Yesterday, you learned everything there was to know about building a true high-performance system. With the dual Opteron complete, we'll have to compare it against a few systems. Intel elected not to offer us Xeon CPUs for Xeon/i875P in this round-up, and so we'll be comparing the Dual Opteron 246 against the Athlon 64 3200+ against a Pentium 4 for today. Don't worry, you won't be disappointd with the content when you're done.
If you're coming to this article from a digital photography site and have no plans to build your own computer, you'll probably want to just go ahead and jump to the "Benchmark Design" page to see how different CPUs compare. If you're really interested in tech talk behind the hardware, make sure you've read Part 1 first.
For the rest of you techies, before we go on with the numbers, Alexis is going add just a quick overview of the other systems we used in the test.
Athlon 64 Construction
Alexis: For our Athlon 64 test system, we wanted to create a budget, but high performance system. We want a system that is stable, well cooled, and with upgrade potential. Let's first start with the foundation, the case and power supply.
For some people, choosing a computer case has become as confusing as choosing the appropriate necktie to go with your shirt. Today, there are so many different models and colors of cases, leading some to believe that they are all the same; nothing could be further from the truth. Cases are often overlooked, but they can have a big impact on the stability of a system, especially when it comes to cooling.
Since this system is designed as a workstation, we will pass on the addition of a viewing window due to EMI concerns. We want a case with an ample number of drive bays, both 3.5" and 5.25". Personally, I don't like cases with only 5.25" drive bays as it requires adapters for the hard drives and does take up a little more space, but the advantage is that your hard drives do get more room to breathe and you can add more bay accessories.
For cooling, it used to be the more fans the better. We've moved beyond that to consider not just quantity but quality of airflow. The use of fewer, larger (120mm) fans is relatively new to the PC world, but the big workstations and servers and companies like SGI have been using these fans for a while now. With these bigger fans you are able to maintain a high CFM without a noise penalty. The debate between steel and aluminum continues in the case world. As this is a budget system we will go with a traditional steel case. You should be aware that there are many grades of steel. The most expensive is the steel that is shiny, the cheaper kind is the one that is matte. Even with these types of steel, the thickness may vary from 0.8mm to 1.2mm thick. Thicker cases offer better noise isolation, sturdier construction, but are heavier.