Hard Choices: Motherboards

By Jeremy Laird on April 3rd, 2012 at 6:30 pm.

Motherships?

With CPUs, GPUs and screens (x2) in the bag, it’s time to put the RPS spotlight onto that most mysterious of PC components, the motherboard. By some metrics, mobos are pretty easy to pick these days. For starters, there aren’t many chipset vendors to worry about. Only AMD and Intel are really left in the game. But Intel, in particular, has plenty of marketing tricks up its sleeve. It’s always worth knowing your Z77s from your H67s. So, let’s begin.

Now, I’ve never been a card-carrying motherboard aficionado. It’s a lot easier to get excited about crazy clocks speeds, lots of cores or a shit-load of shaders than it is all-solid super caps and 8+2 power phasing. It’s also true that chipsets and in turn motherboards have become less critical as ever more features have migrated onto the CPU itself.


Above: A gaming PC, yesterday

Your typical mainstream Intel CPU, for instance, now has an on-die memory controller, PCI Express bus and even graphics, though the god-awful performance of the latter makes it inconsequential in a gaming context. What’s more, today’s motherboards are a pretty consistent in terms of quality and stability. General shonkiness and sensitivity to component specification is much less of an issue than even five years ago. I hack about with an awful lot of kit and it’s become pretty unusual to find, say, a motherboard that spits its dummy with a particular brand of memory DIMMs. Things tend to just work.

You might, therefore, think that it’s simply a case of toting up the spec list, observing the price and pulling the trigger. To an extent, that’s true. But there are a few foibles worth knowing about. Anyway, just picking the right chipset isn’t an entirely trivial task, especially if you’re on a tight budget.

Let’s start, then, with some general issues that apply to all motherboards. Overclocking has always been a headline grabber. Personally, I find the extreme overclocking scene – liquid nitrogen and all that jazz – pretty tedious. But I do get a kick out of quick and dirty overclocking that delivers a cheap-going-on-free performance boost.


Above: This, folks, is extreme overclocking. Extremely silly, that is.

In the bad old days, choosing the right motherboard was critical to achieving decent overclocks. These days, nearly all overclocking is done via the CPU multiplier. That means little or no stress placed on the processor bus and in turn other components like memory. So all the motherboard really has to do is provide a reliable power supply to your CPU. That’s where power phases come into the equation.

For a full explanation of what power phases are and how they work may I refer you to Google with the caveat that it’s really not that interesting. The simple version is that the more you have of them, the longer they’ll last and the better they’ll cope with extreme loads – overclocking in other words. The prevailing wisdom is that you want a minimum of eight phases for decent overclocking performance and stability.

The only other feature I like to see regards overclocking is some kind of automatic facility in the BIOS. That’s not because it delivers spectacular results. Typically it doesn’t – probably because the motherboard makers are terrified of frying your CPU and being held liable. But what it can do is hit on some nice numbers for the various voltage settings, saving you the trouble if you can’t be arsed or simply haven’t a clue.


Above: Boring old-school BIOS. UEFI is superficially much sexier, if you care about that sort of thing

Vis à vis the BIOS, in the context of gaming PCs my view is that the range of features and options is unlikely to be an issue for any board from a big brand worth considering. It’s rare to find a really shonky BIOS. I’m also not hugely won over by fancy features like quick-booting Linux OSes.

However, the broader issue bandwidth is something worth thinking about. On the storage side, you want to see as many 6Gbps (rather than 3Gbps) ports as poss to guarantee you’ll get the most out of any hard drives and particularly SSDs. Support for USB 3.0 is probably less critical for gaming, but for general PC usage it will only become more important, so the more ports the merrier. SSD caching is also a nice feature to have, more on that in a moment.


Above: You’ll want plenty of 6Gbps ports to keep these puppies happy

Then there’s multi-GPU support. As I’ve said before, I’m not a huge fan of multi-GPU. If that’s just an opinion, what isn’t open to debate is that the returns you get going from one card to two evaporate when you add a third. Most motherboards and chipsets support at least two cards. Any more is academic.

Also, now that NVIDIA has largely pulled out of the chipset market, it can no longer tie down SLI support to its own chipsets. That said, licensing fees are still involved, so there remain cases where two boards share a chipset but only one supports SLI. You can assume that multi-GPU support means AMD Crossfire support. You can’t assume the same for SLI.

