iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail

Platform

Video

Multimedia

Mobile

Other

Buyer's guide

February 2, 2001



Introduction

Today the Net offers a lot of reviews on hardware with performance tests and short conclusions. Unfortunately, not all hardware sites are able to follow prices on-the-fly. And a user is to decide himself what ratio is better "price/performance" or "price/quality".

In my opinion such approach suits only printers or scanners, i.e. those peripherals that can be considered as a separate device. The CPU is a heart of the system, its performance greatly influences the performance of the whole computer. Therefore, the "price/performance" is a complicated issue. Besides, you have to use several configuration systems for an objective estimation.

Moreover, price for components changes much. That's why expediency of inclusion one or another component into a system depends as well.

Today I'd like to tell you about how to choose hardware nowadays (within several months forward). What will be in future, I don't know - so I don't want forecast for that time.

Note that I will mention only WHOLESALE PRICES. They are changing more efficiently than the retail prices. A reader can calculate himself an ideal retail price with a simple multiplication by a typical mark-on coefficient.

A potential buyer has two alternatives - to buy a new processor for already known motherboard, or to buy a new CPU and a new motherboard (the second case can be also to get a new case and a new memory as well). As a result, many users follow the second variant. Happy owners of Socket370 or Slot1 motherboards make an exception. These boards allow usage of FCPGA or SECC2 CPUs Intel correspondingly with frequency from 500-600 MHz and higher.

Intel or AMD?

What do we have to start with? There are two platforms - AMD and Intel with different sockets - Slot A and Socket A (Socket 462) on the one hand, and Slot 1 and Socket 370 - on the other hand. The both slots are already dying. Slot A died quickly and unremarkably. Lately, the prices for Socket A processors have fallen down and have become lower than that of the Slot A counterparts. Intel doesn't hurry, and today you can find nearly all Pentium III in Slot version with prices being much higher than that of Socket analogs. Anyway, variant with Socket is preferable, since such processor can be changed without touching a motherboard at least during the nearest 1.5 year. The chance is small, but the lower CPU voltage that can be given by a board, the higher is the chance. That's why it makes sense to buy the most modern models of motherboards.

The question - Intel or AMD? - is answered simply. If you are not a lover of Intel, then you must realize that AMD solution is preferable today. Not to be unfounded, I'll give you some references to the reviews like "AMD vs. Intel".

The Athlon on "old" and "slow" chipsets (KT133, SiS730, ALi MAGIK1) in games is a bit slower or equal to the Pentium III; on new ones (KT133A, AMD760) it gets faster. In programs intensively using FPU, such as 3D Studio MAX, Athlon is considerably faster than PIII (sometimes, 30% ahead).

Duron is nearly always much faster than Celeron: 15 - 30%.

Athlon and Pentium4 in different applications show completely different scores, but in general AMD 1200/133(266)/DDR is quicker than Intel 1500/100(400)/RDRAM. As optimized for P4 applications are appearing, this ratio can change in favor of Intel, but not in radical way.

Duron is slower than Athlon in various applications in 0-25%, in average 5-12%, and as the speed grows the gap increases this way: from 7% at 650MHz to 11% at 950 MHz.

Frequency, MHz Duron Celeron Athlon Pentium III Pentium 4
366
41.5
433
45
466
50
500
53
112
533
54.5
120
550
118
566
64
600
68
124
633
69.5
650
48.5 EOL
55
128
667
78
129
700
56.5
83
87.5
144
733
111
165
750
67
88
170
766
153
800
79.5
195
107
184
850
107.5
113
198
866
201
900
138
933
241.5
950
160
1000
194
272
1100
233
1200
280
1300
292.5
1400
353.5
1500
545

Comments:

EOL - End of Life.
These prices are for CPUs without a fan (it means a package like OEM or Tray).

More data on the market state:

1) The market doesn't have cheap Socket A boards - minimal price is $79 for a motherboard of AX form-factor, and $74 for MicroATX mainboard. At the same time, all these boards were released not so long ago, and in technical aspect are up-to-date. Socket370 (not necessary FCPGA!!!) boards start from $50. It's quite difficult to choose out a fresh, modern board that will be supporting all Intel CPUs (often VIA Cyrix III as well). Unfortunately, there are no integrated solutions for Socket A platforms, but by April-May the situation will change.

