Buyer's Guide 2008

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Buyer's Guide 2008

Postby larchy on Fri Feb 15, 2008 9:21 pm

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Because I am now fat and lazy this will be more brief than in the past :) also last time I discovered the 10000 word limit per post :E

I - CPUs

Quick note if you're upgrading an old S939 or similar system - your DDR RAM is now officially obsolete. DDR2 will be needed for any new CPU you buy, but happily it is ridiculously cheap right now.

Intel
Buying new there is only one game in town right now, and thats Intel's Core 2 Duo. The new 45nm parts are now coming into stock - thats models 8x00 for the dual cores and 9x00 for the quads. These will replace their old 65nm equivalents at the same price points, use less energy, run cooler, have a higher IPC (instructions per clock) resulting in an approx. ~7% clock-for-clock performance increase and can also achieve some crazy overclocks. The duallies go over 4GHz on air, the quads usually a little less than that.

For cheaper systems the slower variants of the E4x00 and E2xx0 series (branded as Pentium for some unknown reason - they are C2D derivatives and nothing to do with netburst! ) are great performers too, and a few people have had great success wringing massive overclocks out of the lowest E2xx0's for performance on a shoestring.

The Celeron E1x00's which are also C2D derivatives are really not very good value, and if you're in this price range then a vanilla Athlon64 will be much better value for you.

AMD
AMD's Phenom, the replacement for the Athlon line, is Quad core only right now with some tri-core's coming at some point. Phenom was slower clock-for-clock than 65nm Core 2's, was released a lower clock speeds and then, of course, there was the infamous TLB errata which could cause your system to lock up. Basically this was a bug in the Phenom CPUs themselves relating to cache coherency, and which therefore got worse the faster the CPU was clocked... hence AMD only making available relatively low clocked CPUs. The bug has mainly been exhibited in chips running near or above the 2.4GHz mark. A mandatory BIOS fix for the bug causes a performance decrease in the region of 10% to over 50% depending on the type of workload. AMDs overdrive utility enables you to disable the fix from within Windows, but this is hardly ideal.

All this makes Phenom a no-go for the time being, despite a Phenom being the cheapest available quad-core CPU. New revisions with the bug fixed will be available eventually, but AMD doesn't seem to be rushing itself these days despite it's financial concerns. Of course you could buy one just on the off-chance that you may not be able to buy another AMD CPU if they end up going bust (they lost about $2bn last year), although that's rather unlikely.

The dual core Athlon X2's are still available and are really very cheap too. They have nothing to compete with Intel in terms of raw performance, but where they're priced they still offer good value. If you're building a home media system then one of these may be more attractive than an Intel CPU simply because they are available on platforms with nVidia & Ati/AMD chipsets with rudimentary integrated 3D graphics (such as the GeForce IGP 6100/7100) which can play a few old/basic games and accelerate HD video playback which will tax even modern CPUs if left to do things by themselves. Their general low power consumption also makes them ideal for such roles.

Single vs Dual vs Quad core

They still make single core cpus? Really, duallies are so much more responsive its well worth the extra 30p for a duallie even if you're on a budget.

With that out the way...

For the same money you can have either a faster dual core, or slower quad core. So which is better? Well, right now probably the duallie.

The majority of you will probably be looking at a C2D with an eye to overclocking it, in which case you will likely get better results with a duallie. Also, very few pieces of software currently make any use of a quad core CPUs, games particularly. Supreme commander, Lost Planet, UT3 etc do, but the benefit is still basically fuck all unless you salivate over 3 extra fps and post on the OcUK forums.

That said there are always the bragging rights to having a quad core and if you do end up throwing a lot of stuff at it all at once it will cope a bit better than a duallie. The performance/overclocking deficit to a dual core isn't really all that large, and I personally tend to be of the opinion that you can always turn up the MHz on a CPU if you have to but you can't exactly bolt on extra cores if you need them.

