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In This Issue...

- Radeon X1950Pro
- Water Cooling Case
- Small Formfactor PC
- Gigabyte 945PL Mobo
- MSI 975X Platinum Mobo
- PCstats Weekly Tips

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ASUS X1950 Pro & Intel Core 2 Duo Mobo's

ASUS is back this week with a good mainstream videocard called the EAX1950 Pro HTDP , based on the native Crossfire ATI Radeon X1950 Pro GPU. Following this are two Core 2 Duo motherboards, the first is the MSI 975X Platinum , the second a more economical Gigabyte GA-945PL-S3 motherboard. Biostar's nice little nVidia Geforce 6100 based iDEQ 250N small form factor PC, and Gigabyte's famous 3D Aurora 570 aluminum computer case round out the reviews today.

Given the volume of questions PCSTATS has received on this topic in the last week, I think many of you will find the short side column on whether to choose an AMD or Intel CPU especially helpful. If you need more detailed system recommendations, check out the PCSTATS ShoppingList. With Microsoft Windows Vista set for release on January 30th next year, we're seeing an equal number of questions on the mobile front. A Reader Asked, and we put forth some opinions on what to look for in a new notebook, what to avoid, and a some general mobile CPU recommendations. As always, no PCSTATS Newsletter would be complete without one of Colin's Weekly Tech Tips - Enjoy!

PS. The holiday's are a great time for fancy new technologies that suck your wallet dry, but you can make your existing PC work better just by using the tips and tweaks laid out in PCSTATS Beginners Guides. Start with the 99 Performance Tips, 101 Tips and Tweaks and 104 Great Tech Tips, before checking out the full collection of Guides here.

Thanks for reading!
Max Page
Editor-in-Chief - PCSTATS

Asus EAX1950Pro HTDP/256M/A Radeon X1950Pro Videocard Review

ATi has dramatically increased the value of its videocards with the release of the ATI Radeon X1950 Pro, this card has a remarkable among of bang for the buck. The best thing about the Asus EAX1950PRO is that it doesn't require a Master card to run Crossfire. The ATi Radeon X1950 Pro based PCI Express x16 videocard has 256MB of GDDR3 memory. It supports dual digital monitors and TV/S-Video output, along with high definition output through a set of component outputs. The Radeon X1950Pro GPU is clocked at 575 MHz, while the 256MB of GDDR3 memory runs at a brisk speed of 1380 MHz. The ATI 'RV570' GPU has 36 pixel and 8 vertex shaders, 12 pixel pipelines, and supports Shader Model 3.0, DirectX 9.0, OpenGL2.0, and anti-aliasing with HDR. High Definition content playback is supported by ATI's AVIVO, H.264 and HDCP compliance.Continue Here>>

A Reader Asks...

Q: Am I right in thinking it's a weird time to buy a laptop? I've played a bit with Windows Vista and watched it destroy a reasonable rig. Is there a notebook on the market that can stand up to Vista? Your thoughts are much appreciated.

A: The major notebook vendors are all in pre-Windows Vista limbo right now, so it's not exactly an ideal time to get a laptop. If you have plans to upgrade to Vista next year, at least make sure whatever notebook you choose now comes with an "Expres upgrade to Vista" coupon. Microsoft is concerned about people getting stuck with WinXP so close to Vista's mainstream release (Jan 30, 2007), that most brand name vendors are offering free or discounted upgrade coupons with PCs bought during the holiday season.

Notebook graphics will need to be at least DX9 compliant for Windows Vista (ex. Radeon Mobility X1300, Geforce Go 7800, Intel GMA950), and of course the Intel integrated GMA950 chip is the least impressive choice for gaming. It's fine for straight desktop work though.

In terms of laptop processing power, the consensus right now points towards an Intel Core Duo Mobile (Yonah), or preferably the new Intel Core 2 Duo Mobile (Merom) CPU. If there isn't a notebook in the Intel Core 2 Duo Mobile flavour that suits your needs now, it's probably best in the long run to hold off till you see something you like. Avoid Pentium 4/M notebooks entirely - they are too slow and too hot compared to the Intel Core Duo/2 Duo Mobile generations. To be fair to AMD, I'm not entirely certain how its Turion64 or dual-core Turion64 X2 CPUs stack up... so I'll reserve any comments on that front. Windows Vista runs with a minimum of 1GB DDR-2 memory, be safe and make sure the notebook supports 2GB of RAM, and top 'er up right from the start.

Biostar iDEQ 250N Mini PC Geforce 6100 Small Formfactor Barebones
READ In this review PCSTATS will be testing out the new Biostar iDEQ 250N Mini PC barebones system. The iDEQ 250N is a socket AM2 AMD Athlon64 platform which is based on nVIDIA's extremely popular GeForce 6100 and nForce 410 series chipsets. Even with Biostar's position as a value-oriented manufacturer, it has done a pretty decent job here. The system accommodates up to 4GB of DDR2-800 memory, and a PCI Express x16 videocard. The Geforce 6100 chipset gives away one other hidden talent to this small form factor barebones system... onboard Geforce 6-series graphics come standard. If budgets are tight, there's no reason why a socket AM2 Sempron 3600+ wouldn't turn this barebones into a handy little office or workstation PC for checking email, working on a report, or even kicking back to watch a movie on the PC. Continue Here>>

