Published Date
01 - Jul - 2005
| Last Updated
01 - Jul - 2005
A computer for Rs 10,000 is still a dream that will take some time in coming to fruition, but there is absolutely no denying that prices of computer components have literally crashed from the exorbitant rates that were being charged some years ago.

Today, you can buy a decent system that will let you run all your office applications and let you browse the Internet, as well as indulge in moderate gaming, for roughly Rs 25,000. We take a look here at budget (within and around Rs 5,000) motherboards, one of the most significant contributors to PC cost.

It is generally seen that falling prices lead to cutting of corners and a deterioration in the overall quality of the product. The case is slightly different here-all the motherboards we tested, though cheap, were absolutely crammed with features that would give more expensive motherboards a run for their money!

The Groups
We divided the motherboards we received on the basis of the platform they supported (AMD and Intel).

The AMD boards were further divided into those with onboard graphics and those without. This wasn't required for the Intel boards, as all Intel boards (barring the Foxconn 915PL7AE-8S, which is mentioned in a separate box in this article) came with onboard graphics.

The AMD Motherboards
AMD has four chipset manufacturers-ATi, nVidia, SiS and Via-that create motherboard chipsets for it. This obviously leads to a variety of boards with large variances in performance.

In terms of features, the boards were so varied that we had a difficult time grouping them. Some used the 939 socket, others used 754; then some had an AGP port, others had PCI Express (PCIe); but a lot of features were common and can now be taken as standard feature set even though they seemed rather high end a few months ago.

As these are entry-level motherboards, we weren't really expecting too much, but half these boards were PCIe-based, and all the boards featured SATA support-and most of them had the standard four SATA connectors found on the higher end boards of six months ago!

While buying a motherboard, you must keep in mind its form factor (size). Boards primarily come in two sizes, ATX (the regular big boards requiring a nice big cabinet!) and Micro ATX (tiny boards needing a relatively smaller cabinet, and hence ideal for office environments or places where desk real estate is of prime importance).

The Micro ATX form factor has its own issues during assembly, as a PC built on this form factor will, in all probability, have a small cabinet. A small cabinet implies fewer avenues for proper ventilation and hence heating issues.

This is not to say that Micro ATX is useless. We are just trying to emphasise that while building a system of this form factor, you must be attentive to system ventilation.

You also need to keep in mind socket support. As of now, the most common AMD sockets are the 754 (the Athlon 64 range) and the 939 (the Athlon 64 as well as the Athlon 64 FX range).

939 is the latest socket for the Athlon range (the Opteron runs on 940 and is for servers anyway) and it is advisable that you go for this socket over the 754, as it will give you a fair bit of future-proofing.

TUL A480M7-V

Coming back to the feature set, all the boards we received supported at least 2 GB of DDR 400 RAM, a feat that was commendable for high-end boards a year ago! In fact, the MSI RS480M2-IL and the ASRock 939A8X-M went a few yards further and offered support for a whopping 4 GB of RAM, plenty for all you might want to do for at least the next two years if not more (we wouldn't want to do a Bill Gates by predicting how much memory you might have use for!)

We had three boards based on the spanking new nForce 4 chipset from nVidia-these were the Winfast NF4K8AB, NF4K8MC and the Gigabyte GA-K8NE, and all these supported 3 GB of RAM-a peculiar number if you ask us.

A lot of the boards we received did not have onboard graphics, which is rather strange as these boards are targeted at an audience looking at complete on-board solutions.

All the nForce4 boards, along with the ATi RS 480-based board from MSI (the MSI RS480 M) lacked onboard video, but did feature an x16 PCIe slot, and were hence tested with a PCIe-based nVidia 6200 graphics card. Their AGP counterparts weren't any better, and we received no less than six motherboards without onboard video but featuring an AGP slot. These were tested with an nVidia 6200 AGP card.
Here, we must mention that only the Krypton M7VIG400 featured an extremely dated AGP 4x, whereas all the others had at least AGP 8x.

There were boards which were extremely generous in terms of their video solutions: both the TUL boards came with onboard video as well as an x16 PCIe slot. This feature was also available on the MSI RS480M2-IL.

Onboard sound has improved by leaps and bounds from the 2.1 systems we used to get a couple of years ago. Half the boards we tested featured eight-channel (7.1) audio support, and the other half featured six-channel (5.1) audio onboard, so basically, six-channel has become pretty much a standard feature, with eight-channel getting there really fast!

In terms of connectivity options, the MSI RS480M2-IL was slightly ahead of the rest. Like all the others, it featured four USB ports with support for four more, but what it also had, unlike the others, was an onboard FireWire port. The other boards had support for FireWire in terms of pins on the board, but did not have a physical port on the back panel. The board featured a 10/100 Mbps Ethernet port, which was disappointing, as a lot of the other boards provided Gigabit Ethernet. Gigabit Ethernet is very helpful if you are working in a LAN environment, as data transfers would be, theoretically at least, much faster.

The falling prices of storage have not bypassed SATA drives, and these, too, are witnessing frequent price cuts along with capacity increases. We were amazed to see that every board, apart from the Krypton M7VIG400, provided support for at least two SATA connectors-and half the boards had four SATA connectors!

