by October 9, 2006 0 comments

Core 2 is the next line of processors from Intel, based on a new
microarchitecture. This new series is important because it also marks the end of
Intel’s Pentium brand of processors. This series currently has two types of
processors under its belt, the Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Extreme. Last month we
looked at how well does this new processor perform. This month, we’re back
with a whole range of motherboards that support this processor. Our idea was to
look at the variety of Core 2 ready boards available in the market, and not any
particular sub-category. That’s why you’ll find boards whose cost ranges
from around Rs. 4.5 K to 22K.

These boards are backward compatible with Intel’s previous generation
processors like P4 and Pentium D on socket 775. The key reason for upgrading or
buying these new motherboards is the overall performance boost they provide over
the previous generation boards. Moreover, these boards are ready for the
upcoming Microsoft Vista, which is far more resource hungry. These boards also
support Direct X 9c.

How we tested
To judge the true potential of these boards, we tested them using a Core 2
Extreme Edition X6800 processor, 1 GB DDR2 1066 MHz Corsair RAM, an nVidia
7800GTX graphic card with 512 MB video memory. We also used a 600W power supply.
We ran PCMark 2005, 3DMark 2005, CineBench 9.5, and MP3 and DivX encoding on all
the boards. We used the System Test Suite from PCMark’05, which covers the
overall system performance by utilizing physics, 3D, web page rendering, file
decryption, multithreaded applications, etc.

3Dmark05 and CineBench9.5 were mainly used for stressing the hardware
graphics. 3Dmark was used to judge gaming and CPU performance, while CineBench
9.5 was used to test the dual core performance by running image rendering with
one and then both cores of the processor. It used an OpenGL hardware lightening
test and 4D shading. For the MP3 and DivX encoding test, we used 700 MB of audio
and video files andran MP3 and DivX encoding in parallel for load synthesis.
Lastly, we also checked how overclockable were the motherboards. For this, all
the components that we used, like the graphics card, RAM, and CPU, were all
overclockable. We checked what was the maximum limit that we could stretch these
boards to before they became unstable. Before we proceed, please note that when
you do overclocking, you’re doing it at your own risk. Also, if your other
components like RAM, graphics card, CPU are not overclockable, then the
overclocking limit is even lower. Do keep a close tab on the CPU and motherboard
temperature when overclocking. You should also get a more poweful fan and heat
sink to keep the heat under control. You would also need a more powerful power
supply as overclocking draws more power. We were able to overclock the
motherboards by 15% with our configuration. Lastly, if you do overclocking, then
do it in gradual steps and check for system stability. Besides performance, we
also checked the motherboards for features supported. In this, we checked for
the number of ports, type of audio supported, number of PCI slots, support for
RAID, and BIOS level support for overclocking.

Quick Specs
Price: Rs 9,300 (3 yr warranty)
Pros: Best performer, good graphics, CPU and overclocking power
Cons: Failed overclocking application
Key Specs: 965 chipset, Dual PCIe slots
Contact: Cyberstar India, Bangalore
Tel: 51266808

ECS PX1Extreme
This was the best performer of the lot, and is also one of the most
feature rich boards. It has 4 DIMM slots that can take up to 8 GB DDR2 800MHz
RAM. It has 6 SATA ports that can be configured with RAID 0, 1, 0+1 and 5. Plus
there is one external and an internal SATA port that are on a different
controller. These can be configured for RAID 0, 1 and JBOD. Plus, the board has
dual Gigabit Ethernet support, 10 USB ports, 8 channel audio and two FireWire

The PX1 gave the best overall performance of the lot. Most of its scores with
regular and overclocked frequencies were the highest of the lot. To be more
precise, it gave the best performance in PCMark05, second best in CPU mark under
3Dmark05, highest CineBench scores in each sub category to make it good for
multimedia work.

It took the least amount of time for mp3 and DivX conversion. The only test
in which it stood average was Doom3. 

The maximum stable frequency till which we could overclock this board was
3.35 GHz. Even Gigabyte’s GA-965-DS3 board was clocked till this frequency,
but it delivered lower performance. The PX1 has an application called “ECSonic2”
that let’s you do hardware monitoring, BIOS updates and change the start logo.
It’s also supposed to let you overclock the board, but somehow this didn’t
work. So we had to overclock the board from the BIOS.

Bottom Line: Given its performance and price, it’s a great buy.

