Buyer's Guide: High-End SOHO - August 2002by Matthew Witheiler on August 2, 2002 1:19 AM EST
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Processor - Intel Pentium 4 2.4B GHz - $345.00
Three months ago we saw the Athlon XP fall from it's position as top dog in the CPU world. It was then that the 533MHz FSB Pentium 4 processors were revealed. Two chips came out that day, the 2.4B GHz and the 2.53GHz. We found that even the Athlon XP 2200+ running at 1.80GHz did not have enough oomph to keep up with either of these speed demons. This made the 533MHz FSB Pentium 4 CPU the perfect chip to power our high-end SOHO setup.
We had an easy time deciding between the 2.4B GHz chip and the 2.53GHz one as soon as we looked at prices. The 2.4B rang in at a fairly pricey $345 this week. This wasn't so bad when we compared it to the 2.53's $548 price tag. There is no question that the money saved by going down a mere 133MHz in clock speed would be better spent elsewhere. Even with the slower 2.4B chip, this system will be able to go head to head with almost anything else out there.
Read more about the 533MHz FSB Pentium 4 solutions in our Pentium 4 2.53 and 2.4B review.
Motherboard - Gigabyte 8IEXP - $130
To be safe we decided to choose between one of Intel's own 533FSB chipset offerings. This left us deciding between the 845E, the 845G, 845GL, and the 850E. When push came to shove we decided upon the 845E chipset for our high-end SOHO system. This was decided upon for a number of reasons. First off, we stayed away from the SiS and VIA solutions because we wanted the utmost stability in our office system. Intel's track record is historically much better than either of these chipset manufacturers. Although we have not had any problems with the SiS 645DX or VIA P4X333 chipsets, we still decided to play it safe.
Next we were able to eliminate the 850E as a potential solution simply because of cost. Not only are 850E motherboards more expensive and harder to come by than 845 series motherboards, RDRAM prices remain higher than their DDR SDRAM counterparts. Finally we were able to decide upon the 845E because of the fact that we really had no need for the integrated graphics on the 845G and 845GL series chipsets. On a high-end SOHO machine such as this, 2D image quality is important. We therefore would not want to put our 2D graphics in the hands of an integrated video solution.
Why did we go with the Gigabyte 8IEXP? Well, we are currently working on an 845E roundup and were quite pleased with Gigabyte's 845E solution. The 8IEXP's integrated LAN, integrated audio, and overclockablity impressed us. What impressed us even more was the stability the motherboard offered us. The price, at $130, is not bad either.
Read up on the 845E here.
Memory - 512MB Mushkin Basic PC2100 DDR SDRAM - $115
One of the least expensive higher quality memory providers we were able to find this week was Mushkin. Currently a single 512MB stick of Mushkin Basic PC2100 RAM costs $115. As usual, you can go with any brand name memory you want as long as the price is good. We do caution you to stay away from the small-time memory producers as the problems you can run into are far more costly than the $20 or $30 it costs to go with Mushkin, Crucial, Kingston, or the like.
Video card - Matrox G550 - $91
When building a machine solely for SOHO use, 3D graphics speed should be of no concern. In fact, all that should matter is 2D image quality since 99% of all video cards on the market today are going to perform identically as far as 2D speed is concerned. We decided to stick to a proven favorite this time around choosing a Matrox G550 video card to enable our video output. Matrox has built up a reputation on their 2D image quality and the reputation is not baseless: Matrox's 2D output is still among the sharpest and brightest in the industry. In addition, the G550's dual head functionality gives it the added advantage of powering two displays crisply and clearly. Dual head allows for a video upgrade path down the road that is as simple as plugging in a new monitor. It is for these reason that the G550 is the choice for our high-end SOHO machine.
The other card we considered for this system was a Matrox Parhelia. Although 2D output is theoretically even slightly better on this card and it provides the ability to use up to three monitors, it's extreme price tag kept it from finding a home in our high-end SOHO machine. This is especially the case because one is not paying for the 2D output in this card but rather for the 3D capabilities of it; capabilities which should be unimportant in a true SOHO machine.
Read up on the Matrox G550 in our G550 review.
Monitor - Sony StylePro CPD-E540 - $550
Let's start by saying that you are safe going with any quality 21" monitor from a large monitor manufacturer. With that said, we choose the Sony StylePro CPD-E540 21" monitor for our high-end SOHO machine. The perfectly flat Trinitron tube monitor offers a maximum resolution of 1920x1440 and has a 0.24mm aperature grille pitch. We have had very good experience with the high end Sony CRT displays and we suspect that the CPD-E540 will fit in perfectly in an office setting. Text will be clear, colors bright, and resolution superb.
For those looking to spend a bit more or needing a bit more desk space, a 17" LCD would make a good fit. Although a digital LCD costs about $200 more than the Sony CPD-E540, it will take up only a fraction of the space while ensuring a great 2D image. The only thing limiting the appeal of LCDs in this price range is their size and resolution. The CRT above still offers almost three more inches of viewing area and a much higher resolution when compared to an LCD display.