2) AMD processors, especially old Athlon's, consumes and dissipates more power than their Intel counterparts. There come out 2 peculiar features of assembling a computer based on the Socket A:

  • it's desirable (for Athlon it's recommended!) to use a cooler of a higher quality, e.g. with a big heatsink and with a fan on a ball bearing;
  • it's desirable (it's required for Athlon) to use a powerful and quality power supply unit.

It raises the price of such case by $15-20 if Athlon is used. Besides, it's not recommended to use new models of Pentium with a cheap cooler and a power supply unit, but it's not admissible for Athlon (since AMD processors do not feature an integrated thermo sensor which allows in case of overheating to switch off the system).

3) "Cool" boards for Socket A platforms (e.g. allowing to change a multiplier from BIOS, change a FSB frequency with 1 MHz steps, and core voltage - with 0.025 V steps) in average is not more expensive than it's analogs with FCPGA-connector.

4) A range of Socket A mainboards is much more narrow than that of Socket 370 motherboards, but their quality is higher in average, and possibilities are more adequate to modern conditions.

5) The Intel Pentium 4 can be used together with memory of only Direct RDRAM type which costs 4 times more than normal SDRAM. Besides, the prices for P4 boards hover around $250-300, and as a result, the cost of one case is too high.

Taking into consideration all aforementioned facts, I can state that practically in all cases when buying a new machine or upgrading an old one by a replacing a motherboard it's beneficial to use AMD CPUs.

In this case we are limited in choice of a chipset: the today's market offers only VIA KT133, though the KT133A mainboards are apearing literally today. In the nearest months the market will get inexpensive integrated SiS730 and VIA KM133 chipsets. And the main thing is that we will see mainboards based on chipsets with a new memory type support - DDR SDRAM.

SDR or DDR?

This question started arising since release of motherboards with DDR support and the modules themselves. It happened not so long ago, and as usual the prices for them turned to be too high: the boards cost 1$70-190, the memory modules are three times more than SDRAM of the same capacity.

However, it's useless to assemble a computer based on DDR right now. But what, then, we are to do in March-April, when the boards and the memory will get cheaper? An answer to this question can be given after comparing the performance of DDR SDRAM and SDR SDRAM

As you can see, DDR gives from 1 to 8% performance gain, mainly in games and programs oriented for graphics, in average 3-4%.

Moreover, usage of PC1600DDR SDRAM makes no sense (that's why further we will talk only about PC2100DDR). Obviously, usage of DDR-memory is irrational until the prices get just a little higher than those for normal memory like SDR SDRAM.

Let's estimate. Assume, that in spring of 2001 DDR will be 4% faster than SDR, and in autumn - 6% faster (for example, there will appear applications exacting to the memory bandwidth). A good system case costs $800. If you are ready to pay 5% more in order to get 5% increase in performance it will make $40. It means that we are to pay in addition exactly such sum in order to get DDR SDRAM instead of a normal SDR and boards for this new memory. If a memory size is 128 MBytes (it's not enough for such system, though) it means two times performance gain (with today's price for 128 MBytes PC133 SDRAM of $44), and in case of 256 MBytes it will be 40% higher. And this is true considering that the mainboard for DDR will cost equally to the normal one, but today it's wrong...

If a case costs around $500, then, first, percentage of programs exacting to the system memory bandwidth is lower, and average speed increase can be considered to be 4%. Then, expediency of usage of DDR is estimated to be $20 and 45% of a normal SDR memory price under the condition of decrease in prices for DDR-boards down to the level of usual mainboards. But it won't happen in the nearest time.

So, we can get on with the price for DDR memory which is 0-30% higher than that for SDR. It means that the price for brand DDR memory should fall down to at least $62 and $126 for 128 and 256 MBytes correspondingly from today's $89 and 180 in order this type of memory could become an alternative for a buyer. I don't think it can happen before the summer ends. And until that time you can forget about DDR in a home system.

