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New System Parts Recommendations

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Seeing as though a lot of people ask about what computer parts they should buy for a range of budgets, I decided to make a Wiki on systems and system parts that I think are the most bang for buck. [http://forums.overclockers.com.au/showthread.php?t=509134& Discussion] is encouraged of course, and anyone can edit the parts/prices.
Seeing as though a lot of people ask about what computer parts they should buy for a range of budgets, I decided to make a Wiki on systems and system parts that I think are the most bang for buck. [http://forums.overclockers.com.au/showthread.php?t=509134& Discussion] is encouraged of course, and anyone can edit the parts/prices.

Revision as of 00:05, 3 March 2008

Seeing as though a lot of people ask about what computer parts they should buy for a range of budgets, I decided to make a Wiki on systems and system parts that I think are the most bang for buck. Discussion is encouraged of course, and anyone can edit the parts/prices.

After each system I will give a brief summary of why I chose particular parts over others. You will note that these systems do not include monitors. In that case, say your budget is $1000, look at back one range i.e. $750 and add a monitor, a 19" widescreen LCD should be between $200-250.

You may also notice that none of the systems include extra peripherals like keyboards or mice, or operating systems. If you want a keyboard and mouse, basic kits start at about $30 and go up from there. For an operating system, some will choose to use a Linux distribution (or similar free OS), others may have their own copy of Windows lying around, although a copy of Windows Vista Home Basic (purchased with the system) is about $110 or so. Windows Vista Home Premium is closer to $130 for an OEM copy, and Ultimate is about $240.

Every week I will update the prices (hopefully) and every two weeks I'll adjust the parts if need be. You may note that some of the systems are slightly over - I try to keep within 1% of the nominated price range. Note that many of the later systems are under budget by $50 or so - this is to allow for postage of various items (as you may or may not know, enthusiast parts aren't always readily available at the local PC shop).


Criteria and Part Selection Philosophy

What's Bang for Buck?

It is quite simple to determine if Product A is better value than Product B.

  • Read up on the two products - you must read
  • Evaluate performance on the two products, obtain a performance margin (e.g. 40 FPS vs 50 FPS) - always obtain the difference and divide that by the lower performing product, then multiply by 100 to get percentage.
  • Research price of two products, obtain price margin (e.g. $130 vs $160) - likewise obtain difference and do similarly
  • Take both evaluations and compare - the product that gives most performance for the least amount of money is the Best Bang for Buck

CPUs and Graphics Cards

Lets take an example that I started above. Lets say Product A is a graphics card that costs $130 and gives 40 FPS on a particular game. Product B on the other hand is priced at $160, and gives 50 FPS.

  • Using the steps above, we look at the performance difference - 10 FPS.
  • Divide this by the lower performing product, 40 FPS, which gives us 0.25.
  • Multiply this by 100 to get percentage - 25%.

This means that Product B is faster than Product A by 25%. But at what cost?

  • $160 - $130 = $30
  • $30/$130 = 0.23
  • 0.23 x 100 = 23%

Hence, the price premium we pay is 23%. 25% (the performance gained) is higher than 23% (price premium), thus, Product B here is the most Bang for Buck, by a small margin. When this happens, we look at our wallet. Do we really have those extra $30? Of course, if we do spend the extra $$$ we get a slightly better deal, but for the increase in performance it is hardly worth it (in this case). There are other cases where this is not the case, and a small price premium brings much greater performance gains as you will see below in the summaries.

Also to look in a CPU and Graphics card is overclockability. Some people say - hey I don't overclock! Even if you don't overclock, by the time it comes to selling off the old hardware, overclockable hardware always goes for more $$$. Why? It's simple. When done correctly, you can get extra speed for free. So why not? Sometimes the ability of a particular piece of hardware to overclock will make it more Bang for Buck than others - a good example is a 7300GT DDR3. Although it can be beaten at stock by the 7600GS, it can overclock much better than its counterpart (thanks to GDDR3 memory) and thus, though costing around the same it gives better theoretically achievable performance and makes it a better buy.


Arguably the key component of any machine, the criteria for selecting a motherboard is usually quite simple.

  • Feature set
  • Reliability
  • Overclockability

If you're not going to use 8 SATA Ports, then why buy a board that has them? If you're not using RAID, then why buy a board that has it? You may notice that I use a single board in many of the systems. Why? Because it has enough features for more than the average user, its reliable, and overclocks well.

