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ragejg
02-05-10, 03:49 PM
Good-Bye, Socket 939
A Budget Gaming PC Building Writeup
By John Grabski
February 5, 2010


I thought I was so cool when I had built two robustly built RAID-0 equipped socket 939 setups in '08. :p

http://www.socket939.co.uk/img/939_logo.gif

Fact is, the games I played weren't too cpu limited, so I was able to get enthusiast-level performance out of them with these systems. I built using the socket 939/AGP platform with specific performance requirements in mind.


Riches to Rags and Back to Riches (sort of)

Back in 2005, hard financial times forced me to sell what was at the time a great socket 939/AGP system (Gigabyte K8NS-Ultra motherboard, Athlon 64 3000+, Geforce 6800), and I ended up languishing without quality PC parts for a long time. By fall of '06 I put an old KT266 socket A system together (with scraps of eMachines parts), and actually upgraded that a couple times (2gb RAM, 6800) until I could play Doom 3 @ 720p on my new LCD TV.

After that point ("what the heck am I doing hooking an old tired Socket A rig up to my new TV?"), I decided that I wanted to pick up where I left off, at socket 939. I had really enjoyed that platform, and after hearing about how ATI was going to release one more top-tier card using the AGP socket, I decided that I'd like to go that route. So while everyone else was putting together their second or third PCI Express setup, I was just building my last AGP rigs. Instead of the much-hyped, super-fast and admittedly expensive Core 2 Duo CPUs I wanted to work with the tried and true AMD x2 processors which were and are slightly hard to find available for socket 939. Why? I guess I'm a 939 geek.

http://i306.photobucket.com/albums/nn258/ragejg/P1020775c.jpg
There is no caption that could help me in this picture.

I had perceived that much of the hardware community had moved on to Intel hardware and AMD's new Socket AM2, and Socket 939 was becoming viewed as tired old legacy tech. After poring through benchmark data, finding out how well the x2 cpus and nvidia Geforce 7800GS performed in gaming (and then in turn finding out just how much better the Radeon HD 3850 performed) and thinking about it, I figured that if I built these two 939 rigs solid enough, they'd be able to keep up with the newer stuff.

And in my opinion they did. Early on, the media rig held the HD3850 while the 7800GS sat in the desk PC (which had a single core 3000+ and was waiting for an x2), and I got to see first hand that what some thought to be a nexus point of 939 technology could in fact be far surpassed by a couple simple upgrades. Once both rigs had almost identical setups (one had an x2 3800+ and the other had an Opteron 165, both had 3gb RAM and HD3850s), I felt that I could really see what they could do.

And game I did. In 2008 I didn't get to game as much as I would have liked to due to the fact that I was still battling cancer, but I did find enough time to enjoy Gears of War and Lost Planet, two titles that despite their criticism were graphically intense and addictively replayable. I also checked out demos of Crysis, Prey and DiRT, and bought and played Unreal Tournament 3. These two systems handles all of these titles very well, and in 2009 I added titles such as Portal, Halo 2, FEAR and Far Cry 2 to the collection.

By spring of 2009 I knew however that the media PC wasn't going to cut it as it was if more demanding games like Crysis were going to be coming out increasingly fast. I did figure, however, that the desk PC wasn't going to be doing as much gaming, and since it was still doing fine in all of the games played on it (my fiancee was on a Source Engine kick for a while), it should remain. I did decide to do one last cpu upgrade for it, a 4800+ to replace the 3800+.

