by March 1, 2008 0 comments



With so many performance and resource hungry applications and games coming
up, you require motherboards with the latest cutting edge technologies. We
tested 14 of them to help you choose the right one. Let’s start off with what to
look out for

The motherboard houses all other hardware such as CPU, RAM and others, so
technically speaking it’s solely responsible for the overall performance of a
computer. Today motherboards have so much to offer in terms of features that
it’s difficult to choose the right one. However, the key factor is the
performance they deliver in various environments such as gaming, 3D rendering,
business apps and so on.

So, before you decide on a new motherboard, read through the following
sections to find out what you need to look for.

CPU support
There are many CPUs available in the market, single core, dual core and quad
core. But these can’t work with just about any motherboard out there. The
motherboard can have either an LGA socket to accommodate the new range of
Intel’s processors or an AM2 socket to accommodate most of the new processors
from AMD. Generally, the 8k+ range supports multi core processors, but some of
them are also optimized to accommodate the latest 45 nm technology based CPUs
that consume lesser amount of power and perform better than the other processors
available.

Both Intel and AMD provide so much choice in terms of CPUs. Whether you need
a single core, a dual core or a Hi-speed quad core processor based on 45nm
technology, depends solely on the type of application. However, while purchasing
a motherboard, check what type of processors does it support. Would it be able
to support the upcoming range of Hi-speed CPUs or not? This is specially
important, because with applications becoming more and more performance hungry,
you might need a newer processor after six months or an year.

Type of chipsets
A motherboard contains two kinds of chipsets: Northbridge and Southbridge.
The two are designed to work together while performing different functions. The
Northbridge chipset links the CPU to high speed components like main memory
(RAM) and display controller while the Southbridge controls the CPUs connection
with other comparatively lower speed devices such as PCI and sound controllers.
Since the chipset alone controls communication between the processor and other
devices, it plays a crucial role in determining the performance of a
motherboard.
The chipset determines the type of CPU that can be used and the speed at which
it can operate. Moreover, it controls the type of RAM that can be used. In high
end motherboards, the onboard video chipset is deliberately removed to
accommodate more performance specific features such as a dual SATA controller
with onboard RAID support and dual BIOS. Many more features are also tweaked to
give better performance. Apart from the regular chipsets, Intel P35 and ATI
790FX are the new ones that support quad core processors and are getting
popular.

RAM support
DDR2 RAM has, to a great extent, replaced DDR RAM, the popularity owing to
superior performance and lower power consumption. Something same applies to SD
RAM being replaced by DDR RAM earlier. DDR 2 RAM and even the latest DDR3 RAM
are the latest hot technologies in RAM market, so it becomes very important to
know what the requirement is.

Another important thing is that how many DIMM slots are there on the
motherboard. Usually 4 DIMM slots are common across high-end motherboards, but
some of them can have up to 6 too. Keeping this in mind is very important
because this factor enables motherboards to have more expandability option in
terms of total RAM. Some motherboards also have an option of supporting
different RAM modules, ie ddr1 and ddr2 alongside, so such motherboards can also
help you reduce the cost if you are upgrading your computer.

Expansion slots
Here we consider mostly PCI slots, PCIe 16x, PCIe 4x, and PCI1x. All these
play a key role in terms of expansion, as they let you upgrade your system. Thus
it is very important to have more slots onboard so that your motherboard has
more expansion capability and options. For SLI and CrossFire to work you would
need at least 2 PCIe slots. Today there are certain motherboards that come with
up to 4 PCIe 16x slots. But with more and more things coming as an onboard
option you need to check what is more important for you, you want to add more
GFX cards or more PCI cards to put additional RAID card (if your chipset has
support for it) , hi-definition Audio Card, LAN card, etc.

Storage
Today, most of the storage devices come with SATA connectivity, which has
pushed IDE slightly off the chat. So what matters more is to check out how many
SATA ports are there, are there two different chips handling them, and finally
whether they support RAID capabilities or not. Now the trend is of having 4 SATA
ports but in certain boards there are up to 8 onboard SATA ports, and RAID is
generally common across the range and provides the extra layer of stability.
Another important thing is IDE because of its presence in optical drive
connectivity. It cannot be left behind because most optical drives still have
IDE connection. So you need to check whether both are available as an option or
not.

Connectivity
External connectivity is as crucial for a computer as air for a human being, all
the motherboards come with LAN, USB 2.0, or firewire ports as default but the
big question here is that how many ports are available in each category, because
having more ports means more external connectivity; there are motherboards that
have 4 USBs and those that have up to 6 onboard USB slots.

FireWire and E-SATA options are some of the other key features that are soon
becoming regular across the motherboards as they provide a faster data transfer
rate than the normal USB 2.0.

So with newer devices coming up that have these connections available, you
need to have a motherboard that provides proper support for these.

