I originally developed this as a small post in a seperate thread however it sort of grew so big that I decided that it could only be posted in a seperate thread. If anyone wants me to add or change anything free to reply and if my computer doesn't give too much more cheek I'll try and check back and update it. ______________________________________________________________ Basically your first decision in building a system will have to be which CPU line to follow down. Based on my price range my two competing CPU's were the P4 3.2GHz and the AMD64 3200+, the P4 being a little more expensive. After reading a lot of reviews and benchmarks I noticed that the AMD seemed to be winning a lot more than it was loosing to the P4, topping the P4 in a lot of categories and generally seemed to be the best at gaming performance and real world tests. And that is only in 32 bit mode. The fact that future support would enable its 64 bit features was only a limited part of my decision because I knew that the P4 also has a similar possible advancement since support is also in development for applications and games which can take advantage of hyperthreading. At the moment the 3400+ is a lot more expensive than the 3200+ and you're probably best off going for the 3200+ unless you can afford the top end. The FX only provides small benefits for the extreme price increase. Provided you choose a 64 bit Athlon (my recommendation) your next decision will be which Chipset to go for. This will determine the motherboards that you can choose between. There are two in the competition, the Via and nVidia's nForce. The nForce has decent onboard video- this can be a positive or negative point. I didn't want to have an idle VGA port on my mobo but I didn't rule the chipset out because of this. (Now however I've realised the benefits having onboard video could provide. Could help in eliminating hardware suspects when there is a problem). Down to the real competition, the Via seems to win out over the nForce in almost every test, however only marginally. The difference is too little to proclaim that the the Via is a clear winner, however this seems to be the general opinion. One thing I will note, I read in a few places that the nForce seems to have much faster access or bandwidth or something to the ram making general windows tasks seem a bit faster. Not something to be worried about tho. I choose the Via chipset here. The next decision you would have to make here is to choose the Motherboard. After reading a lot of reviews and board roundups I'm just going explain how my opinion has been shaped by my reading. (If you're considering any other board than mine then best to ask someone who has it. Similarly feel free to add any other board opinions if you own one of the competition's boards). Basically I've found the same trend occuring, the MSI K8 Neo and often the Gigabyte K8VNXP (or K8NNXP - nForce chipset) topping the charts as the reviewers most favoured boards. For me layout is incrediblly important. You have to be careful not to pick a board only based on price & features because often the manufacturers can do silly things like place the memory too close to the agp port preventing the memory from being removed when you have long agp card installed. Similarly connectors placed in odd spots can really muck up your efforts for an uncluttered case. The Albatron board for instance places the floppy connectors at the very bottom of the board. The Neo and the Gigabyte don't suffer any layout problems. The Neo often wins over most other boards in the performance tests however my decision to go with the Gigabyte was due to the fact that it performed very well in tests but also had the largest range of features of any of the other boards available --> Gigabit Lan, Fireware IEEE1394B - the new standard 800mbps, 6×USB2 (+2 more if you have front usb ports), ATA133 + Raid, SATA + Raid, 6 channel audio, weird daughtercard which extends power to 6 phase, dual bios etc. I'm still yet to provide a solid recommendation on this board, due largely to a problem I am having at the moment (which may be mobo related) but technically it seems to be a good board. Just on a side note, the ABIT KV8 MAX3 seems to be a cool board but suffers most extensively from layout issues. The Ram is too close to the AGP port and some reviews have commented that the OTES interferes with the CPU heatsink and the plastic OTES has to be cut or removed to get it to fit properly. Deciding on the Ram. Ram has become a fairly difficult decision due largely to company advertising and influential statements written to try and convince people how much better expensive ram is than cheap ram. You need only read through parts of the Corsair website to experience the almost brainwashing effects that corsair will convince you that they are better than all others. While I don't really disagree, be careful to carefully consider reviewers opinions and not the brands opinion of themselves. Basically the main advantages of getting a decent brand like Corsair or Crucial is that you're basically guaranteed to get a ram module that will be able to perform under "agressive latency settings". What is latency? Take a look at some of the corsair pages for a full explanation, but generally it refers to the amount of clock cycles it takes to get the data from ram or do something with it. (CAS Latency is explained here) The Ram I chose (TwinX1024-3200C2Pro) performs at: 2.5-3-3-6 For your reference these numbers refer to: (1) CAS Latency: 2.5 (2) RAS to CAS Delay (tRCD): 3 (3) Row Precharge (tRP): 3 (4) Active to Precharge Delay (tRAS): 6 The latency settings can be viewed and modified in the advanced settings in your motherboard however they should already be set correctly automatically. One such thing was that Corsair made me believe that latency means the world. In real world benchmarks however performance tends to show minimal benefits between cheap ram with higher latency and expensive ram with lower latency with only a slim 2-3% increase in performance. Another thing I want to clear up is something that confused me for a long time when I was trying to decide on ram. On the Corsair webpage they recommended CMX modules for the Via chipset and TwinX modules for the nForce chipset. I could simply not work out what the difference between CMX and TwinX is. That is because they are the same thing. Well almost. "TwinX" is actually a pack of TWO CMX modules. The advantage of this is that the two modules are tested in a Dual Channel setup before it is sold. Now please note that none of the 64 bit desktop motherboards (not including the AMD FX series or Opteron processors) support Dual Channel Ram, which is a shame because it seems to do a lot for performance. HOWEVER, you can still use ram which is advertised as "Dual Channel" in a mobo which only supports single channel, it just won't use seperate channels for the data throughput. If you want a gig of ram (which is becoming more common in todays powerful consumer systems) then it's quick and easy enough to buy a pack which says "dual channel" such as the 1GB TwinX pack which conveniently contain two 512MB sticks, or the 512MB TwinX pack with two 256MB sticks. Only thing you have to be careful about is that you don't purchase ECC or buffered Ram if you're motherboard doesn't support it- and most of them don't. The various Corsair Corsair modules can be viewed here, and remember TwinX is simply two sticks of RAM (two CMX modules). The CMX is just one stick of Ram. So basically in summary the main reason you would go for a more expensive brand is to get the lower latency advantages but also for the overclocking ability. Ironically the main advantage of the more expensive brand-name ram modules is for their overclockability, a point that the ram companies can't exactly advertise. They'd end up contradicting themselves, one second telling us that their ram is great for overclocking and then warn you not to overclock their products all in the one sentence. But take a look at the more expensive modules from Corsair or Crucial and you can tell that the main appeal of the stuff is for the overclocking market. Personally I just wanted a decent set of Ram modules so I chose to go with a respected brand (Corsair). I was also overcome by the "wow factor" Corsair's Pro modules give- they've got activity lights all across the top of the modules which light up in a show of colour illustrating data throughput activities. (More about XMS Pro - Corsair Website) Video Card Ah the great nVidia vs Ati debate. Not planning on having a flame war here. Simply put, Ati seem to have put out a great line of products at the moment, a real threat to the current line of nVidia cards. Although nVidia have the respected reliable driver support Ati seem to be improving in this area too. I stuck with nVidia due to previous good experience and the promise of reliable drivers. I picked up the Abit nVidia Geforce FX 5900 OTES Siluro a month or two before I built my 64 bit rig. With a bit of luck the rumoured new nVidia card will put the competition back in its place.