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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  • toyota - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    it make more sense just to get the 7900gt now or get a 19inch lcd. no point in waiting a year for Vista to utilise a DX10 card. thats a long time suffer. Reply
  • gersson - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    Makes perfect sense to me. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    Not everyone plays a lot of games, and I basically mention that the 7600/X1600 are what I consider the minimum for a current system. They should be able to run Windows Vista without any trouble, and even play some games. For $50 more, getting the GT with the much higher clock speeds was a reasonable upgrade. If you're serious about gaming, of course you can get a better GPU. I tried to make that clear by stating it at least two or three times. For non-gaming purposes, I like to have as big of a monitor as I can possibly get. Using stuff like Photoshop in widescreen mode is really nice, since all of the tool windows can fit on the sides while I edit regular aspect ratio images in the middle. Reply
  • Iscabis - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    It is not actually a couple hundred more.

    It is only 769.95 shipped at the moment. Plus it has height adjustment (not sure how many care about that). I will be getting one this summer, unless the 2407 is the same price. Hopefully the 2407 makes the 2405 go even lower on price.
    Reply
  • Iscabis - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    Sorry my mistake. That site deceived and advertised free shipping. It is still 782 shipped from a different site though. Reply
  • neutralizer - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    I'd have to say that the LanParty is probably a better choice since I have a NF4 SLI Infinity and the support that DFI provides for it isn't very good considering its been so long since its release they still cannot fix the temperature sensor to display properly in Windows. Reply
  • cozappz - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    I am a little confused why AnandTech keeps saying AM2 will not bring a significant increase in performance over S939. AMD _clearly_ stated the change to AM2 is due to DDR2 adoption and unification of high, middle and low-end processors on the same socket, and it is expected to run on NF4 until NF5xx is released. But, if you want to buy an AM2 mobo, wait a couple of monts after release! Childhood ilnesses are inevitable both for AM2 and NF5xx. Reply
  • One43637 - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    while i agree that the WD250KS is a great value for performance, there is something that i think buyers should know about that drive. it runs hot.

    i don't know why, but that drive runs on average 18C higher then my WD 74GB Raptor that's 2 slots away from it. i have a good case in the P180, and i have good airflow. 3xPanaflow 120x38, and 1 Nexus 120x25 in the fan slot behind the HD in the bottom enclosures. it's just odd that Speedfan constantly shows that drive between 48-55C depending on use while my Raptor is around 32-38C.
    Reply
  • SonicIce - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    True, mine runs hot as well. When my computer is idle, its hotter than both my CPU and videocard. It's usually in the mid 40's while my 80gb WD was in the mid 30's. I thought there was something wrong with it at first, but if you're having the same temps then maybe its meant to be like that. Reply
  • BigLan - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    "It also sports two X16 slots (with X8 bandwidth in SLI mode)" - The board runs both slots at 8x bandwidth all the time, not just when in sli mode. AFAIK it doesn't have any performance impact, but I spent a long time looking for the setting to change my board to x16/x1 Reply

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