Hard Drives

Hard Drives come in a variety of different speeds and sizes. For our purpose, finding the best Dollar per Gigabyte would allow for an economical and high performing computer.

If you're looking for a lot of storage space, you may want to consider the cost per gigabyte ($/GB) value of your drives. For example, take some SATA drives (prices correct as of 22/10/07):

  • 80GB HDD $46 ($0.575/GB)
  • 160GB HDD $58 ($0.350/GB)
  • 250GB HDD $70 ($0.280/GB)
  • 320GB HDD $88 ($0.275/GB)
  • 400GB HDD $110 ($0.275/GB)
  • 500GB HDD $132 ($0.264/GB)
  • 750GB HDD $229 ($0.305/GB)
  • 1TB (1000GB) HDD $385 ($0.385/GB)

The sweet spot here is the 500GB drive, so if you want MORE than 500GB, it's cheaper to get a bunch of these drives and RAID 0 them (you should also factor in the cost of a RAID controller and possibly a bigger PSU if you need them). However, all the 250-500GB drives have similar $/GB ratios, and even the 750GB has decent $/GB ratios nowadays.

From these simple calculations, it is important to recognise that more can be had for less, and less can be had for more.

One other thing to consider is warranty. Whilst the 320GB Western Digital drive has the best $/GB ratio it only has a 3yr warranty the same as Samsung drives, where as equivalent Seagate drives have a 5yr warranty.

Common Comparisons - Which to Buy?


Future Proofing

The systems I suggest are designed to have some future proofing - AMD CPUs alledgedly will work with AM2 boards, so bye bye Socket 939 or 754. Socket 939 and Pentium D's will lead to a dead end, but they're pretty much gone these days. I believe it is in the best interests of buyers to have some sort of upgrade path to head down if required.

Non-Future Proofing

The alternative strategy is to buy the most cost effective solution (for your needs), with little regard to future proofing, and upgrade the whole machine on a shorter time frame (say 9-12 months), whilst selling the parts purchased earlier. To use this strategy it is best to understand your needs first. When executed correctly, your system will always be up-to-date however, you must rely on your ability to resell older parts.

More CPU Mhz vs Faster Graphics Card

If you're gaming, a faster graphics card will impact the performance more than the CPU would. This is primarily because graphics cards are designed to do the graphics work, whilst the CPU is designed to do computations etc. Thus, if there is a bit more room in your budget and you're wondering whether to upgrade the CPU or get a faster graphics card, go with the faster graphics card.

To prove my point, you can try doing this (not for people new to overclocking):

  • Run a 3DMark benchmark, note the score
  • Overclock your graphics card, run the benchmark, note the score
  • Return graphics card to stock, overclock the CPU, run the benchmark, note the score
  • By comparing the three scores, the overclocked graphics card score should be higher than the overclocked CPU score.

Note that you don't overclock like nuts to see the effect, even 5-10% is sufficient.

Flagship Products

WIP here but you can read this for the meantime.

"What do you mean? When I bought the cpu, it was the best on the market, AM2 and Conroe came out after! I'd like to see a better graphics card." - dmandn

OK, let's look at difference between X6800 and E6600.

From this Guru3D Review, the X6800 costs 1600 AUD approximately. The E6600 is around 500.

Looking at FEAR running at 1024*768, we have 168 vs 188 FPS. 168/188 = 0.89. There is an 11% difference in performance. Yet you are paying a 200% premium.

In Tom Clancy's Advanced Warfighter there is a mere 1 FPS difference. Again, in Far Cry, we see 124 vs 133 FPS. 124/133 = 0.93 = 7% difference in performance. Again you are paying an extra 200%.

Then again, you could argue that the graphics card was bottlenecking the system. But who the hell needs to play games at 2500x1600 resolution... you'd need a 30" LCD for that.

So basically what I'm trying to say is that buying flagship products means that you pay an unjustified premium for the performance you gain, from the average users perspective.

However, these top-of-the-line CPU's almost always include one important feature: an unlocked multiplier. This means you are no longer restricted to the cheaper CPU's locked FSB multiplier, so your overclocking options just got a whole lot friendlier. Those who seek every last iota of performance, through extreme cooling methods like phase-change, often purchase these flagship products.


