The bigger picture

Whether you’re building a new rig from scratch or upgrading your existing one, don’t look at core components in isolation before you buy or it could end up costing you dearly…

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By  Jason Saundalkar Published  April 16, 2009

I recently had a lengthy conversation with a friend about his want for a new rig. His existing machine was on its last legs and rather than upgrade the old rust bucket he decided on building a new one from scratch. Of course this led to a long conversation (or interrogation as I prefer to think of it) about what’s new on the market and, naturally, rig building tips.

After briefing him about the state of play of components, he decided on spending about $1,100 and we then arrived on deciding upon what core components (CPU, motherboard and memory) he should buy. It’s here where I noticed a flaw in his line of thinking.

You see he decided he wanted an Intel Core i7 920 processor and was happy enough to fork over the asking price of nearly $300. What he didn’t realise was that this processor would cost him much more than what its standalone retail ask was because he’d need a compatible motherboard and memory.

To date, a decent Core i7 motherboard commands a price of at least $175 - that’s nearly 50% of his budget gone on just these two components. Moreover, the Core i7 CPU also dictated that he buy DDR3 memory because this processor lacks support for older DDR2 RAM. Today, DDR3 memory is far cheaper than it was before but is still more expensive than DDR2 memory, so this would yet again inflate the cost of his core components.

Eventually, he settled on one of AMD’s new Phenom II processors. In particular, the Phenom II X4 810 (read the review in the June issue of Windows on sale first week of May) because like the Core i7 920, the 810 is a quad-core chip that has its cores running at 2.67GHz. What sold him on this chip was the fact that he could get this processor and a decent motherboard for a little over the cost of just the Core i7 920 processor. Essentially, going the AMD route he got two for the price of one and could build a far more balanced rig because there’d be more cash for a beefy hard disk or graphics card or even a quality chassis.

Going the Phenom II route, he could also opt for 2GB of super cheap DDR2 memory as the Phenom II is compatible with both DDR2 and DDR3 memory. Going the Phenom II route he could also later upgrade his motherboard and memory, as the Phenom II is compatible with older AM2+ motherboards as well as newer AM3 models.

Ultimately then, whether you’re building a rig from scratch or you’re just upgrading your existing one, make sure you consider the CPU, motherboard and memory in relation to each other before you buy. Looking at them independently could cost you a lot more than you had planned to spend and could leave you with a rig that’s crippled in terms of other components.

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