The features list doesn't end here. Half our boards also supported RAID in 0, 1, and 0 1 configurations. The MSI k8mmv did not support RAID, and hence lost out on the features front.

In terms of pure features, the most feature-rich was the MSI RS480M2-IL (not to be confused with the RS 480M). The board is based on PCIe, and features support for 4 GB of RAM, has three PCI slots, 5.1 channel integrated audio, four USB ports and even a FireWire port!

EliteGroup RS480-M

It features SATA with RAID (0, 1, 0 1) as well as 10/100 Mbps LAN. The notable thing here is that this board (as well as quite a few of our other boards) requires a 24-pin power supply instead of the regular 20-pin, so you need to be careful when purchasing the power supply.

There is nothing dangerous about plugging a 20-pin power supply into a 24-pin socket, except that you might not be able to give the board enough power, and might not be able to add other components later due to lack of power-so it's wise to purchase a 24-pin power supply at the outset.

In terms of bundled accessories, all boards came with the standard cables and connectors except the Gigabyte, which also bundled in a USB LED (for fun, we presume). The other exception was the Elite Group RS480M board. This one came with nothing-no manuals, no cables.

How We Tested 
In order to judge which motherboard was best, they were passed through a series of rigorous benchmarks. As many as five test-bench setups had to be used due to the various types of processor sockets on the motherboards that were tested.
Intel motherboard setups consisted of the Pentium IV 3.6 GHz processor for the LGA 775 socket, and the Pentium IV 3.2 GHz processor for Socket 478 boards. AMD motherboard setups consisted of the Athlon64 FX-53 for Socket 939, Athlon64 3000 for Socket 754 and Athlon XP 2500 for Socket 462 boards.
Other than that, the test setups consisted of 512 MB of DDR 400 MHz RAM as the need arose, a 250 GB 7200 rpm SATA Maxtor hard drive, and an nVidia GeForce 6200 PCIe or AGP display card where onboard display was not available. Windows XP Pro with SP1 was freshly loaded along with DirectX 9.0c, and the drivers from the driver CDs provided with the motherboards were loaded.
The various features of the motherboards were noted and rated accordingly. The tests and benchmarks consisted of the following:
For the game tests, we used relatively lower resolutions-640 x 480 and 800 x 600-as the onboard gaming/graphics solutions on these boards, though quite good, were not what we would term as powerful.
Serious Sam Second Encounter: This is a Direct3D game, and it accurately measures the Direct3D gaming subsystem. This game was chosen because it runs fairly well on systems that use onboard graphics.
Quake 3 Arena: This OpenGL game which is fairly old was used to test the strength of the OpenGL graphics subsystem. This game was chosen because it scales fairly well across various systems.
3DMark 2001 SE: This is an industry-standard Direct3D synthetic benchmark and measures the graphics performance and capabilities of a system. This test gives one an indication about the kind of graphics performance you can expect from the system.
PC Mark 2004: This benchmark from FutureMark measures the CPU, memory, graphics and hard disk performance of the system, and hence is a good system-wide benchmark.
SiSoft Sandra 2005: SiSoft Sandra 2005 consists of benchmark modules that measure CPU, file system and memory performance.
Ziff-Davis Business Winstone 2004: This benchmark suite runs various applications such as WinZip, MSOffice 2002's Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, and other software, to measure the real-world performance of the system.
Dr. DivX 1.06: This is a video-encoding application that is used to encode DivX video files. Since video encoding is a processor-intensive task, the time taken to encode a file pretty much reflects how fast the processor is. A 100 MB DVD file was encoded to DivX, and the time taken was noted.

How they Fared

Graphics Performance

While testing these boards, we kept in mind that the target audience will not be looking at a gaming solution, so we ran less demanding games (Quake 3 and Serious Sam) at lower resolutions (640 x 480 and 800 x 600).

The boards with onboard graphics did a fairly commendable job, and gave more than playable frame rates in most cases (assuming anything above 30 fps is playable).

In Serious Sam, the lowest scores were logged by the Asus K8SMX-UAYZ. This SiS 760GX chipset-based motherboard could just manage a paltry 26 fps at a low resolution of 640 x 480 and similar 22.6 at 800 x 600.

Motherboards Without Onboard Graphics
The newer chipsets from nVidia do not feature support for onboard video. Even the earlier version of nForce3 lacked onboard video and came with an AGP slot. The motherboards based on the nForce4 chipset were the Gigabyte (the GA-K8NE) and the two WinFast boards, the NF4K8MC and NF4K8AB.

After a long sabbatical, ULi (earlier ALi) has come back with a brand new chipset for AMD boards (remember how, earlier, ALi and Aladdin were the chipsets AMD users swore by? Those guys are back!)-the ULi M1689. The board is AGP-based, and does not have onboard video, which makes us think that Ali is a little behind the times here (PCIe is here, guys!).

Moving on and coming to their graphics performances, the first test we used was Serious Sam First Encounter.

The highest scores here were recorded by the WinFast NF4K8MC. This nForce4-based board logged a whopping 185 fps at the lowest settings and 145.2 at 800 x 600.

Winfast NF4K8MC Nforce8

The second-highest scores were by a WinFast board again, the NF4K8AB at 170.2 and 135.2 respectively. To compare these scores to those of boards with onboard graphics is not entirely correct. These scores are slightly deceiving as these boards were tested with an external graphics card which bumped up the scores.

