Intel Motherboard: ASUS Striker Extreme
Current Cost: $300
Consecutive Guides: 2
Price Change: -$100
Even with all the fanfare surrounding Intel's latest P35 chipset, NVIDIA still requires one of its own SLI chipsets to pair its cards for increased performance. The nForce 680i SLI is their top part, and the ASUS Striker Extreme comes loaded with all the 680i benefits such as two PCI-Express x16 slots at their full x16 bandwidth and a third at x8 bandwidth, dual gigabit network support, and RAID support for up to six SATA and two PATA drives.
But ASUS doesn't stop there, giving the board its full "Republic of Gamers" treatment with an eight-phase capacitor-free VRM, a noise-reducing removable audio riser card, two additional eSATA ports, several lighted function buttons, and a rear panel LCD to display system status in English rather than code numbers.
AMD Motherboard: ASUS Crosshair
Current Cost: $240
Consecutive Guides: 2
Price Change: +$10
Another "Republic of Gamers" board from ASUS, the Crosshair comes with an elaborate chipset cooler, dual eSATA ports in addition to the six chipset-supported ports, an English-language rear panel system status display, eight-phase capacitor-free VRM, reduced-noise removable audio riser card, back panel system status display, and lighted power/reset buttons.
The nForce 590 SLI chipset features 46 PCI-Express lanes capable of supporting two graphics cards at full x16 bus width, more than enough for a pair of today's fastest graphics cards and even next-generation products. The only reservation we have in recommending an upscale AMD board is that compatible processors have moved far down market.
Those who prefer a less elaborate motherboard, or simply don't want to pay for the added features of a "Republic of Gamers" product, may prefer the DFI LANPARTY UT NF590 SLI-M2R/G. Similar features include the removable audio module, dual graphics/SLI via two x16 pathways from the nForce 590SLI chipset, and an x4 PCI-Express expansion card slot. DFI adds a PCI-Express x8 slot for server-sized cards and uses a Port 80 diagnostics code LED display topside, rather than the rear-panel verbose LCD found on the ASUS board.
System Memory: Crucial Ballistix PC2-8500 (DDR2-1066)
Current Cost: $160
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: N/A
As memory prices continue to drop, we can now buy even faster memory than we did in March, and still save money. Performance-wise, DDR2-1066 works with Intel's new FSB1333 the same way DDR2-800 found harmony with its previous FSB1066. The only problem appears to be latencies, but setting a lower-than-advertised latency becomes a viable option whenever the memory is good enough. As a division of Micron, Crucial gets the parent company's best D9 chips for use in its top end Ballistix modules, typically allowing CAS 4 at 1066 MHz data rate with nothing more than a minor voltage adjustment. No guarantees, but D9 chips offer the best chance you'll get.
All of Crucial's latest Ballistix modules also feature EPP (Enhanced Performance Profiles), which supplements regular SPD entries with information about overclocked voltage, speed, and timings. EPP is recognized by current nVidia chipset motherboards, and can be enabled in BIOS by turning on "SLI Memory" mode and selecting the appropriate profile. This can be a huge asset to neophytes, though experienced users should find even better optimizations through individual timing and voltage adjustments.