Today we'll be handing out our Best Hardware of 2005 awards to the most compelling enthusiast-oriented products of the year. We've also come up with a series of unique awards to highlight some of the year's biggest events and trends, and we haven't pulled any punches. Read on for the best and worst of the past year.
Best hardware awards
Although 2005 was filled with new product releases, not every new product was a gem. Even fewer had real appeal for PC enthusiasts, who crave a perfect blend of cutting-edge features, heart-fluttering performance, rock-solid reliability, and budget-friendly affordability. We've singled out a number of the best enthusiast-oriented products of the past year, recognizing the top processor, graphics chip, chipset, hard drive, and sound card. Our picks are by no means a definitive guide to the best components for an enthusiast's PC. For that, we suggest you check out our system guide, which makes component recommendations for enthusiast-oriented PCs and workstations at various price points.
AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+
This one's a no-brainer. 2005 was the year dual-core processors hit the mainstream, and none was more attractive to enthusiasts than AMD's Athlon 64 X2 3800+. AMD actually launched its dual-core architecture with Opteron processors for servers and workstations, but SMP's creamy smoothness soon made its way to desktops in the Athlon 64 X2. The 3800+ wasn't a part of the initial salvo of Athlon 64 X2 processors, but this 2.0GHz chip with 512KB of L2 cache per core wasn't far behind. It wasn't terribly expensive, either. AMD launched the X2 3800+ at $354, and today, you can find it for sale for just over $300 online. Considering the X2 3800+'s impressive performance and overclocking potential, that's one heck of a deal.
To Intel's credit, the Pentium D 820 was actually the most affordable dual-core processor of 2005. It was also the first budget dual-core chip to hit the market. However, the X2's superior architecture, significant performance advantage, more effective clock-throttling, and lower power consumption and heat output easily outclassed any of Intel's dual-core chips. For enthusiasts, the Athlon 64 X2 3800+ offered an untouchable blend of price and performance. Its appeal hasn't been limited to hardware geeks, either. The chip has become so popular that AMD is having problems keeping up with demand.
Another candidate for best processor is AMD's recently released Opteron 165. The chip plugs into a standard 939-pin socket and, unlike 940-pin Opterons, doesn't require registered DIMMs. The Opteron 165 also packs 1MB of L2 cache per core and runs at lower default voltages than Athlon 64 X2 processorsan important consideration for overclockers. The chip quickly became a favorite among enthusiasts and overclockers, but not all Socket 939 motherboards support the new Opterons. AMD is also juggling shipments to ensure that workstation and server builders get first dibs on the chips. It's an understandable move considering that AMD brought the Opteron 100-series to Socket 939 in an attempt to lower platform costs for server and workstation builders, but it may ultimately limit the number of processors that are made available to enthusiasts. Either way, the impact of 939-pin Opterons hasn't been nearly as profound as that of the X2 3800+.
NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GT
Unlike last year, we're not splitting our best graphics award between low-end, mid-range, and high-end cards. Our system guide already highlights our favorites at a variety of different price points. More importantly, however, one graphics card clearly stood out above the rest in 2005, regardless of price points and market segments. For enthusiasts looking for next-gen features and spectacular performance at an affordable price, nothing was better than NVIDIA's GeForce 7800 GT. The card was the second GeForce 7-series product to hit the market in 2005, and it still landed months before ATI's Radeon X1000 series debuted. Early availability allowed NVIDIA's graphics card partners to get the jump on the red team, and these days, you can find 7800 GTs for sale for as little as $300. That's a great deal considering the GT's phenomenal performance, and the fact that some of those $300 cards come with a lifetime warranty and a bundled copy of Call of Duty 2 only sweetens the deal.
From a features and performance standpoint, this graphics award could have just as easily gone to the GeForce 7800 GTX. However, the price difference between the GT and the GTX is much greater than the performance delta between the two cards. The GT is in exactly the sweet spot enthusiasts should seek out, regardless of their fanboy affiliations.
Speaking of fanboys, we should probably address why a Radeon didn't rise to the top of our best graphics list. Simply put, none were better suited to enthusiasts than the GeForce 7800 GT. ATI's next-gen Radeons were delayed by several months, and a late-year debut ultimately muted their impact on the market. Some models didn't even become available until the final month of the year, and the list of ATI partners with next-gen products available for sale is still rather short. That's really a shame, since the Radeon X1000 series offers a number of useful features and interesting architectural characteristics. It takes more than potential to get to the top, though. Better luck next year, ATI.