The Gigabyte GA-K8NE came in second and logged 157.4 and 138.8 respectively, and hence marginally beat the NF4K8AB at the more demanding resolution settings. The rear was brought up by the nForce3-based Asus K8N. This board logged a measly 44 and 35.6 in our tests, and was indeed the worst performer in our tests despite having a 6200 (AGP 8X) to help it out! You must, however, note that even though it scored the lowest in our tests, it still gave a more-than-playable frame rate, and hence must not be discounted entirely.

The Mercury PVCLE266M-L 
Would you believe us if we told you there's a motherboard available with onboard video, audio, LAN and a CPU as well, at a price as low as Rs 3,200? Yes, you read it right-Rs 3,200! The Mercury PVCLE266M-L is a Mini ATX board that comes with the VIA C3 Samuel 2 CPU (CX 800 MHz overclocked to Pro 2000 ) onboard. The CPU operates at an FSB of 133 MHz. The board is based on the VIA CLE266 chipset. There is support for two DDR memory modules running at up to 266 MHz. As much as 2 GB of memory is supported.

There are two IDE connectors that can support a maximum of four IDE devices with speeds up to ATA133. Four USB2.0 ports are provided. Connectivity is via a 10/100 LAN onboard.
The onboard VGA is a S3 display adapter with primary 3D functions. The audio device is an AC'97 supporting 6 channels. Expansion slots are provided in the form of 2 PCI and one CNR slot.
The gaming tests proved that the display adapter cannot aptly handle demanding 3D games. Serious Sam logged a low 5.6, while Quake 3 Arena logged an equally low 17.9 at 800 x 600 at 32-bit colour. The 3DMark 2001 SE score was a paltry 361.
The PCMark score was 451, which is 15 per cent less than that of most other boards we tested. In the SiSoft Sandra CPU benchmark, the CPU was quite low, and the memory benchmark was no different-5.5 in the ZDBench Business Winstone.
The above tests prove that while the motherboard is not well-suited for 3D gaming at all, it can still be used in offices where work is mostly limited to spreadsheets and word processors. It can also be used by cyber-cafés and computer classes, where its specifications would be more than sufficient to get the job done.

All boards did a bit too well in our Quake 3 Arena test. The WinFast NF4K8MC raced ahead with a score of 400 and 296.6 for the same resolutions as above. The gaming performance of the nForce4-based motherboards could also be high due to our using an nVidia-based motherboard with an nVidia-based graphics card.

The second position was taken up by another WinFast motherboard, the NF4K8AB. It scored 375.6 and 235.5, and easily beat the Gigabyte GA-K8NE, which scored 335.2 and 209.4.

The final graphics benchmark was 3DMark 2001 SE. The story here was the same-the NF4K8MC came first, but not by a long margin. It scored 9350 where the NF4K8AB scored a close 9146 and came in second, just edging out the Gigabyte GA-K8NE, which scored 9125. This was pretty much a tie, as this difference in scores is really insignificant.

The ASRock did a commendable job and logged 7610 despite being an AGP board. Other AGP boards crashed out: 5849 for the ATi RS480-based Elite Group RS480 M, while the Asus K8N was our worst performer once again, scoring just 4939 3DMarks.

The board, while not being too high on performance, was a mark above the others in terms of features, as it had five PCI slots and eight-channel onboard audio.

Motherboards With Onboard Graphics
Amongst the motherboards with onboard graphics, the best scorer was the MSI RS480M2-IL. It logged 62.7 and 45.8 for Serious Sam at 640 x 480 and 800 x 600 respectively.

The second here, and by a long way, was the TUL A480A7-VF. It logged 53 and 38.6 respectively. The worst performer was the Asus K8SMX on the SiS chipset, which logged a very unplayable 26 fps at the lowest graphics settings.

The story was replicated in Quake 3, the RS480M2-IL beating all the others comfortably.

In second place was the TUL A480A7-VF. The loser here was the MSI RS480M. The flip-flops done by boards based on essentially the same chipset (most of these are based on the ATi RS480) really highlighted how important the process for chipset implementation is.

The story continued through 3DMark 2001 SE, where the RS480M2-IL zoomed ahead with a score of 5048. It was comfortably ahead of the TUL A480A7-VF, which scored a commendable 4611.

The worst performer here was the MSI RS480M with a score of 1027. This board really was a surprise, as MSI generally turns out very good motherboards.

We now come to our first overall system test, PCMark 2004.


Here, it needs to be clarified that the scores depend a fair bit on the processors used, and the 939 boards gained an advantage over their 754 counterparts due to the faster processors. But this advantage is definitely warranted, as 939 is the newer socket, and if some manufacturer can give you a 939 board for the price someone else is giving you a 754 for, then it must reflect in the performance. This is why we did not make further segregations on the basis of processor sockets.

The winner in this round was once again the MSI RS480M2-IL, which stamped its authority over all the other boards with a thumping 3918 overall score.

The second-fastest board, again, the TUL A480M7-VF, could manage 3408, significantly less than the MSI board.

