Buyer's Guide: High-End Systems - December 2000by Mike Andrawes on December 24, 2000 2:52 PM EST
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You do the research on the products. You read all the reviews. You even discuss with friends. But even with all that information, building a perfect, personalized system from scratch can be quite a daunting task. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that we’ve had request after request to provide some system recommendations.
With the third edition of the AnandTech Buyer's Guide, we changed things a little bit, splitting the Buyer's Guide into two parts, one for value systems and the other for high-end ones. Despite the slight format change, we continue to provide some system recommendations in 3 categories – small office / home office (SOHO), gaming, and professional. Remember that these are just a few recommendations from us if we were building the systems. Obviously, each individual’s needs will vary greatly, but that’s the beauty of building a custom system - it can be tailored to fit those special needs.
Every component, from the motherboard to the case to the monitor, is covered for each system. Sample prices based on a review of popular vendors and price search engines across the web are included as well - these are not the very lowest prices you can find on the web, but rather are intended to be representative of what's out there. Don't forget to check out our Weekly CPU & Video Card Price Guide as well as our Weekly Memory & Motherboard Price Guide for the lowest prices from reputable vendors on those components.
Note that shipping is not included in the prices listed here, but can add up to 5-10% to the total system cost, depending exactly what you get, where you order from, etc. To minimize shipping costs, order as many components as possible from a single vendor or buy things locally where possible. An OS recommendation is included, but that price is not included in the total system price listed. Especially good deals can often be found in the AnandTech Hot Deals Forum where AnandTech readers regularly post good deals they find.
Components that are not readily obtainable at the time of publication are automatically out of the running for any system in the Buyer’s Guide. Where possible, we've linked to reviews of the individual products on AnandTech for more in depth information.
The biggest change for this month is the selection of a new KT133 board to use in our AMD Athlon-based systems. The Microstar K7T Pro2A is the board that was able to supplant the venerable ABIT KT7-RAID that we had been using. Since the K7T Pro2A doesn't have an integrated RAID controller, we've had to add one externally. The Promise FastTrak 100 is our choice here for RAID.
While we're on the subject of motherboards, it should be noted that AMD 760 based motherboards are still not available for purchase by end users. You can get a complete DDR system from a few OEM's right now, but there's nothing you can do for the time being if you're building your own system and want DDR. ALi MAGIK1 boards have also not shown up at retailers yet, so it looks like DDR SDRAM will have to wait until 2001 before making its way into the do it yourself market. Right now, the only easy way to get a DDR SDRAM system is to buy a prebuilt one from the likes of Micron (who is currently shipping the most DDR SDRAM systems).
For now, however, the VIA KT133A chipset may actually be the best purchase for those needing a Socket-A motherboard. The addition of a 133 MHz DDR FSB puts its performance very close to that of the AMD 760, but without the need for DDR SDRAM. Earlier this week, the KT133A made its way into the AnandTech labs - read our in-depth review for more information. KT133A boards haven't quite shown up in the marketplace, but they should be here before AMD 760-based boards and will command a negligible price premium over current KT133 designs.
On the storage front, Yamaha has been able to supplant Plextor as the IDE CD-RW of choice with their blazing CRW2100EZ 16/10/40X drive. SCSI burners continue to trail behind and the Plextor 12/10/32X remains the fastest available in that arena. Hard drive prices have remained relatively constant over the past couple months, so no big changes in that department.
The Cambridge SoundWorks DTT3500 have replaced the older DTT2500 as the speakers of choice in our high-end gaming machine. The Klipsch ProMedia V2-400's have also been added as an option for a bit more powerful system, albeit without Dolby Digital 5.1 Decoding.
GeForce2 Pro cards are beginning to show up in the market as well, with the Hercules Prophet II Pro being the easiest to find. We're currently not recommending these cards simply because they cost $100 more than a standard GeForce2 GTS. That $100 gets you faster memory and 32MB additional DDR RAM. So if you were looking at a 64MB GTS card, the Pro may be a better option. Otherwise stick to a 32MB GTS.
On the professional 3D front, ELSA has finally announced their Quadro2 Pro and Quadro2 MXR based products, the GLoria III and Synergy III respectively. Unfortunately, they don't appear to be available for purcahse just yet so our recommendation of "hang on just a bit longer" remains for the third month in a row.
One of the biggest suggestions we've gotten for the Dream System over the past few months is to drop the RealMagic Hollywood Plus hardware DVD decoder card. Unfortunately, its pass through degrades 2D image quality and using two separate inputs to the monitor (one for your regular video card and one for the RealMagic) hasn't worked for everyone. To top it off, the image quality of a GeForce with software DVD decoding was virtually the same as the RealMagic's hardware decoding. So basically, the only reason to keep the RealMagic around would be for its ability to output a Dolby Digital AC-3 signal and that probably isn't worth the trouble (the Sound Blaster Live! used in our systems does not currently support AC-3 pass through under Windows 2000).