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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  • JarredWalton - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    Rand - That doesn't surprise me too much, given our recent article showing that the NF4 Ultra and NF4 SLI are the same chip with a tweaked package. I would guess there's a reasonable chance the NF4 4X is the same as well, with other modifications to the package. As far as I know, what I put about their difference is the "official" NVIDIA stance. If the 4X is just the "validated" version... well, not a big deal, really. I'll modify the text a bit to reflect this.
  • KristopherKubicki - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    N3cr0: The nForce4 board you mentioned is not shipping yet.

  • Jep4444 - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    I think the Asus A8V Deluxe would of been a better motherboard recomendation than the MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum. The Asus board is pretty much the best 939 AGP board out and it costs less than the MSI aswell.
  • Avalon - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    'Samsung calls the 997DF a "perfectly visually flat" tube. What they really mean is that the surface of the glass is perfectly flat, but the inside of the glass is very slightly curved. Most people will never notice it, but we feel that in the interest of full disclosure, it should be mentioned'

    Yes. Thank you for pointing that out, Jared. I purchased this monitor about a month ago, and noticed it right upon powering it up. No matter how much you adjust the geometry, there is always a slight curve. I was so angry at one point I was either going to hit it with a bat or return it. Now I've just learned to deal with it, and I'm no longer really bothered by it.

  • Rand - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    Slight addendum to my above post-I just tried nVidia's hardware firewall.. it's working fine.

    Apparently that also runs on the basic nForce4.

  • Rand - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    Slight addendum to my above post-I just tried nVidia's hardware firewall.. it's working fine.

    Apparently that also runs on the basic nForce4.

  • Rand - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    "The difference, if you recall, is that the Ultra has an unlocked HyperTransport multiplier and will generally offer more in the way of overclocking, while the 4X is locked at a 4X HyperTransport multiplier (800 MHz)."

    I believe that's since been proven false.
    There are a couple threads in the Motherboards forum about overclocking on said board, and I haven't seen anyone comment on any difficulties adjusting the HTT.

    My own board is running at 300x3 HTT (900MHz HTT) right now. (Adjustable from 2-5X), though it did need +0.2V to the chipset to run stable at 1000HTT.

    The differences right now between the NF4 and NF4 Ultra would appear to be 3Gb/s SATA vs. 1.5Gb/s SATA, and official support for 1000HTT vs 800HTT.
    As well as not supporting nVidia's firewall.

  • geogecko - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    Where are all the nForce4 Ultra (non-SLI) boards? Really looking forward to ASUS A8N-E Premium, but no news, except that some have said this board will never exist?!
  • Gage8 - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    I don't know, this guide just confirmed for me that now is not the time to buy if you want stability and upgradability (new word?).

    Nforce2 taught me not to buy revision lesson learned, bring on Nforce4 revision 2.x.
  • N3cr0 - Friday, January 21, 2005 - link

    Just curious why the MSI K8N Neo4 Platinum/SLI wasn't put in as an SLI board for the AMD choices. It seems to be lower price then the Asus board. I'm going to get one of the two boards and can't really figure out what the differences are aside from some networking items. (That and the HyperTransport which I dont get at all)

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