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Thread: Building A Gaming Rig - A Living Document. (A HEXUS Project)

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    Building A Gaming Rig - A Living Document. (A HEXUS Project)

    “What’s all this then?” I hear the Hexites cry.

    Well, this, my fellow techno-ninjarists, is, or at least will be, a complete, up-to-date guide to correctly (in our collective opinions, of course) assembling the parts needed to build a modern, powerful, fast, gaming PC. A sort of Highway Code for the kind of person who normally would ask the spotty herbert you find in (rather amazingly) paid employment inside the fetid swamp that is the local PC World store, if he knows anything about graphics cards.

    Now, we know that aforementioned spotty herbert would point to the Radeon 8500, reasonably priced at 19 jazillion pounds, and alas, another technophobe has been done by the giant, seething corporation. A bit like the plot of Half Life II really, but without the head crabs.

    Of course, I’m not qualified to spew forth my opinions on everything there is to have an opinion on, when it comes to constructing a modern gaming rig. I own one, and I built it, but that just gives me a small orange box to stand on; I know, as this is HEXUS, where all the big nobs hang around, that there are people out there whose knowledge of this subject, if converted to a fully representative box size, would dwarf my small orange box. They are probably more like the boxes a new fridge comes in, or something.

    So this will be a ‘living document’. What I’ve written here is just the bed-rock, you might think rather ignorant and badly informed bed-rock, but if that is how you feel, you can change it, by verbally tarmacing over the bed-rock. Sounds like fun, yes?

    The HEXUS Technical Hardware and Overclocking mods, namely Kezzy boy, Agent and Ferral, all have my full permission to edit (Both in its form as a transitive verb and a noun), change, delete, fix, re-write, metamorphose and even geld, should someone call for it, the text of the thread.

    They will, along with myself of course, change it so that it represents the collective majority opinion of the Hardware and Overclocking forum using masses. This thread will, hopefully, become a seething mass of opinionated folk, radiating their opinions for all to see. We wont change anything just because one person thinks so, but should enough people say ‘Vaul you utterly ignorant cretin, what you’ve said there is complete mush’, then we’ll blank the entry, or the offending part of the entry, and replace it.

    It will be replaced (for the hard of thinking who are still trying to ‘get’ the idea) by what seems to be the majority opinion of you lot. So, if, for instance, you think that it was ill-judged of me to recommend that you use Branston Pickle in place of Artic Silver 5 on some of the larger aluminium Heatsinks, then you say so, and when enough of you point out this glaring, tasty pickle based error, I, or another Hardware Mod will change it.

    And what will we change it to? That’s right chaps – to what you lot think it should be changed to. Amazing, huh? And to think we have the Ancient Greeks to thank for the concept. What did they know about the advantages of DDR2 over DDR? Nothing, that’s what.

    Eventually, in the fullness of time (depending on how arsed you lot can be to contribute to the best run, friendliest, and most professional tech forums on the web, basically) it will fully represent what we think. Of course, as it’s a living document, it will continue to change – at the moment most gamers would recommend AMD CPUs, but in 6 months, or a year, who knows what we’ll be recommending?

    If several of us disagree on the best choice of a certain component, you have a place to make your case and get the entry changed. Why should you care? Well, HEXUS exists because we care about this sort of stuff, this forum exists for the same reason, and we like to bang on and on and on about this bit of hardware and that new tech, for the same reason.

    And when some soulless husk next arrives on the forums, fresh from having his or her wallet atomised at the local PC World store, we can tell them to scan the pages of this document, keep the collected information within the confines of their mind, and never again shall they fall prey to the SATA cable that seems to have got its price tag replaced with one that should have been stuck on the new Mercedes S-Class.

    So, lets hear what you’ve got to say lads (and ladies, of course). Rip into my opinions like the fat one who used to be in Emmerdale into a packet of chocolate Hob Nobs. Of course, if you agree with what I’ve laughably presented as my informed opinion, then say so as well. If a recommendation or general snippet of information seems to be getting universal agreement, it won’t be removed if a few people disagree.

    That’s how this is going to work – enough people say its wrong, and it’ll be changed quicker than David Blunkets nanny can get a visa. Enough people agree, and like Tony Blair, its going nowhere, no matter how much it annoys you.

    Democracy my people. It’s what you’d expect from HEXUS.

    So, without further unintelligible witterings from yours truly, I present to you the rough, unedited, still got the label on, virgin text. I want it ravaged, I want it changed, and I want it now. So let everyone know what you think people.

    It beginnings…



    PSU.

