Out For Delivery (sorry AMD)
Okay, so I managed to find an economically stimulating purpose for my economy stimulus check, even though I promised myself it was going into savings. I’ve been orbiting the idea of getting a new computer for some time now, but kept pushing it back. Prices finally came down to a point where now I don’t feel too guilty about getting some new gear in, and bringing myself back up to par. Plus, I can’t let Steve have a better machine than me, I just can’t.
There was a time when my socket 754 AMD 64 3200+ processor and ATI 9800 Pro All-In-Wonder were top notch. Naturally this was about five years ago when I still wrote hardware reviews for ThinkComputers.org, and I was able to take advantage of AMD’s Marketbuilder program to score a ridiculously fantastic price on the hardware. Back then, it was still somewhat easy to pick out what you wanted. There was variety, but it wasn’t to the point of confusion. For instance, if you wanted an AMD processor, you went with the then being phased out Socket A, or the new Socket 754. If you wanted a video card, a 9800 Pro was a sure bet, and the 9800 only had a few basic variations: the SE, the 9800, the Pro, and the All-In-Wonder. Pretty simple.
These days…man…I’m not sure what’s happened, but it took me a couple solid months of research and scrounging through Tom’s Hardware’s performance charts to figure out what I even wanted. I can’t even try to keep up with motherboard chipsets anymore, and the variations on video card GPU’s is staggering. So, I thought I’d go in to what I got and why (so I hope you’re happy now @abosio), in case you need some help coming up with a plan to cut through the crap.
First off, I am making use of some current hardware. My 520W Raidmax Titanium power supply is up to snuff, so it stays. My hard drives are ample, so they stay. My DVD-ROM is forever reliable, so it stays. After four years, my Tuniq Tower 120 is still one of the top rated heatsink/fans on the market, so it stays. And lastly, I think I’m going to let my Sound Blaster Audigy Platinum hang around. This last one was stretching it, as I think onboard sound processors these days are plenty good for my needs, but I don’t know what else to do with the card, and I love the 3.5″ bay input box that comes with it. I also think it was a much more reliable card than anything Creative has put out in recent years. So, all these parts save me a few dollars.
What I ordered: Intel Q6600 Core 2 Quad CPU, 2GB of Kingston HyperX DDR2 1066 RAM, an MSI Neo2-FR motherboard, and the Zotac 8800GT overclocked video card. Total cost: $551.60 shipped.
I almost felt dirty jumping the AMD ship. I have normally been fiercely loyal to the AMD brand, and nearly stayed that way. I looked closely at the 6000+, and for $74 after a $45 off coupon code, it’s dollar per performance beat the hell out of the Q6600. It fell behind it only marginally on the charts, and normally I’m okay with that. What I wasn’t okay with was that it is a 125 watt cpu, which is beaten by Intel’s 95 watts. AMD has also started suffering from socket confusion, as they had been using the AM2, which has evolved to the AM2+, but will yield very soon to the AM3. This is what happened with the Socket 754/939/940 mess, and was exactly why I got stuck with a socket 754 chip now, that leaves me essentially no upgrade path short of a rebuild. On the other hand, Intel has proven that its LGA 775 socket is ridiculously reliable, and while the replacement (Socket H/LGA 715) is on the map, it’s not coming any time terribly soon. So, while the Q6600 was quite a spot more on the cost side, I feel like I’m future proofing myself better (not to mention getting 4 cores, instead of 2, which isn’t a big deal now, but should help me scale in the future).
While I was always loyal to the AMD brand, I’ve never had such loyalties regarding video cards. In fact, I’ve flip-flopped several times. My first, and possibly best card ever was a VooDoo3 3500TV. From there I went to a GeForce3 Ti200, and then to my ATI 9800 Pro. And I’ve been very happy with them all. So this time around, cost was the main factor. I had never heard of this brand, Zotac, but the card on Newegg was getting great scores and praise, with 5 stars after 120 ratings (and a 93% pure 5 star rating). The card retailed at $199, Newegg had it for $169, and there’s a $30 mail in rebate (assuming it goes through). So, basically you are getting one of the most solid mainstream cards for about 40% less than competitors. Granted, the ATI 4850 looks poised to take the crown away from the 8800GT thanks to it’s price:performance ratio, but I can live with that for now, because you can’t get a 4850 for $139. Yet.
I went with the cheapest RAM I could get that wasn’t junk value RAM, and matched the max supported by my motherboard, which was 1066MHz. Kingston HyperX is solid, with good ratings, and a lifetime warrantee. I’ve also used Kingston in years gone past, and had good experiences with it. Enough said. If you buy RAM with heatpipes on them and huge heatsinks because you think it will work better, you’re pretty much paying a really high idiot tax. RAM doesn’t need heatpipes. I’m looking at you OCZ. In fact, if your RAM gets hot enough that it DOES need them, I’d say you’re doing something pretty damn wrong.
Another big headache here. The number of chipset offerings alone can make your head hurt. Plus do you go with SLI/Crossfire options, or run with a single video card? My idea was to get an option for SLI, and use it as a graphics upgrade path in the future. When I started trailing, I’d buy another 8800GT and drop it in. This is a stupid idea. If you don’t buy two cards together, don’t use it as an upgrade path. One, you’ll be lucky to find a matching card by then, and two, a single card upgrade is going to do as much for you as two aging cards. Plus Crossfire boards were cheaper than SLI boards by a good measure, and I wasn’t buying an ATI card and didn’t want to shell out what they were asking for SLI. So price and logic led me to the P35 chipset, which isn’t bad, provides solid performance, and isn’t a bargain basement chipset (though it’s not high end, by any means). The MSI Neo2 was one of the better scoring boards at a price I could easily stomach, and it had all the USB/SATA ports that I was looking for. It also looks like it takes cooling on the chipsets and mosfets seriously.
And there you have it. My reasoning behind my four main components isn’t terribly involved, and I tried to just go with what was most logical (like deciding between single or dual card graphics). I’ll follow up soon with my impressions post-rebuild, as well as a couple pictures of what things look like assembled. I’m actually finishing this blog out having completed assembly, and let my tell you that so far things are favorable.