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Need Advice for Phenom II upgrade

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April 18, 2009 8:54:39 PM

This is my first post on these boards, so please excuse any breaches in protocol.

My system is old. I'm running an Athlon 64 3000+ on an MSI k8n something something motherboard with a paltry 1gb of RAM. Slow RAM. It's time.

After looking at the local price comparisons between Intel and AMD, I've decided on basing my upgrade around a Phenom II cpu (either the 920 or 940 AM2+). I'd toyed with the idea of getting an AM3 socket system for the DDR3 memory, but there seems to be no clear timeline on when a decent AM3 Phenom II cpu will be available, and I'm not entirely convinced it will be worth it.

I upgrade the big stuff infrequently enough that CPU upgrade potential isn't huge for me. By the time I'll need/want a new one, the landscape will be entirely different, and I'll likely need a new motherboard anyway. That said, I would like the option to expand my RAM down the road, and upgrade my hard-drives and video card (so onboard video cards are not appealing to me).

So far, I'm looking at the ASUS M4N72-E as a reasonably priced mid-level board. I've never overclocked and I'm a little frightened to venture into that territory, but it allows me to use my GeForce 7950 GT (which means I don't need a new graphics card -- this one still meets my needs). My biggest disappointment is that this board will only support up to 4gb of DDR2 at 1066Mhz -- anything beyond that means an instant downclock to 800Mhz. 4gbs is enough for me FOR NOW, but I was hoping to have the option to expand later (ie post Windows 7 release) without taking a speed hit.

So I suppose my questions are as follows:

Should I be more patient and wait on more AM3 options and get the DDR3?

Is there a better option for a Phenom II cpu in AM2+ that will accept plenty of RAM at 1066Mhz, and will accept my GeForce 7950 GT (512Mb) and my old IDE Hard Drives (2 of them)?

I'm looking for a system that will last me a good long while (hence going for quad core 45 nm cpu now, even though it's overkill for what I currently do) and allow for some upgrades, but I don't need the absolute fastest and best (so please, no i7 core suggestions, I'm far too poor). What I DO value more than speed is reliability and stability. I've had too many system fall apart on me in the past.

Which brings me to my last question: will my Ultra 500W (19A on the 12v line) support the new motherboard (whatever it happens to be), a Phenom II cpu, a GeForce 7950 GT, 2 hard drives, and a DVD writer (I've got a sound card as well, but I suspect the onboard sound options on a new motherboard will be more than sufficient)? My noobish research tells me yes, but I'm hoping for more experienced opinions on the matter.

Really, I think the RAM is the key to what I'll do. The DDR2 vs DDR3 and the 1066 vs 800 Mhz options all have me spinning around in terms of what I need now, might need later, and will I wish I did it differently.

Thanks for reading the ramblings of a new guy and for any advice/wisdom you might have for me.

More about : advice phenom upgrade

a b V Motherboard
April 18, 2009 9:01:21 PM

Avoid DDR3, its like not faster but more expensive. Why should you wait? Only reason AMD is doing this is because it has to switch because DDR2 will become very expensive again as production volume shrinks. DDR3 is not really an advantage; since it has higher latency than DDR2 which is bad.

Just go for DDR2 its so much cheaper. You may also want to look at Phenom X3 720BE which is also a good performer, especially for gaming etc. DDR2/1066 wont really matter that much; they likely have higher latency also so part of the performance increase is cancelled out. Clock speed isn't everything. ;-)
April 18, 2009 9:05:32 PM

One more important thing I forgot to mention:

I'm still running Windows XP Home edition (with all the service packs of course). I know this means I won't see all 4 gb of RAM, but I want to have a machine that's ready for Windows 7 and won't need an upgrade at that time (except maybe dropping in a bit more ram).

I've just read that nVidia chipsets and AMD don't always play nice together. I've seen a lot of ASUS boards with an M4A designation, but a lot of them talk about crossfire. I've still got that nVidia vid card and I'm hoping not to need a new one.