Oh, and as for form factors, well, boggo ATX is always the safest bet. But don’t be afraid of microATX boards. If the spec list fills your check boxes they offer great value for money. The only thing they usually miss out on is multi-GPU support beyond two cards.


Above: Three-way SLI. Triply pointless

If those are the key generalities, let’s tour some of the main chipsets. Then I’ll roll out a few of my current favourites regards actual motherboards. Intel has just rolled out the first of its new mainstream 7 series chipsets, the Z77. Mercifully, Intel has decided to stay with the LGA1155 socket for the new 22nm Intel Ivy Bridge CPUs – the ones I mentioned in the CPU guide and due out later this month – so, that means the Z77 sticks with LGA1155, too. I’ve had a good play with a few of the first Z77 boards and they’re very promising indeed.

It’ll soon be joined by the Z75 and H77. For the record, the Z77 and H77 support Intel SmartResponse SSD caching tech (I’ll cover that in the upcoming SSD post, but it’s an interesting and effective tech, so keep your scanners peeled), the Z75 does not. Meanwhile, the Z75 and Z77 have full access to overclocking features, while the H77 does not. Other than that, there’s little in it. Also, the differences are not down to the hardware, it’s just Intel trying to stratify the market by artificially locking certain features to specific chipsets via firmware and software. Intel loves that kind of lark.


Above: My Core i5 2500K fave drops straight into the new Z77 chipset

More critical is the fact that my early testing has shown that the Z77 can release both extra overclocking headroom and better stock performance from existing Intel Core i5 and i7 processors. That’s particularly intriguing given that I’m not expecting the 22nm Intel Ivy Bridge CPUs to be terribly exciting. Trust me on that one. Hint, hint.

The 7 series also brings native USB 3.0 support but unfortunately no blanket SATA 6Gbps. Natively, you still only get a pair of 6Gbps sockets. In gaming vernacular, that sucks. Regards the older H67, P67 and Z68 chipsets, again the differences aren’t huge. The P67 and Z68 have the full overclocking feature set, while the H67 and Z68 provide access to the integrated Intel graphics cores and thus QuickSync. Oh, and the Z68 uniquely supports SSD caching.

My take on all this is that if you can stretch to the Z77, do it. It’s a nice chipset and it will give you the best chance of longevity and future proofing as Intel releases new CPUs.

As for AMD clobber, we’re talking 7, 8 and 9 series chipsets. In reality, there’s very little difference between the chipsets, so it’s a case of focussing on board specification and also the socket. At this stage, even if you’re not going with a Bulldozer FX CPU, I’d still get a board with AM3+ support just in case. But that still gives you plenty of options.

All of which means you’re going to want some example boards to buy. Of the Z77 crew, I’m a big fan of the new Asus Sabertooth Z77. It’s not heaving with pointless features like voltage measurement points. Instead it’s got everything you actually need, it’s an overclocking beast and it’s covered in protective cladding, which might help with cooling and will definitely reduce the chance of dust building up in nooks and crannies, thereby killing the thing.


Above: Ooh er, check out the cladding

It also comes with the LucidLogix Virtu MVP software which promises goodies like anti screen-tear tech (google LucidLogix Virtu MVP to find out more) and support for using the QuickSync transcode engine alongside a discrete video card, both of which are good news for gamers. The Sabertooth Z77 isn’t quite on sale yet, but will probably cost around £150 or maybe a little more when it hits the shelves.

I haven’t tried the Asus P8Z77-V or its Pro and Premium cousins, yet, but they look like interesting Z77 options on a slightly tighter budget. The Pro model packs more power phases and theoretically better overclocking support, just FYI.


Above: This, people of RPS, is a Deluxe motherboard

In the context of the imminent Z77 chipset arrival, I certainly wouldn’t spend a ton on any 6 Series board. But some of the cheaper models certainly appeal. The Asus P8Z68-V LX is only £75 but packs the Z68 chipset and therefore SSD caching and QuickSync support along with a couple of USB 3.0 ports. The only obvious corner cutting involves the lack of are SLI support (it’ll do Crossfire) and the slightly skanky 4+2 power phases.