Quick Specs
Price: Rs 16,800 (3 yr warranty)
Pros: Feature rich, highest CPU score
Cons: Overall average overclocking capability.Key 
967P chipset, Digital Live and DTS support, dual PCIe slot
Contact: Gigabyte Technology, Mumbai 
Tel: 26526696E-mail: 

Gigabyte GA-965P-DQ6
Overclockers will love this board, despite the high price tag. While this board
gave average performance in most benchmarks, it did brilliantly after we
overclocked it to 3.3GHz. It gave the highest CPU score among all boards
reviewed in this story. It has an overclocking application that lets you easily
modify the settings, but the over clocked values are not shown in the BIOS.

The board claims to be ready for Quad core processors, but we can’t check
that until the quad core is released. Those looking for a feature rich board
will also find this a good buy. It has two PCI-E slots and an 8 channel audio
controller that supports Dolby Digital Live and DTS. This eliminates the need
for a separate sound card. The board has three FireWire 400 ports, and houses 2
different SATA controllers that enable you to configure different RAID levels on
it. One controller controls 6 SATA ports and provides RAID 0, 1, 0+1, and 10
support. The second controls 2 SATA ports and offers RAID 0,1 and JBOD. This
allows you to configure two different RAID levels on the board at the same time.
The board is based on the Intel 965P chipset. It has a single Gigabit Ethernet
port, though we wished that at this price, it had two. The board supports a
feature called Quad BIOS, wherein you have BIOS info backed up in three
different places. So if your BIOS crashes, you have its backup in three
different locations to recover from.

Bottom Line: Good performance and features at this price.

Quick Specs
Price: Rs 12,990 (3 yr warranty)
Pros: Above average performance in some benchmarks 
Cons: Overclocked performance is average
Key Specs: 956P chipset, single PCIe slot Contact: Gigabyte Technology,
Tel: 26526696E-mail: 

Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3
Unlike other boards in its class, this one only has a single 16X PCI-E
slot, which means you can’t have the benefit of two graphics cards. The board
has six SATA ports, which are split across two different controllers. One
controller handles four of them. The other supports two that can be configured
in RAID 0, 1 and JBOD configurations.

The motherboard gave good overall performance with regular clock speed,
giving the highest CPU score amongst all boards at 10263, and highest frame rate
in Doom 3. Plus, it gave the best DivX encoding time at 6 min 22 secs. The good
thing was that we managed to overclock it up to 3.35 GHz, which was the highest
and the same as the best performing board in this story,

the ECS PX1. However, this didn’t give the expected performance boost. In
fact, its cousin the P965-DQ6 gave better performance at a lower overclocked
frequency of 3.3 GHz. The only place where it beat the DQ6 was in PCMark’05
where it scored 7724 compared to 7289 of the DQ6. The board did clock the
highest score in Doom3 at 125 fps at the overclocked speed, amongst all boards
reviewed in this story.

It also comes with the same overclocking application as the DQ6, and again we
wished that the overclocked changes are also reflected in the system BIOS and
vice versa.

Bottom Line: Good buy, but could’ve done better in overclocking.

Quick Specs
Price: Rs 4,450 (2 yr warranty)
Pros: Onboard graphic, low price, decent performance
Cons: None
Key Specs: 945 chipset, DVI output card Contact: Abacus Peripherals,
Tel: 66923941E-mail:

ASRock Conroe945G-DVI
This was the cheapest motherboard that we received, meant for the
budget conscious buyer. Based on the 945 chipset, this was the only board to
come with onboard graphics. Therefore, we couldn’t really compare its
performance with onboard graphics against any other board in this story. But you
can also add a separate PCI-E 16x based graphics card to it as well. 

The board supports up to 4 GB of DDR 2 667 MHz RAM. It also comes with an
additional PCI-E based Digital Video Input (DVI) card that can be used to
connect to monitors that support it. The benefit of having this is that you can
connect two monitors to the motherboard at the same time. Besides this, the
board has four SATA ports and onboard Gbe port. We wished it also had onboard
RAID support as well though. Plus, it has the regular onboard audio and two PCI

Coming to its performance, the board managed to give better scores than some
of the 965 based boards in the shootout, which is impressive. So amongst 945
series, this one is definitely one of the better boards. We could overclock it
up to 3.13 GHz, which was second lowest in this category.

Despite this, the board managed to give the highest score in 3DMark05, which
is quite remarkable. It did give the lowest CPU score though and took the
longest time in the MP3 encoding test, taking a minute and 37 seconds to
complete the same.

Bottom Line: A good buy for the budget conscious.