The MSI board's score here was the second-best of all the AMD boards and was beaten only by the WinFast NF4K8MC, which had the advantage of a 3D card.

The rear was again brought up by the MSI RS 480-M which managed a mere 2125, almost half of what the winner in this test scored!
Other Synthetic Benchmarks
We then benchmarked all these boards on our trusted SiSoft Sandra 2005 Professional and measured various sub-system performances. This test gives an individual breakup of performance of the various aspects of the system.

Again, for the ALU/RAM, the 939 socket processors got a bit of an advantage and therefore clocked higher scores. However, this time, the Gigabyte GAK8VM800 board stole MSI RS480M2-IL's shine and beat it quite comfortably, scoring 2839, where the MSI board could manage just 2785, which was the fourth-fastest, and which was superseded by both the TUL motherboards.

The FPU/RAM scores were identical (as they should be) to the ALU/RAM scores, and hence the standings were the same.

Again, in the CPU subsystem benchmarks, those with a 939 processor benefited and clocked fairly higher than their socket 754 counterparts.

The ASRock 939A8x-M and the Elite Group RS480M motherboards, out of the blue, totalled the competition by scoring a massive 11037 and 11024 to comprehensively beat the WinFast NF4K8MC, the third-placed board. The MSI RS470M2-IL did not feature even in the top six, and did rather badly in the CPU subsystem tests.

The ASRock completely dominated these tests and scored the highest in all the tests except CPU Whetstone where it came second with a score of 3794-second only to the Asus K8SMX, which did marginally better and scored 4033.

The WinFast NF4K8MC scored 3761 and did not even feature in the top three here.


The file system benchmark gives us the data transfer speed from the system to the hard drive and back. The scores were more or less the same throughout this test, except for the MSI RS480M, which scored just 38 on the drive index figure, and the MSIRS480M2-IL, which scored 48. All the others got 51.

The Krypton M7VIG scored rather poorly here with 25, but that's because it had an IDE drive and did not support SATA. The WinFast NF4K8MC scored the maximum in this test and really started to shine from here on.

Business Winstone is almost an industry standard while trying to measure the performance of a system in everyday office use. Since this is an entry-level motherboard, it won't really be used in gaming, and hence this test is extremely important as it directly targets the segment that these boards will cater to.

The winner here was the WinFast NF4K8MC, which scored an amazing 30.3, a score you would be hard pressed to get out of even higher-end boards. In fact, the top three scores here were quite high, with the ASRock coming in second with 28.8 and the Elite Group RS480M coming in third, scoring 28.3. The MSI RS480M2-IL lost out in a big way, scoring a minuscule 24.4!

To get a taste of their real performance, we decided to do a final test and manually clocked the time it took the boards to encode a video file. Encoding a video file is again processor-dependant, and hence the 939-pin boards benefited.

The winner, again, was the WinFast NF4K8MC, which converted the file in just 130 seconds, compared to 132 seconds taken by the Elite Group RS480M. Surprisingly, the MSI RS480M, despite being a 754 processor, clocked 135 seconds. The MSI RS480M2-Il clocked 140, which is poor.

The reason we are emphasising the 10-second difference is because the video file used was a relatively small 100 MB. If ever you try encoding a larger file- say a movie or a home video-it would take significantly longer on the RS480M2-IL than it would on the NF4K8MC.
Needless to say, if you're into any sort of image editing or manipulation, you're better off with the NF4K8MC.

Clearly, the winner here is debatable. Debatable or different, depending on the kind of usage you would put your computer through, and your requirements.

If you would just like to have an entry-level motherboard that gives you everything onboard and don't want to do too many fancy things, the best solution for you would be the MSI RS480M2-IL.

Gigabyte GA-81915ME Intel 915

This is a nicely balanced board with all the required features but not necessarily the most advanced features (for example, it has six-channel audio, which is just fine, instead of eight). Hence the MSI-RS480M2-IL gets the Digit 'Best Buy Gold' in the AMD onboard graphics category.

A special mention here must be made of the TUL motherboard. This board may not be an outright shiner, but if you don't want to spend more than Rs 4 to 4.5k, then this is the perfect choice for you.

If you have a budget constraint but don't mind spending a little extra on a graphics card (roughly Rs 4,000 for an nVidia 6200 or the ATi-based X300), then the best solution for you would be the WinFast NF4K8MC. This board has the most surprising performance that we have seen in a while from a board in this category. It gives you excellent features (almost everything you would find anywhere else, except SLI!), performance and above all, an unbeatable price. So, if you don't mind spending that little bit extra, look no further!

Download the PDF File of Motherboards

The price, performance and features contribute towards making the WinFast NF4K8MC the Digit 'Best Buy Gold' in the 'AMD Without Onboard Graphics' category.

