To Buy, or not to Buy?

We haven't done a Buyers' Guide for a while, and enough things have changed in the midrange sector that it's high time we rectify the situation. We're going to try and narrow the focus a little bit this time, so there will basically be two system recommendations: one for AMD and one for Intel. That's not to say there aren't plenty of alternatives, and we will be listing many of the other options on individual component pages. The simple truth is that there are a lot of reasonable choices out there, so just because we don't list something explicitly doesn't mean that it's a bad choice. If you have any questions, you can always email me or ask our forum members for advice.

If you follow the computer hardware scene, you're probably already questioning the timing of this Buyers' Guide. AMD will be launching their new socket AM2 platform in just a few more weeks, so going out and purchasing a new system right now based on their older 939 platform doesn't seem to make much sense. However, the truth of the matter is that socket AM2 doesn't appear to be ready to add much in the way of performance. Basically, it will change memory types, there will be a couple new high-end processors, and later on we should also see some budget Sempron processors for the platform. This is the midrange sector, though, so we can immediately toss out chips like the FX-62 that will cost over $1000. Likewise, we can toss out the low-end single core Sempron chips. Given that this is a brand new platform, it's also reasonable to expect prices to be somewhat higher than the current platforms, and choice of components is also going to be limited - mostly in the motherboard area, but that's a critical component.

What it all comes down to is that we really don't expect AM2 to seriously change the outlook of the AMD market. It certainly won't be a bad platform, but we expect most midrange buyers will wait at least several months before switching, as that will give the platform a chance to mature, and it should also bring lower prices. High-end buyers will definitely want to wait, because at the top of the performance spectrum the new platform should offer the potential for another 10% more performance. Overclocking enthusiasts might also want to wait, if for no other reason than to see how DDR2 affects the price/performance overclocking scene. The current prices of DDR2-533 and DDR2-667 are much lower than competing DDR offerings, and while latency is slightly higher, you can get much higher bandwidth - that's especially if you want 1GB DIMMs. For the remaining potential buyers as well as upgraders, there is much less incentive to wait for the new platform. Waiting a few more weeks might save you $20, but that's probably about it.

What about Intel and the new Core Duo 2 chips? That question is a bit more tricky to answer. We fully expect Core Duo 2 to outperform anything else Intel currently offers, potentially by as much as 35% for the same price CPU - maybe even more! However, the launch date for Conroe is still two months away, and you still have to worry about the cost of motherboards, motherboard availability, not to mention the nature of version 1.0 hardware. The Intel overclocking enthusiasts can probably be happy short term by purchasing something like the AOpen i975Xa-YDG and Core Duo T2400. Unfortunately, that particular motherboard is rather expensive, and the Core Duo processors aren't cheap either. You basically end up matching the performance offered by AMD X2 overclocking at a higher price. Socket 775 975X motherboards are also expensive, and we're still not 100% sure they'll all work with Core Duo 2 chips, but they do potentially provide an upgrade path.

If you're willing to wait and find out how the market develops over the next couple months, that certainly isn't a bad idea. As we always say, you really only need to upgrade your computer when you're unhappy with the current level of performance. Plenty of people are still running old socket 478, 462, and 754 systems, and they're perfectly happy with the level of performance and they have. The "latest and greatest" computer games (in terms of graphical complexity, not necessarily gameplay) almost certainly struggle on those older systems without reducing the graphics quality, but if you don't play games you probably won't care about or notice the "missing" performance. We will of course be providing updated Buyers' Guides in the future, but for the most part we don't recommend waiting for the Next Big Thing to show up - you could potentially end up waiting forever for the "perfect" time to buy. Our Buyers' Guides are simply a recommendation for what we would buy at this point in time, and not an indication that we think you need to upgrade if you're running slower hardware.

AMD Platform
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  • Spacecomber - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    Thanks for putting up an update to your buyer's guides. I always read these with interest to get other people's insights into what they think are the most useful criteria for selecting the best components to get the job done at a good price.

    For me, trying to sort through whose LCD monitors really offer the most in a given price range, such as the $290 to $300 range, continues to be one of the most frustrating areas of selecting components. The fact that manufacturers of LCDs seem to have no compunction about making up whatever technical specifications they think will best help them sell their products is maddening. Perhaps someone will eventually nail them with a class-action lawsuit similar to the one that got everyone to specify the difference between CRT tube sizes and viewable sizes.

