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My Christmas List
digimind
thwack

Ok, maybe I more intend to buy this stuff myself. I'm trying to put together a new system. It's hard to figure out what to get though. For example, the ASUS motherboard... I'm not sure what the difference is between the P5GD2 and P5AD2, except that the P5AD2 seems more popular and performs better in some benchmarks, but the P5GD2 is more expensive and one reviewer calls it the "bigger brother".

Then there's the video card. I'm not messing around with stupid incompatibilities this time, so I'll limit myself to the video cards listed in the Windows Catalog. Well, when it comes to Designed-for-XP cards for the PCI-Express 12X slot, only 8 are listed, all in the ATI FireGL line. Those aren't gaming cards, and so the hardware reviewers give them poor marks, but they're stable and designed for graphics-intensive workstations, so maybe that's what will be good for me, and if it will still be OK for gaming just not spectacular, that's fine.

I could spend days researching all this stuff, just to have someone come along (perhaps even here) and debunk everything I've found. That's what makes this stuff so frustrating, and makes me contemplate buying a name-brand system.


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Motherboard

Those ASUS boards are very expensive, and very cutting edge. The only real difference between the better-performing P5AD2 (the A Board) and the P5GD2 (the G board) is the chipset. The A board has Intel's enthusiast/overclocker chipset, while the G board has a more mainstream chipset. The A board just has a couple extra features and tweaks that help it to move data between the cpu and memory a little more quickly. It probably isn't worth the extra $30 to get the A board unless you're trying to impress some geeky overclocking friends. :-)

If you don't need bleeding edge hardware, a motherboard costing half as much would perform very well. Check out the ASUS P5P800 . The board itself is $100 cheaper, you can get a less expensive AGP video card instead of going straight to PCI Express, and the memory for this board will be $50-$100 cheaper for a pair of 512M sticks. The trade-off is, your upgrade path is slightly limited. New video cards will be shifting from AGP to PCI Express. If you're not going to be a hardcore gamer, it probably isn't very important. Think about it.

Graphics

FireGL is more geared toward applications like computer aided drafting workstations. The focus is on image quality and high refresh rates for high resolution monitors (2048x1536). They don't focus so much gaming or multimedia capabilities. For a home computer, you should really stick to the Radeon or All-In-Wonder line of cards from ATI. All-In-Wonders usually come with extra input/output connectors and a tv tuner for enhanced multimedia capabilities. Plain old Radeons leave out some of this extra multimedia hardware, and can usually outperform the A-I-W in gaming. Personally, I like the A-I-W.

Don't forget to check out nVidia cards as well. The latest crop performs just as well as ATI, and often better on Doom 3 and its engine.

If you think a flat panel LCD monitor is in your future, make absolutely sure your chosen video card has a "DVI" connector. That sends a digital signal to LCD monitors, and it will give you a much better picture than the usual analog VGA connector.

Overall

This is the kind of system that would cost you a bundle if you were to purchase it from Dell or HP or Gateway. It is top of the line, and as such, it is a low volume/high margin product. I would estimate that you will save AT LEAST $300 by building it yourself.

My home grown rig is 2 years old now, and it is still cruising. :-)


Thanks for the helpful feedback. :)

Yeah, you had said to me before that I probably don't need bleeding edge hardware, but the more I read about it, the more I feel like it's not about going for the bleeding edge, but more like avoiding the stuff that is about to go out the door. Like you said, PCI Express will be replacing AGP, SATA replacing PATA, and memory is perpetually changing anyway so there's no avoiding that... I feel like it's just smarter to go with the new stuff even though I don't need it... yet.

The only thing holding me back really is that there are no PCI Express video cards designed for XP (according to Windows Catalog) except the FireGL line, which you agree isn't really what I should be getting. While I am personally more demanding of 2D performance than 3D, I also want the 3D to be decent on the rare occasion that I fire up a game. FireGL satisfies my 2D needs, but if the 3D isn't there, I should probably look elsewhere.

I already have a nice 19" LCD monitor running off the DVI on my Radeon VE. So yes, DVI will definitely be mandatory as far as I'm concerned. The other issue with the FireGL line is that they don't have S-Video out. Not that I use it much, but I feel like it should be there.

I thought about nVidia, at the demand of your brother who claims to make the chips. :) But I'm worried about how they will hold up to my 2D demands as far as driver features go. Also, their site seems to be not very helpful with drivers. The one card I considered getting, had "not available" in every section of its downloads, except one, where it provided a link... to nowhere. Not a good first impression. But at the same time, I feel tired of ATI.

So, I guess my first decision is what to go with for a video standard. If I pick PCI Express, then it's between those two motherboards I mentioned. I already narrowed it down to those. But if I choose to stay with AGP, then I have some motherboard searching to do.

Decisions...

The only thing holding me back really is that there are no PCI Express video cards designed for XP (according to Windows Catalog)

Lies coming from Microsoft? The devil you say?

nVidia has a whole pile of cards for Windows. The GeForce 6 series have PCI Express versions, and there are PCI Express versions of the GeForce FX series called "GeForce PCX". nVidia uses a "Unified Driver Architecture". All the cards from TNT2 and GeForce 1 straight up to Geforce 6 run from the same Windows XP driver.

ATI's Radeon X series are also available in PCI Express.

Anandtech gives the nod to nVidia's 6600 GT for mid-range gaming at a reasonable price. If $200 is in the budget, and PCI Express is a necessity, the 6600 GT is absolutely the way to go.




Yeah, ATI's Radeon VE was supposed to be "for Windows" too, but it actually wasn't. At least not at first, according to Microsoft. And when I tried to seek support for a mouse resolution problem, they basically said get lost because my video card wasn't in the Windows Catalog. It was only "Windows compatible" according to ATI, but Microsoft didn't recognize it as "designed for Windows". I think it has since been added to the list, and (or because) ATI released drivers that fixed the issues I was having.

Anyway, I basically feel like I've learned my lesson to not take risks on any hardware that doesn't have the praise of Microsoft. If someone wants to tell me that's just marketing and business politics behind those lists, so be it, but it also apparently lines up with reality, and that's good enough for me.

If some credible reviewer were to try out these cards on WinXP SP2 in both a 2D and 3D sense and conclude in thorough detail that there are no problems, that would be good enough for me too. But I have yet to find such a review. Most video card reviews only report on frames per second achieved in each of a long list of game titles. *yawn*

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