Jargon Buster 
AGP: Short for Accelerated Graphics Port, this is a port made exclusively for graphics cards and is significantly faster than PCI. There are different AGP standards based on speed, such as 1.0 (1x/2x), 2.0 (2x/8x) and 3.0 (4x/8x). The AGP 1x interface operates at a clock speed of 66 MHz, AGP 2x operates at 133 MHz and so on-the multiple of the AGP device can be used to calculate the clock speed of its interface.
BIOS: The Basic Input Output System is a program located on the CMOS chip located on the motherboard. The BIOS controls the primary functions of the hardware and facilitates low-level communication between the OS and the hardware.
The BIOS can be upgraded to provide additional functionality.
SDRAM: Short for Synchronous Dynamic RAM, this is a type of memory that is synchronised with the FSB of the processor. It is available in various speeds such as 66 MHz, 100 MHz and 133 MHz.
DDR RAM: Double Data Rate RAM is a type of memory that handles data at twice the speed of the older SDRAM. DDR RAM typically operates at 266 MHz, 333 MHz and 400 MHz effective speeds, while the actual speeds are 133, 166 and 200 MHz respectively.
DDR2 RAM: Double Data Rate 2 RAM is a memory type based on chips designed to run at speeds higher than that of DDR RAM, such as 533 MHz and 667 MHz. Very few motherboards right now support DDR2 RAM. In our tests this month, only the Mercury PI915GVM supported it.
Dual Channel: When two RAM modules are plugged into two slots marked for two different memory channels, then, theoretically, the data flows at twice the normal rate through the RAM.
This is known as a dual-channel memory configuration.
FSB: The Front Side Bus speed is the clock speed at which different components in a computer speak to the CPU. The CPU's FSB is very important, and changing it can dramatically affect the overall performance of the computer. Increasing it can improve system performance but will also void your CPU's warranty, and may sometimes cause damage to the CPU due to excessive heat generated at higher clock speeds. Decreasing the FSB reduces performance, but may be necessary when the highest FSB supported by the motherboard is lower than the default FSB of the CPU.
IDE: IDE stands for Integrated Drive Electronics, and is a standard interface for hard drives, optical drives and other physical storage devices. It is also known as ATA, which stands for Advanced Technology Attachment. ATA33, ATA66, ATA100 and ATA133 are its various types based on the transfer speed. For example, ATA100 means that the theoretical data transfer rate of the interface is 100 MB/s. It uses a 40 pin connector cable that may consist of 40 or 80 conductors.
Multiplier: This is the ratio between the CPU speed and the FSB speed. As an example, a CPU with an FSB of 200 MHz and a multiplier of 18 will work at 200 x 18 = 3,200 MHz.
Northbridge: This is a chip on the motherboard that controls the FSB and memory. This is the largest chip on the motherboard and is normally covered by a heat sink, and sometimes actively cooled by a fan.
PCI: Peripheral Component Interconnect is a standard that defines the connection between the motherboard and expansion cards. The data transfer rate of PCI bus can be up to 133 MB/s.
PCI-Express: Peripheral Component Interconnect Express is a new PCI standard that transfers data at speeds equivalent to AGP 16x, which is roughly 4.3 GB/s.
RAID: Abbreviation for Redundant Array of Independent Disks, RAID is a software or hardware configuration that employs two or more drives in combination for fault tolerance and performance.
Fault tolerance is a method used to safeguard data by writing the same data to two different partitions or different hard drives so that a redundant copy is available in case the first gets corrupted or destroyed. This involves two write operations at a time, so naturally, system performance suffers. RAID 0, 1 and 0 1 are the commonly used types of RAID.
RAID 0: This involves striping only, and there is no data redundancy. It has the best performance but no fault tolerance. Striping is a technique in which the drives' storage space is partitioned into units ranging from 512 bytes to several megabytes. These stripes are interleaved and addressed in order.
RAID 1: This type of RAID implementation is also known as disk mirroring, which involves at least two drives to duplicate data. Striping is not involved here. This offers the best ratio of performance to fault tolerance.
RAID 0 1:  This combines the best features of RAID 0 and 1. In this type of RAID, two pairs of striped drives are mirrored together to provide fault tolerance. Thus, it requires four hard drives to implement.
Matrix RAID: This is a technology developed by Intel, which achieves what RAID 0 1 achieves using only two hard drives. It does so by creating two separate volumes in an array of two hard disks. It enables you to separate the two-disk Array into two volumes, as if there were two separate sets of hard disks.
SATA: Also abbreviated as S-ATA, SATA is short for Serial ATA, which is an interface for physical storage devices such as hard drives. SATA uses a serial technology in which data is moved in a single stream, which is done much faster than a parallel interface because unlike the parallel interface, a serial interface is not tied to a particular clock speed. The transfer rates for SATA begin at 150 MBps, and for SATA II it is 300 MBps.
Southbridge: This is the chip on the motherboard that controls all the onboard devices including the IDE bus and PCI bus. This is the second-largest chip on the motherboard and is sometimes covered by a heat sink.
CNR slot: CNR is an abbreviation for Communications/Network Riser, and the CNR Slot was developed by Intel. It is a slot on the motherboard that allows audio and modem devices created for this standard to be plugged into it.
OpenGL: Short for Open Graphics Language. It is a vendor-neutral, multi-platform programming language used mainly to create 3D applications and games. It was developed by SGI.
Underclocking: Reducing the clock speed of the CPU. It is achieved by either reducing the FSB speed or the multiplier of the CPU.