So, the sensible choice is to buy one of the nice, new, shiny C2D E8x00's, but the choice you'll probably make is a Q9x00 :)

Summary:
Good
Intel Core 2 8x00 dual core series. The E8400 is the price/performance sweet spot.
Intel Core 2 9x00 quad core series. The Q9300 is the best price/performance option, or maybe the Q9450 (more so if you're overclocking)

NB - the older 65nm E6xx0 dual cores and Q6x00 quad cores are still great CPUs that can best anything available from AMD in terms of performance, but unless you find them significantly cheaper the newer 45nm parts are what you should be looking at.

AMD Athlon X2 for budget or media/HTPCs

Intel E4x00 or E2x00 for cheaper C2D based systems.

II - Memory

You all know the drill... Crucial/Micron, Kingston, Adata, Corsair, Samsung, Geil should all be plain sailing

Anything else... good luck!

OCZ = :rofl:

Beware so-called 'performance' RAM that requires considerably more than the JEDEC specified 1.8V to run. Its all very well spending extra cash on faster RAM, until you realise that by pushing up the voltage of standard DDR800 you can accomplish exactly what the mfgs are trying to sell you for extra £££

DDR2 is laughably cheap right now. 2GB is literally only £30 give or take. In such circumstances it is attractive to grab 4GB for any new system... even if you're probably never going to use it (hint: unless you frequently play Crysis while editing RAW files with Photoshop on your other 5 monitors, you won't). Try to make sure you have as few sticks as possible - as any half decent board has a dual channel memory controller (for Intel - AMD have their MC ondie and yes, its dual channel too) this means 2 sticks. This is not only to give you room to upgrade in future, but if you intend to overclock fewer sticks puts a lower load on the MCH and enables you to reach higher frequencies. For instance 2x2GB sticks is better than 4x1GB sticks... although its not a big deal.

32bit XP (and Vista IIRC, though don't quote me on that!) can only assign a maximum of 2GB of RAM per application anyway - hence Supreme Commander sometimes running out of RAM even if you have well over 2GB available.

32bit OSes also only have 4GB of address space. Depending on your system configuration around 1GB of this is used for mapping system I/O addresses, which means that even if you stick 4GB RAM into a 32bit XP or Vista machine you will end up with only around 3GB actually usable. This problem is exacerbated with vista because, unlike on XP, the video RAM on your graphics card is mapped together with the system I/O addresses. Stick a Geforce 8800GTX in there and thats an extra 768MB off your usable RAM right there! This issue was causing a lot of problems which MS has supposedly addressed with various hotfixes.

The upshot of all this is that if you're going above 2GB of RAM in a new system then you really need to be running Vista 64bit to make use of it. Otherwise 2GB is just fine :) XP Pro 64bit is not a viable option for most people as the driver support is very shoddy.

DDR2 vs DDR3
Long story short - DDR3 is marginally faster and monstrously more expensive than DDR2. The performance difference is not justifiable unless you have a solid gold toilet seat, so unless you're Kazza stick to DDR2.

Spending money on faster RAM is the least effective area in which to spend your money. Anything you spend on RAM faster than DDR2 800/PC6400 is money which could have made your PC faster had you spent it on anything else whatsoever. Including painting stripes on the side.

III - Motherboards

Chipsets

For any Intel based system you should be getting a P35 chipset, probably with an ICH9 southbridge. The 965P is the older version of this, the X38 is the higher-priced-for-no-apparent-reason version, which is soon to be replaced by the similar X48.

For AMD nvidia is generally the best option by virtue of being the only real game in town, although AMD's own solutions based on their newer chipsets are good too when you can find them.

There, nice and easy!

Oh, wait... whats that? You want SLI? And you're running at 6000x4000 / have S00pa Sp33d Mesh SLI GeForce 8400's / are otherwise a laughable idiot?

nVidia SLI requires an nVidia chipset, which are unfortunately utter wank. 680i does not properly support the new 45nm Core 2 processors. 780i is basically the same chip with 45nm support enabled - so make sure you get one of those with one of the new CPUs. They overclock nowhere near as well as Intel chipsets, and have in the past had serious problems even running at all with quad cores (the 680i couldn't stably run Q6600's at stock speed for months after it was released). They are also picky with RAM, so check beforehand what the mfg recommends.

brands
So far as manufacturer's go there aren't as many around these days. ASUS is so gigantic its carved itself up into three separate companies.

