Buyer's Guide: Value Systems - August 2001by Mike Andrawes on August 3, 2001 11:25 AM EST
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You do the research on the products. You read all the reviews. You even discuss with friends. But even with all that information, building a perfect, personalized system from scratch can be quite a daunting task. With that in mind, it's no surprise that we've had request after request to provide some system recommendations.
With the third edition of the AnandTech Buyer's Guide, we changed things a little bit, splitting the Buyer's Guide into two parts, one for value systems and the other for high-end ones. Despite the slight format change, we continue to provide some system recommendations in 3 categories - small office / home office (SOHO), gaming, and professional. Remember that these are just a few recommendations from us if we were building the systems. Obviously, each individual's needs will vary greatly, but that's the beauty of building a custom system - it can be tailored to fit those special needs.
Every component, from the motherboard to the case to the monitor, is covered for each system. Sample prices based on a review of popular vendors and price search engines across the web are included as well - these are not the very lowest prices you can find on the web, but rather are intended to be representative of what's out there. Don't forget to check out our latest Weekly CPU & Video Card Price Guide as well as our Weekly Memory & Motherboard Price Guide for the lowest prices from reputable vendors on those components.
Note that shipping is not included in the prices listed here, but can add up to 5-10% to the total system cost, depending exactly what you get, where you order from, etc. To minimize shipping costs, order as many components as possible from a single vendor or buy things locally where possible. An OS recommendation is included, but that price is not included in the total system price listed. Especially good deals can often be found in the AnandTech Hot Deals Forum where AnandTech readers regularly post good deals they find.
Components that are not readily obtainable at the time of publication are automatically out of the running for any system in the Buyer's Guide. Where possible, we've linked to reviews of the individual products on AnandTech for more in depth information.
No major changes have occurred in the value sector since our last buyer's guide beyond the typical price drops we've come to expect regularly in the computer industry. The biggest announcements are in the high-end segment with the exception of NVIDIA's nForce chipset, which promises to take over the integrated chipset market. Unfortunately, boards using the nForce are not yet available and will not be until September or even October.
Speaking of integrated chipsets, we finally have SiS 730S boards from some of the bigger manufacturers, including one of the biggest with ASUS. Our latest shootout of integrated Socket-A chipsets showed the SiS 730S to be a better overall solution than VIA's KM133, so it gets the nod in the value SOHO machine. Unfortunately, there is no DDR chipset with integrated graphics at the moment, so the value SOHO system is stuck with SDR SDRAM for now. That's ok though, because this system already has more than enough power to handle the tasks that will be thrown at it.
As far as video cards go, the Kyro II looks to be a real winner in the value gaming market thanks to performance that rivals a GeForce2 Ultra in some cases. It doesn't have T&L, but we still haven't seen any games that truly need T&L or that the Kyro II couldn't play at reasonable frame rates. With Kyro II prices dipping near $100, it certainly is the best overall value in the graphics market for gamers on a budget, making it the perfect card for our value gaming machine. If you want to save about $30 and get T&L at the same time, ATI's Radeon LE with 32MB DDR SDRAM quite a good performer once all its features have been enabled properly. Read our Radeon LE review if you're interested in going that route.
CPU and memory prices continue to drop, although not as much as they had been recently, likely due to the fact that they have practically already hit rock bottom. With prices as low as they are, however, going with an Athlon over a Duron or DDR SDRAM over SDR SDRAM are both reasonable options. For now, we'll take just one of these options in the interest of cost savings and go with a DDR chipset. This should make up the performance difference between the Duron and Athlon in most cases and will also better prepare these systems for the future.
That of course brings up the question of which DDR chipset to use. While the ALi MAGiK1 tends to be the cheapest, it's weak performance makes it a poor choice. The SiS 735-based products are not widely available at the moment, leaving the AMD 760 and the VIA KT266 as our choices for now. The KT266 has matured quite a bit since we last looked at it and performance and stability approaches that of the AMD 760. Being noticeably cheaper than the AMD 760 makes the KT266 our choice for value systems without integrated graphics.