Motherboards: Power at the Right Price

At a Glance
  • Asus P5N-E SLI

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  • ECS (Elitegroup Computers) nForce 570 SLIT-A (V5.1)

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  • MSI P965 Platinum Motherboard (Intel Core 2 Extreme/Core 2 Duo/Pentium EE/Pentium, Socket T, P965, ATX, 8GB DDR2, 1066MHz)

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  • ABIT Abit AB9 Pro

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  • Gigabyte GA-M59SLI-S5 Motherboard (Athlon 64 FX/ Athlon X2, Socket AM2, ATX, 16GB DDR2, 1GHz Bus)

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  • ABIT Fatal1ty AN9 32X

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  • MSI K9A Platinum Motherboard (Athlon 64/64FX/64 X2, Socket AM2, nForce2, ATX, 8GB DDR2, 1000MHz Bus)

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  • Asus Crosshair

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  • Sapphire Pure CrossFire PC-AM2RD580

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Our Best Buys

Best Buys: Asus's P5N-E SLI (left) and Gigabyte's GA-M59SLI-S5 motherboards are our top Intel and AMD picks, respectively.
Best Buys: Asus's P5N-E SLI (left) and Gigabyte's GA-M59SLI-S5 motherboards are our top Intel and AMD picks, respectively.
Our top pick among the Intel-based motherboards is the $149 Asus P5N-E SLI. The only model we looked at featuring nVidia's nForce 650i SLI x8 chip set, it did just about everything well. It still has a few minor weaknesses, however; for instance, it provides only three one-eighth-inch analog outputs on the back panel, limiting you to 5.1-channel sound (instead of 7.1) unless you use the rear-panel digital coaxial connection or internal analog audio header. The second-ranked ECS nForce 570 SLIT-A (v5.1) impressed us with a very attractive price ($95), but it uses an older nForce 570 SLI x8 chip set and is the only board in our roundup that lacks FireWire ports of any kind.

In contrast, the $249 Asus P5N32-E SLI, using nVidia's nForce 680 SLI x16 chip set, missed a spot on our chart largely because of its relatively high price.

Among AMD-based boards, Gigabyte's $170 GA-M59SLI-S5 won our Best Buy nod, combining state-of-the-art and legacy peripheral ports with a nice price. A pair of AMD-based boards failed to rank. The $165 Asus M2R32-MVP's performance numbers were a hair slow in a field of fast competitors. And DFI's $190 LanParty UT NF590 SLI-M2R/G, while an excellent overclocker's board, just missed out because it allows a maximum of only 4GB of memory and lacks legacy ports (which may not be a big deal, but other boards continue to offer them).

From left: ECS nForce 570 SLIT-A, Abit Fatal1ty AN9 32X, and Sapphire Pure CrossFire PC-AM2RD580.
From left: ECS nForce 570 SLIT-A, Abit Fatal1ty AN9 32X, and Sapphire Pure CrossFire PC-AM2RD580.
Power users with AMD leanings should note that overclocking is the raison d'être of the Abit Fatal1ty AN9 32X, the Asus Crosshair, and the Sapphire Pure CrossFire PC-AM2RD580 boards. All three provide every BIOS-tweaking option you could possibly wish for.

Despite not making the chart, the Intel DG965WH remains a very good choice for a budget system, where overclocking and high-end graphics aren't as great a concern. The board's integrated GMA X3000 graphics chip ran Vista's Aero interface satisfactorily, and it saves you the expense of buying a graphics card.

Choosing a CPU

Previous testing has shown that Intel's Core 2 Duo has shoved AMD's chips into the backseat in performance. (See "Intel's New Core 2 Duo Processors Run Blazingly Fast in PC World Tests.")

For our tests we used an AMD 2.6-GHz Athlon 64 X2 5200+ that costs about $300. Our Intel test bed used an approximately $500 2.66-GHz Core 2 Duo E6700.

If you want maximum performance, buy a top-of-the-line Core 2 Duo or perhaps a quad-core chip (see "Quad-Cores Need Multithreaded Apps"). If you don't want to pay Formula 1 prices and you're content with mere NASCAR get-up-and-go, opt for an AMD processor or a cheaper, second-tier Intel CPU.

At a Glance
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