When selecting a motherboard for our Value Gaming System, it is important we find the best overall value, while ensuring 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 good 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.
AMD Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-MA790X-DS4 (AMD 790X)
Current Cost: $123
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: N/A
The AMD motherboard was another area we wanted to change, if only for future upgrade flexibility. Socket AM2+ is where AMD buyers will want to be in 2008, as this platform will support all the features of the newest Phenom processors, while remaining backward compatible with existing Socket AM2 Athlon 64 X2 models. In this range, we recommend that you save a few bucks and go with the less expensive AMD 790X, which still supports dual PCI-E 2.0 x16 CrossFireX (the AMD 790FX doubles that to Quad CrossFireX) and has all the high-end features of the 790FX. This did mean spending a bit more on the motherboard, but since we chose to go with the low-cost Athlon 64 X2 6400+, the money is there.
The Gigabyte GA-MA790X-DS4 is powered by the AMD 790X chipset, which other than lacking quad GPU support, is virtually identical to the more expensive 790FX. It features the AMD SB600 Southbridge, while supporting features like PCI Express 2.0, CrossFireX (dual PCI-E 2.0 x16), SATA 3.0 Gb/s with RAID, IEEE 1394a, Gigabit LAN, and High Definition 7.1 Audio. The motherboard includes support for all Socket AM2 and AM2+ Phenom, Athlon 64 X2, Athlon 64 FX, and Sempron processors, and includes 4 DDR2 sockets capable of handling up to 16GB of DDR2-1066 memory. Onboard expansion slots include 2 x PCIe x16 graphics, 3 x PCIe x1, and 2 x PCI, while storage options offer 2 x PATA devices, 4 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s and 1 x Floppy.
Intel Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3L (Intel P35)
Current Cost: $90
Consecutive Guides: 3
Price Change: +$3
Although we upgraded processors to the 45nm Core 2 Duo E8200, there is no need to change platforms. The Intel P35 chipset remains the best option for entry-level performance users, especially as the new X48 boards are priced for the enthusiast market. Moving just one step down gets us all the CPU support and basic features of the ultra high-end Intel chipsets, but allows manufacturers to keep prices below the $100 mark. The Gigabyte board is based on the powerful Intel P35 chipset, which supports both the 1066 and 1333 MHz FSB Core 2 Duo and Quad models, including both 45nm and 65nm processor lines.
The Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3L motherboard is powered by the Intel P35 Express + ICH9 chipset, which is a very solid combination for the Core 2 Duo E8200 processor. The 4 DIMM slots support DDR2 in 667, 800 and 1066 MHz formats, with a maximum of 8GB total. Onboard expansion include 1 x PCI-Ex16, 3 x PCI-Ex1, and 3 x PCI slots, while storage options feature 4 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s and 1 x PATA. Other onboard features include 8 x USB 2.0, 8-channel high definition audio, and Gigabit LAN, along with a range of overclocking options, including clock speed and voltage settings for the processor, memory, PCIe, and chipset options.