ASUS are generally the benchmark and have a wide range of solutions based around any given chipset. Nothing is perfect, but if there are problems you can count on there being some sort of solution out there due to the sheer number of ppl using ASUS boards.

Gigabyte have gone from being execrable to stinking only 50% of the time. Their 965P boards were (inevitably) bug ridden and unstable, but their P35 boards are supposedly utterly amazing... but then again it seems like every Gigabyte mobo review has in it somewhere "we really loved their predecessors until the problems started showing up after the review... still, this one looks great!"

Abit are alive again and have some good models.

For nvidia chipsets eVGA are really excellent for support and have a great "trade-up" program.

recommended:

ASUS P5K series for a solid Intel P35 platform (versiosn with the black PCBs also tend to have uprated VRMs and suchlike and be better for overclocking)
Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3L for a P35 solution painted (and possibly designed) by the Teletubbies [ Edit - would you believe that just this morning I am learning about how this series of boards overclocks fine, then die and refuse to run stably after a couple of months? Google "GA-P35-DS3 overclock problem" to find the opinions of yet another happy bunch of gigabyte purchasers :laugh: ]
Abit IP35 Pro

Any of the above are great full-featured boards that will overclock a treat.

Also worth a look is the Foxconn Mars P35 which is a great value solution which looks like something aimed at enthusiasts but which has the drawback of not overclocking very well.

IV - hard drives

Quick tutorial on how to find the fastest hard drive:

1. Bigger is faster.

Here endeth the lesson.

The higher capacity drives have higher data densities, more platters and read heads and other wibbly stuff wot makes them go fasta. So, in general, a 500GB drive is faster than a 200GB drive, and so on.

400-500GB units are really very cheap, and its only above these capacities that the prices get uncomfortable.

So really any 400-500GB unit will be a good value choice, with a few caveats.

There are some drives with 32MB cache available in these capacities... if you can afford it then it's worth the extra.

The Western digital WD5000AAKS and other units with the same suffix are really good units - fast, and not overly-loud.

There are quieter units, notably from Samsung which is making a lot of good drives lately.

Seagate/Maxtor haven't really been too good for a while now. They used to be the kings of quiet & reliability, but you're more likely to find a noisy low performing model than anything else.

The 10000rpm raptors are old technology now, and while they obviously still anything to do with random access/fragmented data, their performance lead has been eroded, and in places superceded, by the more modern large capacity drives. If you have enough money that you could afford a 150Gb raptor you'd probably be better served buying a 750GB 7200rpm unit instead.

Solid State Drives (SSDs) aren't really here yet, and (worryingly) seem to have issues with Intel chipsets. Another year or two.

V - Graphics

Whats wrong with your Voodoo2's?


Oh very well. Here's what to buy, as in the past arranged by ORDER OF WIBBLYNESS


Enough wibbling for 99% of people:

Radeon HD4870
GeForce GTX260 216


Considerable wibbling:

Radeon HD4850


Moderate wibbling:

Radeon HD4830
GeForce 9800GT


Some signs of wibblyness:

8800GS
Radeon 3850


Hardly wibbling at all:

Geforce 8600ANYTHING
Radeon 2600ANYTHING




If you look through all the graphics cards out there, there is a bewildering array of options. This is to divert attention from the fact that there are only about 3 cards actually worth buying.

To play the latest releases without compromising on image quality you need to throw them into the warm embrace of nvidia's latest 8800 variants, or possibly the Radeon 3870 if you bat from the Cambridge end.

None of these cards will provide acceptable framerates when running games in (the so far pointless) DX10 mode some games support.

Nothing lower will play anything new without compromising. The Geforce 8600's are totally underwhelming, and the Radeons are better options in this price range.

On the upside, the 8800GTs are really very cheap indeed for what they are... which is really what makes the rest of the market so unattractive.

VI - PSUs

This is last as I know none of you care, filthy peasants that you are.

BUY THESE:

Corsair HX520, HX620 or one of the lower wattage VX series.

Or a Seasonic, which are the same units but more expensive and with shorter warranties.

also: Anything by Tagan or Enermax (unless you're called Cacker). PC Power & cooling are also superb, but since they have been bought by OCZ you can consider buying one of their units akin to buying a Mercedes in 1942.

