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Sharky Extreme : Monthly Value Gaming System Buyer's Guide June 4, 2009

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    May Value Gaming PC Buyer's Guide
    By Vince Freeman :  May 19, 2008


    AMD CPU: Athlon 64 X2 6400+ (3.2 GHz) Retail

    Current Cost: $160
    Consecutive Guides: New
    Price Change: N/A

    The processor selection remains a very difficult proposition for our AMD configuration. The Phenom offers a low-priced tri- or quad-core processor, but at lower clock speeds, while the Athlon 64 X2 only provides two cores, but is clocked at 700 and 800 MHz higher, respectively, than the fastest Phenom X4 and X3 models. This factor won us over to the 3.2 GHz Athlon 64 X2 6400+, which in its retail package, includes a heatsink-fan. And at only $160, we get it for same price as the Athlon 64 X2 6000+ was in our previous guide - $10 less than the 2.3 GHz Phenom X3 8650 and $35 lower than the 2.2 GHz Phenom X4 9550.

    The Athlon 64 X2 6400+ also provides slightly higher gaming performance than the majority of Phenom X3 and X4 models, and you really need to hit at least 2.5 GHz on the Phenom chart to compete. The 6400+ has a clock speed of 3.2 GHz, features a top-end 2x1MB L2 cache format, and utilizes the Socket AM2 package. The Athlon 64 X2 6400+ used to be available in a Black Edition format, without HSF, but its newer retail version adds that back in. This saves us some much-needed cash, and makes this processor a very economical choice. Then again, if you have a killer 3rd-party HSF unit in mind, then buying the BE version is always an option.

    Intel CPU: Core 2 Duo E8200 (2.66GHz) Retail

    Current Cost: $185
    Consecutive Guides: New
    Price Change: N/A

    Our goal for the Intel processor was to snag one of the newer 45nm Wolfdale models, which would provide not only a performance jump, but also a cooler-running CPU with greater overclocking potential. Prices are such that we couldn't move up the chart in terms of clock speed, but the 2.66 GHz Core 2 Duo E8200 has other benefits. Moving to the 45nm Wolfdale has no downside, as it keeps us below $190, while maintaining the basic Intel platform and dropping the CPU's power and thermal specifications.

    The Core 2 Duo E8200 features an upgraded Wolfdale architecture with 6MB of L2 SmartCache (compared to 4MB on the Conroe core) and runs on the 1333 MHz bus. It is a 45nm processor with a clock speed of 2.66 GHz, a 65W TDP and a VID voltage range of only 0.85V-1.3625V. The 45nm Wolfdale core is already a legend on the overclocking scene, with results of 4 GHz or higher becoming commonplace. As not everyone chooses to overclock a processor, we don't base our purchasing decision on this factor alone, but it is still viewed as a nice extra. Going with the retail version of the Core 2 Duo E8200 makes the most sense, as you get a nearly-free heatsink-fan and full 3-year Intel warranty.

    AMD Heatsink-Fan: Bundled Athlon 64 X2 6400+ HSF

    Current Cost: $0
    Consecutive Guides: New
    Price Change: N/A

    The Athlon 64 X2 6400+ retail box includes a bundled heatsink-fan, and for both budgetary and ease-of-use considerations, we chose to go this route. The retail model is also less expensive than the unlocked Black Edition processor, and includes a nearly-free HSF. Of course, this is simply a recommendation, and those with a particular 3rd-party HSF unit in mind should certainly go the BE route, even though it may go a bit over our $1K budget.

    Intel Heatsink-Fan: Bundled Core 2 Duo E8200 HSF

    Current Cost: $0
    Consecutive Guides: New
    Price Change: N/A

    The Core 2 Duo Retail models are priced extremely close to the OEM processors, and availability of the boxed model is higher. Sometimes, due to low availability, the OEM prices are even higher, so why waste money when Intel is giving away free heatsink-fans. The retail HSF is more than adequate for the cool-running Core 2 Duo E8200, and the installation is simple enough.

    The retail Core 2 Duo coolers have passed our tests using higher-clocked 45nm models, as well as overclock testing to well over 4.0 GHz, 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 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 DVD Writer
    Page 5 Video Card and LCD Display
    Page 6 Soundcard, Speakers and LAN
    Page 7 Input Devices and Operating System
    Page 8 Price Roundup and Closing Remarks

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