|Duh Voodoo Man's Athlon 64 Value System Guide|
|BUILD YOUR OWN 64-BIT ATHLON SYSTEM CHEAP!!|
LAST UPDATE: 11/25/05
NOT INTO OVERCLOCKING, HUH??
Well, that's perfectly OK. Not everybody is comfortable cranking up the bus speeds, clock multipliers and chip voltages in their PC's, especially after just having spent several hundred dollars on new components. If that's how you feel, then the overclocked Athlon XP system described in my Best-Bang-for-the-Buck PC article may have prompted you to say "No, thanks--not for me!" NO PROBLEMO! But just because you don't want to be one of us crazed overclockers doesn't mean you can't get in on the fun and build your own high-powered, faster-than-a-speeding-bullet Athlon system! And you can do it for just a modestly higher investment....
64-BIT PROCESSING: THE FUTURE IS HERE TODAY!
AMD's 64-bit processors have been around for a while now, and prices have come down to the point that several of these CPU's can be purchased for well under $200. The Athlon 64 processors offer very impressive performance, significantly faster than their Athlon XP brethren at equivalent clockspeeds. In fact, the top-of-the-line FX-series Athlon 64 CPU's, based upon the "San Diego" core architecture, are widely recognized as the fastest PC processors currently available, faster even than the Intel Pentium 4 "Extreme Edition" CPU's. Of course, they also cost in excess of $800, so we won't be talking about them any further in this article!
Fortunately, they have siblings that, while not quite as blazingly fast, still offer extremely quick performance at a much more reasonable price point. In particular, I draw your attention to the Athlon 64 3200+ "Venice" processor, an extremely capable CPU that currently can be purchased for about $150. This processor will perform as well or better than the overclocked XP 2500+ described in the "best bang" article, and will do so right out of the box! No need for overclocking or modification in any way. Of course, you could still do a bit of that if you wanted to (check out THIS ARTICLE, if so), but it's not necessary in order to achieve very respectable levels of performance. Also, since not overclocking keeps the temperature of the CPU down, the heatsink/fan that comes with the retail box processor is perfectly adequate for keeping the unit cool. No need to drop another $30 or so on a fancy aftermarket HSF. So let's take a look at what it will take to build a solid but modestly priced PC around this nifty little slice of silicon....
PARTS & PRICES
Not surprisingly, a completely different CPU architecture requires a different motherboard, based upon a different chipset. Where the Athlon XP processors used the venerable "Socket A" motherboard technology, here we move up to the newer Socket 939 design. And where the nForce2 motherboards were (in my opinion) the clear choice for Athlon XP systems, Nvidia offers the best of the Socket 939 chipsets, as well. Here, I recommend going with the nForce4 with its newer PCI Express video interface, but if you need an AGP board, the nForce3 series is also an excellent choice. Pretty much all of them offer onboard 6-channel sound, onboard LAN, and both IDE and serial ATA drive interfaces. It's tough to go wrong with a good motherboard using either of these chipsets, so I'll leave the choice to the reader. Read some reviews, check out some owner feedback, shop around and pick the board that looks like it will meet your needs best. There are several good ones available in the $75 range, as long as you're not looking for a lot of "bells & whistles".
As was the case with the Athlon XP system in the "best bang" article, we're talking about the "box" itself here, not including external components like a monitor, speakers, mouse, keyboard, etc. And if you are looking to upgrade from a current system, rather than starting from scratch, then you very likely have these items already.
The following table shows the list of components I put together for a solid "value system" with the Athlon 64 3200+ "Venice" processor. The items are shown along with an actual price available at my favorite online reseller, NewEgg.com, as of November 2005, with the exception of the hard drive. For that, I quoted a typical price after rebate from one of the big "brick'n'mortar" chains like CompUSA, Best Buy or Circuit City. Figure on spending about 25 cents a gigabyte for a good IDE hard drive deal these days. A serial ATA drive will run you a little more.
Note that I've listed two different video card choices, resulting in two different "bottom line" prices. For you gamers, the Geforce 6800 is my recommendation as a great way to go for high 3D horsepower at a won't-break-the-bank price. You can read about my recent experience with an EVGA Geforce 6800 AGP card HERE. For those of you who are looking for a fast general purpose PC and only plan to do a bit of casual gaming at most, then you can save a significant chunk of change by going with a more modest video card, like the attractively priced Radeon X300SE.
COMPONENT PRICE Athlon 64 3200+ Venice CPU (HSF included) $152 nForce4 Socket 939 PCI Express motherboard $75 2x512MB PC3200 DDR-RAM $75 Antec case with fan & 350W power supply $81 160GB 7200rpm hard drive w/ 8MB cache $40 GAMERS: Geforce 6800 PCI-e video card
GENERAL PURPOSE: Radeon X300SE PCI-e video card
DVD Burner drive $39 Floppy drive $10 Second case fan (120mm) $18 BOTTOM LINE:
GENERAL PURPOSE -
As was the case with the "best bang" Athlon XP system, I won't get into actual system assembly here, but leave it to the reader to handle that. If you need a good "how-to" article, check the references I gave at the bottom of the BBFTB article. Suffice it to say that, when you're done, you will have one very quick system, without any need for changing bus speeds, clock multipliers or system voltages. Of course, you can always do a bit of that stuff, too, if you want to boost the performance even higher. Your call!!
Originally Posted October 25, 2004
Updated November 25, 2005
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