AMD vs Intel

Currently (Q4 2007) Intel is owning AMD in terms of CPU architecture. Now with the dual core Intels getting cheaper and cheaper, there's less and less reason to buy AMD, although many people will be happy with their CPUs, particularly since the lower end ones offer good bang/buck, and low-end motherboards are typically cheaper.

However, avoid anything Netburst-based. It's just not worth it, when the Core based CPUs (even the Celeron 420) would beat them, and run cooler doing it.

It's a hard sell to go for AMD at this time, at least until K10 comes out.

E2xxx vs E4xxx vs E6xxx

The main differences between the E6xxx and E4xxx series are the lower FSB of the 4xxx/2xxx (800, rather than 1066/1333), and the fact that the E4xxx series lack VT (virtualisation technology). Also, the E6xxx series has 4MB of cache (ecept E6300/E6400), the E4xxx has 2MB of cache and the E2xxx has 1MB of cache. Does cache matter? Read here. Need I say more? If you're gaming, you'll see such a small increase in performance you won't notice, but if you're doing multimedia encoding then go for it.

If you're planning to overclock, the E4xxx series would probably be a better choice, because of the higher multiplier (thus negating the need for high speed RAM), whilst the E6xxx series would be a better choice if you plan to run it at stock.

Main differences between the CPUs:

Celeron 4xx - single core, 512KB L2 cache, 800MHz FSB, no VT, no Speedstep? - 1.6-2.0GHz (420-440)
Pentium Dual Core E2xxx - dual core, 1MB shared L2 cache, 800MHz FSB, no VT - 1.6-2.0GHz (E2140-E2180)
Core 2 Duo E4xxx - dual core, 2MB shared L2 cache, 800MHz FSB, no VT - 1.8-2.4GHz (E4300-E4600)
Core 2 Duo E6xxx - dual core, 4MB shared L2 cache (except E6300, E6400), 1066/1333FSB (all E6x50 models 1333FSB), VT - 1.86-3.0GHz (E6300-E6850)
Core 2 Quad Q6xxx - quad core, 2x4MB shared L2 cache, 1066-1333FSB (all Q6x50 models 1333FSB), VT - 2.66GHz-3.0GHz (Q6600 - Q6700)
Core 2 Extreme X6xxx/QX6xxx - dual/quad core, 2x4MB shared L2 cache, 1066-1333FSB (all QX6x50 models 1333FSB), VT, unlocked multiplier


Gigabyte 965P-S3 vs DS3

It is common belief that the DS3 will overclock better than the S3. The only difference between these boards is that the DS3 uses solid state capacitors. This has no effect on overclocking performance. Please read here near the bottom. Also read here, right on OCAU :P. The caps only affect the board's life (bulging caps etc) and being significantly cheaper (S3) than the DS3, the S3 is clearly the more bang for buck option.

Oct 07 EDIT: Whilst this advice has been pretty much superceded by P35 chipset motherboards, it does explain the differences between the S and DS Gigabyte boards.

Gigabyte 965P-S3 vs ASUS P5B Deluxe vs ASUS P5W DH Deluxe

A $320 board should absolutely obliterate a $150 one right? Wrong. Though the board being compared here is a DS3, as noted above, the DS3 and S3 are exactly the same board bar the solid state capacitors. In the real world tests (the ones that will really affect your experience) there is only about a 2-3% difference in performance, e.g. 134 vs 137 FPS, 549 vs 562 FPS. So how is such a large increase in cost justified? Even the unlocked multipliers going down for the ASUS boards seem to provide little extra performance.


1GB or 2GB or 4GB

In game benchmarks, load times don't affect the score and even a bit of lag as something gets loaded to/from disk mid game won't drop the average FPS by much. In reality, games (especially BF2/BF2142) load faster with 2GB and rarely decide because of the lack of the need to utilise virtual memory, which requires hard drive access. Alt-tabbing in and out of a game to other programs is far smoother.

Video editing with 2GB lets you have a lot more background programs and thumbnails open without hitting the physical memory limit and start swapping to disk. Again, the benchmarks measure encoding speed and 2Gb makes no difference as memory use is only 100-200Mb while doing it.

Given a tight budget, go for a slower CPU and 2GB of RAM rather than a fast CPU and 1GB of RAM. The extra Gb of RAM (for a total of 2Gb) as an upgrade path is reasonable if you're planning on having more money available later.

