Monday, August 11, 2008

A Difficult Season For PC Shopping

I'll probably buy a new computer within a few months. Since I'm not likely to buy another one for two or three years this is a difficult decision and I've begun the long process of figuring out what to buy.

I suppose shopping for a PC is never a truly easy task but it seems that right now this task has become twice as hard. I think Tom's Hardware Guide said it well:

If you already have a Core 2 system or a fast Athlon 64 X2 or Phenom, you shouldn't’t rush now. It makes more sense to for wait for Intel’s Nehalem architecture with the X58 chipset, as well as AMD’s Socket AM3 platform.

The problem is that I don't have a either a Core 2 or X2. I have a 1.8Ghz P4 desktop system and a 2.0Ghz Athlon 64 notebook. But, I'm also not really wanting to wait another full year to make a purchase. I guess there is nothing to do but try to slog through this methodically and see if some configuration makes sense.

I checked the prices of CPU's on NewEgg and others and put these into a spreadsheet graph. It is obvious that none of the processors above 2.8Ghz are cost effective; you get only a tiny bit more performance for a big increase in price. The AMD curve is quite odd because it actually gets flatter above 2.3Ghz. Consequently, the 2.6Ghz 9950 Black Edition at $235 ends up being the only real choice. However, I'm not sure I want a 140 watt processor. On the Intel side the venerable Q6600 doesn't seem to be as good a bargain as it used to be. The two best choices seem to be the 2.66Ghz Q6700 for $275 or the 2.83Ghz Q9550 for $340. These are both 95 watt processors. AMD's fastest 95 watt processor the 2.4Ghz 9750 seems to be scarce these days. This is probably irrelevant though since you could always run the 9950 at 2.4Ghz and get the same wattage. So, again, on the AMD side, the 9950 BE seems to be the only current choice.

For future choices the 2.66Ghz Bloomfield is expected to cost $284. This makes it comparable in price with Q6700. The X58 chipset is a bit of a wild card at the moment but if it were a reasonable price this would probably knock the Q6700 out of the running. The P45 chipset wasn't received as favorably so this would seem to make it a choice between Q9550 with P35/X48 and Bloomfield/X58. However, if X48 begins to look best I would have to compare with nVidias chipsets as well.

I have no idea what AMD's 45nm Deneb might run but given the current prices it should have some room to increase. So, we're probably talking a 2.6 - 2.83Ghz chip in the $235-$340 range with both Intel and AMD having chips that fit. As far as I know, AMD wouldn't be changing chipsets so we should be looking at a 790GX or FX chipset with a 750 southbridge. There doesn't seem to be any good reason to look at the nVidia chipsets since they don't have the 750 southbridge ACC capability. I like this feature because not only should it allow higher overclocks it should allow less power draw at the same clock as well.

For graphics I'm looking at $200-$400 range which should include nVidia's 9800X2, GTX 260 as well as AMD's HD 4850 and 4870. There will probably be others though by October. However, I suppose a PCIe 2.0 card would make it necessary to re-examine the Intel P45 chipset and drop the P35. Running a search it appears that if I require two PCIe 2.0 ports then the choice becomes X38/X48, P43/P45, or nVidia nForce 700. Overall I doubt the motherboard is going to be much of a factor unless the X58 is particularly high. I would probably use four harddrives in a RAID 5 which should mean a mid case or larger. I haven't decided how big of a power supply to get. Right off hand I would say 4-8GB of memory. I would probably dual boot Unix/Windows but not sure which version of Unix. At the moment I'm leaning towards the Dragonfly version of BSD. I'm probably looking at a 22-26" LCD monitor but I can see right now I'm going to have to go over all the technical details of response time, contrast, and viewing angle to pick one. This is going to take some time so I suppose it is good to start now. Also, I imagine I'm going to have to revisit this topic after the release of the newer graphics cards and then Bloomfield and Deneb.

16 comments:

Scientia from AMDZone said...

A good candidate motherboard on the AMD side would be Foxconn A7DA-S which has two PCIe 2.0 ports, RAID 5 SATA support, HDMI, DVI, and Sideport memory. The 8 GB max memory is probably sufficient.

Chuckula said...

