Welcome back to this week's installment of the Price Guides.  Last week's Guide was actually one of our most read guides of all time.  Give yourself a pat on the back.  As always, don't forget to check out or own RealTime Price Engine, and our Vendor Ratings.

Memory continues to be a particular thorn in the PC market.  Those of you who follow the enthusiast market particularly closely know that Winbond has totally run out of the BH5 chips.  Unfortunately, it looks like they have also run out of CH5 chips as well and so we will start to see memory dry up that is based on those chips. 

With that news, it's becoming more obvious that the dated PC2100 is on its way out.  Most memory has been up over the last couple months as much as 10%.  The price on Mushkin's Green (Value) modules is down this week, but this is more due to their recent changes in memory ratings.  For those of you who didn't notice the name change a few months ago, this is Mushkin's new naming scheme:

            Green - Value
            Blue - Midrange
            Black - Enthusiast (Formally called Level II)

For those of you who ski, you'll immediately recognize the same colors are used for identifying levels on a ski hill.  They must do a lot of skiing out there in Denver.

We made some other significant changes to our memory listings.  As you will see, most of our modules have a "Value" and "Performance" listing for each type of module.  Hopefully everyone will be able to note the deltas easier with this clarification on memory types. 

Continuing our analysis... It appears PC2700 is also on the rise. Several manufacturers have begun pulling back on PC2700 in favor of PC3200.  PC3200 is here to stay for the rest of the year, and with some of the major sources of enthusiast Winbond chips drying up, it looks like prices might stabilize and climb slowly for some time to come.

If you are a new system builder, you really can't go wrong with PC3200 anymore.  All motherboards/processors support it, and unless you need special registered memory for Opteron/Athlon64 FX, you have plenty of options.  Two sticks of Corsair PC3200 256MB or Mushkin PC3200 256MB Black are both excellent choices for midrange systems.  Don't forget to buy in pairs so that your CPU/Northbridge can take advantage of dual channel capabilities.  For those of you who have KT600/400A/400 based motherboards, you can save a couple bucks buying a single stick instead since the older VIA northbridge does not support dual channel enhancements.

For those of you who wish to clock a little higher, Mushkin and OCZ seem to be good choices.  Unfortunately right now we are only tracking OCZ's "Premium" (Value) line, but in the upcoming days we will be adding their Gold, EL and Platinum lines as well (so check back frequently).  Check out Wes's more recent articles concerning DDR400/433/466 performance on some of these modules.  If you know what you're doing, getting an extra 5% boost isn't uncommon by selecting the right memory.  Since Corsair, OCZ and Mushkin rely heavily on those vanishing Winbond chips, don't expect their prices to start dropping anytime soon.

NVIDIA Video Cards
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  • TrogdorJW - Wednesday, February 11, 2004 - link

    #9, from what I've heard, yes, you will gain a speed boost. However, given that you already have 1 GB of RAM, presumably running at something like 3-4-4-8 timings if it was "value" RAM, you would be scrapping your current memory and paying roughly $320 for 1 GB of Mushkin Black. Unless you're the type that has to have the best of everything, I would stick with what you currently have.

    It also depends on your CPU. If you're using P4, an overclock of 10% will easily wipe out the speed advantage of lower latency RAM. Even a 5% OC would probably do the trick. This should be trivial to do on a P4 system. With Athlon 64, the same is probably true, but my one experience with a 3000+ was that the system was *much* more finicky about the RAM. So if you're looking at Athlon 64, I would get at least the Mushkin Purple.
  • XPgeek - Tuesday, February 10, 2004 - link

    Kristopher, is it better to get a higher grade of PC3200 vs, like, Kingston ValuRAM? i currently have 2 512MB sticks of the KVR400X64C3/512 in my system. would i gain anything by getting something like Mushkin Black?
  • eBauer - Tuesday, February 10, 2004 - link

    Although you must take into account, you're comparing a $200 RETAIL 9700 Pro to a $219 OEM/BULK 9800 Pro... The 3 year warranty is nice. Retail 9800 Pro's are going for much higher...
  • KristopherKubicki - Tuesday, February 10, 2004 - link

    Interesting point Rekonn,

    The problem becomes if each card is "only" $20 difference from the other, you continually keep saying that. A 9600 Pro is only $20 more than a 9600. A 9600XT is only $20 more than a 9600 Pro. A 9700 non pro is only $20 more than a 9600 XT, etc etc.

    I agree its a difficult choice ebtween the two cards. I would say use your best judgement. In a couple weeks i would hope the 9800 pro is under $200 which would easily make it my #1 choice.

  • Rekonn - Tuesday, February 10, 2004 - link

    Why is the 9700 Pro for $200 recommended, when you can get the Sapphire 9800 Pro for $219 ?
  • KristopherKubicki - Tuesday, February 10, 2004 - link

    Tiorapatea: Vendors claim there will be no premium on PCI-E cards over AGP. Still you ahve to upgrade though. I have not heard anything about a AGP to PCI-E bridge or PCI-E to AGP bridge.