    “Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a flaming Q-Tec.”

    In a gaming rig, as in all self-built PCs, by far the most important single item is the Power Supply Unit (PSU). Whilst an incorrect choice of RAM, Graphics Card or Motherboard might lead to disappointing performance, a poor choice of PSU can lead to a completely ruined rig. You must not scrimp on the PSU; everything in your rig, all those lovely, expensive items will be directly connected to it, take their required power from it, and are very likely to be damaged should the PSU malfunction in any way.

    Reputation is everything with PSUs, when choosing one you should make use of your chosen search engine, as well as the search function on your favourite Tech site (Which is Hexus of course ), and it will become apparent that some brands of PSU have a reputation for damaging the PC they are in, or at least being unstable and generally not in anyway worth the few pounds saving over a unit from a trusted manufacturer.

    I know from experience that there are a core of manufacturers out there who’s PSUs you can trust absolutely, when installing in even the most expensively constructed gaming rig. Companies like Enermax, Tagan, ThermalTake, OCZ and Antec, who’s PSUs are always constructed to the highest standards are always worth considering over lesser rivals. Don’t think you’ll have to make do with a boring grey box to get that reliability either, the Coolergiant range from Enermax combines superb polish gold styling with the expected Enermax reliability, so it’s a great choice for a case with a side window, where you might want your PSU to look good as well as doing its job.

    As for how powerful a unit you need, a modern gaming PC, with a powerful CPU, GPU, multiple Hard Drives, a Sound Card, etc, will need a reasonably powerful unit to keep everything running 100% stable – again, here is where the quality of your PSU is of more importance than anything else. A 350w PSU from a quality manufacturer will be much more capable of supplying a stable, clean, safe supply of power to your PCs internal devices than a 600w model from a lesser supplier. I have had a complete gaming rig, with overclocked GPU and CPU running very happily on an Antec SmartBlue 350w.

    In simple terms, the rating of the PSU, no matter how high, is meaningless if the PSUs rails cannot supply the current and remain stable at all times. I myself learnt the hard way on this, and went through 2 Abit NF7-S Motherboards and a Sapphire Radeon 9800pro, when I built my first gaming system, before sourcing the problem to the cheap PSU that came with my case. Once bitten, twice shy. Now, even if it eats into my budget, I always look to a small core of PSU makers for my Power Supply. To avoid molten silicon woes, I urge you to do the same.

    Key Points.

    1) Never cut corners with your choice of PSU. Use only those models that come from tried and tested manufacturers.
    2) Don’t be fooled by high power ratings on cheaper PSUs, it is very much the ability of the PSU to supply clean, stable power to your components, not the peek rating, which on cheaper PSUs will be unachievable anyway.
    3) Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever buy a cheap PSU. Ever. Never ever. Not in a month of Sundays. Not even once in a Blue Moon. Never.

    Cheap as Chips - 360W ThermalTake Dual Fan PSU. £35
    The Sweet Spot - 380W Enermax Coolergiant AX Series v1.3. £50
    Pricey Perfection - 480W Enermax Coolergiant AX Series v2. £70


    Graphics Card.

    “Attention Kiddies – ATi rules, Nvidia rules. Now shush.”

    As this is a gaming rig, there is a core of internal components, such as the CPU, RAM and of course the Graphics Card that are going to be of the utmost importance. A gaming rig without a well chosen graphics card is, like 5 chavs in a Nova, going nowhere fast. Recently, the two major players in the graphics card market, namely ATi and Nvidia, both released new flagship and entry level cards, with ATi hoping to maintain the lead most people agree they had with the previous generation of cards.

    At the top end of the scale we have the X800XT-PE and X800pro cards from ATi, in direct competition with the 6800Ultra and 6800GT offerings from Nvidia. For absolute performance, it is difficult to say who the overall leader now is. Firstly, if you own any of the 4 top cards at the moment, you are hardly likely to find the gaming performance disappointing in any way.

    The X800 cards are still slightly faster when playing games using DirectX and the 6800 cards are still slightly faster when playing games using OpenGL. What is certain, is that Nvidia have closed the performance gap that they needed to close in DirectX, as it wasn’t that long ago that the then-flagship ATi card, the 9800pro, was outperforming the then-flagship 5900Ultra by 40% in some DirectX games. Back then the 9800pro was the obvious choice for a performance graphics card.

