Upgrading on a Budget

Our family PC is slow and noisy, and can't even run a simple modern game like Rollercoaster Tycoon 3. Consequently I decided to upgrade it, and here is what I came up with.

Finding your Bearings

A software company, bought by Google in November, has developed a virtually 3-D world map with highly intuitive navigational features. The software is at http://www.keyhole.com and requires registration for a 7-day trial. It also only runs on Windows-based machines with one of these graphics cards (ie, most of them!):

  • ATI
  • Intel
  • 3D Labs Wildcat
  • Matrox
  • S3

The coverage and level of details is great in the US, but Europe is patchy and rarely provides street level detail. Interestingly, Iraq and Afghanistan appear in quite high detail.

Linux Wars

29 October 2004

So you've heard that installing Linux is a piece of cake, have you? If you have the right hardware you may be in luck, but be prepared for headaches or defeat if anything is non-standard. I'm preparing a guide to Linux Installation that outlines which flavours of Linux have worked on which platforms.

Lost Software?

28 October 2004

Ahead gave me their verdict on what to do if you lose your Nero Installation CD.

What Server?

20 October 2004

I was asked at work recently to put together a database server for under a grand (that's $1800 in 2004 money). The operating system was to be Linux, and interestingly the 2.6 kernel supports 64-bit AMD processors. The budget didn't leave much room processor-wise, and the choice basically came down to an Athlon 64 3400+ (at around �160) or a Pentium 4 3400 (about �140). Unfortunately the Athlon 64 FX, Pentium 4 Extreme, AMD Opteron and Pentium Xeon were all too expensive, with the latter two's motherboards pushing prices way up. Fortunately I would manage to squeeze SATA-based RAID and plenty of fast memory into the system.

A bit of reading at Tom's Hardware Guide revealed that a comparative study of the P4 Extreme and the Athlon 64 FX was made just over a year ago and with mixed results. It appeared that AMD was on the right track with its 64-bit programme, but the P4 Extreme - with its 2MB of level 2 cache and HyperThreading technology - was still superior overall. The comparison isn't quite equivalent in my scenario, but it does appear that the P4 may have a bit of an edge over the Athlon64.

My perusal of the DABS website confirmed the following prices (all in UK �) to build a complete system:

Athlon 64 Athlon 64-II Pentium 4
cpu Pentium 4 550 (3.4GHz) 1MB Socket775 800FSB 190
Athlon 64 3400+ S754 512Kb 172
Athlon 64 3500+ S939 512Kb 209
mem 2x1GB ECC DDR2-4300 533MHz 445
2x1GB NP DDR2-4300 533MHz 334 334
2x1GB 184 Pin DIMM 400MHz Non-Parity CL2.5 DDR 378 378
mb GA-8I915DUOPRO Intel 915P Socket 775 ATX Audio/LAN/RAID DDR2-4300 82
S754 VIA K8T800 ATX A L R DDR-3200 97
Socket 939 K8T800Pro ATX Audio LAN RAID 84
vga Cheapo 32MB PCI 18 18
hdd Caviar 160GB SATA150 8MB 7200rpm (x2) 132 132 132 132
case ATX Midi Tower - 300W PSU 30 30 30 30
TOTAL 809 833 786

The Athlon 64-II column is supposed to represent the socket-939 version of the processor, with supposed support for dual channel DDR. However, only the Athlon 64 FX has dual channels, making the 939 motherboard an investment for the future rather than a powerhouse for today. Certainly interesting to note that the memory controller is actually built into these CPUs, doing away with the southbridge altogether. Another thing that put me off the Athlon setup was confusion over memory access speeds; all the S754 and S939 motherboards quoted a maximum RAM rating of PC3200, compared to PC4300 and PC5400 in the P4 world. additionally, there is apparently a high-speed shortcut between the CPU and the RAM, running at 1GHz or more, but how effective can this be when the memory is that much slower?

I eventually plumped for the P4 system with an A-Bit motherboard based on the Intel 925+ chipset, which supports the P4 Extreme - if its price ever falls to a reasonable level.

All in all, the Athlon 64 is a bit of an unknown quantity to me, doesn't have the useful features of its FX cousin, and basically doesn't support the fastest memory. Whilst memory requirements are still happily below 4GB, the point of 64-bit computing remains to be seen. Incidentally, just a day after I'd placed the order, AMD's latest poke at the future came out. It's certainly giving Intel a run for its reputation, but right now the P4 does the job nicely.


by John S. on 14 November 2004
I personally think the P4 is more of a workhorse than the AMD material.
by John S. on 14 November 2004
This is all very well, but what does the roadmap look like for different types of processor?
Add your comment