KT133 vs KT133A - is it worth to wait for a successor?

The majority of users won't take home an integrated chipset. As a rule, with it you will have to refuse an AGP slot, expendable slots and to decrease a system performance. Of course, such systems have their own market, mainly cooperative, but they are still meant for a home computer.

I will touch upon only two chipsets - KT133 and KT133A. Especially considering that during the nearest two months there won't appear more chipsets.

The KT133A differs from its predecessor only in full-value support for 133 MHz FSB. It results in gain from 0.5 to 8%, in different applications (5-6% in average). The KT133A performance more often is closer to the AMD760 with DDR memory than to its predecessor. And all this is desert of a 133 MHz bus.

The market still lacks for Athlon's for 133 MHz bus, though they were announced very long ago. It seems that AMD are waiting for mass appearing of the K133A based boards. According to the data received, such processors are to appear in February, but only starting from 1 GHz.

Sooner or later, you will meet such concept as change of CPU multiplier. The default multiplier of all modern CPUs is strictly fixed, though in theory many mainboards have got such possibility. AMD processors allow changing it nowadays.

Overclocking

While in overclocking mode, cooling issue is of the greatest concern. A cooler should be chosen carefully. Beside a physical damage of a CPU you can also lose important data because of failure while overclocking.

Note that modern Duron can be overclocked in average by 150 - 250MHz (new models are worse than old ones), while Athlon's - by 70 - 200 MHz (here it's vice versa: new ones are better). Overclocking with FSB is 2 times effective than with a multiplier (FSB frequency sometimes can reach 140-155 MHz decreasing at the same time a CPU multiplier), since in the first case we are accelerating the whole system including the memory. With core frequency increase the Duron performance slows greater than of its older brother, because of the smaller size of L2 Cache.

Whether it's worth to overclock it's for you to decide. Although 650MHz Duron is sufficient for the majority of modern applications, for some programs overclocking is useful. For example, for 3D StudioMAX, MPEG4 encoding/decoding, speech recognition etc.

Ideal motherboard

The ideal motherboard should possess the following features:

  1. VIA Apollo KT133A chipset.
  2. Possibility to change a multiplier both with jumpers (DIPswitches) and in BIOS.
  3. Possibility to change FSB frequency with 1 MHz steps up to 160-165 MHz.
  4. Possibility to change core voltage, and voltage on external power circuits (e.g. PCI, I/O) within wide range with minimal steps, for example for the CPU core - from 1.1V to 1.85V with 0.025V increments, for external circuits - from 3.2V to 3.8V with 0.05V increments.
  5. The capacitors located around the socket mustn't prevent a cooler installation.
  6. VIA 686B south bridge with support for AA100 protocol is preferable.
  7. Now about a build-in IDE RAID controller. In case of two hard discs it allows either to accelerate considerably the disc subsystem, or to increase its reliability. In case of one hard disc there are no any advantages, apart from a possibility to use up to 8 IDE devices. A board with RAID-controller costs $20 higher than without it.

Such board must cost around $120-130 (in implementation without RAID), and by the end of March - $110-120.

Cooler

The rule is simple: the bigger and more powerful - the better. However, the more powerful cooler, the more noisy and heavier it is. Turbine coolers didn't justified the hopes. If you look properly, you can find a more effective cooler, even with thermo paste, for less money.

An ideal cooler, in my opinion, must meet the following requirements:

  1. Heatsink's size: 60X60X70mm, fan's size: 60X60X20mm, total weight: 300g.
  2. Many thin fins.
  3. Fan on a ball bearing.
  4. 5500-6500 rpm.
  5. 30CFM air flow.
  6. Noise floor not higher than 29 dB.
  7. A tube of good thermo paste.

Such cooler must cost at least $15.

Often, consumption current(A) is indicated right on the fan. The higher the value, the better.