If you can hold out a few more months then both Intel & AMD will introduce their next generation parts which will depress prices on all the existing chips so you can either go with a next-generation expensive platform or a current-gen platform at a lower price. If going with Intel, don't forget about X38 mobos which have all the overclocking goodness of X48 but are cheaper. As for AMD, the new 790 boards look good if sticking with DDR2.
On the video card front I'd personally get a factory-OC'd 4850 if I was buying right now... and I haven't bought an ATI product in 5 years. Again if waiting, hold out for Nvidia to get the 200 series chips on 55nm only because this may mean a better price on the ATI parts.

Ho Ho said...

I can tell you one thing, if you intend to use 3d acceleration under *BSD or Linux you pretty much must get NVidia. Yes, ATI did opensource their drivers but they haven't got much better over the months. NV is closed source but is officially supported on Linux and *BSD and it actually works.

As for everything else, I'd wait until the new CPUs come or at least until Christmas. 3-4 months won't kill you but you'll have much more options by then not to mention a bunch of price drops all over the place. Also I don't think that there would be too many new CPUs or perhaps even GPUs coming out in H1 09.

sharikouisallwaysright said...

I would buy:
AMD x2 5200
Asrock 770Crossfire
Kingston HyperX 4GB
HD 3850
Terratec Aureon 5.1

It is worth 255 Euros and is fast enough for everything but it may not fit your needs ;)

sharikouisallwaysright said...

I forgot i would use the rest my old stuff....

george said...

From what u wrote, I understand that you don't mind overclocking. I can't see how you even considering to buy an AMD system, knowing that easily any penryn can hit 3.5 - 4 GHz on air...

Tonus said...

re: monitors, I would pay particular attention to any ergonomic features, particularly the ability to move the screen up and down and to swivel it. A large LCD can be a literal pain-in-the-neck if you cannot position it just right.

Scientia from AMDZone said...

Perhaps my article was confusing since I included both earlier thoughts and then reasons for changing my mind. The current Intel motherboard consideration is:

if I require two PCIe 2.0 ports then the choice becomes X38/X48, P43/P45, or nVidia nForce 700.

This hasn't narrowed the list much since SATA RAID 5 is common on these boards. I think there were still 20 some boards. On the AMD side the choice narrowed down to just 4 or 5 boards. The Foxconn is interesting because with Sideport memory I could probably run with just integrated graphics for awhile. That is not possible with the above Intel boards since none of them have graphics.

I also said:

Also, I imagine I'm going to have to revisit this topic after the release of the newer grapics cards and then Bloomfield and Deneb.

Meaning I'm not going to buy anything until I see how Bloomfield and Deneb look.

george

If I were overclocking I would be looking at a maximum of about 3.8Ghz for Intel versus 3.2Ghz for AMD. This is only a 19% difference in clock speed so this isn't enough by itself to exclude AMD. At stock speeds I'm looking at either 2.66 or 2.83Ghz for Intel versus probably underclocking 9950 to 2.5Ghz since 140 watts is a bit much. 2.83Ghz versus 2.5Ghz is only a difference of 13% so again not enough to worry about. Ideally AMD would offer an 89 or 95 watt 2.6Ghz chip later this Fall to make things more competitive. Intel's Penryn chips are already 95 watts.

Ho Ho

"if you intend to use 3d acceleration under *BSD or Linux you pretty much must get NVidia. Yes, ATI did opensource their drivers but they haven't got much better over the months."

I am going by the Phoronix article AMD Makes An Evolutionary Leap In Linux Support from June 19, 2008:

AMD's proprietary driver is now on par with NVIDIA's Linux driver and there are two open-source ATI drivers picking up new features and improvements on an almost daily basis.

NVIDIA has generally had a good record of delivering Linux, FreeBSD, and Solaris product support within days of their new product launch. However, NVIDIA's first-cut Linux support has been a bit problematic as of late -- most notably when the GeForce 8 series was introduced and its performance issues as well as other bugs.

AMD has not only provided same-day support for their just-announced Radeon HD 4800 "RV770" series, but they're now beginning to ship the Linux drivers on the retail CDs included with these newest graphics cards. In addition, AMD is very close to reaching feature parity between their Windows and Linux drivers.

Thanks in large part to this code sharing, we are seeing same-day support for the Radeon HD 4850/4870. If you buy a Radeon HD 4850/4870 today, you can go use it on Linux right away!

george said...
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george said...
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george said...

