I'm starting to get the PC upgrade itch again. I built my current rig in March, 2002 and added a few upgrades to it over the past two years (including a slick Matrix Orbital LCD display). Since I typically upgrade my PC every two years, it looks like 2004 will bring some new hardware to my desk.
I had originally planned to upgrade my motherboard, processor, hard disk and video card in the May/June timeframe. This timeframe was based on rumors that Intel's new Alderwood (925X) chipset would be available near mid-year. This new chipset will support DDR2 memory and PCI Express — two technologies that will bring improved performance to the desktop. I had also hoped to take advantage of new graphics chip introductions by NVIDIA in this timeframe, as my Geforce 4 Ti4600 is getting rather long in the tooth. However, things have changed on the technology front that are causing me to re-evaluate my upgrade timeframe.
First, Intel announced this week that they will be introducing 64-bit extensions into future Xeon and Prescott server processors. While this doesn't directly affect my upgrade path, it does open the door for a couple of things: Intel could reduce the price of their Extreme Edition procs, since they are essentially repackaged (non-64 bit) Xeon procs; or Intel could broaden their support of 64-bit extensions across their desktop processor family. Intel have stated that their 64-bit strategy won't extend to the desktop for some time. But, things could change with AMD providing market pressure via their Athlon 64 processor.
Second, there haven't been any announcements from NVIDIA regarding new chipsets or PCIe support. ATI announced their support for PCIe the other day, so it stands to reason that NVIDIA will do the same. I can't imagine that NVIDIA wants to continue to play catch-up with ATI, especially since ATI has gobbled up a considerable amount of market share with their Radeon 9600/9700/9800 products. Personally, I would prefer to stick with NVIDIA products, as they have been consistently reliable and well-performing. I had a poor experience with ATI a few years back. So, I'm very hesitant to buy their products again, in spite of reports that their drivers have improved with the newer generation of Radeon cards.
What does this all mean for me? I've decided to hold off on my full upgrade until late summer or early autumn. This should allow time for new chipsets (processor and graphics) to hit the market and settle in, as well as the 64-bit question to become a bit more clear. Hopefully, some higher clock speeds will hit the market by then as well — it would be nice to have a 3.8GHz Prescott proc. I also plan to give my system a bit of a performance boost with a new video card in the meantime. It doesn't make a lot of sense to spend a lot of money on the upgrade, but I do want a noticable performance improvement. So, I've decided to buy a card based on the Geforce FX 5900 chipset. Cards based on the FX 5900 are only slightly lower in performance (about 5-10%) than those based on the flagship FX 5950 chipset, and they cost a lot less. My favorite online vendor NewEgg.com has an eVGA card for $217, which is about what I'd like to spend on the upgrade. The card has received good reviews, and anecdotal customer reviews appear to be good as well. It will be interesting to see how much better games (especially SWG and BF1942) perform with the upgrade.