Rahul Gupta and Vijay Chauhan



How we tested
We tested 14 motherboards between Rs 8k and 20k for performance and features
and categorized them into two main categories based on their price: one ranging
from 8k to 14k while the other from 14k to 20k. We used the Brown Gibson model
to arrive at the wightage for each parameter.

Performance benchmarks
The following eight benchmarks were chosen to check the performance of each
motherboard in gaming, 3D rendering and business productivity.

PCMark05: A benchmarking utility that tests different parameters of a
computer right from operating system boot up to hard disk drive usage.

Business Winstone: Business applications are getting popular with each
passing day. So, we used Business Winstone, which is a collection of various
applications such as MS Word, Access, Excel, PowerPoint, FrontPage that are used
on a daily basis and tests the motherboard’s performance when running these
applications.

POV-Ray: A synthetic benchmarking utility that checks out CPU’s response to
render a given number of pixels. The catch for this benchmark is that lower the
score the better the performance.
CineBench 10: Today most of the motherboards that come have multi-core
capabilities. This feature is used to test the core efficiency of a CPU, ie, to
test the performance of CPU in single and multi core usages.

Si Soft 2003: Checks out the memory latency of a motherboard; here, lesser
the value, better the performance.

3DMark06: Is a utility designed to specifically test the graphics and gaming
capabilities, it stresses the motherboard for its overall graphics capabilities.
It also measures new and innovative developments in the graphics field, such as
DirectX and enhancements like Shader Model 3.0.

UT3: The most popular game filled with amazing blood, gore, and bullet firing
effects, a benchmark utilityspecifically designed to run on the UT3 engine to
measure the performance based on aspects such as lighting and visual effects.

Company of Heroes: Full of fog and smoke, this utility stresses on the pixel
shader engine to check out its performance.

Please refer to page no 138 for all benchmark results.

Features
Here, we compared all boards for ten features. These included a number of
PCIe 16x slots, and DIMM slots, number of USB ports, whether the board supports
over clocking or not. We also checked whether a board had Dual Bios, support for
45 nm CPUs, SATA, and audio support. In SATA, we checked the number of ports
both for SATA and for eSATA, whether they supported RAID, and whether there was
a second SATA controller chip as well. In audio support, we looked for the
number of channels supported as well as features like high-definition audio. But
the list doesn’t end here as further we checked the board for coolness that
included dual Gigabit LAN ports, kind of cooling solution, presence of LED
lights to jazz up the looks, and the number of PCI slots it had onboard.

Pricing
As all of the boards came with a standard 3 yr carry-in warranty so it
cannot be considered as a criterion for selection, hence more emphasis was put
on the price for which it came.

Category 1 Rs 8k to 14k

The Winners

Gigabyte GA-MA770-DS3
This is GIGABYTE’s next generation, high performance motherboard
based on the new AMD 770 Chipset and also provides support for the new AMD
Phenom quad-core processors, with the latest AM2+ platform. It has 4 integrated
DDR2 memory DIMMS that support DDR2 1066 memory, which delivers superior
performance for the most demanding applications and can support up to 16 GB of
system memory. It also has Hyper Transport 3.0 technology, so this motherboard
is full of features. The motherboard performed brilliantly in all our tests. In
3D Mark06 it scored 7876 and in PCMark05 a score of 5366 was among the highest;
only P35 Platinum came close on performance. Though its performance in POV Ray
wasn’t great but a Business Winstone score of 39 is good enough to handle most
applications. It has onboard support for high definition 6 channel audio with S/PDIF.
It comes with a single SATA chip with support for RAID 0, 1 and 01. It has 1 PCI
Express x16 slot and 2 PCI slots, and a single Gigabit LAN. The motherboard is
at par with ASUS P5KE WI-FI AP and MSI P6 N DIAMOND in terms of performance and
features but beat them for price. Overall its performance is at par with that of
other boards in this category but with the lowest price in the category, it
becomes a clear winner with a maximum score of 95/100.

MSI P-35 Platinum
The best performer in this category, this board performed well across all
the tests. With an overall score of 93/100, this one was the best performer. It
scored 7974 marks in 3D Mark 06 which is pretty high. Also in PCMark 05 a score
of 4710 was decent enough to make things work. It comes with a circular heat
pipe design that helps in enhancing performance. Its performance in POV Ray was
good and it showed 110 ns in memory latency when we tested it using Sisoft 2003
memory latency test. But in Business Winstone, it scored 39 marks whereas P 6N
Diamond scored 42. This shows that the board is good not only for graphical work
but also for business applications. It supports both Core 2 Duo and Quad Core
processor and comes with the Intel P35 chipset. It has 4 integrated DDR2 memory
DIMMS that support up to 8 GB of RAM. It has 6 channel audio output onboard and
also a FireWire 400 port. In addition to PCI x16 slots, the board offers SLI, so
you can slam in another graphics card and get better performance. Overall, a
motherboard that is high on performance and features.