A slightly slower CPU decreases performance by a few percent (most likely unnoticeable by the average user), but sitting there with memory maxed out and the hard disk thrashing on any computer is a very annoying.

Now, with RAM at the prices it is, it's tempting to go for 4GB of RAM, but that brings its own limitations, especially if using a 32bit operating system.

For Windows Vista, I wouldn't go for anything less than 1GB of RAM, and 2GB would be strongly recommended.

The thing is, nowadays, RAM is so ridiculously cheap (2GB of DDR2 for under $70), that at least 2GB is recommended on all but the most low-end systems. Don't even bother going for 512MB, that's just being a cheapskate, and will harm performance.

Memory Recommendations

For those who don't plan to overclock, and use an Intel system, 667MHz DDR2 RAM would be plenty (and most systems won't even use all of that bandwidth at default speeds), hence 667MHz RAM is suggested in most non-overclocker systems. If you plan to go for faster RAM, 800MHz is a little more expensive.

For AM2 systems, where higher speed RAM utilised at any speed (the RAM speed is controlled using dividers of the CPU speed, since AMD systems do not use a FSB), such RAM does lend a slight performance benefit (often in the area of 5-8%), so if cost permits, 800MHz RAM is suggested in the AMD systems.

There's a good reason why Kingston and Corsair RAM is recommended in most of the non-overclocker systems. The main reasons are that it comes with a lifetime warranty, it's widely available, and it's not much more expensive than generic. Since many stability problems are due to memory, we believe it's wise spending the extra on branded RAM for peace of mind.

You might have noticed we haven't mentioned DDR1 RAM, but that's because it's well and truly out of date, and in most cases, the rest of the system might be worth an upgrade as well.

DDR3 RAM is an option for the higher end systems, although the jury's out on whether it provides enough extra performance to be worthwhile. For those who demand the absolute best, they have that option, though. The Gigabyte P35C-DS3R motherboard has the advantage of having both DDR2 and DDR3 slots, for an upgrade path once DDR3 comes down in price.

Graphics Cards

SLI / Crossfire

Some people want to have two graphics cards in their systems. Why? Because it gives them a performance boost. However, not all games support multi-gpus and more importantly you could easily buy a single card later in the future that is not only faster, but probably cheaper and certainly will support new hardware features. Also to note is the running cost and the power requirements for the PSU.

Overclocking / Volt Modding

Overclocking and volt modding are ways to improve the stock performance of a graphics card (much like the CPU) quite easily.

For example, for those keen on voltmodding, a 7900gt 256mb with the reference PCB can be easily voltmodded to a 7900gtx with little risk. Which greatly improves the speed of the card from 450mhz @ 1.2v to 650mhz @ 1.4v which are what the 7900GTX boards run at. Because of the additional heat produced by overclocking and/or volt modding, an after market cooler is recommended for this undertaking.

X2900 or 8800

Now that the Radeon X2900 cards are out, we can see that most benchmarks place them at similar performance levels to the 640MB GeForce 8800GTS (which is its main rival). However, in most of the systems, the 8800GTS is being retained, because the X2900 requires some special PSU connectors that only the high-end PSUs have.

The 8800Ultra has been released in response to the X2900 cards, which is now the performance yardstick, but at prices close to $1000, it's being reserved for only the extra high-end systems (see Dream Machine).

The 320MB 8800GTS is a card that's recommended in many systems. With a price of just under $400, it's a quick performer for the money. However, those with larger (22" or bigger) monitors may wish to get a card with more memory, because the 320MB of the 8800GTS will be an issue at extra-high resolutions.

What's more, an 8800GT has just been released, once it hits Australian shores, will become the new price/performance benchmark (near 8800GTX performance for ~$300). Then again, AMD are not far off releasing the HD3800 series (essentially a die-shrink and a few extra features to the HD2900).

8600GT vs 7900GS vs X1950Pro

The 8600GT has DirectX 10 capabilities, but in many benchmarks, the 7900GS and X1950Pro are faster.

Hard Drives

Hard drive reliability

The best measure of reliability in a hard drive is the length of the warranty offered by the manufacturer. Take this into consideration - hard drives do not last forever. A RAID 0 (striped) array of 2 drives effectively halves your mean-time-to-failure (MTTF) since only one drive needs to fail before data is inaccessible. Conversely, spreading your data over more than one drive (not in RAID) reduces the amount of data lost if one fails. These measures should be used in conjunction with regular backups of your important data to DVD or other media. Tape backups have still proven to be the most reliable, as they are resistant to dust and scratches - however, backup drives are typically very slow and only useful when backing up large amounts of data. Such backups are often done overnight to minimise impact on employees and respective customers.