Above: £75 for a Z68 board? That’ll be the Asus P8Z68-V LX

If you’re going with AMD kit, it also makes sense to keep the cost in check. The MSI 970A-G45 is £75, fully Bulldozer optimised and packs six SATA 6Gbps ports and a pair of USB 3.0 sockets. It also supports Crossfire, but not SLI. OK, the 4+1 power phases don’t exactly make for overclocking nirvana. But at this price point, something’s gotta give.


Above: MSI’s 970A-G45 gives you AMD 9 Series action at a decent price

Finally, if any of you are bonkers enough to go with Intel’s high end LGA2011 socket, I reckon the Gigabyte X79-UD3 is a good option. It’s £180-ish, which is cheap for an X79 motherboard, and it gets the job done just fine. Good day and good luck with those motherboards!


Above: Gigabyte’s affordable X79 board is the sensible way to tackle Intel’s crazy LGA2011 platform

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82 Comments »

  1. dsch says:

    Edit: Can someone explain to me that caption meme, ‘xyz, yesterday’? I’ve been seeing this for so long (it was in PCGamer a decade ago) without understanding it.

    • Alec Meer says:

      A caption in magazines, yesterday.

    • durns says:

      It was in Amiga Power two decades ago (or something), along with the always excellent tank jokes (‘tanks, like angry houses’. Or ‘hooray tanky tanky!). So getting to the bottom of this may be difficult…

      • Primar says:

        I always thought that the angry houses thing was coined by Jim in PCG UK. Could’ve been kicking about before that, though.

        (also see: if only we could talk to the monsters, although I think that may be a Kieron thing)

        I’m now realizing how much I miss the old PCG writers.

    • Tim Ward says:

      I’m guessing it’s a piss-take on some kind of print news convention?

    • sinister agent says:

      It’s a stock caption when there’s not much else you can say about it. It says here.

    • Dan Griliopoulos says:

      It was a lazy caption in local UK newspapers, IIRC. You’d have a picture of the crime scene / event / nauseating politician, and that purely factual “The crime scene, yesterday.”

    • dsch says:

      Thanks, all.

      (I see Alec’s picture is a bigger one than all of us.)

    • max pain says:

      I hate it.

  2. jimmm25 says:

    That protective cladding on the Asus Sabertooth seems like a really smart idea, is there a reason we dont see that as standard?

    • sjjs says:

      There is: the whole design relies heavily on active cooling. That particular board actually comes with not one but two shitty little fans.

    • Askeladd says:

      There are better ways to spent money than on cladding for your mobo. Maybe its time to start smoking?

    • 2late2die says:

      Seems to me like it might negatively affect heat dissipation from the mobo’s components. i could be wrong but I’ll definitely be checking out the reviews of this board with eye towards whether this cladding is good or not.

    • tstapp1026 says:

      The cladding on the Sabertooth (I own one) can be a bit confusing. You’ll note that there’s a small cutout for a 25mm fan in the middle of the mobo casing. Without the assistant fan the cooling is nothing very spectacular. With it however, it drops my temps another 5 degrees which is to say that it is effective. I’ve been extremely happy with it.

  3. Orija says:

    So, the P67 and Z68 aren’t worth getting now for the 2500k?

    • HothMonster says:

      Nothing wrong with those, just be aware of the differences in the chipsets and what features you are gaining/losing by spending more/less money. That said I would probably wait and see the price point for next gen boards before I buy anything.

    • Jeremy Laird says:

      As I inferred, nothing wrong with the P67 or particularly the Z68. Just don’t buy a fancy one – get a fancy Z77 instead.

  4. Hoaxfish says:

    But sir, surely you have heard the news that the new XBox will be like two whole PCs taped together! To engage in such discussion about the content of a single PC is obviously a waste of time…

    This stuff still flies over my head.

    • Tei says:

      That line will pass on the story of retarded technical comments, next to “the internet is like a serie of tubes”.
      Source

      • HothMonster says:

        Any source that says that is obviously trustworthy and an industry insider…

      • Premium User Badge

        Durkonkell says:

        “Xbox 720 will require an always-on internet connection as an anti-piracy measure.”

        Rumours of course, but actually bloody mental if true. Maybe even lose-your-market-share mental. Also very VERY bad for PC gamers, as any argument against always-on internet DRM would be met with “But the XBOX 720 has it!”