Other Contenders
Although the GIGABYTE GA-MA770-DS3 and MSI P-35 Platinum won on the
basis of their overall scoring, there were others in this category that were
high on performance and features but lacked in either some important feature or
were a bit highly priced. The GIGABYTE G-33 D53RA performed exceptionally well
but lacked features that most enthusiasts would look for these days. In terms of
features and performance, both ASUS and MSI had good packages to offer but again
the price factor came into play. People would like to have the maximum number of
features even between 8-14k. In this regard, ASUS P5KE WI-FI AP offers what none
other does-onboard WiFi and wireless access point. Such kind of boards add a
little more value for money by giving a little extra at the same price. You may
also consider MSI K9A2 PLATINUM, ASUS P5KE WI-FI AP, MSI P6 N DIAMOND and MSI
G33M that offer 4 DIMM slots for RAM and SATA, and RAID support, 6 slots each
for USB and Audio, 2 LAN and PCI express slots.

Category 2 Rs 14k to 20k

The Winners

Asus P5K Deluxe
The best one from category 2, the Asus P5K Deluxe sports the latest
Intel P35 Express chipset and the LGA775 and socket that supports Intel Core 2
Quad, Core2 Extreme, Core2 Duo, Pentium D, and Pentium 4 Processors and also has
the support for the next generation 45 nm multi-core CPU technology. This
motherboard supports FSB 1333/1066/800, and its chipset officially supports
dual-channel DDR2 memory that features data transfer rates of 800/667/533 MHz to
meet the higher bandwidth requirement of the latest 3D graphics, multimedia, and
Internet applications. Apart from all the specs this motherboard also has on
offer some eye candy too: its shiny copper silent heat pipe design adds some
neat looks and performance to it. This motherboard has 2 PCI-E x16 which
supports SLI technology and 2 PCI- E x1 slots that can be used for further
expantion. This motherboard has Dual chip SATA and 2 External e-SATA 3.0 Gb/s
port which supports RAID 0, 1. The Asus P5K Deluxe has Dual Gigabit LAN
controller and if you like to be wirefree, then it also has onboard WiFi too
that supports 54 Mbps IEEE 802.11b and backwards compatible with 11 Mbps IEEEE
802.11b. In PCMark05 it scored 5659 PC marks that was the best score in this
category of boards. Asus P5K Delux gave an outstanding performance scoring 5570
in PCMark05, the second best score for this test and it scored 8181 3DMarks in
our 3DMark06 test which is impressive, also it performed really well in our
other tests too. So seeing the performance that it gave over all shows and
answers very well why this motherboard deserves to bet the top one for this
category.

XFX nForce 680i SLI
The XFX 680i SLI is one of the motherboards that is targeted toward high-end
PC users and gamers that want performance, in short a hardcore enthusiast board,
and the distinction falls only to the 680i SLI motherboard. The latest nForce
680i chipset has been included in this motherboard. This board features Quad
core support, 1333 fsb, 4800 MHz DDR2, 2 x16x PCIe slots for SLI configurations.
In other words support for the latest dual and quad core CPUs, faster memory and
latest graphics solutions. The XFX nForce 680i SLI motherboard has some nice
features including additional USB and Firewire headers apart from having six
onboard USB and a firewire slot for extra connections as well as the LED POST
indicator lights are also there to help with boot up troubleshooting. There are
dedicated power and reset buttons on the motherboard for users that have either
open cases or prefer to set up the hardware in an open environment for better
cooling and performance. In PCMark05 it scored 5659 PC marks that was the best
score in this category of boards. Asus P5K Delux also gave an outstanding
performance scoring 5570 in PCMark05, the second best score for this test but it
was clearly beaten by this XFX board.

It scored 8207 3DMarks in our 3DMark06 test which is again, an impressive
score and is the top scorer in this test. XFX boards have been excellent
motherboards with excellent graphics capabilities, in the other test XFX 630i
performed decently well and that is why it as been considered as the one for
best performer award.

Other Contenders in this category
This category mainly focused on features and performance as the main criterion
for comparison, and then followed by the price. We saw different boards, some of
them were rich in features like the Asus P5K Premium or the Gigabyte MA 790 FX
DQ6 and some of them were very good in terms of performance like the XFX 780-I
SLI that did very well but was not able to score on a cumulative scale and that
is why these were not included in the list for the top ones. The motherboards in
this category offered 4 slots for DIMM and 6 ports for SATA with Raid,
Hi-Definition multi-channel audio, dual PCI, and gigabit LAN for expantion and
varied uses, multi PCI express slots for SLI and other configurations. Well, one
cannot ask for more, still there were some motherboards that had on offer
brilliant displays, wireless controllers, onboard LED to rev up the looks too
that came as an extra with some of the motherboards. In this category most of
the boards had 45 nm processor support, which means it’s one of the most future
ready board while the overclocking feature that is the need for the gamer was
preset all across the line. So overall each one had something good or bad, but
the one that performed well, gave good features, and was good value for money
became the top choices.

Click for Table

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