SBM 2: Mid Cost System

Motherboard: MSI P6N SLI Platinum

With so many high-performance chipsets to choose from, picking an individual board could have been difficult. The P35 Express has certainly emerged as the one supporting the highest bus speeds, but even the best Q6600 isn't going to need more than FSB1600 to reach its maximum air-cooled speed.

With the CPU as the limiting factor in overclocking, we chose Nvidia's nForce 650i SLI chipset, for its combination of high-end integrated features and moderate price. MSI's P6N SLI Platinum stood out in our 650i Comparison, offering great add-in features and the best overclocking of 650i chipsets at that time, together in a moderately-priced package.

The nForce 650i SLI chipset allows the use of either a single graphics slot with its full 16 PCI Express pathways, or two cards via splitting those pathways across two slots. SLI capability means that builders who would like to copy our system will have the SLI upgrade option. However, the slight dual-card performance deficit of x8 transfer mode for each slot marks this as a "cheaper" solution than high-priced nForce 680i counterparts.

Points favoring the $140 P6N SLI Platinum include IEEE-1394 FireWire and External SATA ports, plus quality enhancements such as all solid capacitor construction. Nvidia's 650i SLI chipset has one more trick up its sleeve, though, compared to Intel's "better overclocking" parts. This is the ability to "eject" hard drives via an icon in the Windows XP system tray, which reduces the likelihood of lost data from the cache should buyers connect the Southbridge SATA/RAID controller to a removable drive bay.

Memory: 2x 1 GB PDP Patriot Extreme Performance PC2-6400 Low Latency

Patriot's part number PDC22G6400LLK was retained from our previous mid-priced build, due to its high value and exceptional overclocking capabilities. These CAS4 modules keep dropping in price, and a kit of two 1 GB modules is now available for around $110 before rebates. Savvy buyers may find a final price under $70 after rebates through diligent shopping.

We could have chosen even more DRAM and stayed within budget, but Windows XP doesn't properly support more than 3 GB and Windows Vista still isn't fully mature. Some users might never see the appeal in Microsoft's latest operating system given the state of DRM, but we'll always be willing to reconsider Windows Vista as Windows XP approaches end-of-life status.