    Now, with the new cards blowing the previous pace-setters out of the water, the 9800pro is now firmly the best value for money mid-range card available. A 9800pro will still give amazing performance in the latest games, will overclock well, and can be had relatively cheap. As for the new performance cards, I think the Nvidia 6800GT is the shining light of the 4. It’s aggressively priced, overclocks to Ultra speeds and beyond, more often than not, and performs brilliantly.

    ATi have very recently launched the new X850XT-PE, which despite being only a very slightly tweaked X800, is enough to give ATi the overall performance lead at the moment. With the recent spate of big gaming releases such as Doom III and Half Life II, there is a tendency to believe the hype, and purchase the card that plays the ‘hot’ game of the moment the best, even if that is only a few frames per second advantage. The simple situation is, unlike perhaps a year ago, you cannot really go wrong with any of the top cards on the market at the moment, and you also have a very obvious choice for a great performing entry level card, which is still more than capable of providing you with a fantastically enjoyable gaming experience in the newer resource hogging games.

    Key Points.

    1) The new flagship cards have opened up a large performance gap over the previous high-end cards. If you have deep enough pockets, they are going to give you a premium gaming experience, but for a premium price.
    2) Due to the large performance gap, the price of the last generation of cards has dropped fast; this makes the current entry level cards fantastic value for money.
    3) ATi and Nvidia are, for the most part, exactly equal in the current performance race; there will always be slight advantages and disadvantages, but price and availability should be your priority, not over obsessing on every benchmark test on every game. There are no X800 or 6800 card owners who are not happy with their purchase at the moment.


    Cheap as Chips - 128Mb MSI Radeon 9800Pro. £140
    The Sweet Spot - 128Mb Asus V9999GT-TD 6800GT. £210
    Pricy Perfection - 256MB Gigabyte GV ATI X800XT. £300
    Last edited by Stewart; 21-12-2004 at 05:40 AM.

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    CPU.

    “But it has Extreme Edition written on it!”

    As many a budding gamer has found out, if you install a monster new Graphics Card in your new system, blowing 90% of your budget in one go, leaving you having to make do with a much lower spec CPU that you originally planned, the resulting performance is disappointing. Gaming performance becomes ‘CPU limited’ meaning, simply, that your Graphics Card is far from its maximum potential, but the CPU simply isn’t fast enough, so the overall performance is leveled out at the speed of the slowest component. A good GPU needs to be complimented by a good CPU.

    As for the manufacture of the CPU – at the moment I think AMD hold pretty much all the aces, particularly in the gaming area. Their processors are, for the most part, cheaper, offering as good or superior gaming performance, and have no real drawbacks. Intel CPUs perhaps have the edge for general desktop usage, encoding tasks and multi-tasking, due to Hyper Threading, but for gaming performance the choice is currently obvious.

    Looking at the current available AMD CPUs, the first and most far-reaching choice to be made is whether to go 32bit or 64bit. In short, if you can afford to go 64bit, then do so. The new 939 socket 64bit Athlon CPUs no longer need registered RAM like the old socket 754 models did, and the recently released Winchester core models overclock very well without producing an excessive amount of heat, due to the new 90nm (nano meter - One billionth of a meter) technology.

    Really, socket 939 is where the smart money lies in terms of gaming performance and bang-for-buck at the moment – the 3000+ Winchester core CPU will set you back in the region of £120, and yet, on the stock cooling or at most a decent aftermarket air cooler, the CPU is well capable of overclocking to 2.6ghz, which is the stock running speed of the flagship FX-55. Now, of course it’s not as black and white as that – the FX-55 has twice the Lvl2 cache, can itself be overclocked, and just happens to be the fastest gaming CPU on the planet, but it also costs in excess of £500. Almost everyone will get better bang-for-buck by opting for a 3000+ \ 3200+ or 3500+ Winchester core CPU, over the mind-meltingly fast but wallet-crunching expensive FX-55.

    Although fast becoming a budget platform, there are still a few performance gems to be unearthed in the 32bit Athlon market – in particular the Barton core 2500+ CPUs. It wasn’t that long ago that the classic combination of an overclocked 2500+ Barton, an Abit NF7-S and a 9800pro was the gaming setup amongst those looking for exceptional performance without breaking the bank. For an extra nugget of performance, look for the mobile version of the 2500+ Barton, which is capable of even better overclocks than its desktop twin.

    Key Points.

    1) AMD currently hold all the aces over Intel. The price \ performance crown is firmly atop AMDs head at the moment. Like it or not, for gaming, AMD is the obvious choice.
    2) An X800XT will not be able to do its thing if you pair it with a CPU from the dawn of human civilization. Upgrade both so you are not badly CPU limited when gaming.
    3) 64bit CPUs no longer bring with them as many drawbacks as they do improvements – socket 939 and the Winchester core now make 64bit CPUs a joy to purchase and use, as well as gaming powerhouses.