Gigabyte 3D Aurora 570 Aluminum Chassis Review

You may have seen a few Gigabyte heatsinks and watercooling kits, and now the company is coming out with a hybrid watercooling friendly case of its own. The Gigabyte 3D Aurora 570 is a full sized aluminum case has the kind of watercooling integration other case manufacturers have oddly overlooked for many years. It is designed for maximum system cooling while maintaining quiet operating parameters, and there are no less than three large 120mm cooling fans. Best of all, it has two tubing pass through vents for watercooling systems. The 3D Aurora 570 case has a nice grilled side panel that can be swapped out with an included clear case window (how nice is that! It's even pre-drilled for quick installation), contains plenty of tool free expansion space for hard drives & DVD-ROMs, and accomodates a full sized Intel or AMD motherboard with room to spare. Continue Here>>

Gigabyte GA-945PL-S3 945PL Express Motherboard Review

The Gigabyte GA-945PL-S3 motherboard is an affordable Intel platform of complementary technologies for consumers on a budget. Best suited to the upcoming 'Conroe-L' Celeron processor, the GA-945PL-S3's system bus runs at 800/533MHz FSB. The list of features here is a short one, but all the major must have's for a modern day computer are ticked off: USB2.0, multi-channel audio, 3GB/s Serial ATA support and Gigabit networking. This is a good no frills motherboard, inexpensive and ideal for office workstation environments where PCs are used for simple tasks like email, the internet, and running office applications.Continue Here>>

MSI 975X Platinum Motherboard Review


Okay, so Core 2 Duo is the bomb, and you're ready to upgrade into one - now what? Well first on your list should be a killer fast motherboard. The MSI 975X Platinum utilizes the Intel 975X northbridge and features Gigabit networking, Firewire, 7.1 channel audio, Serial ATA II/IDE RAID, two PCI Express x16 slots, two PCI Express x1 slots and two 32 bit PCI slots for legacy devices. The Intel 975X Express chipset is compatible with ATI's CrossFire technology which means you can run two videocards for dual rendering goodness, sweet! The board accommodates a maximum of 8GB of DDR2 800/667/533 memory in a dual channel configuration - more than enough for Microsoft Windows Vista to run smoothly.Continue Here>>

PCstats Weekly Tech Tips: Hybernation Control in Win XP and Server 2003

Microsoft deliberately disables 'hibernation' in WindowsXP and Windows Server 2003 systems that have more than 4GB of installed memory. It has done this because performance is affected... however there are cases where you might need hibernation support. Enabling this feature is easy, first load up Windows Explorer (right click on the My Computer icon and go to Explore) and from there click "Tools" then go to "Folder Options". From there click the "View" tab and in the "Advanced settings:" section find the "Hidden files and folders" options and select the "Show hidden files and folders" radio box. Next find the "Hide protected operating system files (Recommended)" check box, uncheck it and press the "OK" button.

That will now allow you to see the hidden OS files, go to the root directory of the drive that hosts the OS (most likely C:) and find the "boot.ini" file. Open it up in notepad and add "MAXMEM=XXXX" switch to the bottom, where "XXXX" is the size of your system memory in megabytes. Save the changes, reboot your system and you're set. You can now hibernate again.

Please note that this degrades system performance, but in case you absolutely need hibernation support (like with a laptop traveling between power sources), this feature allows you to save your work easily. If you no longer need hibernation, remove the MAXMEM line from the boot.ini file.

Let PCSTATS know what you think about this Tech Tip, and be sure to stop by PCSTATS Forums and post your comments or questions.

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Holiday Advice - AMD or Intel CPU?

Is a new PC in the cards for you this holiday season? The No.1 question PCSTATS is hearing from you is whether to go with an AMD or Intel CPU. Here's the official answer... Intel’s Core 2 Duo processors offer the best performance right now (Dec '06). If it's an overhauled PC, or new computer, the most attractive choice is the Intel Core 2 Duo E6600. The E6600 is moderately priced and has the same 4MB L2 cache as the higher end models. If you’re on a budget, the E6300 model 1.83 GHz with 2MB of L2 cache should perform faster than an AMD Athlon64 X2 equivalent.

If you want moderate Socket 775 upgrade, a lot of retailers are having fire sales on Intel Pentium D processors. Make sure you get a 900-series processor, these 65nm chips run cooler and faster because of larger L2 cache memory. The Pentium D 920 is particularly attractive. AMD Socket 939 users don’t necessarily have to upgrade to Socket AM2 or Intel Core 2 Duo CPUs. Dual core Socket 939 processors like the AMD Athlon64 X2 3800+ & X2 4200+ are reasonably good upgrade options, and won't require a full motherboard switch.

Videocards are a hot ticket item this time of year, and the new nVIDIA GeForce 8800GTX/GTS series are the cream of the crop. The GF8800-series supports DirectX 10. If you can’t afford to spend the mortgage payment on a videocard, something based on the ATi Radeon X1950 Pro or nVIDIA GeForce 7600GT GPU offers excellent value (both are DirectX 9 parts). Just keep in mind there will be no mainstream DirectX 10 videocards in time for the holiday shopping season, so you may want to wait if Windows Vista is your next big upgrade...

Shopping is a lot of fun and with all the sales on goodies, hopefully that helped clear any issues you may have had on either subject. For more suggestions, check out this month's PCSTATS Shopping List!
- Colin

"Get the 'Stats and Stay Informed!"

This Issue By
Editor-in-Chief. Max P.
Weekly Tips. Colin S.
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