We would like to make a mention here and say that if you need to choose between two boards, go for one with a 939 socket. Even if the board costs marginally more now, it will more than make up for it later when you want to upgrade to a faster processor.
The Intel Motherboards
Let us now have a look at what the Intel platform had to offer. Intel motherboards traditionally used to be driven by chipsets manufactured by Intel itself, and occasionally by Via. But today, even entry-level motherboards are based on chipsets manufactured by Intel, Via, SiS and ATi. Like AMD, each chipset manufacturer has tried to cram every possible feature that it could.

Just as we saw in the AMD boards, despite these boards having been labelled as 'entry-level', many of the features that had previously been available only in high-end boards have become standard in these boards. The features we are talking about are SATA, RAID, FireWire, Gigabit LAN, etc. Many of the boards also featured PCIe.

Let's take a look at the features offered by these boards.

A majority of the boards supported the LGA 775 socket interface which, apart from being the latest from Intel, is also a lot safer, as the pins which traditionally used to be on the CPU are now on the socket. The locking mechanism is also sturdy, and the heat-sink fan assembly is very easy to lock onto the motherboard and it locks firmly too, ensuring that the heat-sink and the CPU remain in full contact. In the Socket 478 interface, the heat-sink and fan assembly mounting is a comparatively cumbersome thing to do.

AOPEN i915Gm-I

Of the chipsets available for this platform, no points for guessing this one-Intel dominated across the range of the motherboards. The Intel chipsets ranged from the ageing Intel 845 to the newer Intel 915GV. We had to underclock the CPU so we could test the Intel 845 motherboards, since they did not support the 400 MHz FSB that our test CPU Pentium 4 3.2 MHz sported.

That should give you an idea of how dated the 478 socket is. Intel has already stopped making processors for socket 478, and any stock you can find is leftover stuff.

On the memory support front, we found that the Asus P5P800-MX, the AOpen i915Gm-I, the Gigabyte GA-8I915GV and the GA-8IG1000, as well as the boards that featured the ATi RS350 and RS400 chipset, supported a maximum of 4 GB of DDR 400 MHz RAM.

Foxconn 915PL7AE-8S 
Foxconn is a new entrant to the motherboard market in India, and they sent us three boards to test. The 915PL7AE board is based on the Intel 915PL chipset and was taken out of the contest because it was the only board for the Intel platform that did not feature onboard video.
This motherboard has an LGA 775 socket CPU interface. It supports up to 2 GB of DDR 400 MHz memory in dual-channel configuration. There are four SATA connectors and they are configurable as RAID 0, 1, 0 1 as well as Matrix RAID. Onboard Gigabit LAN is also provided. But there is only one IDE connector.
There are four USB2.0 ports. The onboard audio solution is an 8-channel based on the Realtek chip. There are three PCI slots and a PCIe x1 slot provided for expansion. The layout of this deep-blue coloured board is also quite spacious.
As mentioned before, there is no onboard video. But then there is a PCIe x16 slot. In addition to this, there is a F.G.E. (Fox Graphics Extension) slot that is AGP 8x compliant.

This board is a very good option, especially if you are planning to buy a motherboard as an upgrade to your machine. If you have an AGP card, you can keep using it-there will be no need to invest in a PCIe card. You also have an upgrade option for the future, and if and when you wish to buy a PCIe card, you can just plug it in and get going.
On the performance front, this motherboard leads the pack. In Serious Sam SE, it logged a score of 133.1, while in Quake 3 Arena, it was 282.1 at 800 x 600 at 32-bit colour. In 3DMark 2001 SE, the score was 9101.
This excellent performance must be attributed in part to the nVidia 6200 256 MB PCIe card used in the test. However, you can't discount the fact that the motherboard plays an important role in these scores.
In SiSoft Sandra, too, this motherboard was better than the others. Its PCMark score was 4,945. In the ZDBench Business Winstone, it scored a decent 26.1. You can conclude that the board is very good for office work and gaming alike. At Rs 4,290, this board is a real steal!

The Mercury PI915GVM based on the Intel 915GV chipset was the only one to offer two DDR2 memory slots, supporting a maximum of up to 2 GB of 533 MHz RAM, in addition to two DDR slots.

The Intel 845-based boards were FSB limited to 266 MHz, and hence supported up to 2 GB of 266 MHz DDR memory.

Most of the boards supported the dual-channel memory configuration. This makes a difference in memory-intensive applications such as photo-editing applications, and dramatically reduces loading times due to the high available bandwidth.

A majority of the boards had AGP 8x slots, and quite a few of them also had PCIe x16 slots. The thing to note is that while AGP 8x slots provide an option to upgrade the graphics card and hence, is always preferable over onboard graphics, a PCIe x16 graphics slot is preferable since AGP is slowly but surely making way for PCI-Express and, as you may be aware, PCI-Express graphics cards are already available in the market and will offer a better performance than their AGP counterparts once games utilising their complete bandwidth and capabilities are launched.
Some motherboards such as the Gigabyte GA-8I915GV had only onboard graphics. It had neither an AGP slot nor a PCIe slot and provided no graphics upgrade facility. This is not a good thing, and such motherboards should be avoided unless you are very sure you will not want to go in for better graphics later.

In contrast, motherboards such as the Foxconn 915PL7AE-8S boasted of a PCIe x16 slot in addition to a F.G.E. 8x (Foxconn Graphics Extension) slot, which is compatible with the AGP 4x/8x specifications and lets you plug in a standard AGP card. Thus you are free to choose between an AGP or PCIe graphics card as it suits you. Or, if you are upgrading to this board, you can plug in your old AGP card, and you won't have to invest in a new card. However, this board did not come with onboard graphics.

