Athlon 64 3000+: Pimping An Orphan?

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The Athlon 64 3000+ has been released, and it is available for as low as $240.

Should you buy one?

The answer to that question is another question. Do you want an expensive quick fling, or do you want a (fairly) long-term relationship.

A Quick Fling

This Athlon 64 is going to be obsoleted fairly quickly. AMD looks like it plans to move away from socket 754 to socket 939 for mainstream systems in 2004, leaving socket 754 for its value line.

This is probably because the Athlon 64 platform is a paradox: a high-performance engine with small fuel lines. If you want a performance system, especially for gaming, you need dual-channel memory. If you don’t have it, that’s a performance anchor that will become heavier and heavier as time goes on.

If performance isn’t that important to you, or you do things that don’t really require memory bandwidth, the Athlon 64 is overkill (at least given the price for the processor).

Perhaps more importantly, a generational shift in motherboards is imminent. This will consist of the following:

  • SATA becoming the primary hard drive standard
  • PCI Express becoming the video card standard
  • DDR2 replacing DDR
  • (At least for Intel) BTX replacing ATX as the motherboard form factor standard

    Intel will implement the first three with its next-generation chipset, and complete the transition at the end of 2004 with its “Bigwater” motherboard for Tejas.

    AMD looks like it will take smaller steps. The next generation of Hammer mobos will implement the first two changes. Memory will probably follow sometime in 2005, and we’ll just have to see about form factor.

    Buy an Athlon 64 now, and you miss out on all of this. On the other hand, missing out on all of this means you may be able to recycle more of your current system (i.e., memory and video card), thus reducing your upgrade cost.

    Then again, too, an overclocked Athlon 64 is also likely to generally do a little bit better than the average overclocked PIV system. Depending on how Prescott does and when socket 939 shows up, you’ll have a couple to a few more months of glory. But that’s it.

    The (Fairly) Long-Term Relationship

    Socket 939 boards should be out and plentiful within the next six months. That will give you dual-channel memory, and will also give you any performance tweaks those building a desktop board from scratch can muster over server-oriented socket 940 boards. (We strongly suspect there will be a bigger performance gap between socket 939 and 754 than currently exists between sockets 940/754.)

    Along with them ought to come Newcastle chips. The smaller cache will reduce performance, perhaps 5% for non-office use, but that loss should be more than compensated by the dual-channel memory/mobo tweaks.

    More importantly, it looks very likely at this point that socket 939 boards will accommodate future 90nm CPUs with just a BIOS change, giving socket 939 buyers more of an upgrade option more quickly than with socket 754 (where 90nm chips will be delayed, and may or may not include AMD64).

    AMD’s decision to hold off on DDR2 until 2005, the introduction of a (presumably cheaper) Newcastle, and the delay in 90nm processors shifts the optimal time to make a platform shift from socket A from later to sooner. Those who need to get more than a year’s mileage from a new platform should probably buy a socket 939 Newcastle system fairly early (prices and platform stability permitting), figure a 90nm processor upgrade somewhere down the road, then tentatively plan the next jump to be the K9.

    Those more patient can of course wait, but we may not see an affordable 90nm Hammer until early 2005, and that will be just too long to wait for many.

    Newcastle systems will cost a bit more than socket 754 systems, but the cost item that will get most people’s attention is a PCI Express video card. We’ll probably see hybrid systems and workarounds that will continue to allow the use of an AGP card, but on the whole, at this point in time, if you want a hot video card, it probably would be better to spend your money on the next big jump.

    I doubt that initially PCI Express cards will be any better than AGP cards, but that’s not why you would be buying the card. You’re buying the card that will work in your machine without any potentially-perfomance reducing kludges to get it to work.

    Another factor that may or may not come into play is the ability to change the multiplier upward on a socket 939 chip. You can with an FX. You can’t with an Athlon 64. We don’t know if you’ll be able to that with an FX Newcastle, but when it’s “don’t know” vs. “definitely no,” you have to lean to the first, since you’ll be no worse off no matter what.

    Pimping The Orphan…

    Pimping An Orphan

    I would bet that if the thoughts and feelings of this audience could be distilled into a single voice, that voice would say, “There’s nothing to do!”

    If one were to do a personality profile of the bulk of the hardware audience: it would be a teenager-young man, impatient and impulsive, and very susceptible to any ego-boosting pitch.

    They haven’t had any fun lately, and are looking for some.

    Marketing to such a group is easy. You just give them hints that they’ll be really smart/important/powerful/cool if they would just buy your product, and not too surprisingly given the bair, many then “decide” that they’ll be really important/powerful/cool by buying the product.