    Cheap as Chips – AMD Athlon XP-M 2500+ Barton Core. £65
    The Sweet Spot - AMD Athlon 64 3200+ Winchester Core 90nm. £130
    Pricy Perfection - AMD Athlon 64 FX-55. £545


    Hard Drive.

    “So what’s more dangerous then, a Deathstar or a Raptor?”

    Size and speed; the two obvious categories by which a Hard Drive will be judged, the combination of the two it can provide you for the third category, namely price, being the final part of the equation. The first choice you will be presented with when purchasing a Hard Drive is the choice between IDE and SATA. SATA has completely superseded IDE drives now, offering an improved theoretical throughout of 150mb/sec, compared to the IDE maximum of 133mb/sec, lower CPU usage and the smaller, neater SATA cable instead of the larger 80pin IDE cable for a few pounds more than its IDE equivalent.

    The next choice is whether or not to put dinosaurs in your shiny new gaming rig – Raptors. The Western Digital Raptor is a high speed Hard Drive, designed to match SCSI speed and performance, without the additional cost, and with an average seek time of 4.5ms (milliseconds) and a standard speed of 10,000rpm they are certainly incredibly fast. The downside however is cost – a Raptor will set you back about £120 for the 74.6gb variety.

    Looking elsewhere, for roughly the same price you can pick up a 250 or even 300gb model from Western Digital themselves, or from one of the other recommended manufactures, such as Maxtor, Seagate, Hitachi and Samsung. All of these do fine 7200rpm, 8mb cache drives, for less than the price of a Raptor.

    Whether or not you go for a Raptor over a conventional, larger SATA drive comes down to how much space you normally take up (If you download and keep a lot of large files, then obviously a drive larger than 74.6gb is a priority), personally, I tend to back-up most large download to DVD sooner rather than later, and find the extra speed of the Raptor is worth both the premium price and comparative lack of space.

    There is the option of going for the DiamondMax 10 series of drives, from Maxtor, which come with a 16mb cache, and although not as fast as the Raptor overall, are very fast as a result, just beating the Raptor in some tests, with the advantage of having a much larger capacity.

    Another option would be to purchase the smaller incantation of the Raptor, weighing in at only 36gb, and installing your Operating System and games to it, and running a second standard SATA drive as a storage drive. A combination 36gb Raptor and 300gb drive from any of the other mentioned companies would be very complimentary to each other. As for which specific standard SATA drive to get, all the major drives come with identical or near identical seek times, cache and RPMs, leaving the manufacturers reputation for quickly sorting RMAs and the supplied warranty the primary deciding factor, which can be checked at the point of purchase.

    There are ways to boost the speed of even the Raptor Hard Drives to faster speeds, using RAID (Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive Disks) although in the case of the Raptors it’s very much a case of RAVED, a redundant array of very expensive disks. Running two Raptors in RAID-0 will increase performance because the read and write performance will increase, because reads and writes are done in parallel on the devices. The downside to this, however, is that if one Hard Drive should fail you will lose the data on both drives.

    Moving away from the Raptors again, the prices of standard SATA drives go up in very small increments price-wise, making it almost always worth paying the extra few pounds for the bigger drive. An 80gb drive will set you back about £45, but a 120gb drive is only about £50, and a 160gb drive only about £60. This small price difference continues until about the 200gb level at present, where the price starts to jump more severely for the 250 and 300gb models, making a 200gb model the current sweet spot.

    Key Points.

    1) Always go for SATA over IDE, particularly now there is hardly any price difference at identical drive sizes.
    2) Hard Drives can get hot as well, think about positioning a case fan or even investing in a dedicated Hard Drive cooler, particularly if running multiple drives.
    3) Understand the risks involved with a RAID setup before attempting it. Raptors are pretty fast as it is, and the integrity of your data is not something you can choose to ignore.

    Cheap as Chips – 80Gb Western Digital Caviar SE (7200rpm, 8MB) SATA. £40
    The Sweet Spot - 200Gb Maxtor Plus 10 (7200rpm, 8MB) SATA. £70
    Pricy Perfection – 2x 74Gb Western Digital Raptor Enterprise (10,000rpm,8MB) – SATA. £115 (£230)


    Case.