So in early summer I upgraded the media rig (one of the systems with socket 939 and AGP) to an AM2+ setup with a Phenom II x3 720 that reliably OC's to 3.4ghz. Add to that a 4870 and color me impressed, especially @ 720p.


http://i306.photobucket.com/albums/nn258/ragejg/P1020544resize.jpg
Media PC, Summer 2009

I've finally come to the conclusion however that the remaining 939 system is not so fresh any more. With a max overclock of 2.6ghz and a 3850 that has more headroom than the 'ol 939 can give it, the desk rig is showing its age @ my Acer AL1916's native resolution of 1280x1024, specifically outside of Source Engine games and in newer Unreal Engine games. Running the new Battlefield: Bad Company 2 beta, as well as v3 of America's Army has basically put the older system on notice, as it can't handle those games very well at all. That is sad for me to see, but I must welcome advancements in technology. Otherwise I'd still be playing Commander Keen on my 286.


http://i306.photobucket.com/albums/nn258/ragejg/P1020549a.jpg
Desk PC, Summer 2009


The Big Switch

So it's time for an upgrade. I'm going to sell the motherboard, cpu, RAM and video card on the hardware forums I frequent. For some bonus cheddar I can sell my other A8V Deluxe motherboard, an A64 3000+ 939 and a Nostromo n52 I have laying around.

I'll most likely be able to get $317 for everything (that's a preliminary figure, subject to adjustment).

So, given a budget of $317 plus or (hopefully not) minus $30 or so, I have to get a new motherboard, cpu, ram and video card for a rig that I'd like to be somewhere near as powerful as my media system... Obviously it needs to be, as it runs at a higher resolution (12x10) on a clearer screen.

Primarily this system will run games such as FEAR 2, Prey, Left 4 Dead 2, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Below are my thoughts at this point of what I should do:



Motherboard:

http://images.tigerdirect.com/skuimages/large/S458-1346-main01-mpl.jpg
Pictured: ECS IC780M-A2 (V1.0A), currently $399.99- $57.99

I'm ok with DDR2 right now so I'm thinking another AMD 770 chipset, since they're reliable, inexpensive and will run AM3 processors. Generally on a motherboard, I'm pretty good at finding good deals on [h] or online. I don't really need overclocking capability on this system, so a bells and whistles motherboard is not needed.

Budget is $50-$65



Processor:

http://www.slashgear.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/amd_phenom_ii_x3.jpg

I'm convinced that part of the reason the new Phenom II's feel so strong is the large L3 cache. I'm also seeing a trend in games arise where even the higher clock-speed dual cores are being taxed quite a bit, especially in games with a lot of console-optimized code which is becoming more common. So any dual core (even a Phenom II x2 with a big chunk per core of L3 cache) is out.

The Athlon II x3 and x4 look attractive to me on paper, but the lack of L3 cache is disconcerting. The same (sorta) holds true for the older Phenom x3's with a paltry 2mb L3 cache (though a $65 x3 8750 Black is tempting). ... So, my minimum requirement is a Phenom II x3. If the budget demands that I sacrifice something, I'll sacrifice L3 cache before sacrificing cores. I found the Phenom II x3 710, which at 2.7 ghz is only 200mhz slower than my 720 Black.

Budget is $70-$100



Video Card

http://images.tigerdirect.com/skuimages/large/H231-5670-Main-JH.jpg
Pictured: HIS Radeon HD 5750

I love it when some video cards have performance that betrays their price. I look for that when it's time for me to buy, as I usually have limits to how much money I'm able to spend. Many of my video card choices reflect that way of thought:


Geforce 2 ti was a beast of a DX7 card for chump change.
Geforce 3 ti200 offered performance close to the vanilla GF3 and ti500 for a much lower price.
Geforce 4 ti4200 when OC'ed caught up to the ti440 and ti4600 for a much lower price
ATI Radeon AIW 8500 DV had performance close to the GF3 and GF4 series, plus a TV tuner,for a very fair price.
Geforce FX 5900XT ran right with the 5900 Ultra and 5950 for a much lower price.
I bought a Geforce 6200 for a really low price to game on for a while that unlocked to 6600 specs... Running Doom 3 @ 12x10 on a 6200 was VERY gratifying.
Geforce 6800 Vanilla IMO was a better price/performance gpu than the 6800 GT/Ultra
Geforce 7800 GS extended the life of my AGP rig and benchmarked close to the more expensive 7800's and 7900's.
Radeon HD 3850 gave even MORE life to my AGP setup, performed very near ATI's top-of-the-line 3870, and cost me only $122.
Radeon 4870... I'd have been more in line with my other purchases if I'd bought a 4850 instead, but I had a few extra bucks to play with. Still, the performance to be had from this card in Q2 of 2009 for less than $150 was stellar.