Re: Buyer's Guide 2008

Postby larchy on Fri Feb 15, 2008 9:22 pm

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There u go you swines! I will update this/make it better than the shambolic rambling mess that it is when I can be bothered!

Re: Buyer's Guide 2008

Postby Defrag on Sat Feb 16, 2008 1:20 am

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Thanks Mr. Larch. I applaud your cutting a swathe through the minefield that is PC purchasing.

Re: Buyer's Guide 2008

Postby Oggy on Sat Feb 16, 2008 2:07 am

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Great topic larch!

Re: Buyer's Guide 2008

Postby Mister666 on Sat Feb 16, 2008 4:35 am

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All hail the mighty Larch. :)

Re: Buyer's Guide 2008

Postby DrKazza on Mon Feb 18, 2008 12:58 am

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tosser ;)
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Re: Buyer's Guide 2008

Postby Jobabob on Mon Feb 18, 2008 8:52 am

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You're still not getting my vote.

I'm suprised at that hard disk malarky, I've seen numerous reviews that would disagree that led me to running two seperate drives - a super-fast 75 gig for programs and a not-actually-huge-o-anymore-o 300 jigabyte for media/data/etc
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Re: Buyer's Guide 2008

Postby larchy on Mon Feb 18, 2008 9:34 am

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There are a couple of benchmarks here that show that while the raptors can still edge out other drives, the gap is very narrow with the 750GB/1000GB units:

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/seagate-B ... 734-8.html

The file write benchmark shows the raptors being left behind considerably by the newer, larger units.

Of course the Seagate model is actually rather poor here, which is what I've said above anyway.

Another review:
http://www.anandtech.com/storage/showdo ... i=3161&p=6

Both those and the application benchmarks show the same thing - that the WD7500AAKS (the series I recommended) can occasionally pip the raptors, and the rest of the time is only behind them by a tiny fraction. For example Supreme commander level load time - Raptor 150GB 32.11s, WD7500AAKS 32.27s. For an extra 600GB storage capacity I think I could live with the extra .16s loading time.

While the raptor never leaves the WD7500AAKS (or the 1TB Hitachi usually) very far behind, when those drives do manage to beat the raptor they totally dust them - take a look at the media center benchies where they're streaming large video files.

Another thing to consider is the noise... the raptors are very audible compared with the modern units. Really, the raptors are 5year old technology and certainly even if you were to buy one I'd go for the 150GB unit.

Of course in this case I have the benefit of experience, owning as I do raptor 74s, 150s, WD5000AAAKS/750's and a 1TB unit. While I couldn't give a toss about running benchmarks on them all, I do have a feeling of what each of them is like in general use and I'd have to say that we're I asked for a recommendation it'd definately be for ppl just to buy a large, modern unit rather than a raptor.

wub j00 kazzles :E

Re: Buyer's Guide 2008

Postby Ronaldo on Mon Feb 18, 2008 11:34 am

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Ace, can't wait for the 2009 edition when I can maybe afford a new system :)

Oh and is WIBBLYNESS a good thing or bad thing? :E

Re: Buyer's Guide 2008

Postby Mister666 on Mon Feb 18, 2008 11:55 am

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WIBBLYNESS is a very good thing.
The more WIBBLYNESS, the better.

Re: Buyer's Guide 2008

Postby Tonster on Mon Feb 18, 2008 12:15 pm

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'kin awesome job as ever old chap (both stickies)! :bow:

I'm just curious to know how the wibblyness ratings compare to the old banana ratings (5th result and down), these new fangled upgraded ratings systems are bound to confuse people with their unclear naming conventions :P

Re: Buyer's Guide 2008

Postby Jobabob on Mon Feb 18, 2008 8:38 pm

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my only other argument would be that at least I can back it all up onto a single usb drive and carry it around with me!
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Re: Buyer's Guide 2008

Postby feign on Sun Dec 14, 2008 8:14 pm

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Any comments about best bang for buck gfx card in the run-up to Christmas '08. A friend has a system that's a little long in the tooth and was wondering what to be looking for...

