What processor should I base my new machine on?
July 18, 2006 1:31 AM   Subscribe

Building a new computer: Athlon 64 or Pentium D?

I'll need a new machine soon, and I want to build one myself. It will be a home/office workstation, running Linux; perhaps it will run some network services, but mostly just a workstation. I don't feel like spending a lot of money on it... US$600 or so should get me 1G of ram, maybe non-onboard video, etc. I'm trying to decide if I get the current price/performance champ, the Athlon 64, or if I wait a little while (don't know how long it would be) until the Pentium D machines are a better deal. Also, SATA or not?
posted by dammitjim to Computers & Internet (15 answers total)
whatever CPU , unless you really need a dual core. SATA yes, usb 2.0 , PCI-Express motherboard with some old PCI slot as well
posted by elpapacito at 1:44 AM on July 18, 2006

If you are going to run Linux, then your priority is to ensure that no matter what distro you use the hardware is supported. Choose wisely on the distro and the hardware.

Case in point, I run Suse Linux 10.1 on a AMD64 mobo with built in 6.1 sound - guess what? The drivers aren't supported making it extremely hit/miss during boot and pisses me off more than not.

Personally, I prefer the AMD 64. For 600 bucks you should be able to build quite a spiffy linux box.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 1:52 AM on July 18, 2006

or if I wait a little while (don't know how long it would be) until the Pentium D machines are a better deal.

"The price chopping will culminate on July 23, which will also be when the Conroe starts shipping. Here's a sample of Intel's new pricing structure. Keep in mind that prices are per processor in units of 1,000.

* Pentium D 960: from US$530 to US$316
* Pentium D 950: from US$316 to US$224
* Pentium D 920: from US$209 to US$178
* Pentium D 820: from US$209 to US$113"
posted by martinrebas at 2:17 AM on July 18, 2006

Now is really kind of a bad time to buy a new computer. I definitely recommend waiting until conroe is more available, there are several price cuts in the near future. AMD hasn't announced theres yet, but it will be significant. Wait a few weeks.
posted by JZig at 2:50 AM on July 18, 2006

Wait until the end of the month. Prices will drop a very great deal when Conroe, the new hotness, ships. The old and boring chips will be on a serious fire sale.

The Athlon 64 is a better architecture than the Pentium D. If you can get an X2 on Socket 939 for a roughly similar price, you'll probably like that better. The Pentium Ds are a bit of a slapdash multiprocessing solution... the X2s really do a better job.

If the X2s don't drop far enough, and your choice is between a Pentium D and a single-core Athlon, the P-D is probably a bit better... it won't run as fast on single-threaded stuff, but the multiple cores will make the system feel faster than it really is.

If you buy a mainstream S939, like ASUS, and use an NVidia chipset, you should be okay. To be sure, check on the forums of your distro of choice before buying.

Ubuntu, btw, is an excellent distro if you're a Linux newbie.
posted by Malor at 2:50 AM on July 18, 2006

I would wait on your processor, and get an X2 (I have a 3800 X2 and it's a great value at it's current price, but should drop soon). Newegg has a great deal on this Abit motherboard, which I also have. I highly recommend it.
posted by bradn at 7:54 AM on July 18, 2006

AMD is the hands-down winner in architecture and bang-for-buck value in the current Athlon to Pentium D comparison (Actually, Athlon has been easily ahead for years -- only in the last few moths has Intel finally started to catch up. So the Athlon is a safe bet, regardless).

BUT -- the Core 2 Duo is the thing to beat now, it's the best by far, (which is an evolved Pentium D, isn't it?). The Core Duo is pretty cool, too, but I haven't paid attention to how it compares to the Athlon 64 (and for what it's worth: the 64-bit part of the Athlon is pointless on a personal use machine. I was very excited when I got Mac OS X, 10.4 for my G5 iMac, so I could finally use the 64 bit features. Blah. There is one domain where it's neat -- cryptographic research. For the rest, it's pointless. Unless you can afford the RAM to deal with the huge memory space 64 bit can give you, 64 bit does nothing but add size to binaries).

