Current Cost: $530
Months on List: New
Price Change: N/A
With the release of the i875P chipset and it's inherent 800 MHz FSB, we'd be remiss by not including it in our Extreme Guide. Intel had a hiccup during the initial launch, but the processor is now available in the retail market. When added to an i875P motherboard, this combo represents the fastest desktop platform currently available, and HyperThreading is like icing on top. In a nutshell, the Hyper Threading feature combined with a supported operating system environment, essentially allows for multi-processor functionality with a single CPU. The biggest advantage of HT is the ability to multi task much more smoothly than previous CPUs that lack this feature. Unfortunately only Windows XP Professional, Windows XP Home Edition, and Linux (and apparently some versions of Win 2000 Server) currently support Hyper Threading, so pick your operating system carefully.
Intel's newest flagship Pentium 4, the Pentium 4-3.0C GHz is operating on the 800 MHz front side bus, providing the fastest possible performance on the Pentium 4 platform. We're recommending the retail version of the CPU because the Northwood core runs quite cool, and the retail coolers shipped with Intel Pentium 4's are nothing to be ashamed off. They're quite large, yet are coupled with a lower-noise fan, allowing for quiet, yet cool operation of the CPU. Intel retail CPUs also come with a 3-year warranty, which is always a plus.
Current Cost: $334
Months on List: 2
Price Change: -$231
In previous months, we often had problems with the AMD side of the guide, as there were noticeable disparities between the top AMD and top Intel CPUs. Now that AMD has their top of the line "Barton" processor (3000+, /w 512K L2 Cache), the scales have been evened up. The Athlon XP 3000+ is clocked at 2.16 GHz, with a FSB speed of 333 MHz, and this new AMD processor is definitely no slouch in the performance arena. The AMD Athlon XP with the updated Barton core is quite attractive due to the presence of 512K L2 Cache, SSE support and Data Prefetch, which helps the XP line to compete against Intel's offerings.
This Barton core is essentially the Thoroughbred core (.13 micron) with an upgraded 512K L2 cache, which is a nice upgrade from the standard 256K. With the increased on-die L2 cache, the amount of transistors have increased, and subsequently so has the physical size of the cores. The previous Thoroughbred cores were 84 mm2 with 37.6 million transistors, the Barton core is measures in at 110 mm2, with a hefty 54.3 million transistors. Despite the .13 micron process, and AMD's generosity with a freebie heatsink and fan combo from the retail box, AMD Athlon XP's are best served with a higher-end cooler, and if you plan on overclocking, it's best to get a hefty third party heatsink-fan. Plus, with the new, lower price on the Athlon XP 3000+, we've got more than enough room in the budget.
As a final note on the AMD Athlon 3000+ Barton retail, the retail packaging includes one more important feature, a 3 year warranty, which is much nicer than the 30 day to 1 year warranty on OEM variants.
With the recent price drops, we've considered swapping out the retail heatsink and fan combo for a more robust third party solution, however we've decided to stand pat on the retail heatsink and fan combo because of Intel's well known thermal advantages. The Pentium 4 processors simply don't run hot enough to warrant the extravagance of an expensive third party solution, especially since we're going all-out for a $500+ model. The Intel HSF is also quite easy to integrate, and if you have problems with installing it, then use a little bit more patience; attaching an Intel retail cooler is an exercise in simplicity.
If you insist on having a third party cooler, or are unable to purchase a retail version of the Pentium 4-3.06 GHz, then a Thermalright AX-478 + a Quiet 80mm (3000 RPM or less) fan for about $40 will suffice.
Current Cost of Thermalright SLK-800 Copper heatsink: $37
Current Cost of Thermaltake 80mm Smartfan: $13
Months on List: 2
Price Change: $0
Cooling for the Athlon XP 3000+ Barton is quite a different story from the Intel Pentium 4. Where the Intel supplies a more robust, yet quiet, retail heatsink and fan combo, AMD processors are still best served with a hefty OEM heatsink-fan combo. This is not to say that we've reverted back to our old and noisy ways of cooling an AMD CPU, but simply recommending an all-copper Thermalright SLK-800 heatsink, coupled with a Thermaltake 80mm Smartfan. This combination provides a lot of cooling with low noise levels.
The Thermalright SLK-800 mounts directly onto the CPU socket which is a departure from our previous AMD 80mm heatsink favorites, which mounted through the 4 holes surrounding the CPU socket. But with fewer and fewer motherboards on the market sporting the 4 hole design (and these heatsinks being a chore to remove for upgrades), we've decided to go for the safer bet, by including a heatsink that mounts directly to the CPU socket. This heatsink features a solid, 3-prong attachment and doesn't really give much up in stability, while being a breeze to install and remove.
Combining the Thermalright SLK-800 with the Thermaltake 80mm "Smartfan" will provide you with a cool running CPU, and at a very acceptable decibel level. The "Smartfan" has a thermal sensor attached to it that controls how fast the fan spins. When the temperature around the sensor is high, the fan will spin faster to compensate, and vice versa.
If you are looking for more "Extreme" cooling, then simply swap this fan out for a much faster and louder model. The choice of sacrificing low noise for a 7200 RPM rocket is yours to make. We believe the Extreme Gaming System should help drive your gaming to higher levels, but the noise from the CPU fan shouldn't be driving you insane either.