I'll try and find out his sysetm details, but thought it was worth asking as last update was August(not complaining!!!!)

Re: Buyer's Guide 2008

Postby larchy on Mon Dec 15, 2008 11:44 am

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~£120
Radeon HD4850

~£200
Radeon HD4870
GeForce GTX260 216 (not the non-216 version)

Re: Buyer's Guide 2008

Postby LoneGun on Fri Feb 27, 2009 9:54 pm

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which cpu should i go for e8500 or e9550?
main use gaming, + photoshop and video conversion from digital camera to dvd.
price difference isnt a problem
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Re: Buyer's Guide 2008

Postby larchy on Fri Feb 27, 2009 10:01 pm

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The Q9450 should be cheaper and there is only an insignificant clock speed difference between it and the Q9550, so may be worth looking at.

If you're going to overclock you'll get more mileage out of the 8500 (although again the 8400 is the much better option in terms of price/performance)

But it really depends on whether the software you use for encoding is significantly faster with a quad core, in which case the quad would be the only way to go as the CPU isn't that significant a factor for games.

Re: Buyer's Guide 2008

Postby feign on Wed Aug 12, 2009 6:54 pm

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Ok, a friend had a question about what to look for as far as PC components now and so rather than starting a new post, I figured this was the right place to look.

He's looking at either buying pre-made or assembling himself and likes to be as near the cutting edge as it makes any sense in being, as he likes to play all his games with all the sliders full up.

So, given a "money isn't an object, until paying for an upgrade gives no appreciable benefit", what are the current recommendations. I think his timescale is to buy build sometime autumn-ish, so if something incoming is worth waiting for, please shout! So, suggestions on:

Motherboard
Chip - AMD vs intel, I truly have no idea which is better now
Memory type and amount (is it really worth going up to 8-12Gb?)
Gfx card(s) - Ati vs nV / top top of the range, or 1 step off? / are sli or crossfire really worth it at all - he uses 24" screen at max res usually
HDD
Soundcard - I'm pretty sure he had a hardware card last time and swears by it vs software
Powersupply
whatever else I've forgotten


Many thanks Larchy et al.

Re: Buyer's Guide 2008

Postby larchy on Wed Aug 12, 2009 7:08 pm

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Ask again in a month because in September Intel's new Lynnfield i7 and i5 parts are due out, and in October Ati's DirectX11 GPUs are due (to coincide with W7).

There are also possibly boards coming out equipped with Hydra, which is a chip first demonstrated about a year ago which lets you hook up any combination of graphics cards and get full linear performance scaling from them. You could hook up a 2006 nVidia card with a 2009 Ati card and it will load balance correctly and get full performance from both of them combined together. It also scales linearly with the number of GPUs, so you could have 27 nvidia cards and 34 Ati cards and it would scale quite happily getting 90%+ from all of them.

SLI/Crossfire have always been debateable, but they'll be truly dead in 12-18months. Usually the single fastest card is always better value, the only exception being when you can actually afford two of the single fastest cards.


If he has a soundcard then he may as well just use that in the new build. Obviously XiFi solutions are problematic with OpenAL, so if Running Vista or 7 he'll probably need to mess about with AlChemy. The Auzentech prelude is a far better XiFi implementation than any Creative product obviously, and that is probably surpassed by the Oxygen3D solutions from ASUS. The DX is probably a good choice, that or the D2 or STX if he wants to go crazy.

4GB of RAM is overkill, let alone 6GB+.

For HDD depends on if he has budget for an SSD (Intel G2s), otherwise the WD640AAKS or one of the 1TB units, possibly a few for storage and one for the OS and you can always short-stroke it... much cheaper than a Raptor.

PSU - Corsair HX series, 520/620W will be more than adequate unless he's into hardcore PSU pr0n and wants an Enermax revolution for it's dual-transformer circuit, 90%+ and +12V synchronous rectifiers (fapfapfap)

Re: Buyer's Guide 2008

Postby DrKazza on Thu Aug 13, 2009 1:25 am

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yeah 3Gb of Ram is the max benefit you'll see for any games related stuff. Lets leave it at that and not open that can of worms again

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