I take the M4A's to mean AMD chipsets, but do I need a Radeon-type vid card for those, or am I fine with my GeForce as long as I stick to one card at a time (ie no SLI)?
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April 18, 2009 9:07:37 PM

Thanks for the tips, sub mesa! The whole 3 core cpu seemed odd to me, and I've read they're basically partially functional quad-cores. This makes my spider-sense tingle with respect to stability/longevity. Am I just being paradoid?
a b V Motherboard
April 18, 2009 9:20:03 PM

Yes you are, Intel has been selling 'damaged processors' since the 386DX and 386SX; the SX has its co-cpu turned off because it was produced 'faulty'; by disabling it and selling for a lower price they still could make money with it. Both AMD and Intel, and also GPU makers like nVidia and ATi have been doing this regularly. And it makes perfect sense.

Trust me when i say a triplecore with damaged 4th core will run just as stable as any other cpu; the triplecores are using the latest technology offered by AMD but for a cheaper price. The X3 triplecores are an excellent product; just make sure you get the Phenom II and not the original "65nm" Phenom.
a b V Motherboard
April 18, 2009 9:23:41 PM

Regarding windows 7: it wont have higher demands than Vista; it will actually be a lighter OS i believe - though that is no surprise given the amount of bloat in windows Vista. So if you pick XP now, you should be able to switch to Windows 7 in the future. Note however windows 7 has no upgrade option for XP; only for Vista. You might ofcourse do a clean install and backup your files.

Regarding the chipset: as long as you don't use SLI or Crossfire it shouldnt really matter whether you have an AMD 780G or 790GX chipset or one from nVidia (GeForce 8200/8300 are good ones for AMD). These are all excellent power-efficient chipsets. If they have shortcomings, i'm not aware of them.
April 18, 2009 11:47:23 PM

The M4N72-E I was looking at has an NVIDIA nForce 750a SLI chipset.
a b V Motherboard
April 18, 2009 11:57:03 PM

That one is good too, if you need SLI or even if you don't. The Micro-ATX boards consume less power though, but this one is a good middle option. nVidia's other SLI-chipsets are power hogs.
April 19, 2009 12:29:47 AM

For now I don't need SLI, and certainly adding a video card would require a power supply upgrade (currently on a 500W, and hoping I can milk it a while longer).

I kinda liked having the option open for later down the road. One never knows.

With respect to RAM, this board supports up to 16 gigs, but only supports 1066 for the first 4. After that, it's all 800 Mhz. I'll be using only 4 for now (since I'm still on WinXP), but if I get 4 gigs at 1066, will I run into problems if I then add another 4 gigs of 800 and run them all concurrently?

My last concern I've stumbled on (I know, I'm a pest) is something I read on the asus.com spec sheet: http://ca.asus.com/products.aspx?modelmenu=2&model=2821...

Specifically, the line: - 6 x SATA 3Gb/s ports (Legacy IDE operation is only supported on drives 1–4.).

If I'm understanding this right, I should have no problem keeping my 2 IDE hard drives and my IDE DVD writer, so long as they're plugged into the appropriate sockets. I've never used SATA -- will I need some kind of special cable I don't have or something?


I really appreciate all the help, sub mesa. You clearly have the patience of a Jedi Master. Or Jobe. Or geology. Or something.
a b V Motherboard
April 19, 2009 1:43:03 AM

I believe the DDR 1066MHz-limit is a CPU limitation, but im not sure about that. In any case, you can combine faster and less fast memory; they will run at the speed of the slowest memory module: 800MHz. It wont make much difference, the latency of DDR 1066MHz may be higher so all in all they arent faster.

Modern motherboards have only one Parallel ATA connector. You can connect two PATA devices to one PATA cable. Older motherboards had two PATA connectors allowing 4 drives to be connected. So with you having three PATA devices you need to update one of them to Serial ATA standard.

