Need Advice On The Best Pc Upgrade(s)

I have a limited amount of cash to initially spend on a fully-fledged PC upgrade for my music creation, so I want to try and spend it as wisely as possible. As some of you know already, I want the PC to create the music itself 100% in-house, so this suggests that a good CPU and plenty of RAM is the key.

My current plan is to get something around the 2.6/2.8Ghz mark (whether it be a P4 or A64-XP), at least 512mb (with a motherboard that supports dual-bank DDR for another 512mb later on). The video card I am thinking of atm might be a Radeon 9600XT (which seems to be the best price for the quality, which I’ll use for the latest games like Far Cry etc) and I already have a SB Audigy(1) soundcard and a 120Gb PATA HD.

What I would like to know is, given one choice or the other, where do you think I should focus the cash on the most? Is the amount of RAM more important than the apparent speed of the CPU (considering I will most likely be loading in tons of samples and effects for the music-making) or what else should I consider on top of this? Any help greatly appreciated. WG.

at the moment the P4 prices are not so high (in gemany) … and a p4 is a good choice. without a 64bit OS (windows xp 64) and without 64bit applications i would’nt buy an athlon64. RAM is an important thing for multimedia stuff: 1gigybyte should be enough … if you need a great and cheap professional soundcard look for E-MU cards 1212m or 0404 are great cards 99-199$

there is no benefit from running a 64bit CPU on a 32bit environment, like WinXP. the reasons for why athlon64/fx’s are outperforming the AthlonXP for example, are pretty diversified.
the transistor count for the 64 and the FX has nearly doubled over the XP - responsible for that is the increase of the massive Level1 + Level2 Cache, which are of course, on DIE.
the L1 cache weights 128k and the L2 1024k - the XP has a 512k L2 cache.
furthermore, the memory controller is no longer located on the motherboard’s northbridge (which was completely moved on-die), but on the CPU DIE itself (64+FX), which dramatically reduces latancies during memory transfers.
apart from that, the Athlon FX supports dual-channel (registered) DDR, whereas the Athlon64 still runs them in single channel mode.
but all the architectual improvements made to the core and subsystem, improve the performance also for 32bit dramatically, without sigificantly raising the nominal operating frequency.
both, the athlon64 and the FX do also support intel multimedia extensions, SSE & SSE2.

nowadays P4’s get constantly outperformed by AMDs 64/FX CPUs, only when hyperthreading is supported, the P4’s are able to perform equally good or better. so if you’re not into video editing/encoding or plan to overclock the hell out of your P4, i’d definately go for an athlon64, since it really offers the better performance for nowadays most common applications like games and also, and i guess that’s the point here, renoise.
price/performance wise, i’d go for an Athlon64 3200+, the one running at 2Ghz, featuring 1024kb L2 cache. costs around 200-210EUR here in germany. you won’t be disappointed by its performance.
(the athlonFX is pretty out of your price range, i guess. the FX-53, the current flagship model of AMD, costs around 700EUR++)

memory-wise, you should go for at least one stick of 512MB PC400, but if your wallet allows for for a further one, it wouldn’t hurt of course.

concerning the graphics card, i wouldn’t go for a 9600XT, especially as you plan to play games like FarCry, which is up to now, the most hardware demanding piece of gaming software out. the 9600 (no matter if XT or not) only features a 128bit memory interface and 4 rendering pipelines. a 9700(pro) and 9800(pro/xt) all feature 256bit/8pipes, which really pay off in graphically intensive situation.
so my recommendation would be to get a rather low-cost radeon9800pro now, as prices are really affordable for these cards meanwhile - for around 180EUR you should be able to get one of those, or a pre-used 9700pro, for around 100EUR is a good one as well.

hope this helps a bit…

Actually, it helps a lot - thanks Keith. You seem to have an intimate knowledge on everything PC, but is there a website that provides an all-in-one comparison table of the features of each peripheral? The best I can find of this stuff anywhere is a list of completely individual reviews on one particular model of one particular brand of one particular generation of video card - and this is just not good enough. How am I meant to know which one of the SE, Pro, XT or whatever monikers is actually better than another? And for the fact that the “hidden” features of any manufactured card (such as bits and pipelines as you mentioned earlier) will have a minor or major impact on performance?

Surely there must be a place that shows, not only the technical spec’s of each and every video card (or sound card or motherboard or whatever), but also dishes out some of the “dhrystone”(?) tests that give a definitive numbers test comparison between each of the peripherals on offer. At least then you can tell whether a 9600XT actually outperforms a 9800Pro, and I wouldn’t have even known something like this unless you told me.

Maybe I’m asking too much of any one website to do something like this, but it is a veritable minefield out there when I have to decide on one video card or another to do something more than the other that I initially decided on buying (like 9600XT or 9800Pro etc). Do you get this information from an informative website (not like the sporatic places like TomsHardware), if so, where? Many thanks.