    These are the same people who read this piece and then tell me, “Don’t tell me what to do, let me decide,” then proceed to buy the first product that makes them feel smart/important/powerful/cool enough. 🙁

    I call it the “Kiss their asses then pick their pockets” approach to marketing. You take advantage of your potential buying audience’s vulnerabilities, then pander to their emotional wishes. Subtly, though. It’s sort of like cake mix, you let the buyer take the last step or two. That way, it becomes his idea, and he’ll angrily deny that he was manipulated into thinking that way.

    To some, this is great marketing. To us, it approaches child abuse, and the fact that it is so common as to be almost universal doesn’t make it right.

    What does this all have to do with Athlon 64s? This is a product soon to be orphaned from the performance market. The product that is going to orphan it won’t be around for a few months yet.

    So what do you do in the meantime? You lower the price a bit and pitch it to impatient people who don’t look ahead. You may call that smart, and certainly the retailers and many retail assistants reviewers will agree with you.

    I call it being played like a deck of cards.

    Is AMD being especially evil about this compared to others? No, but that doesn’t make it good, or make it something you should do.

    We just don’t think going socket 754 at this point is a terribly good idea or value for most people in this audience. After all, the company that makes the product implicitly agrees with that by phasing it out of the mainstream in its roadmaps. You may think we hate AMD, but does AMD hate AMD, too?

    At the very least, we think that anyone who is seriously considering buying one ought to do so with eyes WIDE open. There are certainly a few categories of people in this audience who can accept the drawbacks to buying this. The point is to make all aware of those drawbacks.

    Nor do we hate Hammer. We just haven’t liked any of the price/performance packages offered so far (and frankly, given the lack of talk in forums from people with them, neither have you). If it comes in at the right price, we think a socket 939 Newcastle is going to be the first decent buying opportunity for the average person reading this, or at least one you won’t be kicking yourself for three-six months later.

    We’re not against you buying a Hammer. We just want you to buy the right one.

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    Discussion
    1. 1) I am considering getting a 754 motherboard, because the benchmarks for gaming has been impressive.
      2) Again, I am considering this, but also considering a dual 64 solution.
      3) Ed's views on this aren't too good. First off, he says that if I go FX right now, I miss out on onboard sata. This is wrong, because I have seen alot of motherboards with sata on them. It seems he is trying to steer people away from it.
      "We just don't think going socket 754 at this point is a terribly good idea or value for most people in this audience."
      Who is this 'we' is he referring too? The overclocker crowd? The AMD crowd? I am assuming he is talking to at least one of the two mention, and I do not think everyone agrees with this view. I look at it this way: socket A is getting old. a 2.2 socket A can't compete with a 2.2 FX double channel or not. If I got a 940 socket, I have to get registered ram which is quite costly.
      I think the writer misses the same old argument we all see every time we want to buy some new piece of PC gear. Name one single computer component or CPU you can buy right now today that wont be outdated in less than a year. P4EE is already outdated, socket change on the way. FX-51, same deal. Athlon XP, history. Alpha's ? History.
      SATA is available now on almost every platform. Does this mean your PATA drives are no good ? Of course not. Should you hold off on buying a new DVD drive or hard drive because an SATA one might be better? Up to you but most reviews say there's no real advantage except bragging rights.
      DDR2 ? Sounds like RAMBUS all over again. And if its not so what. By the time DDR2 is common your system will be old news anyway.
      PCI Express is like DDR2. By the time it is wide spread your AGP card will be old tech anyway. That does not mean you need to replace your AGP card. We all know there are no games available that can saturate the AGP bus and with 256m AGP cards available the likelyhood of ever saturating the AGP bus is slim, at least for a couple of years.
      If the writer is trying to tell you not to buy an Atlon64 because it will be old tech soon my response is "What's your point?"
      Shall we wait forever to buy the perfect "never needs to be replaced" PC ? Good luck.
      :rolleyes:
      I've got an amd64 box right now, I'm posting from it even. I built it because I got the proc for free, I wouldn't have bought an s754 processor by choice.
      Don't have to wait much for 64bit software either, EVERYTHING on it with the exception of the bootloader is 64bit:
      The link in the first post points to the wrong article (dvd recorder) :)

      The answer to that question is another question. Do you want an expensive quick fling, or do you want a (fairly) long-term relationship.

      This is one of the most important questions raised, personally I think most people here change motherboards and processors fairly often.

