Choosing the Motherboard, CPU, and RAM
If you haven't built a machine in a year or more, you should do some reading on the PCI Express standard. Most new motherboards include support for the new PCI Express interface, at the expense of some classic PCI expansion slots. This means that you might not have room in the case to recycle some of your old PCI cards, so plan accordingly. Throughout this series of articles I'll tell you the exact components I used when putting the system together.
For the mainboard I chose the Gigabyte GA-K8N Ultra-9, a compact board at 12 × 9.6 inches. It uses the nForce4 Ultra chipset and seats a socket 939 processor. It has three PCI slots, two PCI Express x1 slots, and one PCI Express x16 slot (for the graphics card). It includes a raft of useful features such as dual onboard Ethernet cards and up to 10 direct-to-mainboard USB connections. Overall, it forms a nice core to our high-end MCE system.
For the CPU, I chose the AMD Athlon 64 3200+ (Venice, 512KB L2 cache, socket 939). This unit has roughly the same performance as an Intel Pentium 4, 3.2 GHz CPU, but at a lower cost. Remember that you need a "socket 939" processor in order to fit the mainboard described above.
For the RAM, select your favorite brand. I've always been a fan of Mushkin RAM, but lately I've been finding a better value in lower-priced competitors. I ended up choosing twin 512MB sets of SuperTalent's PC3200 (DDR400, CL3). To achieve a combined 800 MHz front-side bus, be sure to place both sticks of RAM in the same-colored slots on the Ultra-9 mainboard.
Editor's Note: In an earlier version of this article we mistakenly referred to a "socket 959 processor" when in fact we meants a "socket 939 processor." This has been corrected, and we apologize for any confusion this typo may have caused.