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Sharky Extreme : Monthly Value Gaming System Buyer's Guide March 16, 2008

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    September Value Gaming PC Buyer's Guide
    By Vince Freeman :  September 21, 2005


    AMD CPU: Athlon 64 3400+ (2.4 GHz) Retail

    Current Cost: $198
    Months on list: 5
    Price Change: -$17

    When it comes to the AMD processor choice, it really boils down to two options: mainstream performance using the Socket 754 platform or more entry-level speed with a Socket 939 platform. We choose to get the most bang for our buck, while sacrificing some potential upgradeability, since the 2.4 GHz Athlon 64 3400+ is such an incredible deal. It is a serious performer in this class, and offers performance exceeding that of the Athlon 64 3500+ and can even challenge the Athlon 64 3800+. The only issue is its Socket 754 format, but until Socket 939 processors and motherboards start dropping in price, we're sticking with the sub-$200 Athlon 64 3400+, a 512K Newcastle processor.

    The Athlon 64 3400+ is clocked on par with the 2.4 GHz Athlon 3700+ (1-MB, 754-pin) and Athlon 64 3800+ (512K, 939-pin) CPUs, and the performance of the Athlon 64 3400+ far exceeds its model number. This processor is an exceptional deal, and is actually priced on-par with the Athlon 64 3200+ 939/754-pin models, which run at 2.0 and 2.2 GHz, respectively. The Athlon 64 3800+ (2.4 GHz) 939-pin would seem to be the logical next step, but it is still well over $300 and out of our price range. To help maximize our budget, we've gone with the Retail model and its nearly-free heatsink-fan, but if you have a killer 3rd-party HSF unit in mind, then buying an OEM CPU is always an option.

    The Athlon 64 3400+ positions us very high on the AMD processor scale, and in terms of pure gaming speed, this model is more in line with the Athlon 64 3700+, and can outpace the Athlon 64 3500+. The only issue with this move is that its Socket 754 platform severely undercuts our future upgrade opportunities, as the Athlon 64 3700+ is just a bit faster, and for a viable upgrade, we would have to move to Socket 939, and go with at least an Athlon 64 3800+ or 4000+ to get any real performance boost. Dual core is another possible upgrade, but with a 2.4 GHz processor right now, the 2.2 GHz Athlon 64 X2 4200+ or 4400+ models would be the lowest upgrade point, and these are priced in the $475-$550 range.

    Intel CPU: Pentium 4 640 (3.2 GHz) LGA 775 Retail

    Current Cost: $217
    Months on list: New
    Price Change: N/A

    Intel has recently sliced prices on their Pentium 4 6xx models, and brought them into line with the Pentium 4 5xx processors, so it's only natural we upgrade our Intel CPU to the Pentium 4 640. This not only gives us a higher performance system, but maintains our LGA 775 platform base. The LGA 775 Pentium 4 models have noticeably lower retail prices than a same-speed Socket 478 model, and this allows us to save a few dollars and basically move up to a higher clocked model with a larger L2 cache. The native PCI Express support provides a better upgrade path, and value is also high, as there are some great deals on mainstream PCIe video cards. This gives us more hardware for the dollar than the Socket 478/AGP platform, and allows Intel to catch up to AMD in terms of price-performance.

    The Pentium 4 640 features the latest Prescott 2M core architecture, with an upgraded 2MB L2 cache, an 800 MHz front-side bus, Hyper-Threading, and support for dual-channel DDR400 or DDR2-533 memory speeds. This represents a performance improvement over the Pentium 4 540 and its basic Prescott core, but nothing too significant. The higher-speed Prescott 2M models can run hot, but the LGA 775 design allows more real estate for CPU coolers and better cooling performance overall. At 3.2 GHz and using dual-channel DDR400, the Pentium 4 offers serious performance for our value gaming system, while allowing at least some overclocking and tweaking headroom for the hardcore enthusiasts.

    The Retail vs. OEM argument also comes down to price, just as it did with the AMD Athlon 64 3400+ processor. The Intel Retail package makes the most sense, as not only do you get a nearly-free heatsink-fan and full 3-year Intel warranty, but also a sealed, totally untested CPU. Most Pentium 4 models are still priced higher than corresponding AMD CPUs, so any method of cost savings is a good thing.

    AMD Heatsink-Fan: Included Retail Socket 754 HSF

    Current Cost: $0
    Months on list: 8
    Price Change: N/A

    The Athlon 64 3400+ retail box includes a bundled heatsink-fan, and for both budgetary and ease-of-use considerations, we chose to go in this direction. The retail model is slightly more expensive than the OEM processor, but you receive a nearly-free HSF and an extended product warranty to boot. Of course, this is simply a recommendation, and those with a particular 3rd-party HSF unit in mind should certainly go the OEM route, even though it may go a bit over our $1K budget.

    Intel Heatsink-Fan: Included Retail LGA 775 HSF

    Current Cost: $0
    Months on list: 5
    Price Change: N/A

    The current street price of the Pentium 4 processors translates into the Retail model being the top method of maximizing our system budget. When it comes to Pentium 4 LGA 775 models, the price difference between the OEM and Retail CPU models is nonexistent, and with the bundled Intel heatsink-fan, this amounts to a savings compared to an OEM CPU + 3rd-party heatsink-fan combo. The retail HSF provides more than adequate cooling for our Pentium 4 640, and the retail package allows us to stay within budget. These Intel heatsink-fan units are also very easy to install and do not require any motherboard modifications or CPU socket adjustments.

    The retail Pentium 4 coolers have passed our tests even using 3.6-3.8 GHz models, and we have no problem at all recommending these for our value gaming system. These Intel retail coolers may not qualify as hardcore, but still provide rock solid stability at base clock speeds, and have a bit extra left over for moderate overclocking.

    Page 1 Introduction and Case
  • Page 2 Processors and Cooling
    Page 3 Motherboards
    Page 4 Memory, Hard Drive and CDRW/DVD-ROM
    Page 5 Video Card and Monitor
    Page 6 Soundcard, Speakers and LAN
    Page 7 Input Devices and Operating System
    Page 8 Price Roundup and Closing Remarks

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