So you see the pattern, right? So, in keeping along the same vein, my research has shown me this: The Geforce 250 GTS is underperforming and the 260 is too expensive. On the Radeon side of things I have a dilemma. DirextX 11 vs 128 bit memory interface. I kind of swore to myself that I'd never use a card with anything less than a 256-bit memory interface, not only that but I don't like using cut-down architecture; I'd rather go with lower clocks. So I'm currently divided between a 4850 (just like my 4870, just a tad slower) which has IMO enthusiast-grade specs, or the mainstream 5750 which gives me DX11 support at the cost of breaking the pact I made with myself. Fact is, I need to be able to game reliably at 12x10 at high settings on new games, and a little AA would be nice too. I usually use 2x despite the fact that 4x is so minimally taxing on the RV7XX cards.

Budget is $90-$100



RAM:

http://www.dclstore.co.uk/images/products/geil-4gb-ddr2-1066-quad-channel-black-dragon-gb24gb8500c5qc-l.jpg
Pictured: Geil Black Dragon DDR2

Since my budget demands that I get an AM2+ board I'll be buying DDR2 memory. And since overclocking really won't be a priority on this system, regular old DDR2-800 will work fine.

Budget is $75-$80



Conclusion:

First off I'd like to state that I know that I'm lucky that my power supply (X-Clio GoodPower 550, a very sturdy unit) and hard drives (two OLD WD's in a RAID 0 configuration) do not need to be replaced. Having a need for either of these would make things more difficult this time around, and I feel lucky that I don't need anything in this category except a Blu-Ray drive for the media PC which I'll purchase this summer.

This is my preferred method of upgrading. By selling my existing equipment and turning that money around to use for the upgrades, in a way I end up forcing myself to go for the best values possible to fit my needs. This upgrade will be no different. Making around $320 and then spending $285 - $345 on new equipment, hopefully I'll no longer be so CPU limited, and the life of the desk rig (I'll never give my model year 2002 case up, and I'll use these 2 old hard drives until they burn up) will continue to be a happy one.

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to discuss this writeup. I'll post more information in this thread as the upgrade progresses.



- By John Grabski, February 5, 2010

Redeemed
02-05-10, 04:08 PM
Seems a decent enough setup... actually a rather impressive setup.

A buddy wants to build a backup rig and is thinking of going with a pre-built system from CyberPower. I informed him I was near certain I could throw something together for less... and I might build off of your specs here to see if I can do such. :)

bob saget
02-05-10, 04:30 PM
whoa, nice writeup.

ragejg
02-05-10, 06:03 PM
w00t.

Mike put the writeup on the front page news feed. :)

Thanks!!





... yes, that's right, we DO have a front page. :nana:

DiscipleDOC
02-05-10, 09:10 PM
Nice write up, rage! :thumbsup:

ragejg
02-05-10, 11:08 PM
Thanks DD. :)

I had to add a bit to it (as if it weren't already long enough), and I just cleaned up some errors.

lol .. what did I get done today? This. :D

Redeemed
02-07-10, 09:54 PM
My first top of the line gaming system was:

Opteron 185
ASUS A8N32-SLi Dlx
4GB G.Skill DDR400
2x8800GTS 640MB
Vista Ultimate x64

My parents now have this rig, as my little sister is a bit of a gamer. Like any high-school girl it's got a ton of clutter and is due for a fresh OS install.