RAID performance boost in games

As we can see from here, game loading times reduce by 5 second in one game, but 20-30 in another. However, the high cost premium for Raptors or a RAID array probably makes it worth while to stick with standard SATA drives and spend the money elsewhere in the system.

Hard Drives in RAID vs Single Large Drives

Sometimes it is cheaper to buy several smaller drives than two larger ones (e.g. 4 x 250GB vs 2 x 500GB). The opposite can also be true. In this example, the price of one Seagate drives buys you one the space of two for less.

  • 2x 80GB SATA HDD $92
  • 1x 160GB SATA HDD $58

As we can see here, clearly one 160GB is cheaper than two 80GB drives (in fact, two 80GB drives are about the same as a single 320GB drive). Power consumption and noise is also reduced. However, for server machines quick hard drives are a must, and this is where RAID is recommended.

16MB Buffer vs 8MB Buffer

As we can see from benchmarks there isn't too much difference between a 16MB and 8MB buffered hard drive. However, the 16MB drives are based on newer technology and should therefore be faster than their predecessors.

SATA 3.0Gb/s vs SATA 1.5GB/s vs PATA

Though the specifications may sound impressive, in reality the SATA interface itself does little to improve performance as shown here compared to the older PATA interface. However, SATA2 and SATA drives often come with more cache (16MB vs 2MB) and this can help boost writing speeds somewhat. Furthermore, the SATA interface uses less power, and the cables used are physically smaller, thus easier to manage. SATA2 drives are designed to be backwards compatible with SATA motherboards, so it is not necessary to purchase a new motherboard to support it.

Additionally, SATA2 drives support NCQ (see below)

NCQ (Native Command Queueing)

See this Wikipedia article.

Optical Drives

DVD Writer

Currently, a standard 16x DVD writer costs about $40-45. At that price, there's no point cheaping out on combo drives/CD writers or standard CD/DVD-ROM drives (you won't save much).

Some recommended models of DVD writers are the Pioneer DVR-111D (maybe the new 112D), and the Lite-On SHM-165P6S. There are slowly optical drives with SATA interfaces coming onto the market, which are a little more expensive ($55-60), but may be preferred by some people (who don't want a big chunky IDE cable in their case).

New System Recommendations

New section to remove clutter from original page


The following was my inspiration to create this page to inform others

It may seem stupid to spend $750 on an upgrade, however I found myself in a similar situation after my P4 motherboard screwed over on me. What I needed was something that had bang, overclocking, and some future proofing at the lowest cost possible. This meant reusing my old DDR RAM, HDD etc. This is what I had:

  • 2.8 M0 Pentium 4
  • Gigabyte 8IPE1000 Pro 2
  • 1GB Corsair TwinX 3200C2 V1.2
  • 120GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 SATA
  • 128MB SmartVGA 9800 Pro
  • 16x Pioneer DVR-109
  • 52x 32x 52x LG CD-RW
  • Generic Window Case
  • 480W Thermaltake Butterfly

With the board dead, that meant that I had to replace the CPU, motherboard, graphics card and power supply. I was unwilling to go AM2 because there weren't any cheap Lanparty overclocking boards, and I wanted to keep my semi-decent RAM (much better than my old Kingston ValueRAM stuff). This is what I ended up getting:

  • X2 4200+ Toledo
  • DFI Lanparty UT nF4-D
  • Leadtek PX7600GS TDH Classic Edition
  • 500W Super Flower

In total it cost around $640. Affordable, overclockable, blingy. From this upgrade I have learned a few things which I always keep in mind when buying new parts.

  • First of all, the hard drive I bought nearly 3 years ago was SATA. Thus this didn't require me to buy a new hard drive later on
  • My CPU was a good overclocking chip. Thus it fetched more when it was up for sale (compared to the Prescott that I had earlier and would have sold later)
  • Video card wasn't too bad - being second to only the flagship model a few years back, meant that it could fetch a bit more when it went up for sale

Thus, when buying new parts always look for overclockability, value and future proofing.