        • tstapp1026 says:

          The rumor is there for the Playstation ‘Orbis’ as well. I understand we are THIS generation, but I’ve always placed consoles as the gaming machine to play without an internet connection. It just so happens that the last iteration gave us the option to be online. If the rumors turn into fact, it will solidify my stance that a PC is my only choice for gaming.

          • DrGonzo says:

            Yes, a current Xbox or PS3 is fairly useless without an internet connection. Demos stop working as do Xbox Live Arcade games etc. This is already in place just less harsh, as you can counter it by registering your console (or by your Xbox not dying on you in the first place, fat chance!).

      • retropixl says:

        “Xbox 720 will require an always-on internet connection as an anti-piracy measure.”

        what?

        I did a double take and googled “is vg247 a parody news site”. I’m probably overreacting, but the thing that gets me isn’t the requirement to have an internet connection all the time, but the fact that it’s done as an “anti-piracy measure”.

        EDIT: just rumours, but I don’t know why I care. I stopped using consoles the day they discontinued the Nintendo Gamecube.

        • Premium User Badge

          Durkonkell says:

          I actually thought I’d been April Fooled, but the article was published on the 2nd!

          It really does read like a parody. “two PCs taped together”, always-on connection…

        • Snuffy the Evil says:

          Incidentally, playing Gamecube games is one thing PCs are actually pretty good at.

          • Premium User Badge

            AmateurScience says:

            Except for Rogue Leader!

            Whhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhyyyyyyyyyyyyyy

          • retropixl says:

            Of course, I said I stopped using consoles, not that I stopped playing Gamecube games. I still fire up Dolphin every now and then and try to beat my fastest times in Super Mario Sunshine.

    • Tams80 says:

      I’m not sure what to think of that article. I mean… it’s… kind of beautiful in its stupidity.

    • Shadram says:

      Why do people persist in calling the next XBox the XBox 720? Who suggested that we double the number when advancing a generation, rather than adding 1 to it? If we want to follow the standards set when advancing from XBox 1 to XBox 360, we could also call it the XBox 129600, but I can’t see that catching on.

      • frightlever says:

        360 is a full turn. 720 is two full turns. The next Xbox after that – the Xbox Dizzy. I’m calling it.

      • Khalan says:

        It’s because the 360 came out around the same time as the PS3 – they thought it would negatively impact sales to have an Xbox 2 when compared to a Playstation 3.

      • Ragnar says:

        At least it’s not as silly as Unreal Tournament switching to yearly editions. Although gaming on an Xbox 2005 would really drive home how old the console is.

        I agree, we should get back to incremental numbering schemes. Next one should be Xbox 361.

  5. Moraven says:

    Happy camper with my ASUS P8Z68-V PRO/GEN3.
    USB 3, 4x SATA 3 (SSD to use this, older HDDs still in case), and PCI 3.0

  6. Premium User Badge

    liquidsoap89 says:

    Woah woah woah woah woah. So I have an X58A-UD5 mobo, does that mean that the X58 is the… Chipset? Does that mean there are other mobos that would be called the X58-somethings? If so this is big news to me because I never knew ANYTHING about mobo specs.

    Also, this one has “16 phase power”. Does that mean it’s like… Double good?

  7. kazriko says:

    The main thing I look for in a motherboard… is a minimal number of parts from Realtek. If the board has a realtek ethernet chip, I will probably need to buy an addon card for ethernet. Realtek sound chip? Addon sound board. The drivers on realtek equipment are just atrocious, and they’re very hard to find boards using other stuff because realtek tends to undercut all other chip makers with their bargain basement parts.

    • robotslave says:

      Realtek is essentially the Chinese government’s piece of Taiwan.

      The chips are cheap because they’re subsidized, and the drivers for audio and ethernet components have simulated performance problems coded in to mask the degradation that happens when the surveillance back doors are open (which is rarely if ever the case for any given installed part, of course).

      Edit: That must have been one hell of a party Saturday night, I just woke up.

  8. Wut The Melon says:

    Just because I had to look into that myself, I’m sure SATA 6Gbps is pretty standard now and all but it actually isn’t that important. Though there are plenty of SSDs that can satisfy 3 and even 6 Gbps nowadays, most of the performance increase you’ll get from using an SSD comes from the much and much lower latency it has than an HDD, not from the increased data throughput. So you’ll still be able to enjoy most of the benefits of an SSD without 6Gbps support, only when moving really large amounts of data you’ll notice a difference.

