put out another price guide, but not everyone seems to believe us just yet. If you're upgrading to Athlon 64, there is no reason for you to buy a Socket 754 motherboard unless you're going low budget; specifically Sempron. Low cost Sempron 754 chips are all the rage these days (and with good reason when compared to Duron chips of yore). You can buy a reasonable nForce4 motherboard, a Sempron chip and a TurboCache video card for under $200; an awesome combo considering SLI motherboards or mid range video cards cost that much alone. Do not buy an Athlon 64 for Socket 754; you're much better off spending the money on a Socket 939 Venice or Winchester chip.
It's interesting to note that Sempron chips for socket 939 actually exist, but at present they're only available in OEM systems. The 3000+ is 128K 1.8GHz and the 3200+ is 256K 1.8 GHz, both Palermo cores. We believe they're also 64-bit enabled Semprons, and when they actually reach the retail market we really lose any reason to recommend buying a socket 754 board. Upgraders might still have a reason to stick with older platforms like AGP and 754, but for new systems you're better off spending more money.
Perhaps the worst rig you could buy right now is a Socket 754 Athlon 64 on nForce3. AGP is a horrible idea for Socket 754 right now because nForce4 boards are generally priced very similar and AGP low end video cards are prohibitively expensive. If you have the money to pair a high end AGP video card with a Socket 754 Athlon 64, then you definitely should be buying nForce4/Socket 939 instead. (If you already own an AGP card and you're looking to upgrade from something like an Athlon XP platform but keep your GPU, we'd probably wait for the ULi AGP/PCIe boards to show up.)
The other category of buyers we mentioned, the low end TurboCache folks, have some pretty awesome options this week. Our favorite board once again reigns as the MSI K8N Neo3-F [RTPE: MS-7135-010]. With AGP and PCIe, you can take your old GeForce Ti4400 with a decent Sempron and come out with an inexpensive (but still powerful enough to play Warcraft) machine. While the AGP slot isn't a true AGP 8X solution, it shouldn't matter much for older GPUs. The PCIe slot gives you the option to upgrade to a much more capable video card in the future, which you can in turn carry over to your next rig since it's PCIe. Or, you can go the other way and stick with a TurboCache card and just load up on memory.
NVIDIA aren't the only Socket 754 PCIe guys anymore; at least not since ATI's RS480 chipset started to show up on Socket 754 with the MSI Xpress 200 RS480M-IL [RTPE: MS-7145-020]. MSI must have had some incentives recently because all of their motherboards are priced better than the other Tier 1 guys. Sapphire's PURE Innovation "Grouper" motherboard (reviewed here) appears to be several weeks away from shipping still, but we will keep our eyes out for that too. Since we are talking about ATI chipsets, we might as well mention Crossfire; but don't get your hopes up too high for that either - we are expecting mid-September at best - and even then we don't know about quantities of Master Cards or motherboards.
Even though we just did a piece on the ULi M1695 chipset, components aren't quite shipping yet. The M1689 motherboards are extremely cheap right now, but to recommend one would go against our original advice to not recommend Socket 754 AGP motherboards. You might save a few bucks buying a ULi motherboard but you're going to pay through the nose to buy any low end AGP video card.
And for those who insist on buying an nForce3 motherboard against our advice, here you go!