Buyers Guide: My guide to 64 bit

Discussion in 'General Hardware' started by patrick, Apr 16, 2004.

  1. patrick

    patrick OSNN Addict

    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. ;) :)
    Goatman likes this.
  2. patrick

    patrick OSNN Addict

    You'll also have to consider the Power Supply you are going to use.
    You'll have to balance the price vs performance (watts in this case). 350 has become the expected minimum for todays power hungry systems however if you can afford it often it can serve benefit in getting a 400+ PSU with a bit of headway for expansion. I decided to go all out here and get a Thermaltake 480w Butterfly PSU. It is supposed to have a very reliable voltage output and the cable sleeving really keeps the black/yellow/red out of sight.

    Please do the entire mac-hating community a favour (no offence mac lovers) and put your new system into a decent case. For too long have I heard the oooh macs look pretty but pc's are ugly story. You'll appreciate this if you ever take your rig to a lanparty or when people come round to look at your new powerhouse. An Antec, a Thermaltake, even go for a Coolermaster if you can afford it. I went for the Coolermaster Wavemaster (with Coolermaster's special green-tinted side window) and darn is it a nice looking case.

    HDD Drives
    Adding HDD Drives and Optical Drives can often push the cost of a new system a lot higher than you may have anticipated so my recommendation is to try and steal that nice 160GB out of your existing system save buying a new one. Of course getting a new drive can have its advantages. I've personally got my eye on a nice 10000 rpm SATA drive.

    Optical Drives
    What better to add to your system than a DVD Burner?
    They are soo cheap now that you can pick one up for less than a decent CD Burner only a year ago (or is that only because I got my parts wholesale ;) ).
    But seriously, your other options are a CD Burner and/or a DVD Rom and if you bother getting both then you'd be suprised to note that the cost will probably equal about the same as a DVD Burner. There's so much to research in getting the absolute best DVD Burner or CD Burner, compatibility with mediums and its functions and abilities to make "backup copies" of your software etc. Apparently there aren't really any 8× DVD medium out at the moment but there isn't really that much price difference so going for the 8× will at least ensure it isn't outdated as fast. I personally went for a Liteon DVD Burner due to the respect they've earned over the last few years.

    While most (including me) will probably already have a fairly decent keyboard and mouse and will recycle them from their older system, you may need to buy them if you don't have any spares. Cordless is good and doesn't often have any negative impacts (apart from the use of batteries) however the latest keyboards all include recharables. Logitech make very good key/mouse combo kits, some will still prefer their MS Office keyboards. You may also want to consider a joystick.

    I'm not going to really elaborate on this. A good CRT can be cheap, have a good resolution and responce rate. LCD's can be expensive and usually only support lower resolutions, but good ones can outperform CRTs.

    Well there ya go, there's my guide. Feel free to post any comments on anything I wrote here, any corrections, updates etc.
    If you find this information useful please tell me!
    I hope that sitting here typing all that will help someone out who is planning on building a new system and need to do a lot of research.
    Btw if you have any specific questions on any of my hardware feel free to ask.

    | My Complete System Specs:
    | - AMD Athlon 3200+ 64bit
    | - Gigabyte K8VNXP Mobo
    | - Abit Geforce FX 5900 OTES
    | - 1 Gigabyte Corsair Ram (TwinX3200C2Pro)
    | - Liteon 8×DVD+/-RW (SOHW-812S)
    | - Coolermaster Wavemaster Case
    | - Thermaltake 480w Butterfly PSU
    | - HDD: Primary- 60GB Seagate, Secondary- 160GB Seagate

    dubstar likes this.
  3. Sazar

    Sazar F@H - Is it in you? Staff Member Political User Folding Team

    Between Austin and Tampa
    nf3-150's are a bad choice for the main reason they do not have proper HTT implementation... on all other boards you have full-speed HTT upstream and down stream @ 16bit and operating @ 800mhz... not so with the nf3-150 from nvidia..

    however they have a new version coming out soon called the nf3-250 which should be quite a decent product... speed improvements are negligible compared to today's boards... just like via's k8t800pro platform will have negligible improvements... but there are other benefits in terms of features and the like...

    of the current batch of a64 mobo's Via and SiS are the top performers with the SiS being quite a nice little package (single chip solution afaik... just like the nf3-150/250).. I got my Via based board based on speed/features and price... and its a pretty decent package all round for me :)

    PSU is not quite as important as with a p4 high end system since the power-draw is so much less... ESPECIALLY with C'n'Q active...

    video cards... well for current gen ati is the clear and dominant leader (I wonder if anyone noticed how with all the nv40 reviews had the 9800XT usually quite far ahead of the nv38.. really odd isn't it that all this time since it was launched it was supposedly neck and neck... oh and the IQ compares showed night and day differences)

    the only issue is with drivers... NV currently has 64bit drivers out... so does ATI but they are not fully featured... ATI's stance is they will release 64bit drivers when the 64bit OS from m$ is released... whenever this may be...

    I bought corsair XMS as well :) am running @ 2-3-3-6 often enough though since I got my new psu I have left it @ auto settings (ie 2.5-3-3-8)

    only socket's 940 and 939 will be dual channel.... socket 754 is not dual channel though you are unlikely to see much difference in most scenarios (case in point... observe benches of fx51 v/s a64 3400+) synthetic benches and some memory intensive games/apps will show up a difference as well but the 940 platform does have less aggresive memory as well..


    wrt memory... consider buying conservatively if you can... there are incompatability issues wth the older socket 754 cpu's (i have none thankfully but this is not the norm)

    ideally run @ cas 2.5 or cas 3 for day to day usage... and if you can purchase the newer Cg revision a64 socket 754 processors... they are more stable and work with a wider range of memory...
  4. dubstar

    dubstar format c:

    Southern California
    about how much USD did the run ya Patrick?
  5. patrick

    patrick OSNN Addict

    I got all my parts very cheap (@ wholesale prices) so all up the build cost was approx $1330US (using but that's including the costly Coolermaster case, seperate Coolermaster Side Panel & cold cathodes. Without them it drops down to a bit under $1100US for the main hardware components.
    lol that's the advantage of having some good friends ;)

    (Don't forget tho that's not including my FX5900 vid, 19" monitor, cordless freedom optical or my two hard drives which you'd have to budget for.)

    Still it ends up a pretty darn good way of getting a really fast system without having to outlay many thousands.
    Go 64 bit it's worth it.