      This Athlon 64 is going to be obsoleted fairly quickly. AMD looks like it plans to move away from socket 754 to socket 939 for mainstream systems in 2004, leaving socket 754 for its value line.
      This is probably because the Athlon 64 platform is a paradox: a high-performance engine with small fuel lines. If you want a performance system, especially for gaming, you need dual-channel memory. If you don't have it, that's a performance anchor that will become heavier and heavier as time goes on.
      If performance isn't that important to you, or you do things that don't really require memory bandwidth, the Athlon 64 is overkill (at least given the price for the processor).

      Looking at the recent reviews, it does'nt look like the narrow memory-buss is cripling the processor. I feel like the performance is still far better then what you are getting from anything else in the pricerange? Socket 939 is very tempting, but it won't be affordable before mid-summer. (possibly even later)

      Perhaps more importantly, a generational shift in motherboards is imminent. This will consist of the following:
      # SATA becoming the primary hard drive standard
      # PCI Express becoming the video card standard
      # DDR2 replacing DDR
      # (At least for Intel) BTX replacing ATX as the motherboard form factor standard
      Intel will implement the first three with its next-generation chipset, and complete the transition at the end of 2004 with its "Bigwater" motherboard for Tejas.
      AMD looks like it will take smaller steps. The next generation of Hammer mobos will implement the first two changes. Memory will probably follow sometime in 2005, and we'll just have to see about form factor.

      We are now talking about changes that will happen one year from now... I have also read speculations that ddr2 will not offer better performance in the beginning due to higher latencys. I'm not an expert on this, but if it's true, it could actually be better to get a motherboard that allows you to benefit from your current low latency ddr! Most people I know have bought radeon 9700 - 9800 videocards, and are not planning on upgrading them in the near future. If you think about it this way, it could actually be better to upgrade now, before the changes occure.

      Then again, too, an overclocked Athlon 64 is also likely to generally do a little bit better than the average overclocked PIV system. Depending on how Prescott does and when socket 939 shows up, you'll have a couple to a few more months of glory. But that's it.

      I wonder when there will be an upgrade available that will give you more then a couple of months of glory? :)
      Personally I'm waiting to see how the nforce 3 250 chipset will be, it should be coming out pretty soon. If it's good I don't see any reason not to build a system based on it. Yes, upgrade choises will be limitecd. I am however noticing that recently I have'nt really been upgrading only the processor, rather the motherboard and processor at the same time. I think socket 754 offers a fairly cheap upgrade that will give you top notch performance on current standards, and keep you happy untill tejas / very well overclocking A64's. Even though amd's current roadmap shows future 754 processors to be 32bit, I would'nt be suprised if there where 64bit versions coming out too. Even if it does'nt happen, I don't see what kind of upgrade path you would have getting a P4 now.
      yeah Im not buying a AMD till a few revisions down the road. If i had a 800mhz machine those 3000+ would look pretty attractive but i dont. I really hope AMD gets thier act together though, as i really want to see the AMD64 do well.
      Unless dual 939 Opterons are affordable this next Q2, I'll most likely go with a dual Xeon 32bit SMP platform this spring.
      If I really get the hankering to play with 64bits, I'll just get the (by then) cheaper 754 single CPU setup and install/compile 64bit Gentoo and apps.
      1) Do you currently own a socket 754 mobo?, are you considering getting one?, or are you waiting for Socket 939 boards

      The only thing holding me back, at this point, is the operating system. I'm not familiar enough with Linux to move to it, so I'm waiting for this 64bit revision of XP to hit the market. At that point, I'll probably have no qualms about getting an A64, be it 754 or 939.
      You can dual boot 32bit XP and Gentoo Linux until 64bti AMD widows gets released. You could also just run 32bit XP on the first partition and reserve a second partition for future 64bit AMD XP installation.
      You can dual boot 32bit XP and Gentoo Linux until 64bti AMD widows gets released. You could also just run 32bit XP on the first partition and reserve a second partition for future 64bit AMD XP installation.

      I've contemplated this in the past, but I'm just not comfortable with a dual boot system. Just one of my quirks. I built another PC out of mostly spare parts when I decided I wanted a Linux box to play with.
      Something I heard earlier this week really sparked my curiousity. A coworker of mine had someone give him an A64, so he went ahead and built a system around it. I asked him why he'd use that, instead of the P4 3.0 he was running, mainly because he's a big gamer. He told me that, running 64 bit Linux, he's able to play most DX9 games with Wine, without a problem. Anyone else able to confirm or refute this?
      That is bogus.
      1) Wine can only run a handful of DX8 games even, DX9 is still very much not common. You certainly can't pick random games off the shelf and expect many of them to run.
      2) The drivers Nvidia has on their site only accelerate 64bit apps.