Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The New System

Like I've mentioned previously, I'll be building a new system soon. I've got two main decisions left to make: CPU (AMD or Intel), and multi-GPU type (Nvidia or ATI).

I've been a big AMD guy for two years. The FX chips have been fantastic, they've been superior to Intel's tech, and the FX-51 I used in my current system has been flawless. Actually, AMD's server chips (Opteron) have been far superior to Intel as well. And Dell announced just last week that they'll be using Opterons in customer systems for the first time, possibly as a gateway to offering other types of AMD chips.

In short, everything seems to be going AMD's way.

Funny thing about that, though.

AMD just introduced the new socket AM2 processors, and guess what? The only real performance improvements are based on sheer clock speed. The new architecture itself appears to be giving no additional performance.

Then there's Conroe. Intel's new desktop architecture (marketed as the "Core 2 Duo"), which will ship in less than two months, apparently offers performance improvements in the neighborhood of 40% while consuming 40% less power than the previous generation.

In other words, from all appearances, Conroe is a real monster of an engineering achievement. It looks so impressive that I'm biting my lip and waiting to build the new system until July.

Oh, and apparently the highest speed Conroe chip is going to debut at roughly half the price of the FX-62.

Intel's new server chip (codenamed Woodcrest) is also extremely impressive. They've apparently retaken the engineering lead in servers, too.

So it seems like everyone has figured out just how much better AMD's technology is--just as they appear to have lost their lead.

I'd also been leaning toward SLI (Nvidia) over Crossfire (ATI) for months as well. Then I saw an article over at The Inquirer that had this excerpt:
The NV boards consistently draw 40W more than the ATI ones, be it idle, CPU load or gaming/GPU load.

... Here is the problem, with these numbers, massively overstated for what they are, the NVidia chipset draws 50% more power than the ATI solution. If you scale the numbers down to realistic levels, it is not a stretch to imagine the ATI solution taking half the power of the NV one. This is a HUGE difference, even with the power measured directly to avoid PSU conversion losses, you are talking big time heat/wattage differences.

Ouch. That is a massive difference, and if it's verified by other sources (The Inquirer based this on a review over at Hot Hardware, and here's the power consumption page), that's going to tilt me over to Crossfire. I'd rather have a quiet system than a loud one, and the combination of Conroe and Crossfire should produce the highest performance with the lowest power consumption, which means less heat and fewer fans. I'm still not sold on the Crossfire tech, since it still seems relatively immature, but SLI still has rough edges as well.

That's where I am right now. I'll probably change my mind ten times before July.

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