But I'd wait, too. Intel has their stuff coming soon, and AMD just announced they'd be cutting prices in a couple of months.
posted by teece at 8:18 AM on July 18, 2006

Pentium D blows, but Core 2 is worth considering as an alternative to AMD x2, so like the other's I say wait a couple weeks if you can.

As for the drive, I still don't think SATA makes much of a performance difference. On the other hand, last I looked, it wasn't commanding much price premium any more, and the cables are nicer to deal with. I'd not worry to much about it, buy whichever seems the better deal.

As for video, the latest ATI and NVidia onboard video are just fine unless you need good 3d performance, or the absolute max amount of memory bandwidth for your CPU. If that's not likely to be an issue for you, just go with onboard, you can always upgrade with an add-in board. The one thing I don't know about is whether there are added linux issues with the onboard video.
posted by Good Brain at 8:32 AM on July 18, 2006

also chiming in with a plug for the Athlon 64. much cooler/energy efficient than the pentium D.

teece: my 2GHz core duo macbook is as fast as my Athlon X2 4200+ (2.2Ghz). core duo = 35W running full out on both core. Athlon X2 = 130W both cores. winner == core duo!
posted by joeblough at 8:33 AM on July 18, 2006

conroe conroe conroe!!!! dear god it will be fast, cheap, and out of control

i think they start at like $260 for a 1.8 dual core, with around 2.1 being the sweet spot (price around $300 i hear)

seriously though, these chips are living up to the hype.
posted by weaponsgradecarp at 8:38 AM on July 18, 2006

From the systems I have seen so far, Conroe is the top pick for the processor. Even the lower-end processors kick some serious ass performance wise: this system is just $1099, but is pretty speedy.

But if you're just looking for a cheap, general purpose workstation, there isn't an awful lot of difference between the Intel and AMD chips at the low end. I like the Core 2Dusos because they are easy to cool, but if you don't mid the noise, you should just look around and see what's on sale.

Elpapacito is right in saying that you should get a dual core system: that is a good thing to have in the long run. And as to the argument of waiting: there are always reasons to wait, so you should buy a system based on need, not on what's coming down the line. If you need a system now, buy one. If not, wait a month or two and see the prices fall.
posted by baggers at 9:32 AM on July 18, 2006

The Intel fans in this thread are ignoring your budget constraints.

The Intel core duo is the fastest chip right now with an average performance increase of 20% over “similar” Athlon64 processors. If your budget was more like $1000, I'd go that way, easily.

That being said, at the end of the month, the price drops drastically for AMD dual cores. If you have a $600 dollar budget – it will cost you around $260 alone for the cheapest core duo, not leaving much payola for everything else. I recommend waiting until July 24 for the 50% price cut on the Athlon64 3800+ X2, when it will be $169 (down from 303). That is definitely a sweet spot in terms of price/ performance.

If you go through newegg, you can expect to pay:
$100 for an AM2 motherboard
$100 for a 320 gigabyte SATA hard drive
$80-100 for 1 Gig of RAM
$150 dollars for a really good 256MB 7600gefore graphics card.

That's about $600 dollars for a wicked machine (you will of course need a case and monitor).
posted by |n$eCur3 at 10:04 AM on July 18, 2006

Price cut reference
posted by |n$eCur3 at 10:05 AM on July 18, 2006

(As a sort of off-topic aside, let me warn against cheaping out on the RAM. I used to buy cheap RAM, and it has caused me no end of trouble. Cheap RAM is just expensive RAM that failed some quality control tests [well, not all of it, but it's hard to tell the difference]. I have had to toss two SDRAM and three DDR sticks because of buying cheap RAM. Buy a decent brand [it doesn't have to be performance, just not a bargain-basement, no-name brand], and run the memtest86 bootable memory stress tester as soon as you get the new stuff. Send it back right away if there are any failures in tests 1 through 8. Bad, cheap RAM will boot fine in your system, but it will flip bits every now and then, one of which will eventually be a pointer, sending the computer off into la-la land and a blue screen or kernel panic, depending on the OS).
posted by teece at 10:30 AM on July 18, 2006

IMHO, buying cheap RAM is just saying you want to buy RAM twice. When I built my system oh so many years ago, everything I cheaped out on blew out (the video card, ram, and powersupply).
posted by eurasian at 12:17 PM on July 18, 2006

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