It's been two years since I purchased a new PC and it was time to give the folks over at GamePC a ring. My existing system still has plenty of punch left in it, especially when outfitting it with a GeForce2 based graphics card, but we have three people in our household that use it. Having two kids that use the Internet for research, are members of Half-Life clans, and are hooked on Diablo II makes it rather difficult to schedule time on the system between the three of us.
Earlier this year I upgraded from a P2-450MHz to an Intel P3-550E Coppermine processor. Although the Intel 440BX based Abit BH6 rev. 1 doesn't officially support a Coppermine processor, the system has been running great - even overclocked at 683MHz. While I could wait for new technology, such as the Pentium 4 or DDR memory, you know how the saying goes - it's never a good time to buy a PC...
When I came across GamePC back in 1998 they were getting started in the custom PC business. As one of the first web sites to provide a custom pricing and ordering application, I spent plenty of time configuring the first system I purchased from them. Definitely the most valuable sources of information at their web site are the customer mail bag and products reviews sections.
Since GamePC is near the heart of Silicon Valley, they get the latest hardware in their testing labs. Chris Connolly and his staff continuously write product reviews and I found their motherboard and processor reviews to be of assistance in configuring the system I ordered.
|Decisions, Decisions, Decisions|
At the heart of any PC is a motherboard's chipset which determines the speed and type of processor you can use among other key features. During my week long investigation into chipsets, I was amazed at how durable the Intel 440BX remains and the acceptance of Via's Apollo chipset as an alternative product.
The 440BX has always been synonymous with overclocking. Todays 440BX based motherboards are faster than ever as motherboard manufacturers have had two years to squeeze more performance out of the BX chipset. When overclocked to a 133MHz front side bus (FSB), the 440BX is quite stable and is still among the top performers in 3D graphics. The increased graphics performance when running at a 133MHz FSB is due to the AGP bus running at an out-of-spec 89MHz (the normal AGP bus speed is 66MHz).
As the 440BX continued it's success and Intel began developing the 820E chipset, Via Technologies jumped on board with the Apollo KX133 (AMD) and Apollo Pro133A (Intel) chipsets. The VIA Apollo chipset brought new features such as support for AGP4X and PC133 memory, AMD and Intel processors, and the UltraDMA/66. Via offers a viable alternative to the 440BX platform and all major manufuacturers have delivered motherboards based on the Apollo chipset.
I thought long and hard about the 440BX and Apollo chipsets. While I could have easily purchased a motherboard based on either of them, I began looking into Intel's latest chipset - the 815E. An offshoot of the 820E chipset which was developed for use with RAMBUS memory, the 815E offered a variety of features that made it an attractive alternative.
Designed to replace the 440BX, the Intel 815E chipset supports AGP4X, FSB speeds of 66MHz, 100MHz and 133MHz, PC100 or PC133 SDRAM, and UltraDMA/100. The 815E has a 1/2 AGP to FSB ratio. Overclockers may not be particularly enthused with this feature, but it does ensure that the AGP bus will be running at or near specs when overclocking the FSB. When running the FSB speed at 133MHz, the AGP bus speed will automatically be throttled back to 66MHz. However, as FSB speeds move past 133MHz, the AGP bus speed increases accordingly.
Another feature of the 815E chipset is the ability to integrate audio and video on the motherboard. Since both of these options can be disabled, power users will opt to use add-in cards for audio and video.
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