Building a PC in Early 2008

This is a walk through, and collection of comments that can serve as advice on building your own PC in the year 2008.

OS: WinXP Home $90


The first component we start with is selecting the CPU as this will determine which motherboards are valid options (and the motherboard will then determine which memory, graphics card interface, case, etc will be used).

Over the years I've found the AMD processors to provide the best value. Since the "CPU Wars" are an ongoing situation and I don't have time to fully evaluate every possible option every time I go to build a PC, I am sticking to just AMD and ignoring Intel CPUs. This doesn't mean that at any particular moment there isn't a better deal on a good Intel CPU, it's just a matter of practicality and the need to limit research.

The current popular rage is for multi-core CPUs. And this is a great idea (and in 2008 I would not even consider buying a single core CPU), but the second processor only gives a partial boost to performance (roughly 30% typically, 70% in "best case"), thus I believe that the raw speed of the first processor is extremely important (i.e. I'd rather have fewer cores at higher clock rates than lots of "slow" processors). As future software is optimized for utilization of multiple processors this will change.

Recommendation: Athlon 64 X2 6400+ Windsor 3.2 GHz Socket AM2 (125W) (NewEgg $190 - January 1, 2007)

Logic: The overall cost of building a system is primarily in the work to actually install and optimize the software, a task I prefer to not do often, thus I don't want to "pinch pennies" on the CPU (aka I want to delay the need to build the next new system as long as possible).

Further research: The AMD Phenom 9600 Agena 2.3 Ghz Socket AM2+ Quad Core may be worth considering (NewEgg $240 - January 1, 2008)

The Phenom is 25% faster (per core) at exactly the same clock rate as the Athlon 64 X2. However, for most software that doesn't take advantage of multiple cores the Athlon 64 X2 "6400" is much faster due to it's higher clock rate. In a comparison of games the Phenom 9600 ranged from 7.5% faster (only "Supreme Commander") to 27% slower (average of five games was 15.6% slower). Software designed for multi processors like 3D Studio Max 9 run 20% to 40% faster.

If buying a Phenom, should probably wait until January 2008 for the Phenom 9700 to be released which has a bug fixed.

Operating system support of multiple processors is very confusing. WinXP Home only supports a single physical CPU (not sure if that means the extra cores are used or not). WinXP Pro supports two physical CPUs.

From reading several threads people are successfully using WinXP Home with multicore CPUs.

This article discusses how to make sure WinXP is set up to use multi cores:

This article explains about needing Microsoft Hotfix KB896256 (not normally provided via auto update).