In practice, we often meet the following coolers:

  1. Heatsink's size: 50X55X30mm, fan's size: 50X50X10mm
  2. Average number of fins of average width.
  3. A fan is on a bearing or on a simple sleeve
  4. 3500-4500 rpm
  5. 6-15CFM air flow
  6. 26-29 dB noise floor
  7. Price: wholesale - $1.9 (sleeve), $2.3 (ball); retail - $3 and 4 correspondingly.

Special attention should be paid to safety of a CPU's crystal. Too tight installation of a cooler can lead to mechanical damage of a die, too soft one can result in fall of efficiency of cooling, and therefore can cause overheat. A fan must be intended exactly for Socket A!!!!

Special stress is to be laid on a general ventilation inside the case. It's desirable to have one-two additional fans beside the fan mounted in the power supply unit.

RAM

In principle, without overclocking you can take any PC133 memory. But the memory can refuse working at 133 MHz if the read/write latencies are less then the rated. The higher the memory quality, the higher frequencies and less latencies.

Ideal is 160 MHz in latency mode of 2-2-2. In practice, at 150 MHz and 2-2-2 the majority of modules with Micron and Hyundai chips, some modules on NCP and M-tec, Mira chips are able to work. This possibility depends on a certain lot.

"Price/performance" ratio...

How to determine this ratio? To my mind, the performance should be divided not by a CPU price but by a price for the whole system block. Otherwise, the cheapest CPUs turn to be the most beneficial, even if a system features 512 MBytes RAM, SCSI, video editing board, and possibilities for video and photo editing.

Moreover, a circle of tasks and implemented programs as a rule is different for cheap and expensive computers. That's why a set of programs for determination of performance factor will be different. I will show you how to give a preference to one or another CPU calculating a "price/performance" factor by different ways:

Processor Integral performance, standard unit Price (1) Price with a cheap board and a minimally required cooler (2) Price with "right" board and cooler (3) Price for a system case with minimal complete set (4) Price for a system case with a rational complete set (5)
Duron 650
327.2
48.5
129.5
184.5
371.5
1018.5
Duron 700
344.5
56.5
137.5
192.5
379.5
1026.5
Duron 750
359.4
67
148
203
390
1037
Duron 800
372.5
79.5
161.5
215.5
403.5
1049.5
Duron 850
387
107.5
189.5
243.5
431.5
1077.5
Athlon 650
341.3
55
137
191
379
1025
Athlon 700
361.7
87.5
159.5
223.5
411.5
1057.5
Athlon 750
381.1
89
162
225
414
1059
Athlon 800
397.8
108
192
244
434
1078
Athlon 850
413.2
113
197
249
439
1083
Athlon 900
431.1
139
223
275
465
1109
Athlon 950
446.3
161
245
297
-
1131
Athlon 1000
464.4
194
279
330
-
1164
Athlon 1100
494.8
233
318
369
-
1203
Athlon 1200
522
280
-
416
-
1250
Athlon 1000/133
486
210
-
346
-
1180
Athlon 1200/133
548
305
-
441
-
1275

Processor Ratio P/P (1) Ratio
P/P (2)
Ratio
P/P (3)
Ratio
P/P (4)
Ratio
P/P (5)
Duron 650
0.1482
0.3958
0.5639
1.1354
3.1128
Duron 700
0.1640
0.3991
0.5588
1.1016
2.9797
Duron 750
0.1864
0.4118
0.5648
1.0851
2.8853
Duron 800
0.2134
0.4336
0.5785
1.0832
2.8174
Duron 850
0.2777
0.4897
0.6292
1.1150
2.7842
Athlon 650
0.1611
0.4014
0.5596
1.1105
3.0032
Athlon 700
0.2419
0.4410
0.6179
1.1377
2.9237
Athlon 750
0.2335
0.4251
0.5904
1.0863
2.7788
Athlon 800
0.2715
0.4827
0.6134
1.0910
2.7099
Athlon 850
0.2735
0.4768
0.6026
1.0624
2.6210
Athlon 900
0.3224
0.5173
0.6379
1.0786
2.5725
Athlon 950
0.3607
0.5490
0.6655
-
2.5342
Athlon 1000
0.4177
0.6008
0.7106
-
2.5065
Athlon 1100
0.4709
0.6427
0.7458
-
2.4313
Athlon 1200
0.5364
-
0.7969
-
2.3946
Athlon 1000/133
0.4321
-
0.7119
-
2.4280
Athlon 1200/133
0.5565
-
0.8047
-
2.3266

