Another aspect to the choice of architecture is graphics. AGP is still going full guns, but PCI-Express (or PCI-E for short, and NOT PCI-X) is now on the scene and is simply faster than AGP will ever be. It is not essential but will provide a predictable upgrade route for the next few years; it is clearly roadmapped for the next few years. Naturally, only the latest Intel and AMB boards feature PCI-E, so the choice is definitely narrowed down to Intel's socket-775 or AMD's socket-939 systems.
All of the components are standard PC gear, so there were no surprises in store. It's nice that AMD have improved their heatsink-securing mechanism from the 'push hard with a screwdriver straight at the motherboard' approach to a simple lever an catch. The heatsink/fan that comes with the 3000+ is a standard aluminium+plastic affair, but does the job with little noise. The PCI-E card is a doddle to locate and slot in; the securing pin on the motherboard seems to do very little, however. Just one other thing to note is that it was a real squeeze getting the RAM modules into their slots. It's Kingston ValueRAM (the Corsair product I ordered was out of stock), but I can't see anything amiss with either the RAM or the slots. Just a tight fit.
Damn small budgets! The Giga-byte graphics card I swung to at the last minute is fine, but the fan on it is extremely noisy. Wondering why the machine sounded like a big noisy thing, I stuck my ear in and momentarily stopped each fan (CPU, chipset, graphics) in turn with a finger. Sure enough, when I stopped the fan on the graphics card, I could hear myself think once more. Remember, this is the Giga-byte RX60P128D. Very noisy.
So how is the 64-bit version of XP? Well, the base installation went almost without a hitch. The only problem was that the PC wouldn't boot after the initial file-installation phase, which I put down to the on-board RAID being active; disabling the RAID in the BIOS and re-starting the XP install process got things on the right track.
Once I was at the desktop I noticed how sparse they've made it. There are no annoying icons for connect-to-Tiscali and the like, and the wallpaper is just a blue XP motif with the beta version inscribed in the corner. I then noticed that the LAN and sound (on the motherboard) wasn't enabled, and the graphics card was using a basic VGA driver. Sure enough, the XP CD didn't have quite the same array of drivers as its 32-bit sibling. And of course, the CDs supplied with the motherboard and graphics card didn't have 64-bit XP drivers. Fortunately, both ATI and Giga-byte have 64-bit versions of the drivers on their websites, so after an impromptu insertion of a vanilla LAN card and downloading of around 50MB of installation files from these kind manufacturers, I was able to get my hardware alive and kicking.
The lesson here is: Check your manufacturer has 64-bit drivers before you order the bits! I would guess that most manufacturers would be supplying 64-bit by now, but do check beforehand. Note also that I got the 64-bit graphics drivers from ATI, not Giga-byte; the card is manufactured by Giga-byte, and it has 32-bit drivers for the card on its website, but the chipset on the card is ATI, and they have 64-bit drivers on their website. I am sure that the suppliers will get their act together closer to the production release date for XP-64 but for now, be prepared to look around!
You might wonder why I should be worried about having the full drivers for the graphics card, since the generic drivers allow full resolution (up to 1280x1024) in true-colour. The answer is Direct-X 9, which the card supports but which cannot be used (or detected by applications that use it) without the proper drivers being installed.