    • HothMonster says:

      True. Most boards have at least 2 onboard and many of the higher end have an extra 2 on a third party chip. Are people really to the point were they need to hook up more than 4 SSDs? If so, can i borrow some money?

    • DrGonzo says:

      Also, buying an SSD for boot times will be a waste of money by the time Windows 8 is released. I’m running it on a horrible slow 100 gig hard drive and it boots faster than my phone, it’s really incredible.

  9. MattM says:

    My past few systems have been SLI. There are some annoyances but in the most demanding games the performance boost is really nice. If you want the option of multigpu make sure to get a board with two physical 16x PCI-E slots and make sure that each slot can be supplied with at least 8x bandwidth. Some mobos can only supply 4x bandwith to a second gpu and this does limit performance in many cases. I also recommend getting a board with at least two other slots between the 16x slots. This keeps your 2nd gpu from blocking the airflow for the first.

    • HothMonster says:

      Good advice. The x16 + x4 move is quite the dirty trick.

      Be wary of the 2×16 boards as well. I know the way they used to do that is with a 3rd party chip (NF200) and it added so much latency it actually degraded performance more than it helped. Asus wouldn’t put them on boards that didn’t support at least 3 cards and still wouldn’t let them turn on until a 3rd card was in place. They still had boards that used the chip but ran 2 cards in x8 mode because they said they performed way better that way.

      For 2 cards 2 x8 is the way to go still. Often listed as x16 + x8, but really the cpu only has 16 lanes so when you add that other card they both go to x8. The first one is only x16 when it is alone.

      Seems Asus’ brand new boards are not doing this anymore so I guess Nvidia(or someone else) made a better chip to simulate the extra PCI lanes. Haven’t read anything on it yet, anyone got a name or a link? But since Asus has a card claiming 5×16 slots something new must be out there.

  10. ukpanik says:

    I’ve been preparing to upgrade everything recently.
    I see many saying to wait for Ivy Bridge.
    Should I wait?

    • Khory says:

      Unless you desperately need a new system right now, I would wait simply because it is so close. Ivy Bridge isn’t that exciting a boost in performance, but if it fits your price point then why not? OR you might see some discounts on the 2500k, who knows. It can’t hurt to wait a couple weeks and see.

      • Potunka says:

        Pretty much what Khory said. It depends on what kind of system you want to build, as far as I can tell. Mainly, if you want 3-way SLI/XFire then you can actually see performance increases vs the 1155 Sandybridge. But a 2-way or single-card solution will have negligible performance gain.

        If you want to game for the next 5 years on a single 1920×1200 monitor, then just get a single/double GPU on the 1155 Sandybridge, IMO. This Newegg Customer choice setup is amazing: http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/newegg-pc-benchmark-review,3165.html

      • ukpanik says:

        Yeah I will just wait then..Cheers.

    • robotslave says:

      The performance boost won’t be much, but the power usage will get a significant improvement, perhaps as much as 20%. Definitely wait if you’re concerned with saving a few pennies on electricity, or with quiet computing, or with excess heat.

    • HothMonster says:

      If you asked in December I would have said fuck it, buy now. But with it right around the corner I would wait. If you still don’t want/need the newer tech the last gen should drop in price, I would imagine it will drop enough to make the wait worth it. Also you can always split the difference and by a next gen board and a 2nd gen chip.

      • Unruly says:

        Historically, Intel doesn’t drop the prices on their older tech when they release the new stuff. If you check a site like Newegg, you’ll see that the 1st-gen Bloomfield i7-960 is the exact same price as the multiplier-locked Sandy Bridge i7-2600($300 US), with the unlocked 2600K only costing an extra $25-30. And the i7-960 is on the now-dead LGA 1366 socket, while the i7-2600 is on the LGA 1155 that’s going to be used for Ivy Bridge as well. It’s one of the great mysteries of Intel’s business method that I’ve never quite understood. You would think that they would prefer to unload their back stock on old components rather than driving people to the new stuff and letting the money that’s already been spent go to waste.

        Now AMD, on the other hand, always drops their last-gen prices when they release new stuff.

