Alright, so. Brief bit of background. I've never built my own rig before, and usually just fork my money over to Dell when it comes time for an upgrade. It's more or less that time now - though Crysis plays a shameful part in that calculation - and after having it born upon me that the $3000 system I was drooling over could be built for a little more than half that, I decided to give putting together my own a shot.
Here's what I initially came up with after a lot of researching and agonizing:
Asus P5N32-E SLI LGA 775 NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI Motherboard
Intel C2D E6850
4GB (2x2) G.Skill DDR2
Either 2x8800GT or 8800GTX
Storage, sound card, etc.
And of course, Vista x64
I was all set on this particular set-up, and then I happened to come across some threads concerning the 680i mobos' inability to work with the new quad core chips out of Intel, Penryn or whatever it's called. Plus, 680is seem like they've been on the block for a while now, and the motherboard's one of the things I'd rather end up not having to upgrade six months down the line.
That's half the goal of this new system, by the way; future-proofing as much as I can on what I can, and having stuff that'll be good enough to work for the next six months or a year for the rest. Now I'm giving serious thought to dumping the SLI notion and just going with an 8800GTX right out of the gate, or even just a single GT, and waiting to see what nVidia's got around the corner, and therefore getting a newer mobo, and maybe even going with that quad core processor, the Q6600, with an eye towards picking up a newer quad core when they come down in price.
At the same time, I'd like the system to be better-than-decent as-is - I have wholly unrealistic dreams of running Crysis on High settings on the brand new widescreen I'll be getting with the whole deal - and better-than-decent for a while if I blow the funding on booze or something.
So my main questions are regarding the motherboard, processor, and GPU, and they're all related. I have no idea if SLI's worth it, but the benchmarking I've seen indicates that a pair of 8800GTs will beat a single GTX pretty handily, while with the processor it seems like a lot of games - and this is primarily a gaming rig - don't make use of quad core right now, and it might be a while before they start. On the other hand, going with SLI means being stuck with the 680i chipset, and while there's supposedly a fix in the works for the whole Penryn thing, keep in mind I had to look up 'flash your BIOS' to know what the heck it meant, and I'm still not sure.
In May I was where you are now and at the time the 680i was a mess, it was buggy and had its problems. For that reason I decided to go for an Intel mobo and a single card solution because SLI didn't scale well with some games. Thats why I recommend only getting one great card then getting two lesser cards in case the game you want to really play doesn't use both cards well.
I say get an Intel mobo (Asus P5K Deluxe) with one 8800GT/GTX and the quad that you want and later when Nvidia releases their 9800GTX grab two of those and by then Nvidia will have their 780i out. The Nvidia 780i is supposed to be a 2Q launch and I believe Nvidia will release their monster (9800GTX) summer or fall. What resolution were you planning to play at? The system in my sig will be good enough for a year and a half, but will get the 9800GTX whenever it comes out even if its next week.
I know you want to futureproof, but its hard to do that right now because of DX10/DX10.1. Thing are going to be changing rapidly, and all we can do is get whats best now and enjoy it forever long we can.
And yeah, right now's just generally a terrible time to buy, I can tell that much already just from the uncertainty with 680i/Penryn, DirectX10, etc. Still, I've got the cash now, and if I hang out until January or whenever things are a little more clear, it'll likely be gone to far more prudent - but much less enjoyable - purchases.
The reason I'm strongly considering the E6850 over the Q6600 is that I'm not an overclocker. Never done it before, could probably figure it out, but I'd be terrified of frying the chip, and I have no idea how the relative frequencies of the processor and the memory interact, etc. The dual core seems like the way to go if you're not going to mess with overclocking; there's also the fact that I'm pretty sure Crysis is the only game in town right now that'll keep four cores busy, and to crown it all, I'll be upgrading the processor - to a quad core, almost doubtlessly - within a year anyway.
So, yeah. I guess that means I'm more or less decided on the E6850 with a single GPU. Is the P5K the "best" motherboard out there at the moment? Like I said, the motherboard's one thing I foolishly hope to never have to touch until I just get a new system a few years down the line.
Also, ain't the X38 a DDR3 board? DDR3 memory seems extraordinarily not-cheap at the moment.
The only thing the X38 offers over the P35 is PCI-E 2.0 which no graphics card uses at the moment. The Asus P5K Deluxe (P35) has much more mature drivers (bios updates) then the newer X38. Its very easy to OC, all you do is set the CPU Vcore for 1.45 change FSB to 400x8 and then run Orthos for 12 hours. Get a good CPU cooler like a Tuniq Tower 120. Is so easy to OC once you learn, you'll look back and say it was that easy.