Every good article needs a gimmick. Since we have our roots in gaming, we decided to take a cue from the classic console RPG where after the hero has finally defeated the big-bad boss, he discovers that he has only battled the “first form” of the boss, and the second, “true form” of the final boss is revealed which is even more amazing.
We’ve built two of the best systems, but they weren’t realistic projects since we had no real concept of budgets – it was just about getting the best “when it made sense.” But did we really need that 850W power supply? Couldn’t I have done just as well with slightly lower-end stuff? What if we took a step back using lower-priced, best-bang-for-the-buck components, how close would we get? When would we choose ATI or Intel over NVIDIA and AMD? What alternatives to PC Power and Cooling do I have?
In short, this article tells you about your options.
Now before you get any ideas, those super systems would truly reflect systems I would build if I wanted a PC with “no-budget, but don’t-waste-money” approach. Flagship CPUs and flagship RAM are indeed going to give you the best performance. It’s the same way that a Ford GT is going to give you better performance than a Mustang GT. But just as we all can’t afford a supercar, we all can’t afford a super computer. Let’s take a look at what we can do to reduce the price and see what’s possible with a more reasonable budget.
We spent $1000 on our Athlon FX-57 and $1740 on our pair of Opteron 252s. As you all know, going with the flagship CPU is almost never the best bang for the buck. For some people, getting the faster CPU is a luxury. One of the nice things about CPUs is that the transitions are always more predictable. That is to say, the previous generation Athlon FX-55 is still going to be quite good in comparison to Athlon FX-57, whereas the previous generation GPU usually seems completely outclassed by current generation products. So in that way, it’s not unreasonable to invest in a high-end CPU when you’re interested in the top-end performance. For example, you can buy an Athlon FX-57 at 2.8GHz today for $1000, or get an Athlon 64 3500+ (2.2GHz Venice E3 core) for $275 today, and then wait a year for the 2.8 GHz single-core Athlon64 to drop down to $725. The question of course is 1) will you be able to find a use for that 3500+ in a second system? 2) If it took a year to wait for the Athlon FX-57 to drop in price to $650, would it have been a better idea to have invested the $1/day it took to get 365 days of extra performance?
There’s no right answer on whether it’s better to buy an FX-57 or an Athlon 3500+, but without question the 3500+ is going to give you a higher price-performance ratio. Of note, it’s critical to pick up one of the new “San Diego” or “Venice” core CPUs. In addition to minor improvements in power consumption, these two Athlon64 variants feature SSE3; the difference between the two is simply the amount of L2 cache (1MB vs 512kB). These new chips are also excellent when it comes to overclocking. If you go with AMD, I would only recommend E3 or newer steppings; it’s worth the price. http://www.amdcompare.com/us-en/desktop/
I would expect the Athlon64 X2 to represent the best bang-for-the-buck when it comes to a dual-use machine that needs to play both games and do work.