Sweet Spot: March 2003

GRAPHICS CARDS:

GeForce4 Ti 4200-based, Radeon 9000-based

Prices continue to drop, but the Sweet Spot for graphics cards remains with the Radeon 9000 and GeForce4 Ti 4200, still priced between $200 and $500 depending on the bundle and memory configuration. Availability of 64MB versions of these cards is reportedly declining as the 128MB versions become standard.

News in the graphics card world heralds the coming of 8X AGP to the GeForce 4 Ti 4600, which will be known as the Ti 4800 in some countries and as the TI 4680 in others.

The Radeon 9000 and GeForce4 Ti 4200can be configured with 64MB or 128MB of DDR SDRAM and often will provide DVI and/or S-video connections in addition to the standard analog RGB monitor connector. The 128MB versions generally will be more expensive than the 64MB cards; the exception is when a 128MB-based card ships with basic fittings and software, compared to a fully-configured 64MB card with comprehensive software and accessory bundles.

It must be pointed out that although the Radeon 9000 does not provide close to 85 per cent of the performance of the top-of-the-line 9700, it does meet the Sweet Spot requirement for features. In the NVIDIA space, cards based on the GeForce4 Ti 4200 fulfil Sweet Spot requirements, providing most of the performance and features of the top Ti 4600 for around half the price.

MOTHERBOARDS:

Intel 845PE-based, VIA KT400-based

The Sweet Spot for AMD-based motherboards has shifted slightly from the VIA-KT333 chipset to the VIA-KT400 chipset, which provides improved AGP performance and improved RAM capabilities. It also boasts a better Southbridge in the form of the VT8235 that offers USB 2.0, ATA133 support, MC-97 modem, six-channel surround sound, and VIA MAC for 10/100 Ethernet.

The Intel-based Sweet Spot remains the 845 chipset. Its variations -- the 545E and 845PE -- provide excellent value for money.

As the basis of every single PC or notebook, the motherboard is the most integral part of your computer system and will be the determining factor when looking at your options for CPUs, RAM configuration, storage capacity, graphics, sound and connectivity. It can also determine the type of PC case you require; for example, a motherboard with onboard graphics, sound, network and modem connectivity can save up to four PCI slots and negates the need for an AGP slot. Not only that, but if you are working to a budget it can be a cost-effective exercise to utilise onboard features instead of adding your own.

Motherboards are defined by the chipset, which will determine (among other things) the associated type and speed of system RAM as well as processor type and size. Processor, RAM and front side bus (FSB) speeds have the greatest impact on performance.

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