One motherboard, the ASRock 775Dual-915GL, provided an A.G.I. 8x interface that is compatible with the AGP 8x interface in addition to the A.G.I. Express interface, which is compatible with PCIe x4. A DirectX 9.0c-compatible onboard Intel Extreme Graphics 2 is also present, which is quite decent in terms of performance compared to the older Intel Extreme Graphics.

ASRock 775Dual 815GL-M-ASR

The speciality of this board is that it lets you plug in both an AGP as well as a PCIe card at the same time, thus facilitating a multi-monitor working environment. This is just an additional feature which might not be of much value today, since multi-monitor display cards can do the same job at the cost of a single display card.

Of the onboard display cards, the ones from ATi, especially the RS400 from HIS, really shone bright because they provided not only commendable performance for onboard graphics, their image quality was also quite good.

On the audio front, none of the motherboards came with minimum of six-channel audio.

The ASRock 775Dual-915GL, Foxconn 915PL7AE-8S, Gigabyte GA-8IG1000 and GA-8I915GV came with as many as 7.1 channels. What this means is that these sound systems are enough to satisfy your most demanding needs, be it in gaming or watching DVDs. With such an onboard system available, one would not find it necessary to invest in a separate sound card.

SATA, which has so far been considered high-end, has finally made its entry into the budget segment. All the boards sported SATA ports, with half the lot having four and the remaining having two ports.

The Gigabyte 8TRS 350MT even supported RAID. Two motherboards, the HIS M48-F3 based on Intel 845 and the HIS FA61 based on Via P4M800 did not have SATA ports. From a future upgrade perspective, having a SATA port is necessary, since the slower and smaller IDE drives will soon become a thing of the past.

Only the MSI RS350M-ILSR had a FireWire port. A FireWire port is a good thing to have especially if you are into video capturing, because many video capture devices make use of this interface to transfer video to the hard drive.

Only Gigabyte's GA-8I915GV and GA-8I1000G came equipped with Gigabit LAN.

USB ports were also standard accessories on all the motherboards. The Gigabyte GA-8IG1000, HIS FA61 and HIS M48-F3 had only two USB ports, whereas the others had four.

Most boards came with two or three PCI slots. Since video, sound and LAN come onboard, the necessity to add PCI cards for these functions has been eliminated. Hence, a lower number of PCI card slots will not be much of an issue, as there are only a few types of add-on cards that you might want-such as TV tuner cards.

Almost half the boards had a 24-pin power connector. The others had the standard 20 pin connector. As we've mentioned earlier, while buying a power supply, you need to be careful about the pin count.
How They Fared
As with AMD, we began our benchmarking by seeing how the boards would fare on the graphics and gaming front. Even though this might not be what the targeted user might use the boards for, it is still a good way to test the speed and system performance.

The motherboard that scored the highest in our Serious Sam test was the Foxconn 915PLAE-8S. This board scored a mammoth 152 and 133.1 fps in the 640 x 480 and 800 x 600 resolutions. However, it must be pointed out that this board lacked an onboard graphics solution, so we'd used an nVidia GeForce FX6200 PCIE card, which led to a substantial increase in scores.

The HIS RS400 came in second with 57.8 and 40.5, and was followed by the Gigabyte 8TRS 350MT, which logged a commendable 54.6 and beat the HIS RS400 in the 800 x 600 scores by logging 47.5.

The worst performer here was the MSI RS 350M-ILSR. This ATi RS350-based socket 478 motherboard logged a measly 25 and 21.9 fps, and you should steer clear of it if you have even the remotest chance of running an application that is even slightly graphics-intensive.


We then put the boards through a few demos of Quake 3 Arena, and the picture changed slightly-but not at the top. That was ruled completely by the Foxconn 915PL7AE-8S, which logged a humongous 370.7 and 282.1, but of course, as we've mentioned before, it had a graphics card to help it with the games! The second-placed board here was the Gigabyte 8TRS 350MT, which logged 178.5 and 131.7 for the above-mentioned resolutions, and barely edged out the newer LAG775 socket HIS RS400 which clocked 176.9 and 112.9 fps.

The board that did miserably here was the MSI PM8M2-V. This Via-based board scored really bad-52.3 and 31.5. Of course, 31.5 is very playable, but it is not acceptable considering the kind of scores the other boards were logging.

Another board that performed beautifully was the Mercury PI915GVM. The board logged a commendable 157.4 and 142.5 fps, and came in fourth.

The real graphics benchmark, 3DMark 2001 SE, gave us rather surprising results.

The board that lost out hugely here was the HIS FA61, which logged a mere 1480-which was quite surprising, as the board was based on the new Via P4M800 chipset and is an LGA 775 socket.

Its more powerful and newer cousin, the HIS RS400, logged an impressive 5951 3Dmarks, and stood first by a fair margin over the second-fastest board, the Asus P5P800-MX, which clocked 5762.

The third-fastest was the MSI 915GVM. It scored 5571 3DMarks, and just barely edged out the Mercury PI915GVM, which came in fourth with a score of 5549. The 21-point difference is almost negligible, and these boards should be considered on par for all practical purposes.

