To Buy, or not to Buy?

We haven't done a Buyers' Guide for a while, and enough things have changed in the midrange sector that it's high time we rectify the situation. We're going to try and narrow the focus a little bit this time, so there will basically be two system recommendations: one for AMD and one for Intel. That's not to say there aren't plenty of alternatives, and we will be listing many of the other options on individual component pages. The simple truth is that there are a lot of reasonable choices out there, so just because we don't list something explicitly doesn't mean that it's a bad choice. If you have any questions, you can always email me or ask our forum members for advice.

If you follow the computer hardware scene, you're probably already questioning the timing of this Buyers' Guide. AMD will be launching their new socket AM2 platform in just a few more weeks, so going out and purchasing a new system right now based on their older 939 platform doesn't seem to make much sense. However, the truth of the matter is that socket AM2 doesn't appear to be ready to add much in the way of performance. Basically, it will change memory types, there will be a couple new high-end processors, and later on we should also see some budget Sempron processors for the platform. This is the midrange sector, though, so we can immediately toss out chips like the FX-62 that will cost over $1000. Likewise, we can toss out the low-end single core Sempron chips. Given that this is a brand new platform, it's also reasonable to expect prices to be somewhat higher than the current platforms, and choice of components is also going to be limited - mostly in the motherboard area, but that's a critical component.

What it all comes down to is that we really don't expect AM2 to seriously change the outlook of the AMD market. It certainly won't be a bad platform, but we expect most midrange buyers will wait at least several months before switching, as that will give the platform a chance to mature, and it should also bring lower prices. High-end buyers will definitely want to wait, because at the top of the performance spectrum the new platform should offer the potential for another 10% more performance. Overclocking enthusiasts might also want to wait, if for no other reason than to see how DDR2 affects the price/performance overclocking scene. The current prices of DDR2-533 and DDR2-667 are much lower than competing DDR offerings, and while latency is slightly higher, you can get much higher bandwidth - that's especially if you want 1GB DIMMs. For the remaining potential buyers as well as upgraders, there is much less incentive to wait for the new platform. Waiting a few more weeks might save you $20, but that's probably about it.

What about Intel and the new Core Duo 2 chips? That question is a bit more tricky to answer. We fully expect Core Duo 2 to outperform anything else Intel currently offers, potentially by as much as 35% for the same price CPU - maybe even more! However, the launch date for Conroe is still two months away, and you still have to worry about the cost of motherboards, motherboard availability, not to mention the nature of version 1.0 hardware. The Intel overclocking enthusiasts can probably be happy short term by purchasing something like the AOpen i975Xa-YDG and Core Duo T2400. Unfortunately, that particular motherboard is rather expensive, and the Core Duo processors aren't cheap either. You basically end up matching the performance offered by AMD X2 overclocking at a higher price. Socket 775 975X motherboards are also expensive, and we're still not 100% sure they'll all work with Core Duo 2 chips, but they do potentially provide an upgrade path.

If you're willing to wait and find out how the market develops over the next couple months, that certainly isn't a bad idea. As we always say, you really only need to upgrade your computer when you're unhappy with the current level of performance. Plenty of people are still running old socket 478, 462, and 754 systems, and they're perfectly happy with the level of performance and they have. The "latest and greatest" computer games (in terms of graphical complexity, not necessarily gameplay) almost certainly struggle on those older systems without reducing the graphics quality, but if you don't play games you probably won't care about or notice the "missing" performance. We will of course be providing updated Buyers' Guides in the future, but for the most part we don't recommend waiting for the Next Big Thing to show up - you could potentially end up waiting forever for the "perfect" time to buy. Our Buyers' Guides are simply a recommendation for what we would buy at this point in time, and not an indication that we think you need to upgrade if you're running slower hardware.

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  • Griswold - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    Shouldnt always go for the bigger number at a similar price. There are more important numbers with PSUs than the absolute wattage. Reply
  • KorruptioN - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    Even though it's only rated at 400W overall (yes, wattage is not the best indicator of overall output), it can do 30A on the +12V output alone (360W divided by 12V), which is a good amount for a non-SLI configuration. Even two 7600GTs wouldn't be enough to push this power supply past it's limits. I think it is a good all-around choice. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    I've got a system very similar to this, only with a 7800 GTX, an overclocked X2 3800+, and two 250GB hard drives... all running off a Thermaltake 410W PSU. Maximum power draw hits about 315W - and that's not even counting for PSU efficiency (i.e. that's measuring at the outlet).

    I mentioned several alternative PSUs that people can consider. Why do I like modular units? Sleeved cables, reduced cable clutter, and for an extra $15 I'm willing to go that route. Opinions vary, naturally - this guide is basically my opinion, after all.
    Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    quote:

    We fully expect Core Duo 2 to outperform anything else Intel currently offers, potentially by as much as 35% for the same price CPU.


    Sure about that. Only 35%?? I think 35% will be the absolute minimum over Netburst in Netburst optimized apps.
    Reply
  • peternelson - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    Difficult to make comparisons of "same price" netburst cpu, because Intel roadmap will make FURTHER REDUCTIONS in price of 930,940,950 after Core Duo 2 launches through November.

    950 probably isn't going to compete with the new chips on total performance, but may not be that bad in bang for buck in comparison.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    Rough estimate, and it could be more or less depending on benchmarks. Core Duo T2300 costs a bit more than Pentium D 930. Looking at *stock* performance, AutoGK encoding for example should be around 55 FPS for the 930, while the T2400 get 44 FPS. Even with a 25% boost in performance, the Core Duo 2 $210 CPU is probably going to about equal PD 930.

    The flipped side is that some benches (games especially) will be more than 35%. PD 920 at 2.8 GHz maxes out at 63 FPS in BF2, roughly. (Doesn't matter about resolution - 800x600 still gets ~63 FPS.) Gary got 83 FPS with T2400 at stock, and 112 at 2.8 GHz. If CD2 gives another 25%... we're looking at maybe 104 FPS for a 1.83 GHz Core Duo 2. Assuming such a chip costs $210, it's got a 65% performance advantage. :)

    Anyway, I'll tweak the text slightly.
    Reply

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