However, when gaming (at 1680 x 1050), even Crysis struggles to bring the rig to it's knees. s939 was indeed a powerful platform- even to this day. :)

ragejg
02-09-10, 07:31 AM
What do you guys think about the old Asus M2N SLI Deluxe?

http://www.newegg.com/product/product.aspx?item=n82e16813131013

I may want to get something newer, but there's one available @ [h] for $60, and if I recall correctly this is a fairly high-end board. Of course, I'd have to flash the BIOS to accept the newer Phenoms, but that's no big deal. Plus I'd have the option to go SLI in the future.

... or does this have too old of PCIe (1.0?) slots?

ragejg
02-09-10, 08:56 AM
Another tempting option is a motherboard/cpu/RAM combo that may give me more headroom for future upgrades, as it is an AM3 setup with DDR3.

Athlon II x3 425 (2.7ghz), Asus M4a78lt-M Le Am3 760g motherboard, 4gb DDR3 for $270 @ Ascendtech.

That's right around what I'd be looking to spend, and the newer tech might be a bit more future-proof.

If I can find a better deal on used stuff, I may abandon this idea, but for now this looks pretty good.

I'd probably sell the Athlon II x3 soon after I got it though, and throw in a Phenom x3 or x4 that has some L3 cache grunt.

pross
02-09-10, 09:50 AM
What do you guys think about the old Asus M2N SLI Deluxe?

http://www.newegg.com/product/product.aspx?item=n82e16813131013

I may want to get something newer, but there's one available @ [h] for $60, and if I recall correctly this is a fairly high-end board. Of course, I'd have to flash the BIOS to accept the newer Phenoms, but that's no big deal. Plus I'd have the option to go SLI in the future.

... or does this have too old of PCIe (1.0?) slots?

I used to have this board, had a 3800X2 with 2 7900GS's in SLI, was rock solid.

Redeemed
02-09-10, 10:05 AM
What do you guys think about the old Asus M2N SLI Deluxe?

http://www.newegg.com/product/product.aspx?item=n82e16813131013

I may want to get something newer, but there's one available @ [h] for $60, and if I recall correctly this is a fairly high-end board. Of course, I'd have to flash the BIOS to accept the newer Phenoms, but that's no big deal. Plus I'd have the option to go SLI in the future.

... or does this have too old of PCIe (1.0?) slots?

Another tempting option is a motherboard/cpu/RAM combo that may give me more headroom for future upgrades, as it is an AM3 setup with DDR3.

Athlon II x3 425 (2.7ghz), Asus M4a78lt-M Le Am3 760g motherboard, 4gb DDR3 for $270 @ Ascendtech.

That's right around what I'd be looking to spend, and the newer tech might be a bit more future-proof.

If I can find a better deal on used stuff, I may abandon this idea, but for now this looks pretty good.

I'd probably sell the Athlon II x3 soon after I got it though, and throw in a Phenom x3 or x4 that has some L3 cache grunt.

My first quad-core setup was the original Phenom 9600BE on the ASUS M2N32 Sli-Dlx. Had 8GB DDR2 800 in there, and dual 9600GTs. That was an incredibly fast setup. My current i7 setup (even though I'm using dual 8800GTXs) smokes it for gaming, but out side of gaming that Phenom rig was everybit as fast as this i7 setup is. Switching between apps, opening apps, having multiple apps running at the same time, etc. Honestly, the Phenom "felt" snappier, more "responsive"- barely noticeable so it could easily be placebo since I'm not used to running Intel based setups.

Though, my opinion- go AM3. Even if it means you skimp on some settings now. Either that- or maybe wait another month to get some more money set aside. All of AMD's newer processors will be AM3 for some time to come- their 6-core chips included. I do have my doubts that those chips will work in an AM2+/AM3 mobo. They might, but I do doubt AMD will keep the DDR2 IMC on those chips.