        • Saiko Kila says:

          Intel always drops the price of they processor once (I’m not counting some minor adjustments which may occur), I mean drop like from initial about $600 to end-of-life $300. And it remains there forever. Some suppliers may sell it lower of course, but it won’t be much difference. I like it, because it allows for a quick comparison of “class” or “notch” and intended use of processors. When the processor is released not long after its older “competitor”, the launch price is already the “slashed” one, so there’s no room for further slash, really. The discontinued processors remain at the last price they had, with small variations, like adding a range (for example they change listed RSP from $320 to $319-$339, even though they don’t produce these processors any more).

    • aldo_14 says:

      I’ve seen reports that the relevant desktop Ivy Bridge cpus (that is, the ones that supercede the likes of the the 2500k) are expected to release at the end of this month, so personally I’m waiting to see what happens with both reviews and pricing.

  11. Benny says:

    Does anyone have any suggestions for an LGA-1366 board?

    Being one of those smart chaps who went and got an i7-920 3 years ago. After hearing they’ll be discontinuing the board line i was hoping there might be some good, yet up to date spec wise, deals going.

    • Bob says:

      My brother inlaw built me a rig with an Asus P6T. It survived the power supply crapping itself. There is the drawback that the GPU sits over the battery, although I haven’t had the card overheat. Only the power supply having a heart attack. I’m not sure if it has the specs you need. The MSI Eclipse SLI LGA 1366 Motherboard I’m told isn’t too bad. I can’t help with the prices as I’m in Australia.

  12. Maximinus says:

    Setting the bus speed and cpu multiplayer with hardware jumpers was more fun.

  13. malkav11 says:

    I’ll just mention that specs and features are important, but on motherboards you also want to be looking at layout. For example, the biggest reason I want a new motherboard myself is they had the stupidly benighted idea to put all of the SATA ports on the SIDE of my current motherboard (as opposed to the top, where most ports and slots are), which means horrible cable contortions to plug things in that’s actually caused data transfer rate issues and the slightest bump leading to drives becoming inaccessible. It’s a bit better in my current case (whereas in my old one the ports were practically right up against the drives), but still massively problematic.

    Similarly, they could decide to put PCI-E slots too close together to actually support multi-GPU with many of the hulking graphics cards that dominate today’s markets, or put them or RAM slots in places that interfere with hard drive placement, etc.

    • trjp says:

      The problem with someone addressing this (important) issue is that socket placement on the board has to relate to the type of case you’re going to use.

      Some mobos will be a pain in the arse to use with some cases – but brilliant with others.

      OK – there remain those which put connectors UNDER the back of long PCI cards or right next to HDD where it’s near impossible to fold the cable around (even with angled plugs) but generally it’s a personal choice based on the type of case you use AND your affinity to longer cables and more tangle…

      • malkav11 says:

        Yup. I’m not saying it’s something the article could really have addressed with its recommendations, just that it’s something to keep an eye on when buying.

    • Jeremy Laird says:

      I agree layout is worth bearing in mind. But it’s not one that’s easy to bat away with a few carefully chosen sentences and it’s also tricky for the relatively inexpert to benefit from. If I say poor socket layout and positioning can cause problems with CPU coolers and memory DIMMs fouling each other, it’s actually pretty tricky for most people to do anything useful with that information.

  14. wild_quinine says:

    Another neat, useful article, thanks. One comment on Sata 6Gbps ports: I think i would have been worth noting that add-on controllers (such as by Marvell) which are often stuck on the boards to make up the numbers are usually just horrible for speed, and so whilst technically supporting Sata6Gbps technology will struggle to close in on Sata 3Gbps speeds…

    • Jeremy Laird says:

      Another neat, useful article, thanks. One comment on Sata 6Gbps ports: I think i would have been worth noting that add-on controllers (such as by Marvell) which are often stuck on the boards to make up the numbers are usually just horrible for speed, and so whilst technically supporting Sata6Gbps technology will struggle to close in on Sata 3Gbps speeds…

      Yup, agreed, add-on controllers blow. But when it comes to Intel chipsets, it’s the only option for going beyond two 6Gbps ports as even the new Z77, for instance, only has a pair. In my experience, however, 6Gbps non-native is faster than native 3Gbps.