Quick Specs
Price: Rs 5,450 (2 yr warranty)
Pros: Good price for its features
Cons: Overclocking performance is average
Key Specs: 945P chipset, eSATA support Contact: Abacus Peripherals,
Tel: 66923941E-mail:

ASRock ConroeXFire-eSATA2
ASRock ConroeXFire-eSATA2 is similar to other ASRock 945G-DVI board but with
lower graphics performance. It has 4 SATA pots that provide RAID 0, 1, 10 and 5
support, and two additional SATA ports for regular disk attachment. It has 4
DIMM slots that can take up to 4GB DDR2 667MHz RAM. This is the second lowest
priced motherboard in this category, but comes with some good features at this
price. For one, it has support for ATi’s CrossFire technology on dual 16x PCIe
slots. It has two eSATA ports to connect external SATA hard drives. The board
has three PCI slots, and onboard Gbe port with

Wake On LAN support. Compared to other motherboard, it had slightly above
average performance both in graphics and CPU intensive benchmarks. The maximum
that we were able to overclock this board was till 3.1 GHz, which is the lowest
of all boards in this story. Its score in OpenGL hardware and software
lightening was well above average but the time to do mp3 and DivX encoding was
the highest. Its Doom3 scores weren’t very impressive either at 102.3, which
was second lowest of all boars reviewed this time. The board did well in CPU
rendering test, which was nearly equal to the highest scored in this story.
Initially, the overclockin didn’t result in any performance improvements. Only
we upgraded the BIOS firmware did we see any difference.

Bottom Line: An average board overall for regular productivity use.

Quick Specs
Price: Rs 22,000 (3 yr warranty)
Pros: Onboard WiFi, remote controlled applications, Dolby support
Cons: Price
Key Specs: 975 chipset, Dual gigabit Ethernet, WiFi, Dolby Digital Live
Contact: ASUSTeK Computer, Mumbai 
Tel: 40058928E-mail: 

ASUS P5W DH Deluxe
The Asus P5W DH Deluxe was the most expensive motherboard in this
story, largely because it has all the features you’d ever want in your
motherboard. The board supports a maximum FSB of 1066MHz, has 4 DIMM slots that
can take up to 8GB DDR2 800MHz RAM. It has two PCIe X16 slots for dual graphics
system. It has 6 SATA ports on 3 different controllers, whereas regular boards
come with either one or two. Out of these, there were three SATA II ports on
Intel controller with support for RAID 0, 1 and 5. There was one external SATA
port for connecting external SATA drives and the remaining two SATA ports had
RAID 0 and 1(default) support. Besides this, the board also supports RAID 10 by
using two different controllers. It has two Gigabit Ethernet ports as well as
onboard WiFi. It has 8 channel audio with Dolby ProLogic II X and Dolby Digital
Live features. It also has a good feature called MP3-In to let you connect your
Digital MP3 player directly to your speakers and enjoy music even when the
workstation is shutdown.

The board’s overall performance was average in all the benchmarks. It has a
good windows overclocking application for easy overclocking. 3.31 GHz was the
maximum stable frequency that we could over clock it to, but at this frequency,
it didn’t give any major performance improvements as compared to some other
boards. We even took it to 3.48 GHz, but at that frequency, it could only run
MP3 and DivX encoding. The other benchmarks kept crashing at this frequency.

Bottom Line: Go for this board only if you want so many features.

Motherboard  Asus P5W
DH Deluxe 
ASRock Conroe
Core Speed
2.93   3.31   2.93   3.3   2.93   3.35   2.93/
3.13   2.93   3.1   2.93   3.35
PCMark05 (PCMark
7638   7745   6516   7289   7519   7724   4822   7535   7876   7422   7912   7558   8209
3DMark05) 3DMark score   8221   8304   8174   8291   8166   8285   654   8379   8634   8271   8346   8278   8416
CPU score   9879   9925   9889   12025   10263   11051   5014   8925   9608   9123   9627   10264   11069
Cine Bench9.5 Rendering CPU   478   512   487   545   491   531   489   492   520   490   526   488   552
XCPU   884   947   898   1006   909   980   906   905   964   908   965   907   1022
C4D Shading   564   588   575   644   578   627   573   574   610   566   615   578   651
OGL-HWL   4673   4825   4726   4927   4780   4877   2026   4740   4878   4780   4843   4807   5110
Mp3 encoding (mins:secs) 1:37   1:28   1:34   1:25   1:36   1:25   1:37   1:37   1:3   1:35   1:32   1:36   1:25
DivX encoding (mins:secs) 6:25   6:18   6:23   6:13   6:22   6:16   6:44   6:45   6:2   6:47   6:29   6:28   5:44
98.7   109.3   116.7   122.5   120.3   125.3   8.1   117.1   118.3   102.3   112.9   110.7   115.2

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