Athlon 64 3500+ - $219 Newegg: For years the CPU was considered the core component in any system, but nowadays that isn’t necessarily the case. 3D graphics cards like NVIDIA’s GeForce series and ATI’s RADEON cards offload graphics duties from the processor, freeing it up to handle other tasks. AGEIA’s physX chip hopes to do the same for game physics.
With that being said however, the CPU still plays a very important role in your system’s overall performance. It’s just that its importance varies depending on how you use your CPU. If you’re a home video buff or spend lots of time in Photoshop tinkering with your photos the CPU is crucial, as it’s responsible for encoding your home movies or applying your Photoshop filters. If you use your PC primarily for browsing the Internet, or checking email, the CPU isn’t nearly as important, as it spends most of its time idling waiting for something to do. Since we’re a gaming-oriented site, we’re going to look at things from the perspective of a gamer rather than a video enthusiast.
Gamers definitely need speedy processors, but at the same time the video card plays a critical role as well, so it’s important that you balance both components out with each other. In this case we chose AMD’s Athlon 64 3500+ processor.
The Athlon 64 is the fastest processor out there right now, especially for gaming, so picking AMD was a no-brainer. Instead, the more difficult part was choosing the right clock speed: since I’m limited to a $1,000 budget, I can’t go all-out for an Athlon 64 X2 or FX-series processor, but at the same time I need something that’s speedy enough to keep the system running smoothly.
Fortunately I was able to refer back to my GeForce 7800 GTX Performance with Athlon 64 article
. In the article I ran numbers with Athlon 64 chips ranging from the 3,000+ model all the way up to the FX-57, with a wide variety of games to tested. In the article I concluded that the sweet spot for price/performance lie somewhere around 2.2GHz for NVIDIA’s GeForce 7800 GTX, otherwise the processor wasn’t fast enough to keep the 7800 GTX GPU fed, resulting in lower performance.
And while I’m not using NVIDIA’s 7800 GTX GPU for the $1,000 system, the 7800 GT’s DNA is quite similar to the 7800 GTX, as they’re both built on the same graphics core, only the 7800 GT board ships with less pipelines and lower clock speeds.
GeForce 7800 GT - $383 Price Watch: Next to the CPU, the graphics card is tied as the most important component choice any gamer must consider when building or upgrading a new system. If either component tilts too far to one extreme (say for instance, a $500 CPU with a 3-year old graphics card, or vice versa), the other will suffer, resulting in poor performance.
Ideally you want to keep both components in balance, or at least as close as possible. This is why a lot of enthusiasts will buy a cheaper processor and overclock it to clock speeds 100-200MHz (or more) higher than default, or overclock a CPU they purchased a year ago to go along with the shiny new graphics card purchase. Speaking of overclocking, this strategy is best accomplished with the CPU rather than the GPU, simply because you gain a lot more via CPU overclocking. Not only are you overclocking the processor, but also the other components within the system, including the graphics card in some cases. NVIDIA’s board partners are beginning to overclock their cards from the factory anyways.
On the graphics side, I chose NVIDIA’s GeForce 7800 GT. As I just mentioned, the 7800 GT is built on the same architecture as the 7800 GTX, only it has four of its pixel pipelines disabled (for a total of 20) as well as one vertex unit. NVIDIA also ships it with slightly lower clocks, 400MHz on the GPU versus 430MHz for the 7800 GTX, and 500MHz on the memory instead of the 7800 GTX’s 600MHz. As a result, the 7800 GT will never outrun a 7800 GTX, but it delivers about 90% of the performance of a 7800 GTX for a lower price point, which is important considering the $1,000 budget.
In terms of picking one 7800 GT manufacturer amongst another, we’ll just leave that for the roundup, but in case you were wondering, we used BFG’s 7800 GT OC for the numbers provided in this article.