    “I brought this cheap case and save a pretty penny – but lost 90% of the skin on my hands, 3 pints of blood, the movement in my left thumb…”

    When building a gaming rig, the case you choose to house it in will be of key importance – everyone wants their case to look the part, but really, looks need to take a very firm second place to build quality and cooling. A gaming rig is, by definition going to be putting out a lot of heat from the high-end components, such as the CPU and GPU, and more often than not, the system will be overclocked, which produces more heat.

    Much more than most of the items that you choose, the case you use will be a matter of taste – however there are a few features you should make sure your chosen case has. A removalable Motherboard tray makes installing not only the Motherboard much easier, but also the RAM, CPU, Heat Sink and Fan, and the system cabling. Thumb-Screws are far easier to quickly removal and replace, and an all-toolless design means you don’t need to own 38 Screwdrivers of slightly varying sizes in order to assemble your PC.

    The next area to consider is cooling; cooling isn’t just about how many fans you can fit inside a case and of what size. Some cases are cooler than others with an identical amount of fans simply because of superior design, resulting in better airflow and superior materials used. Make sure your chosen case accepts the amount of fans you are planning to use, see if it can accommodate fans placed in the areas you think heat might build up, as well as the standard intake and exhaust fans.

    Size is also an important factor – a case with adequate room to install all of your internal cards and drives with sufficient space will allow for better airflow than a tight, cramped case. Your cabling can be managed with various things like cable-ties and braiding, as well as flat or rounded cables, but enough space to route them properly will be what most determines if the overall airflow is unimpeded.

    Next is the material the case itself is constructed of – aluminum is light and relatively solid, making your case easy to move and transport, but it’s not the toughest of materials, and a steel or (thick) plastic case will be more durable. If you are planning to move your case around a lot, particularly to LANs and the like, you’ll have to decide if the lightweight convenience of aluminum or the tougher more durable materials available, are more suited to your needs.

    There is also the option of a Small Form Factor case (SFF), which are smaller, cube-shaped PC cases, fully functional, although obviously with less space inside for multiple internal cards, or even single large cards and heat can also be a problem.

    They are perhaps not best suited to an all-out gaming machine, but they are very aesthetically pleasing, relatively cheap and once built very easy to transport. If you don’t mind space being at a premium, you might want to consider an SFF case.

    Key Points.

    1) A cheap case may be lacking in features, but providing you have adequate cooling and airflow, there are some bargains to be had.
    2) Don’t let looks completely determine your choice of case – funky designs and side-windows may appeal to you, but an unstable PC with heat issues will not. You may also find that a nice aluminum case, once the novelty of the more flashy cases wears off, has a lot more class and looks the part.
    3) Make sure you are aware of exactly what your case can accommodate in terms of fans (both size and amount), particularly in smaller cases. SFF cases look great, but there isn’t much room for additional improvements.

    Cheap as Chips – v770 Modding Case. £20
    The Sweet Spot - CoolerMaster Centurion 5 Silver Case. £40
    Pricy Perfection – Lian-Li PC V1100 Silver Aluminum Midi-Tower. £170
    Last edited by Stewart; 21-12-2004 at 05:43 AM.

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    CPU Cooling

    “Did he say something about putting Branston Pickle on your Heat Sink?”

    Cooling a modern CPU consists of 3 different items; the Heat Sink, the Fan and the Thermal Paste. Choose the best from all three categories and you can achieve a very effective cooling set-up for your CPU, more effective than the supplied stock cooler, and if you go for a high-end Heat Sink and large, powerful fan, approaching that of some water-cooling set-ups.

    Starting with the Heat Sink, there are many companies offering quality aftermarket Heat Sinks for AMD CPUs, ThermalRight, Coolermaster, Zalman, Asus, etc. Of the currently available models, the most effective at the present time would appear to be the ThermalRight XP-120. It is a massive aluminum Heat Sink (which is lighter than copper, the other material Heat Sinks are usually constructed from) allowing it to remain light, supporting 120mm fans, from ThermalRight. With fans of this size on your CPU, you have the advantage of being able to have a decent airflow without having to have the fan turning very fast, thus reducing the noise created, and the option of buying a powerful, fast 120mm fan, for maximum cooling.

    Staying with the fans, if you are going to use a particularly powerful fan, such as the Vantec Tornado (55.2 dBA) or Delta 120mm Focused Flow Fan (59dBA) then I’d suggest a Fan Controller as well. Then you can attach the CPU fan to the controller and lower the speed to minimum when surfing the net or trying to watch television in the same room, and then whilst gaming, when cooling performance and not noise produced is of paramount importance, increase the speed. This is probably the best all-round set up, but if you are planning to sleep in the same room, then a fan marketed specifically for those requiring silence or near silence, such as the Panaflo 120L1A 120mm (19dBA) is probably better suited.