You can easily do this by buying a SATA DVD-burner for like 30 euro or something -- they are only 1 or 2 euro/dollar more expensive than PATA models. This way, you still have two PATA harddrives which you can connect to the single PATA connector.

The message you gave means Serial ATA ports 5 and 6 will only run in native "AHCI" or "RAID" mode, but not in "IDE emulation" mode. This means older operating systems like XP can't see the drive without special drivers. Vista and up works great with AHCI. AHCI is the native (preferred) method of communicating with Serial ATA devices.

Because many people confuse IDE with Parallel ATA, the message you got is very misleading. IDE actually means the philosophy of having a controller in the harddrive instead of the motherboard; being the opposite to the SCSI-philosophy where the drives are 'submissive' to the interface.

So if you're still following me, you'd have the following config on your new motherboard:

PATA: your two older PATA harddisks
SATA1: (works in IDE mode)
SATA2: (works in IDE mode)
SATA3: (works in IDE mode)
SATA4: (works in IDE mode)
SATA5: (only AHCI!)
SATA6: (only AHCI!)

IDE mode means in practise that the device will be detected by older operating systems like XP without the use of any special drivers.

AHCI mode means for XP that you need special drivers. It works without special drivers for Vista, windows 7 and virtually all Linux. AHCI also unlocks additional features like Hot-Plugging and native command queueing. Not that important really for home users.

A new motherboard will have both PATA cable and at least two Serial ATA cables. You may also need modern Serial ATA power cables since SATA disks don't use the old "molex" power cables from your power supply anymore. Instead, they use the black Serial ATA power connectors, like these:



This is actually a converter cable from normal Molex (on the right) to Serial ATA power connector (left).



Here on the left is Serial ATA power connector, on the right is Serial ATA data connector. Modern power supplies have its own Serial ATA power connectors, else you can try conversion cables like the one above.

Good luck. :) 
April 19, 2009 2:02:02 AM

That actually made a whole lot of sense, and cleared things up for me immensely, thank you.

I'm actually going to be using my older 500W power supply and my older PATA hard disks, so I can just keep using the power cables I'm using now. I'll have to re-check exactly how my DVD writer connects to the motherboard, I think I might be able to get away with keeping it as well. If I said my NEC dvd rw nd-3540a was IDE ATAPI, that would be separate from the 1 PATA connector wouldn't it?
a b V Motherboard
April 19, 2009 2:34:19 AM

Whenever you read IDE, it probably was meant as PATA - Parallel ATA. Technically IDE is something different than PATA, but that's a technicality that doesn't matter.

So you have Parallel ATA dvd burner, not a Serial ATA one. ATAPI is the standardized interface so all operating systems communicate with a CD or DVD or Blu Ray drive in the same way (at least for reading - writing may be different).

The problem is now that you have two PATA harddrives and one PATA dvd burner, that makes three devices and you can only connect two to a modern motherboard -- the rest has to be Serial ATA! So the simplest and cheapest you can do is replace your PATA dvd burner with a Serial ATA dvd burner, then you can use one Parallel ATA cable to connect your two harddrives. No other Parallel ATA devices can be connected after that, since modern motherboards only have room for one PATA cable - not two like in the past.

Another option would be to buy a PCI Parallel ATA addon controller, but i would try to avoid that.
April 19, 2009 2:45:08 AM

Sorry to make you repeat yourself there, the ATAPI bit threw me off. I'll have to look into SATA DVD writers as per your suggestion. Sounds like a better solution than the PCI PATA Addon.

Thanks again. I'm starting to feel like I've hired you and owe you wages!
a b V Motherboard
April 19, 2009 3:01:23 AM

Ah well i was bored anyway, and nothing wrong with helping people out when im bored :p 

good luck anyways, hope you won't run into any trouble.
April 19, 2009 3:50:50 AM

sub mesa said:
good luck anyways, hope you won't run into any trouble.


Makes two of us! And thanks to you, I'm far less likely to!
!