    0.0 I dont think we will see too many future VIA boards. KT890 looks to be the end of the line for them.

    2.2 For whatever reason someone decided it was a good idea to implement nForce3 250 on Socket 754 and on Socket 939 so we will see another revision of the 754 boards. I think its kind of pointless because the AMD roadmaps dont show speeds on the 754 past 3700+. The roadmaps have been wrong before though so dont put too much faith in them.

    4.0 I would not assume this is true either. The PT890 chipset *can* support AGP, but that still doesnt mean vendors will put 2 separate buses on there. PT890 will probably be a budget chipset anyway, it really looks uncompetitive. Particularly, the first round of southbridges to launch with PT890 are fairly weak compared to SiS and Intel's solutions.


  • ripdude - Tuesday, February 10, 2004 - link

    Thanks number 2 and 3.
    I'm going to wait for the new sockets, being a student my budget decides.
    Unless the new sockets are very expensive I'll go for the 939.
  • Tiorapatea - Tuesday, February 10, 2004 - link

    AGP will live on for a while. Nvidia has developed a PCI Express to AGP bridge, which effectively means it can produce one set of card designs and offer them to owners of both AGP and PCI Express motherboards. ATI has not done this so one may speculate that it may not offer its newest designs for the AGP slot for quite so long as Nvidia.

    What is muddying the waters right now is that chipset vendors seem to have decided that the current and forthcoming processors from AMD and Intel will not all be offered motherboard designs that provide a choice between PCI Express and AGP for the graphics interconnect.

    Therefore, upgraders are faced with interdependent choices - your CPU choice will affect not only your highest likely CPU upgrade for a given motherboard but also your highest likely graphics card upgrade.

    Thus, at this point, it seems as if:

    0.0 Socket A AthlonXP CPUs look like they will be confined to motherboards that offer only an AGP slot. (Note, however, that PCI Express 1x slots for peripherals may be offered, for example if VIA decides to implement VT8251 in an AthlonXP chipset.)
    0.1 Athlon XP has likely reached its highest speed grade (buy a 2500+ and overclock).
    0.2 Still a great buy for many people but I won't go into that.

    1.0 Pentium 4 on Socket 478 will get PCI Express chipsets from all chipset vendors.
    1.1 LGA 775, a new socket out in April, will bring an end to official speed grade increases on Socket 478. Prescott 3.6 GHz will be last Intel release for Socket 478.
    1.2 It may or may not have reached its practical highest speed grade (buy a 2.4C/2.6C/2.8C and overclock to around 3.4-3.6?). Prescott on Socket 478 may well go higher but it remains to be seen whether this can be done with a reasonably economical and reliable cooling system.
    1.3 More expensive than AthlonXP, especially after motherboard costs but does perform better in many applications.

    2.0 Athlon64 will bo offered a choice of AGP or PCI express motherboards.
    2.1 Socket 754 may not have a very long life. Official roadmap goes as far as 3700+ (from today's 3000+ to 3400+) but AMD may offer more when it moves to a 90nm process from Q4 '04.
    2.2 Many people are waiting for Nvidia to release its nforce 250 chipset before going for this platform. Many are also waiting for Socket 939, which may offer higher performance and a longer life. Still others are waiting for Microsoft to release its 64 bit port of WindowsXP.
    2.3 Overall, Athlon64 is a very promising CPU.

    3.0 Athlon64 on Socket 939 is scheduled for launch on 29th March '04 at a 3700+ rating. Socket 939 will add dual channel memory support for the Athlon64.
    3.1 Socket 939 motherboards will offer either a PCI Express slot or an AGP slot for graphics cards.
    3.2 This socket will likely have a longer life than Socket 754.
    3.3 I expect Socket 939 platforms to sell at a significant premium to Socket 754 for some time, partly because of the high initial speed grade of the CPU at launch relative to existing Athlon64 CPUs, which start at 3000+.

    4.0 Pentium 4E (Prescott) on socket LGA775 should be out in April. Neither Intel nor SIS will offer chipsets that support an AGP slot. VIA will offer a choice between PCI Express and AGP.
    4.1 I would expect this platform to launch with a 3.6 GHz CPU.
    4.2 It is currently unclear how this processor will scale but, subject to better control of its thermal characteristics, one might speculate that 4 GHz could be achieved by the end of this year (I am bit sceptical).
    4.3 If the heat dissipation of Prescott proves to be a problem, you might need a new case, a new power supply and a new motherboard if you ever want to upgrade your CPU.

    What would I do?
    I have no idea because I don't know what you want to do on your system. That is something you need to clear up before you spend any money.
    My attitude is that, in general, we'd all be better off running slightly older hardware and concentrating on supporting Free Software.
  • sipc660 - Tuesday, February 10, 2004 - link

    my advice to no #1 is to wait for pci-e anyway and than buy a fast good quality agp card which will be cheaper and serve those 2-3 years.

    in three years we'll have developed PCI express - 2 fully
    (which i am working on now)

    and 128 bit computing ;)
  • ripdude - Tuesday, February 10, 2004 - link

    Neat row once again, I wonder if its usefull to wait for the PCI-express cards.
    My upgrade cycle isn't that quick (once every 2-3 years).

    The next generation pc-stuff (about may I believe) with socket 939, LGA775, PCI-express etc will be expensive. Will it be usefull for a once-in-a-while upgrader to wait for the next generation, or will AGP live on for a year or so?

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