    The final part of the equation (for air cooling at least) is Thermal Paste. Thermal Paste is applied to the CPU core and the area on the Heat Sink where the core will make contact, to maximize the particle-to-particle contact area and thermal transfer; simply, it increases the effectiveness of the overall setup, allowing a better contact and more heat to be dissipated. The current choice would be Artic Silver 5, which seems to come out on top in most benchmark tests.

    The combined improvement over the stock Heat Sink, Fan and Thermal pad you can achieve with a quality aftermarket set-up is quite marked, and should allow you to run your CPU cooler and enjoy stability at higher overclocks. However, be aware that not using the stock Heat Sink will invalidate your warranty, as will overclocking of any kind. Also be sure to follow the instructions for applying thermal paste to the letter – do not spread it like butter on a sandwich, spread it as thin as possible, using a thin piece of card or with your finger-tip and some clingfilm. If after applying the paste you find your temperatures rise, then it’s quite likely you have over-applied the paste.

    At the end of the day, there are a million and one combinations of Heat Sinks and Fans to choose from, as well as other options for cooling, such as water cooling and even phase change cooling. However, I think by far the best combination of performance, low cost and ease of use, is to stick with air cooling and improve on the quality of the stock Heat Sink and Fan. Its cheap, relatively speaking, allows for near water cooling performance, without the hassle of installation, risk and increased cost, and can be changed and serviced easily and quickly.

    Key Points.

    1) Not using the stock Heat Sink will void your warranty. If you are not planning to overclock the CPU, its better to have your warranty intact. The stock Heat Sink is perfectly capable of keeping the CPU sufficiently cool at the stock speed.
    2) If you buy a high-performance fan, be aware that they can put out in excess of 50 decibels of noise. I strongly suggest a fan controller, so you only have to have the fan turning at full pelt when needed.
    3) Do not slap Thermal Paste all over your CPU core and Heat Sink – more is not better. Also, be aware that most varieties are slightly conductive (Artic Cermaique is a non-conductive paste for those worried) and can damage internal components is incorrectly applied.

    Cheap as Chips – Coolermaster Vortex Dream Cooler / Artic Ceramique. £20
    The Sweet Spot - ThermalRight XP-90 / Panaflo 92L1BX 92mm / Artic Silver 5. £45
    Pricy Perfection – ThermalRight XP-120 / Delta 120mm Focused Flow Fan / Artic Silver 5. £65.

    Motherboard.

    “There isn’t really any witty comments you can make about Motherboards, is there?”

    As we are dealing with 939 Socket AMD CPUs (until enough Pentium owners make the case for their chosen processor being the superior gaming platform of course), you don’t need a PhD in Molecular Genetics to realize that we will be picking out Motherboards from those currently available, which are compatible with this CPU. At this point I should mention that there are on the horizon, or in some cases already released, some exciting new technologies about, such as the nForce4 chipset, PCI-Express and SLI.

    Now whilst all these new advances are exciting - nForce4 will I’m sure improve on previous versions of the chipset, PCI-Express will replace AGP, and SLI will, by allowing two GPUs to be used instead of one, push the limits of the premium gaming experience even further – they are all new, yet-to-mature techs. The first generation of motherboards featuring a new chipset have been known to have problems (all these rev2 boards are released for a reason after all), PCI-Express, whilst 100% sure to replace AGP currently offers no performance gain, and SLI motherboards are expensive and will have early stability issues.

    I’m not saying these new techs are to be ignored, but with more established, more mature techs (even the still relatively new socket 939) out there, there are boards with established reputations for stability, good overclocks, and a sensible selling price. If you are upgrading and going PCI-Express isn’t going to cost you significantly extra, then there you might as well go for it, as it future proofs your system; but selling your AGP X800XT for a PCI-Express X800XT, and your Asus A8V Deluxe (AGP \ nForce3) for an Asus A8N-E Premium (PCI-Express \ nForce4 Ultra) would be expensive, and when you started up your next gaming session, it would perform exactly the same.

    I much prefer to avoid waiting for new techs to mature, buy and enjoy the current leading techs, and then when I am upgrading 6 months down the line, buy the established leader from amongst the new offerings. With this in mind, the best 939 board comes down to the Asus A8V Deluxe, the similarly named Abit AV8, and the MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum. There doesn’t appear to be much between these 3 boards to be honest, if you asked for recommendations, you’d receive them for all 3, but personally, I think the Asus A8V for all-round performance, price and stability is the slight favorite.

