by February 1, 2000 0 comments

Based on the CPUs they support, motherboards are divided into six different types. 

The Super 7 motherboards
support AMD K6-III and Cyrix MII processors. But this is last year’s technology, and you won’t choose them unless you already have one of these processors, and want AGP and USB support.

Socket 370 motherboards support the Celeron processors from Intel.

Slot 1 motherboards support PII and
PIIIs.

Slot A motherboards support AMD K7 chips. These are difficult to come across. We keep hearing about AMD starting operations in India, but nothing’s happened so far. So, unless you’re patient enough to hunt for the board and the CPU, this is not really an obvious choice.

Dual boards support both Slot 1 and Socket 370 CPUs. But you can use only one CPU at a time. The idea seems to be that you buy a cheaper Celeron now, and if you upgrade to a PIII later, you needn’t change your motherboard.

Now that’s a really big if. As we saw earlier, any upgrade to your PC is viable only within one year. Next year, when chip speeds cross the GHz barrier, who knows what slot or socket will be in use? Let’s say you buy a Celeron/433 today. That would cost you Rs 4,000. Now, if you want to upgrade to a PIII later in the year, you’re likely to shell out somewhere around Rs 15,000-20,000. What are the chances that you’ll spend that much money within a single year? And if you were actually going to do that, you’d be better off postponing your purchase. In other words, we don’t see much of an advantage with dual boards, other than the fact that they come at around the same price as the others.

If your need is productivity applications, then you’re well served by a Celeron CPU, and your choice of motherboard is quite obvious. However, Celeron-based systems rate at entry-level for gaming. So if you’re a serious gamer, avoid the
Celeron.

If your work requires more juice from the CPU, then obviously your motherboard should have a PIII. Here, you have two choices–one with a Front Side Bus (FSB) of 100 MHz or one with a FSB of 133 MHz. Boards with 133 or higher FSB will soon become common, and should be your choice, provided other subsystems like graphics are up to the mark. Intel 810-based motherboards may not fit the bill if you’re into high-end graphics work.

Once you’ve decided that, you come to the chipset. The chipset determines the features supported by the board. There are many choices here, but the most common ones are the Intel 810, the Intel 440 BX, and the 440 ZX. There are comparable chipsets from competing vendors like Asus, Via, etc. The most notable feature of the 810 in our context is that it has a video card and a sound card built onto the
motherboard. What this means is that if you’re looking for entry-level performance, you can save on costs by using 810-based motherboards. However, if you’re looking for cutting-edge video or audio
performance such as in good gaming, multimedia development, etc, then the 810 or its equivalent is not the chipset for you. For more details on chipsets and the functions they support, see the article motherboard chipsets, page 80 in this issue.

Once you’ve decided which chipset you want, you come to the number of slots and the maximum amount of RAM. In newer motherboards, you’re not likely to find ISA slots. You won’t miss them unless you have some older ISA cards that you desperately want to use. The standard is three PCI slots, but some boards even give you four or six. If you have an 810-based board, then video is built in. Otherwise, you’ll have an AGP port for the video card. 2x AGP is common; 4x is on its way in. With the 810 gaining popularity, the future of AGP cards hangs in balance at present.

Don’t go in for a board without USB ports. Most of the new peripherals today–printers, scanners, digital cameras, modems, etc–are likely to come with USB. All chipsets support USB, but all motherboards don’t have USB ports on them. So watch out for that. 

If you are into high-bandwidth applications such as video editing, etc, you may want on-board SCSI support. Also, do note that motherboards for servers are quite different. They include additional features, and support the Xeon CPUs on Slot II.

Motherboard form factor is another important factor to be kept in mind. This is what determines the size, layout, and design of your motherboard. ATX motherboards usually have all the ports onboard. Baby AT and Micro ATX boards are much smaller in size and will fit into the old AT cabinets. Check that these motherboards have dual AT and ATX power connectors if you plan to use them with an older cabinet (and power supply).

 

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