    Anyway, with regard to your recommendations, I'm skeptical that any of these LCDs, except the 24 inch Acer, are actually true 16.7 million color LCDs. As you said, it's easy to get to hung up on one specification, but all these LCDs, with the exception of the Acer AL2416W, appear to be using TN based panels. This means that in addition to them most likely really only being 6-bit + 2-bit with dithering panels, they suffer from the narrowed viewing angles that is the TN panel's other main weakness. Fortunately, while most manufacturers seem to have little problem with declaring all their LCDs to be 16.7 million color monitors, many continue to still be a little more honest about the viewing angles (though even these are often fudged, as well). The viewing angles on the monitors you listed are what seem to give away the true nature of these displays. They are relatively narrow, and they show smaller angles for the vertical compared to their horizontal angles, which as far as I know is very charecteristic of TN panels.

    Anyway, my only point is that the more information you can dig up and provide us about what's what with LCD panels the better. This continues to be one area of computer hardware where facts and reviews are skant and hard to find.

    Thanks

    Space
    Reply
  • KorruptioN - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    That BenQ FP202W 20" really is a TN panel. Some say it is a full 8-bit panel (16.7M) instead of a 6-bit panel (16.2M). I don't really know for sure. If it is indeed 8-bits, then I don't think I would hesitate to recommend it (for that price with rebate), even with the slightly restrictive viewing angles.

    That said, I would recommend people spend a little bit more and get the Viewsonic VX2025WM. It is a full 8-bit P-MVA panel from AU Optronics and offers the best of both worlds (response time, viewing angles, and colour depth). It can be had for just under $350. It has the height adjustment too.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    The BenQ web site always lists the correct number of colors a monitor supports. In this case the web site lists 16.7 million colors, so its an 8-bit display. Its also a TN panel, so viewing angle will not be as good as an MVA panel.

    Here's a review, though:
    http://gear.ign.com/articles/699/699896p1.html">http://gear.ign.com/articles/699/699896p1.html

    My experience with BenQ's is that it takes some fiddling to get the colors right, but they are very nice after that. They are not so good out-of-the-box.


    Reply
  • Spacecomber - Wednesday, May 10, 2006 - link

    Well, you might be right, but I remain skeptical about the BenQ FP202W being a 16.7 million color monitor. It seems like it would be big news if someone was successfully manufacturing TN panels with that many true colors.

    www.flatpanels.dk seems to think that this monitor is using a Chungwa panel (CPT CLAA201WA01) and that this panel is also found in the Acer AL2017. Acer lists their panel as supporting 16.2 million colors, typical for how 6-bit plus dithering panels are described.

    Again, this just seems to emphasize how hard it is to get factual information that you can rely on when it comes to LCD monitors.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, May 10, 2006 - link

    I've got the 19" 2ms and the 20" 8ms both setup right now, and I couldn't tell you (with my eyes) whether they're 6-bit or 8-bit. I need better eyes, I guess (which is actually true). I've edited the display text slightly if you want to check it out. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, May 10, 2006 - link

    Full reviews (with empirical data, rather than just using my eyeballs) will be coming soon. Reply
  • Spacecomber - Wednesday, May 10, 2006 - link

    I look forward to those. With so much of the cost of a system potentially going into these monitors, not to mention their expected useful lifespan, more LCD monitor reviews will definitely be welcome.

    The trick will be how to go about getting those facts and then figuring out what they really mean. I know that ranslating numbers into users' experiences is easier said than done.

    I'm sure that one of the reasons that there aren't very many in depth reviews of LCDs available is because this is such a difficult piece of hardware to get a good, analytic handle on.

    Space
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    I meant to put in a few more reviews:

    http://www.trustedreviews.com/article.aspx?page=45...">http://www.trustedreviews.com/article.aspx?page=45...
    http://reviews-zdnet.com.com/BenQ_FP202W/4505-3174...
    http://www.gamerz-edge.com/hardware/reviews/fp202w...">http://www.gamerz-edge.com/hardware/reviews/fp202w...


    There is a review out there that compared the BenQ against a few other LCDs inlcuding the ViewSonic 20" widescreen, and the ViewSonic was deemed the better LCD.
    Reply
  • punko - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    Thanks for the Guide, Jarred.

    I guess sometimes its worth whining!

    Punko
    Reply
  • Yawgm0th - Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - link

    I can't quite understand the recommendation of a 400W Eneremax power supply. There are more powerful modular power supplies in the same price range, with some being cheaper, even the ones from reputable brand names. There are even better PSUs in the same price range without modular cabling. A modular PSU is hardly a necessity for a mid-range computer, but a good power supply is. Enermax makes some great PSUs, but I wouldn't want to try using a 400W in a system like this, especially when there are good 500W power supplies in the same price range. Reply

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