Feature for feature, the Pentium 4 motherboards didn't quite stack up to their less-expensive Athlon 64 counterparts, and the P4 setups' performance lagged slightly behind that of the Athlons. Still, those differences were small, and many of the P4 boards offered an impressive package.
All of our Pentium 4 setups use Intel's new high-end socket LGA775, which already supports DDR2 memory and will support the upcoming dual-core Pentium 4 CPUs, as well as the 64-bit-enabled Pentiums discussed in this month's News and Trends. (For more on dual-core Pentiums, see "New Motherboard Tech.") TIP>> If you've built PCs before, socket LGA775 CPUs may surprise you initially because they have no pins. Don't worry--they aren't supposed to. Intel's new CPUs use little gold contacts on the bottom of the chip that press up against tiny metal balls in the socket.
Abit's $235 Fatal1ty AA8XE easily won our "sexiest motherboard in the review" prize and narrowly edged Asus's $225 P5AD2-E Premium for our P4 Best Buy. With its bright red color, sleek auxiliary fans and ducting, and numerous LEDs (on top and bottom), it's quite a sight--especially in the dark. Based on Intel's 925XE chip set, the board is packed with overclocking settings and features.
Time constraints prevented us from putting the board through its born-to-overclock paces, but at its default settings, the Fatal1ty turned in mediocre scores in both WorldBench 5 and our gaming tests. However, its extra fans for processor and memory cooling should help make up the difference.
Abit provides detailed, well-illustrated documentation for this board and includes its UGuru Windows software for overclocking and FlashMenu for updating the BIOS over the Internet. An on-board digital readout tells you exactly where you are in the boot process--a handy troubleshooting tool.
The most scattershot performance of the entire review was turned in by another 925XE board, Asus's $225 P5AD2-E Premium. Though it was the fastest Pentium 4 board in our WorldBench 5 tests, it didn't distinguish itself in the gaming tests. Go figure. Nevertheless, its features are consistently excellent for a Pentium 4 board. Along with integrated 802.11g wireless, it offers two SATA RAID controllers as well as ATA-133 RAID. Asus added an IDE RAID controller to the Fatal1ty to augment the 925 and 915 chip sets' paltry single-channel ATA-100 implementation.
The P5AD2-E Premium has one layout quirk we aren't sure we like--an IDE connector that faces toward the front of the PC case, instead of straight up out of the board. That type of connector can allow for easier cable routing in some PC cases, but it can be hard to reach in others. Abit's Fatal1ty and a couple of boards from DFI also used this setup. TIP>> When you're putting your PC together, spend some extra time routing and tying cables out of the way of the airflow in your case. You'll achieve a cleaner look and keep as much air as possible flowing to cool your processor and sensitive components.
Asus's first-rate documentation, a large software bundle, and excellent Windows utilities put the finishing touches on a very nice package.