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|How We Tested|
|Our benchmarks and tests were chosen after careful consideration so as to stress the boards to the maximum. As many as five test-bench setups had to be used because of the various types of processor sockets available on the motherboards we tested.
Intel motherboard setups featured the Pentium IV 3.6 GHz processor, while AMD motherboard setups featured the Athlon 64 X2 dual-core processor. Other than that, the test setups consisted of Corsair 1 GB DDR 400 MHz RAM or Micron 1 GB DDR2 533 MHz RAM, according to the RAM supported by the motherboard; a 120 GB 7200 rpm SATA Maxtor hard drive; and an XFX nVidia GeForce 7800 GT PCI-Express display card. The systems were powered by Antec Neopower 480 Watts power supply.
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.
Our tests and benchmarks consisted of the following:
FarCry: This is a Direct3D game that accurately measures the Direct3D gaming subsystem. This game was chosen because it uses a fairly modern graphics engine, especially for rendering water, and represents how most games will play on your system in
Doom 3: This OpenGL game is used to test the strength of the OpenGL graphics subsystem. We chose this game because it's very heavy on resources.
3DMark05: This is an industry-standard Direct3D synthetic benchmark from FutureMark, and it measures the graphics performance and capabilities of the system. This test gives you an indication about the graphics performance you can expect from the system.
PC Mark 2004: This is another industry-standard benchmark from FutureMark; it measures the CPU, memory, graphics and hard disk performance of the system-and hence is a good system-wide benchmark.
SiSoft Sandra 2005: This consists of benchmark modules that measure CPU, filesystem and memory performance.
Ziff-Davis Business Winstone 2004: This benchmark suite runs various applications such as MS Office 2002's Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, and other programs such as WinZip, to measure the real-world performance of the system.
Dr. DivX 1.06: This is a video encoding application used to encode DivX video files. A 100 MB DVD file was encoded to DivX, and we noted the time taken to encode.
We ran all the above benchmarks and logged all the scores. After applying the proper weightage to each of the logged scores, the aggregate performance score was calculated. Similarly, the various features of the motherboards, along with their prices, were noted to calculate the features and price scores. These, along with the performance scores, were taken into consideration to decide the winners.
|What Should You Look For In A High-End Motherboard?|
|Dual-core processor support: The motherboard must support dual-core processors of the highest speed available at the time of purchase, even if you plan to use a single-core processor. This is to ensure your computer will be future-proof-you will probably move on to a dual-core processor at some point.
High-speed memory support: The motherboard must support dual-channel memory of as high a speed as possible. Currently, motherboards support DDR memory of speeds as high 400 MHz and DDR2 memory of speeds up to 888 MHz, such as the Gigabyte i-DNA GA-8I955X Royal.
Number of SATA ports: A higher number of SATA ports is preferred, especially since a SATA port supports one SATA device- unlike an IDE port, which can support two devices. Generally, four SATA ports are found on most motherboards. Some may come with as many as 10.
SATA II support: The SATA standard, in which the data transfer rate goes up to 150 MBps, is slowly being replaced by SATA II, which boasts if 300 MBps. Motherboards that support SATA II also support the older SATA standard in case you have a SATA drive.
SLI: Even if you have or plan to buy a single PCI-Express graphics card, for future-proofing the graphics capabilities, a motherboard that supports SLI should be preferred. It provides the option to add another PCI-Express card to improve graphics performance in the future, in case a single card is not enough.
FireWire: A FireWire port is used to connect FireWire devices such as DV cams, usually to capture high-resolution digital video.
Dual Gigabit: Dual Gigabit ports allow you to be on two networks at the same time, so you can be connected to the Internet using one of the ports while the other port can be used to connect other computers on a home network or LAN.
Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi offers you the convenience of wireless networking and Internet access.
Bluetooth: Bluetooth is useful in situations such as when you wish to listen to music via your Bluetooth headset or when you want to transfer files between your PC and your Bluetooth mobile phone or PDA.
Overclocking features: A good premium-quality motherboard should come with advanced overclocking features. This is a feature much sought after by hardcore gamers, who would like to squeeze out all that the system is capable of.
|The BIOS: The Basic Input-Output System is a program located on the CMOS chip 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.
Bluetooth: A wireless radio standard, primarily developed for lower power consumption. It has a short range of
10 cm, 10 m, 100 m or 400 m, depending on the power class. It has certain advantages over prevailing radio standards: Bluetooth-enabled devices can communicate with each other even if they are of different types-for example, MP3 players, mobile phones, laptops, headsets, printers, and more.
DDR RAM: Double Data Rate SD RAM is a type of memory that handles data at twice the speed of the older SD RAM. DDR SD RAM typically operates at 266 MHz, 333 MHz or 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 533MHz and 667 MHz.
Few motherboards support DDR2 RAM right now.
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 speed at which the different components of the computer speak to the CPU. The CPU's FSB is the most important, and changing it can dramatically affect the overall performance of the computer.
IDE: Integrated Drive Electronics 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, and Parallel ATA. Various types are ATA33, ATA66, ATA100 and ATA133, based on transfer speeds. It uses a 40-pin connector cable that may consist of 40 or 80 conductors.
JBOD: Just a Bunch Of Disks is a disk configuration which, in the true sense, is not RAID at all. When two or more hard drives are in JBOD configuration, the entire space of all the disks can be combined into a single volume, or can be split into separate logical volumes. This does not provide fault tolerance, but there are certain advantages, such as no wastage of drive space and easier disaster recovery.
Matrix RAID: A technology developed by Intel, it achieves what RAID 0 and 1 achieve, 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 a two-disk array into two volumes, as if there were two separate sets of hard disks.
Multiplier: This is a number for a CPU that determines how fast the CPU operates. The CPU speed equals the FSB multiplied by the multiplier.
Northbridge: 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 used on all current- generation motherboards and expansion cards used to connect the two devices. The data transfer rate of PCI bus can be up to 133 MBps.
PCI-Express (PCIe): Peripheral Component Interconnect Express is a new PCI standard that can transfer data at speeds equivalent to AGP 16x, which is roughly 4.3 GB/s.
RAID: Redundant Array of Independent Disks is a software or hardware configuration that employs two or more drives in combination for fault tolerance and performance. RAID 0, 1 and 0 1 are the commonly used types.
RAID 0: This involves only striping, and there is no data redundancy. It has the best performance but no fault tolerance. (Striping is a technique in which the drive's storage space is partitioned into units ranging from 512 bytes to several megabytes.) The 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.
SATA: Also abbreviated as S-ATA, is short for Serial ATA, which is an interface for physical storage devices such as hard drives. It is a serial link and consists of a single cable with a minimum of four wires creating a point-to-point connection between devices. The transfer rates for SATA begin at 150 MBps, and for SATA II it is 300 MBps.
SLI: Short for Scalable Link Interface, which is a graphics standard in which the motherboard has two PCIe graphics slots so that two cards can be plugged in simultaneously and connected via a bridge. This setup offers a huge performance leap in graphics applications such as gaming.
Southbridge: This is a chip on the motherboard that controls all the onboard devices including the IDE bus and the PCI bus. This is the second-largest chip on the motherboard, and is sometimes covered by a heat sink.
Wi-Fi: An abbreviation for Wireless Fidelity, Wi-Fi is a wireless radio standard that was developed for communication between mobile devices such as laptops, PDAs, and LANs, but is now even being used in desktop computers.