If I were overclocking I would be looking at a maximum of about 3.8Ghz for Intel versus 3.2Ghz for AMD. This is only a 19% difference in clock speed so this isn't enough by itself to exclude AMD. At stock speeds I'm looking at either 2.66 or 2.83Ghz for Intel versus probably underclocking 9950 to 2.5Ghz since 140 watts is a bit much. 2.83Ghz versus 2.5Ghz is only a difference of 13% so again not enough to worry about. Ideally AMD would offer an 89 or 95 watt 2.6Ghz chip later this Fall to make things more competitive. Intel's Penryn chips are already 95 watts.


1) 3.2 on AMD is really really hard to reach and with specially chosen parts only (you need to bump voltage, experiment with bios settings etc. ) . 3.5-4.0 with a penryn is a piece of cake and (I hope) you know it. Believe me I was an AMD fan for ever. Core2 architecture was THE EASIEST o/c of my life though....

2) You know very well that clock-to-clock penryn is better than phenom, so the 19% difference you are talking about is much larger...

3) If you wait for deneb vs nehalem (core i7) the advantage will be even bigger for Intel.

Kerry in Hawaii said...

Hi Scientia. If I may make a small suggestion, if you do decide to build an Intel system it would certainly be worth waiting for the price cuts to go into effect in October (whenever Nehalem launches). For instance, 2.83GHz Q9550 is dropping from $530 to $316 in units of a thousand.

http://arstechnica.com/journals/hardware.ars/2008/08/12/intel-migrates-penryn-clocks-upward

Lem said...

Scientia, re 140W TDP on the 9950BE .. how do you use your computer? Do you enable Cool'n'Quiet? I'm not sure what Phenoms idle at, but all of my K8 Athlons have idled at 1Ghz, save the 2800+ (800Mhz) and the Turion X2 in my laptop (also 800Mhz). Having the 9950BE would just allow you higher peak performance (and power consumption), but should be similar to all other Phenoms at idle.

muziqaz said...

Scientia, the shopping season is difficult for those who want PC now and here.
As I understand you can wait a few months, so that solves you most of the stuff :)
Though the question is why do you need powerful graphic card? Games? Distributed computing? 3D work? or something else.
If you need it just for HD content viewing, then 790GX chipset with SB750 would be obvious choise.
If you cannot wait for that chipset to appear in the shops, then 780G is more than enough for that. Though I personally would wait to lay my hands on sb750.
Ideal 780G motherboard would be gigabyte ATX board (GIGABYTE GA-MA78G-DS3H). Other 780G motherboards are mATX, this one is ATX, so later you can add two pci-e GPUs if needed.
Processor, if going AM2+ way, then waiting for 45nm would be obvious choise. If those ES chip results are false you still get cooler chip and less wattage.
Talking about x58, no way it is going to be cheap, with all these memory channels and extra routing, they will be expensive.
and so far there is not a lot of news about p58 if it exists at all.
now unix and ATI saga is over, though it is still a challenge sometimes, but it is leaps ahead from the situation which used to be before.
Oh by the way most of AM2 motherboards have pci-e v2.

Matthew said...

I agree with what has been said by a few others. I would wait a few months until the release of the i7 and the 45nm version of the K10 later this year. This should give you a better indication of how each system stacks up. If you continue to wait the Ridgeback should be out probably early next year with the AM2+ Motherboards.

jvin248 said...

Are you wedded to Windows or Linux? That will be telling for your computer purchase needs.

I run Linux, and for all email/office/browsing/etc work I do is on a used 2.4Ghz P4. I have a 3Ghz used P4 that runs FEA engineering software. I travel with a P3-500Mhz/256MB ram laptop - giving client presentations (running latest Xubuntu 8.04 and Open Office).

Either extend what you've got (more ram, inexpensive cpu upgrade, you might get a >2Ghz cpu for your desktop for "$25" or so, I got a lot of five assorted cpu's for about that price to upgrade my general desktop machine) or go on Ebay or Craigslist to find something more dramatic or install a fast Linux, like Xubuntu. Then after the next generation of systems look for something new.

If you run Windows, I'd suggest waiting for another year for the hardware to continue catching up with Vista.

If you really need a "new" fix, go get an Asus Eeepc to play with - inexpensive and fun. Best Buy has them now, or go the Ebay/Craigslist route.