The Foxconn 915PL7AE-8S scored a massive 9101 3DMarks, but since it was tested with a graphics card, it is completely unfair to compare this board to the boards tested with their onboard video solutions.

In our overall system benchmark, PCMark 2004, everything went topsy-turvy. The MSI 915GVM-V logged the highest CPU index at 5492, edging out the Foxconn 915, which came in second at 5481. The third spot was taken up by the Mercury PI915GVM, which logged a close 5477-which was not all that surprising, since all these boards were LGA 775-based and had the same CPU.

The overall scores of this benchmark reflected the true overall system performance and here, the Foxconn 915PL7AE-8S lead by a hairsbreadth over the HIS RS400 which clocked 4865, which is extremely good considering the fact that the scores of the Foxconn were bumped up by the external graphics card.

In SiSoft Sandra, our second synthetic benchmark for system performance, the LGA 775 socket processors had an advantage over the older socket 478 processors in the CPU subsystem tests but as was the case in AMD boards, this advantage should be noted and included while evaluation as 775 is the de facto Intel socket, and 478 has been phased out.

In the memory subsystem, the AOpen emerged the winner, scoring 4670 in the ALU/RAM and 4659 in FPU/RAM tests. This was a slightly higher than the second-placed Gigabyte GA8I915GV-MF, which scored 4641 and 4638. The Foxconn board managed just 4524 and 4537, and thus lost out here. The worst scores came from the HIS FA-61, which could manage just 2571 and 2570 respectively.

The CPU sub-system scores were quite varied and produced various winners. The Dhrystone test was won by the MSI PM8M2-V, which scored 10466 and marginally beat the Mercury PI915GVM, which scored 10464. The difference is meaningless, really-both boards get a joint first here!

The Whetstone test was won by the MSI PM8M2-V with a score of 4318, which was just about better than the 4309 scored by the Asus P5P800-MX, which is an 865GV-based board and is not on PCIe-hence the performance is quite commendable.

The multimedia CPU test was won by the HIS RS400 with a score of 25437, and the FPU test was won by the MSI RS350M-ILSR with a score of 34651.
In the disk index tests, only three boards scored 51-these were the MSI RS350M-ILSR, Gigabyte GA-8IG1000 and GA-8I915GV. All the other boards ranged from 37 (for the HIS M48-F3) to 47. Hence the HIS M48-F3 is the last placed board here.


In our Business Winstone Benchmark, the clear winner once again was the Foxconn 915P7AE-8S with a score of 26.1. It quite comfortably beat the second-placed Asus P5P800-MX, which scored 25. With a low 16, the loser here was the HIS M48-F3. The board was severely hampered by its older socket and chipset.

The final real world test we undertook was the video encoding file test. The test ended in a tie between the Foxconn 915 board and the MSI 915GVM-V, both taking just 120 seconds to encode our test file. If you plan to indulge in any amount of video encoding, these are the boards you definitely need to look at!

The worst times here were posted by the HIS M48-F3, which took a mind-boggling 201 seconds to do the same job! The board was, again, limited by its chipset and the socket.

With the various flip-flops in the scores, we had an interesting time trying to come up with a winner.

Since this is a budget category and we are looking at boards which should provide all onboard solutions including video, the Digit Best Buy Gold award goes to the Mercury Pi915GVM-V.

Mercury P1915GVM Intel 915GV

This board is certainly not the best-performing board, but then we are not in the performance category-plus the board is near the top if not at the top in almost all our tests. It is a balanced board with lots of features, and since it is PCIe-based and also supports LGA 775, you will have plenty of upgrade options.

We would like to clarify that even though in terms of pure scores logged, the Foxconn should be the 'Gold Award Winner', the result is clearly due to its graphics performance scores, which would be an unfair comparison as the Foxconn board had a 6200 graphics card on it. On all other aspects, our winner is neck and neck with the Foxconn, so the Mercury board was declared the winner.

Gigabyte GA-8TRS 350MT

What you must keep in mind is that the Foxconn motherboard does not have onboard video, so if you don't mind spending a little extra on the additional graphics card, we would absolutely recommend this board, as in all other aspects, it is on par with, if not better than, the Mercury Pi915GVM-V.

The Digit 'Best Buy Silver' award goes to Gigabyte 8TRS-350MT. This board is a consistent performer, and at the moment is a good buy. However, we would also like to point out that it is not entirely advisable to buy this board as it is based on socket 478, and Intel has stopped manufacturing processors for that socket. Also, this board is based on an older chipset and would not allow you to upgrade to a PCIe-based graphics card in the future.

Indicative System Prices 
Component Model Price(Rs) 
Processor Athlon 64 3200 (939) 9400 
Motherboard MSI RS480M2-IL 5395 
RAM Transcend 512MB DDR4002500
Hard Disk Seagate Barracuda 80GB (7200RPM) 2700 
Floppy Drive Sony 300
DVD Combo Drive Lite-On DVD Combo drive 2450 
Monitor (15/17 inch) LG 4650/5650
Keyboard Logitech 300
Mouse(Ball/Optical) Logitech 300/500
Cabinet Kobian 

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