However, if you just cannot wait and don't have the funds- the M2N is a solid board. I'd not hesitate to build another system using it. ;)

ragejg
02-12-10, 10:24 AM
Purchased Items/New Rig Specs:


OK, so at this point I have sold what I needed to, have turned that money around and have purchased the upgrade items. At this point the desk rig's new specs will be as follows:


AMD Athlon 64 x3 425 @ 2.7ghz:
I sacrificed L3 cache but will have a decent performing 3-core CPU that will probably offer very similar performance to my Phenom x3 720 BE.

Gigabyte GA-MA78LM-S2H AMD 760G + SB710 chipset Micro ATX motherboard:
This board has everything I need in a small form factor. Out-of-the-box AM3 and DDR2-1200+ compatibility are great bonuses.

4gb (2gbx2) standard DDR2-800:
I purchased some OCZ Reaper HPC Edition DDR2-1150 memory, but that will go in the overclocked media PC, which in turn gives up its 4gb of standard DDR2.

Arctic Cooling Alpine AC 64 CPU HSF:
A great performing and quiet cooler.

Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 512mb:
This card has the potential to perform very closely to my PowerColor 4870.

2x120gb Maxtor DiamondMax 9 ATA-133 HDs in RAID-0:
When configured in RAID-0, these two drives offer performance that I can be happy with. I have PATA to SATA adapters that I can use them with.

X-Clio GoodPower 500W PSU:
The X-Clio brand has made IMO the best enthusiast-grade PSUs in the $45-$75 bracket, and this unit is no exception, as it performs just as good as my Corsair EarthWatts 650.

Cybertron Case:
I've had this case since 2003. It has very solid construction and still looks nice. I need to get some larger and quieter fans to adapt to the classic 80mm brackets though.

Acer AL1916 19" LCD:
The desk rig will still game at non-widescreen resolutions, specifically the 5:4 native resolution of this Acer display. It is large enough, and despite lacking a DVI-in, the picture quality is great.

KDS RAD-5 15" LCD:
This 1024x768 secondary display does a good job of playing second fiddle.

Creative Labs Inspire T3100 2.1 speaker setup:
This set has satisfied me for 2 years and will continue to do so.

Kingwin kwkb-0801 Silver and Black USB Ultra Slim Keyboard: This keyboard has the same form factor as my old Cooler Master EAK-US1, except it doesn't use a brushed aluminum finish.

Microsoft Sidewinder X5 mouse:
The desk rig will be gaming a lot, so it needs a decent mouse. I think the X5 will do nicely.

Memorex DVD/RW:
A standard DVD/RW drive, nothing special.

WD MyBook 500:
Storage for media and backups.


Did I come close to my spending target? I think so. I got the:

Radeon 4850 for $95 shipped
x3 425 for $70 shipped
Motherboard for $50 shipped
DDR2-1150 for $85 shipped

Grand total was $300. So as a bonus I bought a new keyboard ($21 incl. shipping) and got a GREAT deal on the Sidewinder X5 mouse @ Newegg ($30 shipped).

It appears that I was able this time to upgrade without having to spend very much money at all. :)

More on this when I actually put it together. I'm most excited about the potential of the CPU, the video card, and my first truly gaming-grade mouse. I guess it's time to get the X-Trac pad out of the closet. :)

ragejg
02-17-10, 11:09 AM
I started building once I received the motherboard. while installing it, I thought "man, almost every good motherboard I've had since 2002 has gone into this case..." It is an old case, I'll give it that. But it hasn't yellowed, it is really sturdy, and the design isn't something that's either in or out of style. Just for a little perspective on how old this case is, it has contained the following:


2002 - Gigabyte GA-7VTXE+ (kt266a)
2002 - Abit KR7A-133 (overclockable kt266a)
2003 - Epox 8RDA+ (nforce 2)
2003 - Abit KV8 Max 3 (kt800 754)
2004 - Gigabyte K8NS Ultra 939 (nforce 3)
2006 - Some old kt266 board (had to downgrade for a while)
2008 - Asus A8V Deluxe (K8T800 Pro 939)
2010 - Gigabyte GA-MA78LM-S2H


I'd say the case has paid for itself with reliable service. :p

http://i306.photobucket.com/albums/nn258/ragejg/casewithoutcomponents.jpg
Case with motherboard, power supply and hard drives installed

It's aging but it cleans up nice...