    As for a bargain board, the Abit NF7-S is probably still the best socket A board available at the moment, and as previously mentioned one of these boards with an overclocked Barton 2500+ and a 9800pro still makes a great gaming system for a very reasonable price. Going back to socket 939 Motherboards, there are issues with some boards, on earlier revisions of the BIOS and Winchester core CPUs. I had to get mine flashed to the latest version of the BIOS at the point of purchase to ensure I could boot with the Winchester in place. For reference, you need the 1007 or later BIOS on the Asus A8V Deluxe to ensure full compatibility with Winchester core CPUs; you should also ensure the board is rev2.

    Key Points.

    1) Let new chipsets and technologies mature before you sell your kit to include them – nothing is going to make an (AGP) X800XT-PE running on an (nForce3) A8V Deluxe look anything other than blazingly fast. Hardly outdated those platforms, are they? And you get the stability and price-range that comes from owning less than bleeding edge technology.
    2) Check compatibility with your other chosen components before purchase – the XP-120 and other large Heat Sinks might fit some 939 boards but not others. Some brands of RAM might have issues with some boards as well. Also check that the board you are purchasing works with the exact type of CPU you are planning to use – Socket, Core and revision. An Asus rev1.2 might not work, where a rev2 would.
    3) The price and stability advantages are very much present on the 32bit AMD platforms – try to beat an NF7-S, 9800pro and overclocked mobile Barton core 2500+ for bang for buck. Go on, try it…

    Cheap as Chips – Abit NF7 v2.0 nForce2 (Socket A). £44
    The Sweet Spot - Asus A8V Rev.2 Deluxe (Socket 939). £80
    Pricy Perfection – Asus A8V Rev.2 Deluxe (Socket 939). £80


    Alight lads, that’s where I’ll leave it for now. Obviously there are lots more categories to sort out, RAM, Sound Cards, Monitors, Input Devices, Optical Drives, etc, but I’ll add those sections once we are up and running. Feel free to comment on those though, if you know of a reason why the ‘sweet spot’ for a certain still to come category has to be X product, then say so and we can discuss it.

    I know you lot must have a lot to say, so get to it. Shoot me down in flames people and show no mercy, particularly if I’ve ignored your favorite item in favor of something else. Let me and everyone else know why it’s to be included.

    I want to know what you think both about the general advice I’ve given and the specific Key Points and recommendations. Maybe something I’ve said isn’t as crucial as a point I’ve missed? Maybe a Key Point isn’t (key, that is). Let’s knock this document into shape, make your case for your chosen hardware.

    Vaul.

    Oh, and if you are not a member, register and give us your opinion.
    Last edited by Stewart; 21-12-2004 at 05:45 AM.

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    Marmoset Warrior
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    Yeah, read over the beginning bits, looks very nice, included the answers to the most obvious (and some of the less obvious questions)

    Who is it aimed at really, n00bs or "semi-pros"?
    Last edited by r1zeek; 19-12-2004 at 10:55 PM.

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    Bonnet mounted gunsight megah0's Avatar
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    great idea.

    Perhaps a list of solid suppliers and the average n00b is all set
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    Richard Allen Evans mr_anderson187's Avatar
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    very nice guide, nice to see the effort put in to make these forums the best out there
    Under Development...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Apex
    SATA HDDS are IDE HDDS think you ment PATA
    Yes, but I call them IDE drives, and I think its less confusing to the average buyer to use those names, rather than PATA and SATA. Less scope to get confused.

    IDE and SATA, rather than PATA and SATA.

    Keep picking though mate, that's what I'm looking for.

    Disagree with me, find fault, and offer alternatives. (No, I'm not a sadist)
    Last edited by Stewart; 19-12-2004 at 11:12 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Vaul
    CPU.

    “Intel CPUs perhaps have the edge for general desktop usage
    On the basis of what more than 5 people have told me, that it seems an XP2500+ is faster during desktop usage, browsing etc, so I'd have to disagree there. I dont know if im right in saying that, as my AMD system died over 2 years ago, so i cannot compare the two.

    But, if you saw that thread where Meleminii had a 4GHz Pentium 4 ("Debating 775 or 939"), even he told me (on MSN), his XP @ 2.6 was definitely, defintely faster during desktop use, but his Intel was faster than his XP during games.