Comments:
the minimal complete set includes:

  • TNT2M64-16 MBytes
  • CD-ROM Lite-on 48x
  • HDD Seagate 10.2 GBytes
  • 128 MBytes PC100 SDRAM PQI
  • integrated sound
  • FDD
  • $26 ATX Mini-Midi or Miditower 235W case
  • $5 keyboard
  • $2 mouse with a pad

the rational one includes:

  • Gigabyte GeForce2GTS 32 MBytes
  • CD-RW 8x4x32 NEC or 8x8x32 Teac
  • DVD 12x40 Hitachi or Toshiba
  • HDD IBM DTLA 45 GBytes 7200rpm
  • 256 MBytes PC-133 SDRAM Hyundai 150 MHz cas 2-2-2
  • Creative Live! Player 5.1 OEM
  • TV/FM tuner AverMedia TvPhone
  • FDD
  • $60 ATX Middletower 250-300W case
  • $5 keyboard
  • $7 mouse with two scrollings

All the mentioned calculations are simplified, for example, they ignore such parameter as overclockability.

It's possible that for calculations you should take into consideration a price for a set consisting of a processor, motherboard, a cooler, memory, a video card and HDD.

Resume

  • AMD CPUs today are the most rational choice in the most cases;
  • DDR memory can live only when it will get approx 2.5 times cheaper;
  • It's preferable to get a board on the VIA KT133A chip;
  • Overclocking is useful, it doesn't require additional expenses, but it is potentially dangerous;
  • For overclocking you have to carefully choose a motherboard, a cooler, a memory and a case to some extent;
  • none of the CPU models can be considered as the best in "price/performance" ratio.

If this article will interest you, the author will share his ideas on the rest of components of a home PC.

Write a comment below. No registration needed!


Article navigation:



blog comments powered by Disqus

  Most Popular Reviews More    RSS  

AMD Phenom II X4 955, Phenom II X4 960T, Phenom II X6 1075T, and Intel Pentium G2120, Core i3-3220, Core i5-3330 Processors

Comparing old, cheap solutions from AMD with new, budget offerings from Intel.
February 1, 2013 · Processor Roundups

Inno3D GeForce GTX 670 iChill, Inno3D GeForce GTX 660 Ti Graphics Cards

A couple of mid-range adapters with original cooling systems.
January 30, 2013 · Video cards: NVIDIA GPUs

Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Surround 5.1

An external X-Fi solution in tests.
September 9, 2008 · Sound Cards

AMD FX-8350 Processor

The first worthwhile Piledriver CPU.
September 11, 2012 · Processors: AMD

Consumed Power, Energy Consumption: Ivy Bridge vs. Sandy Bridge

Trying out the new method.
September 18, 2012 · Processors: Intel
  Latest Reviews More    RSS  

i3DSpeed, September 2013

Retested all graphics cards with the new drivers.
Oct 18, 2013 · 3Digests

i3DSpeed, August 2013

Added new benchmarks: BioShock Infinite and Metro: Last Light.
Sep 06, 2013 · 3Digests

i3DSpeed, July 2013

Added the test results of NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 and AMD Radeon HD 7730.
Aug 05, 2013 · 3Digests

Gainward GeForce GTX 650 Ti BOOST 2GB Golden Sample Graphics Card

An excellent hybrid of GeForce GTX 650 Ti and GeForce GTX 660.
Jun 24, 2013 · Video cards: NVIDIA GPUs

i3DSpeed, May 2013

Added the test results of NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770/780.
Jun 03, 2013 · 3Digests
  Latest News More    RSS  

Platform  ·  Video  ·  Multimedia  ·  Mobile  ·  Other  ||  About us & Privacy policy  ·  Twitter  ·  Facebook


Copyright © Byrds Research & Publishing, Ltd., 1997–2011. All rights reserved.