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Odeon
06-02-2012, 09:04 PM
Hey everybody, I've got what seems like a simple question, but I don't want to base a purchase on a lack of information.

For a long time I was planning to upgrade my current setup from a single GTS 250 to a pair in SLI, but the more I read about SLI's compatibility and complexity issues, the less I want to bother with it. So my current plan is to get the best single card I can afford and make my GTS 250 a dedicated PhysX card if I find the need for it.

I keep seeing NewEgg and other sites selling system combos based on microATX motherboards in mid-tower cases and I was dismissing those outright whenever I saw them because of the SLI plans. I don't think I've ever seen a µATX board with two PCIe x16 slots and µATX boards generally seemed to have significantly fewer capabilities, especially where upgrading is concerned. But the more I look at them, the more it looks like that has changed and I may be dismissing them without good enough reasons.

So the mobo questions: Have you built a gaming PC on a µATX motherboard or do you know of anyone that has? If so, are there any limitations in using a µATX board in comparison to an ATX board? Are there any with more than one PCIe x16 slot or even an x16 slot and an x8 slot so that two cards can be used even if not in SLI?

The PhysX question: Do you or anyone you know have a rig with a dedicated PhysX card? If so does it make a significant improvement in more than a few games? The main game I play is an MMORPG built on the Torque3D engine, which support PhysX, but I seriously wonder if it will help to have a second card for that purpose.

Kodeen
06-02-2012, 09:23 PM
Micro ATX is likely too small. My board is Micro ATX, has one PCIE slot and two conventional PCI slots. That could theoretically be easy enough to solve, just swap one of the PCI's with a second PCIE. Unfortunately, my graphics card (with heatsink/fan) also covers up one of the PCI slots, leaving room for just one more, and it would have to be a single-width card (not sure what the 250 is).

If you do go Micro ATX, definitely make sure you get a case where the PSU is at the opposite corner than the PCI area. On mine, the mobo is mounted "upside down" with a top-mounted PSU, further limiting what I can do in that area. But for your plans I would still recommend the full size ATX.

Mistabashi
06-02-2012, 09:24 PM
Micro-ATX boards are perfectly fine for gaming, and you'll find several around with two PCI-E x16 slots for Sli (although as with most motherboards you'll generally get one or both slots running at a lower bandwidth. Not sure if that would make any difference for a PhysX card though). The only thing that limits them really is connectivity, but when you think about it how many HDDs or USB devices do you really need?

As for whether it's actually worth it, my guess is no. GPUs are so powerful these days compared to the complexity of physics used in games, and with the money you'll get for sticking the old card on ebay you might even be able to stretch to a more powerful card anyway.

Odeon
07-02-2012, 12:51 AM
My case is a top-mount PSU and the GTS 250 is a two-slotter, but I'd like to trade up for a better case since this one has razor edges inside and limited space for hard drives. With HDD prices being overly high, I may end up using several of the many 80GB SATA 1.5Gb/s drives I have laying around for data storage, so I'd like more than a few SATA connections to handle all of them. My DVD drive just went teets up so I'll replace it with a SATA unit, but my CD-RW drive is an old IDE unit. Do microATX boards even have a single IDE port?

The points about PhysX and selling my GTS 250 are what I have been leaning more towards, except that if I sell the 250 I have no GPU until I buy the new one, so selling that would have to come later. Assuming my Antec 480W PSU doesn't decide to commit hara-kiri between now and then, I could probably use the money from the 250 for more RAM or something. It'll all depend on how things pan out money and time-wise.

Since money is a huge object for me right now and since microATX boards tend to be cheaper than full ATX boards, I'll have to include them in my search when I finally get to the new build stage. Thanks for the input so far and if anyone else has any other thoughts I'd love to hear them.

Feldspar
07-02-2012, 11:32 AM
The only drawbacks of a microATX board are the lack of slots (obviously, otherwise they'd be full size) and that mostly they are considered more suitable for low-end small PCs so in general you will find them lacking in features and over-clocking headroom. A quick search shows me that for a Z68 board (if you are going down the Intel route) microATX isn't actually cheaper than a full ATX.

soldant
07-02-2012, 12:17 PM
I built my current system (i5 2500k, GTX570, 6GB) around a microATX board, and tried to shove it into a Thermaltake Armour A30. MicroATX boards are fine for gaming as everyone else says so long as you don't want to run SLI (and having a 2nd card for PhysX/CUDA is largely a waste in my opinion, unless you have a VERY specific requirement for it). Outside of trying to use a different form factor case, one benefit of a microATX board for me was that I had a bit more space in the case for cable management and cable clearance; in my old mid-ATX case (which saw 3 motherboards) an ATX board would sometimes have SATA ports or similar in weird, difficult to reach positions. No such problem with a microATX.

As for IDE ports... they've been phased out with SandyBridge, haven't they? I know I had an older micro ATX board for an i7 (first generation i7) that did have one PATA port on the board (as did most other boards of that time). I don't know of any more today though.

Oh, and incidentally don't use the Thermaltake Armour A30 as a case unless you're putting in low-power components. It's an absolute bitch to disassemble and there isn't much space in there once everything's in place.