Your trusty Agent looks at motherboard-processor combo deals this time-and while Core 2 Duo is it as performance goes, he's not dogmatic about it
I've been busy at home, tinkering with my rigs, trying my hand at overclocking and benchmarking. The performance from my current setup is abysmal enough to require loads of the former, without much luck with the latter.
I decided that I finally needed to upgrade my motherboard and CPU, since I already have two DDR2 memory sticks. DDR2 is the memory of choice for all current motherboards, and DDR-based systems should be steered away from. Incidentally, 1 GB of DDR2 533 MHz memory costs Rs 3,500.
A little research revealed that the performance of Intel's Core 2 Duo series has sent AMD on a price-slashing spree. AM2-based systems offer excellent value for money these days, and you can often get a board and the processor for the price of a Core 2 Duo. However, boys will be boys, and all things said, the C2Ds (as Core 2 Duos are called) are the best-performing options out there.
I had a budget of Rs 15,000 for both the processor and motherboard-something fast, but at a frugal budget.
With my maths done, it was time to visit Lamington Road. I popped into a shop I had visited earlier. I got the mandatory "Aaiye bhaiya." He showed me an ASUS P5B Deluxe for 13,000. This board is based around Intel's P965 chipset, and really is high-end. It features integrated Wi-Fi, six SATA ports, dual LANs, and two PCIe slots that support CrossFire. It has also been touted as an overclocker's delight. Too expensive for me, though.
I asked for something entry level, and he showed me an MSI P965 Neo V, which at Rs 6,300 offers Core 2 Duo support. This board, while a far cry from the P5B Deluxe, has all the features you'd need, and at less than half the price. It seems the Pentium D series have been phased out and this guy didn't have stock, nor could he arrange for any. The cheapest processor I could get was the E6300 clocked at 1.86 GHz-Rs 8,900. I sauntered out and walked into another shop.
Now this guy showed me two Gigabyte motherboards-a G965-DS3 and a P965-DS3. The "G" version has integrated graphics (true for all Intel board nomenclatures) while the "P" version doesn't. The DS series from Gigabyte have an all-solid-state capacitor design, meaning longer motherboard life; most motherboards use a mix of solid-state and electrolytic capacitors. The boards were priced similarly-the 965G costing Rs 9,500 and the 965P costing 9,800. The store guy also showed me a new Core 2 Duo-the E4300. This is a full-fledged Core 2 Duo (1.8 GHz) minus Virtualization Technology, and a lower-speed FSB (800 MHz) as opposed to 1066 MHz. The price is hardly lower than that of an E6300 (just 150 bucks less), so the latter makes for a better deal.
I was also offered an E6400 for Rs 11,200; this processor clocks at 2.13 GHz. What about Intel boards, I wondered? The D965RY is available for Rs 7,500. It's based on their G965 chipset.
Vendor #3 showed me a board based on NVIDIA's latest 680i chipset. Supporting x16 SLI, the ASUS P5N32-E SLI costs around 14,800. This motherboard was way beyond my budget, but it makes a good deal for someone looking for a high-end, feature-rich and future-proof board. I was shown an E6600 to go with the board. Now this processor is really something. Priced at Rs 15,500, the E6600 runs at 2.4 GHz and offers, at 4 MB, double the L2 cache of the E6300 and E6400. It's also fantastically overclockable. A very suitable combination for the enthusiast, however, the ASUS P5B Deluxe would suit this processor as well.
I also enquired about AM2 options. I was shown an ASUS M2N-MX @ Rs 4,500. Based around a GeForce 6100 Northbridge and an nForce 430 Southbridge, this board supports all the latest AM2 940 pin processors. I was recommended a 3600 processor costing Rs 6,200. Next up was a 3800 priced at Rs 7,400. Both these are capable dual-cores, and offer adequate performance for all applications including gaming. The 3800 is a Windsor core based on the 90nm process. The 3600 dual core is available in two flavours-an older 90nm Windsor core with an L2 cache of 256 KB per core, while the newer 3600 Brisbane is a 65nm part, sporting a total of 1 MB of L2 cache (512 KB per core). There were no combo deals available.
Decision time: sure the X2s are cheaper, and so are the platforms supporting them. But I wanted something that would last me a while. I finally decided on the MSI P965 Neo V and the E6300. I paid Rs 14,500 for both, getting a small discount.
To all of you on a similar hunt, I'd suggest a short wait if your need isn't as great as mine was. Intel has planned for a large price drop in late April, and prices here should reflect within a month of that. There is also a Q6600 processor-basically a Core 2 Quad clocked at 2.4 GHz, which promises to be priced at around the 25K mark soon. While it may seem unaffordable now, the higher processors in the Core 2 Duo line-up (like the E6600 and E6700) will surely fall to really affordable levels. Hold your horses just a bit longer.