    Also, i would like to see a mention of Maxtors Plus 10 hard drives, as these have 16MB cache and seem a lot faster due to this. I will attempt to find it, but i have seen a review and im 98% sure, the maxtor beat a raptor on one test. One test is not a lot, i know. But I've never seen a review of a 7200RPM hard drive that has beaten a Raptor on ANY tests whatsoever. If there are any, i am obviously not looking hard enough.

    Just a little food for thought

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    Quote Originally Posted by Clstrphbc_donut
    On the basis of what more than 5 people have told me, that it seems an XP2500+ is faster during desktop usage, browsing etc, so I'd have to disagree there. I dont know if im right in saying that, as my AMD system died over 2 years ago, so i cannot compare the two.

    But, if you saw that thread where Meleminii had a 4GHz Pentium 4 ("Debating 775 or 939"), even he told me (on MSN), his XP @ 2.6 was definitely, defintely faster during desktop use, but his Intel was faster than his XP during games.
    Well, I thought Intel CPUs were faster at general crunching (Encoding, Un-Raring and the like) whilst AMD had the edge in gaming. Firstly because of Hyper Threading, so it should be faster to surf about, whilst Zipping something up or whatever, and secondly because if Intel don't hold the lead in the desktop enviorment, and we know they certianly do not hold any lead for gaming... why does anyone buy Intel CPUs? I figure they have to have some sort of advantage.

    Also, i would like to see a mention of Maxtors Plus 10 hard drives, as these have 16MB cache and seem a lot faster due to this. I will attempt to find it, but i have seen a review and im 98% sure, the maxtor beat a raptor on one test. One test is not a lot, i know. But I've never seen a review of a 7200RPM hard drive that has beaten a Raptor on ANY tests whatsoever. If there are any, i am obviously not looking hard enough.
    Ah yes, those DiamondMax 10s with the 16mb cache are supposed to be very nice. It probably did pip the Raptor on the odd test, but not overall. Having said that, they are 200-250gb in size. I think they deserve a mention, yes. I'll edit the entry tomorrow.

    Just a little food for thought
    Mate, that was exactly what I was looking for. Now lets hope others follow your lead.

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    Un-Official HEXUS CS:S Clan Member/ajbruns man! Daymonkey's Avatar
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    Very good thread vaul, i look forward to hearing other peoples opinions

    Irc Channels To Join(Quakenet), #hexus.cs, #hexus.net

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    No-one's Fanboi Thorsson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vaul
    Well, I thought Intel CPUs were faster at general crunching (Encoding, Un-Raring and the like) whilst AMD had the edge in gaming. Firstly because of Hyper Threading, so it should be faster to surf about, whilst Zipping something up or whatever, and secondly because if Intel don't hold the lead in the desktop enviorment, and we know they certianly do not hold any lead for gaming... why does anyone buy Intel CPUs? I figure they have to have some sort of advantage.
    They are faster at Video Encoding/Creation. They are a lot slower in games. Elsewhere the lead swaps depending on the program, but AMD have more wins than losses. Have a look at the graphs in this article:
    http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets...spx?i=2275&p=1

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    But like the Mobile Barton and 3000+ \ 3200+ \ 3500+ Winchesters, there must be a few gems on the Intel side of things.

    What would you put up against a Barton 2500+, Abit NF7-S and 9800pro, as an Intel based cheap gaming rig?

    Keep the 9800 obviously, but what an a CPU and Motherboard? Do AMD rule the roost mid-range as well as high-end for gaming?

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    Resident abit mourner BUFF's Avatar
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    Can you add OCZ to reputable PSU's (come out of same factory as Tagan's)?

    Better mention that the XP-120 doesn't fit a lot of boards due to size - XP-90 is a lot more compatible with virtually the same performance.

    & imho Shinetsu G-751 is probably a better TIM than AS5 (though dearer & harder to apply)

    MSI P55-GD80, i5 750
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    My HEXUS.trust abit forums

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    For heatsinks, the SLK948 is a steal at £15.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Vaul
    Well, I thought Intel CPUs were faster at general crunching (Encoding, Un-Raring and the like) whilst AMD had the edge in gaming. Firstly because of Hyper Threading, so it should be faster to surf about, whilst Zipping something up or whatever, and secondly because if Intel don't hold the lead in the desktop enviorment, and we know they certianly do not hold any lead for gaming... why does anyone buy Intel CPUs? I figure they have to have some sort of advantage.
    Sorry, i didn't explain things enough. What i meant was, AMD seem to be faster for things like browsing, MSN, e-mail, etc. I put this down to their work per cycle being more, than what Intels are.

    I dont class encoding, zipping/rarring as general Desktop activities. That's were the confusion is.

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