Writing new Buyer's Guides month after month gives you a certain perspective on the market. One of the things that we've come to realize is that waiting for future performance in the way of faster components is generally a waste of time. The fact of the matter is that many of the "Next Big Thing" upgrades, which we often look forward to, either end up taking far longer than expected to materialize, or else they only improve performance by 10% to 20% for the same price. If you're waiting for a price drop on an item, how much is your time really worth? Naturally, if you have a decent computer and don't really need the upgrades, waiting never hurts. Newer and better parts are always coming out. Once you're ready to upgrade, though, we would recommend that you take the plunge and not look back.

For this month's Mid-Range Guide, PCI Express and Athlon 64 are finally available...barely. Are they worth it? The answer depends on the individual and the goals for the system. If you want the best potential for upgrades, go for PCI Express, and probably even spend the extra money on an SLI motherboard. For the infrequent upgraders, it really doesn't seem to be all that big of a deal. If you don't need a lot of graphics performance, the budget to mid-range price segment is basically a tie in terms of price/performance. However, price/performance is only one side of the equation. Stability and reliability are still somewhat unknown with PCI Express motherboards, as it is version 1.0 hardware – the so-called "bleeding edge" of hardware.

If that doesn't seem like a big deal to you, recall that the initial Athlon 64 socket 754 motherboards had quite a few minor problems. For instance, RAM compatibility and tweaking/overclocking features were somewhat problematic. New technologies almost always have some issues, and socket 939 PCIe is not likely to be any different. 939 PCIe chipsets were slated originally to launch as early as September of last year, but then they were delayed several times, and only now are they finally becoming available. What caused the delays, and have they now fixed all the potential problems? As for the causes, certainly there were some technical difficulties that had to be addressed. There's always a chance that we won't encounter any glitches on the final hardware, but more likely than not, a few minor problems will surface that some people would just as soon avoid. If that sounds like you, we would recommend that you stick with the tried-and-true approach of AGP platforms. On the other hand, if you want to take the plunge and are willing to deal with some potential teething problems, go for it.

Our recommendations in this Guide will cover both options. As usual, we're going to be shooting for a specific price point with our Guide; in the case of this Mid-Range Guide, that target will be roughly $1250. We'll have a few options, including the requisite AMD and Intel recommendations as well as some alternatives. As in most recent Guides, we continue to feel that AMD has the upper hand in terms of price as well as performance, but we don't want to neglect our Intel holdouts. Let's start with AMD.

AMD Recommendations
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  • Rocket321 - Saturday, January 22, 2005 - link

    Could someone explain what has changed between the NEC 3520A and 3500A. I checked the Anandtech Fall 16x roundup and it has the 3500A listed as DVD-R 16x.
  • Dranzerk - Saturday, January 22, 2005 - link

    Mmm, i bought my 930sb from Newegg about 6 months ago, guess they ran out fast. Oh well. :(
  • N3cr0 - Saturday, January 22, 2005 - link

    Well, I think I may go with the system described with the ASUS board but a 3000+ processor to save some cash. As it stands right now, anything is an upgrade from my Celeron 1.2 system. The XFX 6600GT is also available for dramatically less then the Leadtek (40-50$ less) 6600GT, so I'm going to be going with that also.
  • Zebo - Saturday, January 22, 2005 - link

    "The Diamond Pro 930sb Mitsubishi monitor is also a excellent CRT choice for 19inch."

    Too bad no one sells it:(
  • Zebo - Saturday, January 22, 2005 - link


    Another good mobo is epox 9NDA3J... it's $45 less than MSI..same clocks many say better with new bios. I post at 330 HTT now vs 315 before.. My mem OCs much more too..
  • JarredWalton - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    20 - NEC and Mitsubishi "merged" on the monitor segment. The NEC FE991SB is almost the same monitor as the Diamond Pro 930SB. The 930SB did have a few advantages, like a 110 KHz hoizontal scan rate and a slightly higher max resolution, and perhaps a few cosmetic differences.

    Unfortunately, the 930SB is no longer available online as far as I can tell (and it did cost a bit more). That's why it's no longer in the Guide. If you can find one, it's still a great monitor, although I wouldn't pay much more than $285 for it.
  • Dranzerk - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    The Diamond Pro 930sb Mitsubishi monitor is also a excellent CRT choice for 19inch. Very nice monitor, gets great reviews, and cheap to boot.

    I beleive it used to be Anandtech buyers guide..maybe another type? check it out
  • JarredWalton - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    #17 - certainly something to think about, although there are so many possible causes that a lot of people don't tend to list in forums. For example, are they overclocking? What sort of PSU are they running (as a 300GB three platter hard drive inherently uses more power than an 80GB one platter drive)?

    Most of the posts seem to be related to having RAID issues. I won't even get into the subject of RAID, but having two of those drives running is going to further increase the power demands. What sort of GPU do they have, CPU, etc.? People looking at running two or even three $200 drives are probably putting in other high-end hardware as well, and a 480W PSU - even a quality Antec, Enermax, etc. - may not be able to handle the power demands.

    Anyway, the Maxtor is merely listed as an alternative. Plenty of people are using them without any problems, but they're also not using two of them in most instances.
  • PrinceGaz - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    Those are a truly excellent set of recommendations for systems in that price-range, Jarred. Compared with your first few guides which I considered to have quite a few poor choices; I read through this guide from start to finish, and without exception either agreed with your choices or would have went with something so close it made no real difference.

    I'm very close to building an nForce4/A64 box and regularly looking at my options (the only thing I'm waiting for now is the E0 A64 revision), and at some points what you wrote was so close to my own thoughts that I almost felt as if I was reading something I'd written myself!

    The only bone I'd pick is with SLI. I'll probably get an SLI board, but not for the SLI capability but because they tend to have more PCIe sockets generally if you run in non-SLI mode and treat the second x16 as a x1. I'll never buy another legacy PCI card, so the two PCI cards I already have are all I'd ever want to put in a new PCIe system, therefore the more PCIe sockets it has the better. The MSI Neo4 SLI board fails miserably in that respect as it has no PCIe slots at all apart from the two x16 slots, so at most you can put a single PCIe x1 card in. I hope MSI gets suitably slated in the forthcoming review because of that.
  • mad nebraskan - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    With all due respect, the recommendation of the Maxtor 250GB drive in combination with the MSI Neo2 MB might not be a good one. I helped a friend who had serious issues trying to get a RAID 0+1 to work using this board. We finally gave up and bought Raptors. A quick search of the net found this forum:
    Now, the problem might be fixed with the latest BIOS, but I don't think it it.
    Just some thoughts from a guy who banged his head against this particular problem too many times.

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