Articles & Editorials: Hardware Guide #2

Processors

The only real advance made by processors in the last month is the debut of the 533 MHz bus-speed on new P4 boards. This increases computer performance even more, and propels the Pentium 4 into top spot, finally overtaking the Athlon. This does come at a price however. The 2.53 GHz processor is around $1000 CDN, and both the processor and the RAM kick off some serious heat. If you are planning on building a system using th 2.53 GHZ P4, you will definitely want a case fan. A good idea, albeit a noisy one, is to have 2 case fans. One should be at the top, pulling colder air into the case, and a fan at the bottom or the side to push the heated air out. It is noisy, but it’ll help keep everything relatively cool. Koolance is able to cool the Northwood-core P4 at 2.53 GHz, but they don’t have a memory cooler yet, so Koolance isn’t a really viable option for cooling your P4 at that speed. Don’t expect the P4 to hold its speed crown for long, either. The Athlon XP is getting a new core very soon, which features higher clock speeds at cooler temperatures. The Thoroughbred core should be released soon, because AMD is also planning on launching one more core for the Athlon XP, known as Barton, before year end. This core will add 512KB of L2 cache to the processor die, just like the P4 Northwood core. Expect these new Athlon incarnations to steal back the performance crown when they are coupled with 400Mhz buses in the near future and DDR-II mobos later in the year. Also, AMD has Athlon’s successor on the way, due out by year’s end. The processor, called Oberon, will be first consumer-targeted 64-bit processor. My sources tell me that Intel wasn’t prepared for AMD to launch Oberon this soon, and are now scrambling to have a consumer version of the Itanium ready for release before the Oberon. Kudos to AMD for that little trick. Windows XP will need a patch to be able to run at 64 bits, but there are already device drivers being written to accommodate the new processors. Look for all that coming before year’s end, maybe even around the same time as Generals is released.

Motherboards

Like processors, motherboards haven’t really been blessed with any new advances, just higher bus speeds. Tom’s Hardware Guide recently reviewed several of the VIA KT333 motherboards available for Athlon users, and the Gigabyte GA-RXP was given the top honour. All of the boards performed about the same, though, so it is really a matter of how much you want to spend on a mobo and what kind of extra features you want. Most of the new boards feature USB 2.0 compliance, and some of the better ones have Firewire ports on-board as well. Make sure you know what you want from your mobo before you buy it- believe me, it spares you from many headaches.

Video Cards

Once again, very little has been happening in the video card department. Visiontek has *finally* released its Geforce 4 Ti4200 card, but we are still waiting on ASUS for its suped-up version that has video capture and VR glasses. DirectX9 is still on schedule for a September release, and Nvidia and ATI are ready for the launch of their DX9 boards. Nvidia’s board will NOT be Geforce 5. The Geforce name is being retired, and the new board will have a new name. It’ll be the end of an era. The Geforce 256 was one of the first REAL video cards, powering the first 3D games we played. Rest in peace, Geforce; you will never be forgotten. Rumour has it ATI will also be launching a new product name, replacing the Radeon. DirectX9 will change video cards, and rumour has it that it will be changing the face of games, too. We don’t know exactly what goodies Microsoft is cooking up for us, but from the sounds of it we could be looking at over a million polys per frame at 60+ frames a second when coupled with the right system. Games are going to be a whole lot prettier, that’s for sure. For now, though, the Geforce 4 Ti4200 is probably the best card you can buy right now, and at $199 US, it’s a great slab of silicon to tide you over until DX9 😉 I found something cool at Tom’s Hardware Guide. It is a chart showing how different VGA video cards compared on newer games. If this isn’t incentive to replace that old TNT2 before Generals comes out, I don’t know what is. It has most video cards from the TNT2 all the way to the G4Ti4600, so check it out by heading here when your finished with my article ;).

Sound Department

Audio hasn’t – and won’t be – changing much. DirectX9 may have offer some new features for audiophiles, so you may see a line of Soundblasters in the next 6 months, but I haven’t heard anything on that front. As for speakers, Klipsch Promedia is still the best on the market. I’m listening to my 4.1 system driven by the Soundblaster Audigy right now, and plays Creed, Nickleback, Moby, Star Wars, and Gladiator tracks flawlessly and beautifully. It was the best $450 CDN I ever spent, I can guarantee you that. If you are planning on getting something for just games and music, not as a home theatre, the Logitech Z-560 (4.1) is also a great choice. Like I mentioned last month, its cheaper than Promedia and sounds almost as good.

Recommended System Specs

Things haven’t changed much from last month. In fact, I’m not even going to write out the mid-range system specs because they will be identical to last month’s. High-end has changed slightly, look for a bigger change when Thoroughbred launches.

High-End System

  • Athlon XP 2200+
  • Gigabyte GA-RXP mobo
  • 1.5GB PC-2700 DDR-RAM
  • Koolance Case w/CPU Cooler, Video Card Cooler, and Hard Drive Cooler
  • Twin Western Digital 120GB 8MB Cache Hard Drives
  • Visiontek Xtasy Geforce 4 Ti4200
  • Soundblaster Audigy Platinum
  • Klipsch Promedia 5.1 speakers
  • LiteOn 16x/40x DVD-ROM
  • LG 32x10x40 CD-RW
  • Logitech Cordless Keyboard/Optical Mouse

There you have it, May’s Hardware Guide. I hope it was informative, and as always, if you have questions or feedback, I’d love to hear them so e-mail me using the link below. Happy gaming!

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