  15. Barman1942 says:

    I’m pretty pleased with my 970A-G45 thus far, haven’t really tried OC yet.

  16. Shadram says:

    I always see Motherboards as voodoo glue (gluedoo?) that just sticks all the important bits together. I don’t think I’ll ever understand what all those numbers mean…

  17. Scandalon says:

    Mr. Laird and/or anyone else: Suggestions on power supplies? I’m trying to get a few basic parts together this month in anticipation of the new CPU’s from both companies (either for more efficient new-newness or cheaper slightly less-newness). I know a 80+ efficiency is desirable, and some headroom, but realistically would anyone building a bang-for-the-buck single-card system need more than a decent 400/450W supply? I’m seeing some good-looking deals on power supplies and case/supply combos….

    • Unruly says:

      If you plan on running any modern graphics card you’re going to want at least a 550w power supply in most cases. Over at Anandtech they have some great power supply reviews, and they’ll give you a full breakdown of everything from the build quality and internal components to the actual performance. Personally I prefer PSUs with a single high-powered 12v rail, but in reality it tends not to matter a whole lot. The same tends to hold true for modular vs non-modular cables as well, despite what some people may tell you. In general, I’d say that as long as the PSU is from a reputable manufacturer and it’s rated at 80+ Bronze or above, you’re good.

      As for case/PSU combos, from my experience most of the time you’re going to get a garbage PSU that isn’t worth its weight in dog turds. Granted, it’s been at least 5 years since I last dealt with a case-supplied PSU but I’ve had some bad experiences ranging from being over-rated compared to their actual output to outright failures that fried components when the PSU went.

      • mondomau says:

        Re: psu/case combo – Antec do / did some good ones. My first setup was based on a sonata III w/ a whisper quiet 500w psu pre-installed. Lovely bit of kit.

    • destroy.all.monsters says:

      You will thank yourself later if you buy a modular cabled PSU. Really.

  18. Williz says:

    Anything high end Asus… Infact anything Asus. There that’s your Motherboard sorted.

  19. mbp says:

    It is worth mentioning that the OEM version of Windows (the cheap version almost everybody uses) is tied to the motherboard it is first installed on. This means that changing a motherboard means buying a new Windows license.

    Choose well and pick a motherboard you can live with for a few years because you really don’t want to have to try and upgrade it later.

    • Saiko Kila says:

      I’ve been upgrading my motherboards couple of times, and even recently changing to the same model too (after one malfunctioned after three years, damn you Asus and your “Pro” motherboards), and Windows always allowed me to. It seems they keep the info about activation for some time, then drop it. You can even use the same key to activate the OEM version on another computer, after some time has passed.

      • mbp says:

        That is very interesting to know. Microsoft’s own communication on the issue is quite hard line so I have been reluctant to test it but being able to change motherboards after a reasonable period of time opens up a whole raft of upgrading possibilities. My wallet curses you @saiko killa

    • Jeremy Laird says:

      As far as I am aware, a phone call to the MS activation drones will usually see you up and running again. You’re typically good for a few of these upgrades. They are entirely reasonable about this stuff in my experience.

  20. Morphey says:

    I got to say i’m enjoying these articles a lot!
    Any chance they are going to be a regular thing now?
    Twice a year (or even once) would make me so happy =)

  21. Sauceror says:

    As a kid I never had to learn any detail hardware mumbo jumbo, my brother did that kind of stuff. But now I wish I had paid more attention, I find it hard to find a spot to start getting into it now.

    It would be great to make an educated decision when buying a new rig and not having to ask anyone.

  22. Premium User Badge

    stahlwerk says:

    Jeremy, what would be your recommendation for a µATX form factor motherboard and Intel chipsets?

    (if there’s IEEE 1394 / Firewire AND internal/frontside USB 3.0 connector support, that’s a bonus)

  23. destroy.all.monsters says:

    I know bupkis about intel but ASUS and Asrock make some very good and very inexpensive gaming boards. Am buying this next weekend: ASRock 990FX Extreme3

    Things to know – UEFI is the future and is important for using hard drives over 2 TB in size (without a hardware or software kluge).

  24. Brothabear says:

    well thats informative. bashing intel and then Nvidia.

  25. Was Neurotic says:

    What happened to BTX mobos? Did they not take off?