I got the keyboard and mouse today. First thing I noticed was that the Sidewinder 5 is LIGHT. I'm used to mice that have 2 double or triple A batteries in them, so this is unusual to me. The keyboard could look a little bit nicer, but I bought it for its keypad, not its enclosure. Here's my old keyboard, the CoolerMaster EAK-US1, which was the most comfortable keyboard I've used:

http://i306.photobucket.com/albums/nn258/ragejg/eak-us1.jpg

The new Kingwin I bought uses the same keypad, so I'm ok with sacrificing the brushed aluminum for the plastic for now.

http://i306.photobucket.com/albums/nn258/ragejg/kbdmouseram.jpg
Kingwin keyboard, Sidewinder x5 mouse and 2x2gb OCZ Reaper HPC DDR2

... I'm excited as well to try out the OCZ memory in my M3A rig. For right now, the 720BE is only overclocked via multiplier, bu now with some decent DDR2 in the system, I think I'll be able to play with FSB/HT and memory speeds to get an even better OC. Of course I wouldn't mind just putting the memory into the desk rig, but since overclocking's not really a priority with that system, I'll just put the regular DR2-800 in there.

ragejg
02-19-10, 09:10 AM
I just realized that this new motherboard has the SB710 southbridge, so I'll be able to attempt an unlock on the cpu...:captnkill:

Jeez, if I can get the OCZ Reaper HPC 1150 DDR2 to run @ the supported 1200 speed on this board, AND unlock the cpu, maybe I'll end up choosing my higher-grade components for it. Sure, a 3-core Athlon, 4gb DDR2 800 and a 4850 is nothing to sneeze at, but the fact that I could set this up instead with my Phenom 720BE unlocked to 4 cores, run 4gb DDR2 @ 1200, and use the 4870 instead of the 4850 is tempting to say the least.

Right now the media rig has more than enough power for gaming at 720P, so a very slight downgrade in cpu (loss of 100mhz and L3 cache) and GPU (4870-4850) really wouldn't hurt performance much... Besides, the desk rig has to run at a higher resolution (12x10)...

I'm gonna have to pull my hair out over this for a while before I make a decision. :D

ragejg
02-23-10, 08:04 PM
It's Built!

I just put the system together with the Athlon II X3 (I don't think the fourth core unlocks, it BSOD'ed after I tried the first time) and the 4850. I installed Vista and then my obligatory programs (Paint.NET, WinRAR, Sandra, HDTach etc), and did a little preliminary benchmarking.

First off, the two RAID-0'ed Maxtors that I cleaned and wrote zeros on are performing better than two Raptors according to HDTach... better performance than I've ever see these two drives put out. :) The CPU is benchmarking in Sandra just where it should: right under the Phenom X3 720. Regarding memory, in BIOS at this point I was only able to clock the DDR2 @ 1066. It's performing as expected as well.

And as for the 4850... well, Queen Trigger is trying the Bad Company 2 Beta out right now... 12x10, everything on high but shadows (medium), AA on 1x (none), 4x AF, HBAO is on, and it's running very smooth. FRAPS isn't on right now so I don't know the exact framerate, but it looks like 50-65fps. I think I might be able to set shadows to high, AA to 2x and AF to 16x and still get a perfectly online playable 45fps.


http://i306.photobucket.com/albums/nn258/ragejg/anneatdeska.jpg
She's happy, so I'm happy.

So far this system is really showing its muscle for the money. The Bad Company 2 Beta is hard on any system, but the Athlon II x3/4850 combo is doing a good job of handling it.

... I kinda wish the fan on this Sapphire card was a bit quieter though. Guess I'll just turn the volume. :)

Benchies to come.