When selecting a motherboard for our Value Gaming System, it is important to find the best overall value, while ensuring you get the most future-proof and high-performance hardware possible. Naturally, these goals are often at odds with each other, and the sticker price is usually the main stumbling block. To find that right combination, the motherboard needs to be affordable, but also have a nice mix of performance, overclocking, and onboard features. Whether you're buying a low-cost gaming system or an ultra high-end powerhouse, the motherboard is still one of the most important components, as it provides the backbone for your entire computer and determines your future upgrade path.
Current Cost: $96 + $4 for 24-pin Cable
Months on list: New
Price Change: N/A
Over the last few guide updates, we've upgraded our AMD motherboard a few times, from an nForce3 250 motherboard, and then to an nForce4-4X. The nForce4 chipset is very close to the nForce3 in terms of overall performance, but the PCI Express graphics interface is the real kicker. Buying into PCIe graphics now provides a much smoother upgrade path in the future, where your new motherboard will likely be PCI Express, and certainly not AGP. This month we're looking to further refine our selection, and have chosen the ASUS K8N4-E Deluxe as the top Socket 754 nForce4 choice.
The ASUS K8N4-E Deluxe is a relatively high-end product, and does have a slightly higher retail price than the MSI board we chose last time. It features the powerful nForce4 chipset, and as denoted by the ASUS "Deluxe" name, provides more options and features than a basic motherboard. The big selling point is still the PCI Express graphics interface, along with a full 16-bit, 800 MHz HyperTransport up/down connection, and best-in-class performance. ASUS is certainly well known for its overclocking, and the ASUS K8N4-E Deluxe features options like AI Overclocking, Precision Tweaker, and a host of CPU, Memory, PCI-Express, and Front Side Bus speed/voltage selections in the system BIOS.
The ASUS K8N4-E Deluxe is a step up from an entry-level nForce4 Socket 754 motherboard, and offers a nice selection of onboard hardware. The motherboard supports 754-pin AMD processors, and features single-channel DDR333/400 memory support (3 DIMM sockets - 3GB max) through the Athlon 64's integrated memory controller. Other onboard features include PCIe x16 graphics, 3 x PCIe x1, 3 x PCI, 2 x PATA, 4 x SATA with NVRAID, 4 x SATA with Silicon Image 3114 RAID Controller, 2 x IEEE 1394, 1 x Floppy, 10 x USB 2.0, 8-channel audio, and integrated Gigabit LAN. This is serious hardware for a "value" gaming system, and when coupled with the ASUS quality and performance, makes the K8N4-E Deluxe a must-buy.
Current Cost: $91 + $4 for 24-pin Cable
Months on list: 3
Price Change: -$2
The shift to the Pentium 4 640 does not entail a motherboard upgrade, and we can stick to the current LGA 775 platform. The Intel 915-based chipset line is the best option for a value system, especially as the 925X/XE and 945P boards are more expensive and rely on higher-priced DDR2 memory. Many i915-based motherboards can be found with either DDR or DDR2 memory support, and the i915/DDR combination is actually quite affordable, especially when taking into consideration the lower prices of the LGA775 Pentium 4 processors. LGA 775 value remains a key element in our overall strategy for the Intel system, as the motherboard is slightly more expensive than an equivalent i865PE model, but the LGA775 and PCI Express format allows us to save money on the processor and video card components.
The ASUS P5GPL motherboard is based on the i915PL chipset, which is essentially a 915P with some limitations. One of them is the absence of HD audio, which is a non-issue, as this is an option you won't find on low-cost Intel motherboards anyway. There is also a limit of one DDR module per channel, which means than we can really only use one set of dual-channel DDR400 modules. For the purposes of a value system, the i915PL is really no different than the i915P, and we're able to get a quality ASUS motherboard into the bargain. The ASUS P5GPL is based on the 915PL/ICH6 chipset, which supports Intel LGA775 processors (533/800 MHz), and features 4 DDR sockets with dual-channel DDR333/400 support (2GB max). To counter the inherent limits of the 915PL chipset, ASUS includes their Hyper Path2 feature, which shortens the latency time between the CPU and memory and improves memory performance.
The ASUS P5GPL has a 1x PCI-Ex16, 3x PCI-Ex1, 3x PCI layout, without any sort of AGP video option at all. As with the newer Intel-based products, the ASUS P5GPL is a Serial ATA board, with four SATA ports and only a single PATA connector. The remaining onboard options are also high-end, with 8 x USB 2.0, Realtek ALC850 8-channel audio and Marvell 88E8001 Gigabit LAN (with ASUS AI Net 2).
ASUS is the name in system overclocking and the P5GPL has a very robust System BIOS, complete with a range of processor frequency selections (AI Overclocking, CPU Lock Free, full FSB selections) and a variety of voltage controls (CPU, DDR & PCIe). This is supplemented with some nice features such as adjustable FSB/DDR ratios and fixed/lockable PCI/PCI-E frequencies.
* Note - The new i915PL and nForce4 motherboards utilize a 24-pin power connector, and although these can be run safely with a standard 20-pin unit, we recommend purchasing a basic 20-pin to 24-pin adapter cable ($4) for the PSU. We have used these in system testing with no problems whatsoever, and many 24-pin compatible PSU units ship with them.