Published Date
01 - Dec - 2006
| Last Updated
01 - Dec - 2006
As opposed to processors and graphics cards that are constantly in the limelight because of the performance gains they bring, a motherboard goes quietly about its business, unobtrusively. However, these hunks of silicon have slowly gained fame for their overclocking capabilities-sure a motherboard allows overclocking, but that isn't the best of their capability.

A motherboard, besides powering all your other components physically, also dictates terms as regards the number of upgrade and component options possible. A good motherboard should be sufficiently future-proof in addition to having a multitude of upgrade options.

We've seen numerous exciting features on offer on the latest boards, a welcome relief from what is typically a more mundane-if not downright boring-category of PC hardware. Goodies like Wi-Fi and multiple FireWire connectors, and actual soundcard-like-quality onboard sound solutions are finally available on some surprisingly affordable motherboards. We've also seen increasingly powerful integrated graphics solutions on some of the entry level boards.

Myths And Realities
It's the CPU that's important, any board will do: motherboards provide support, stability, flexibility, and upgradeability to a PC. Spend as much time deciding on a motherboard as you would on any other component.

Integrated graphics are a definite plus: not always true. Instead, you will have to figure out if you want a display card or not. For gamers, enthusiasts, and multimedia freaks, a graphics card is mandatory, making the onboard graphics functionality pointless.

Overclocker motherboards are only for geeks: a motherboard is a motherboard. In fact, overclocker / enthusiast motherboards make great platforms if you can bear the higher price tag. This is because component quality is top-notch (to bear the rigours of increased voltages and clock speeds). Such motherboards will last longer simply because of the component quality and design.

Selling points used by vendors: the number of USB ports, number of channels of onboard sound, etc. These numbers, while useful, shouldn't be deciding factors. After all, you won't be using six USB ports at once. Nor would you benefit from an 8-channel sound setup, when the maximum number of sound channels used for surround sound is still six!

 Living up to the expectations of becoming objects of desire (like fast processors and graphics cards) is causing motherboards to become what we fondly like to call "fully-loaded monsters". We conducted a motherboard test last month, and were surprised to see some of the features and nifty additions on the boards we received. We were also surprised at seeing the inclusion of solid-state capacitors and four-plus phase designs on many of the boards.

We also saw the beginnings of more showy boards-copper (or copper-plated) heatpipe solutions on thermally hot areas of the board are much the rage. While we prefer fan-based solutions for their efficiency, such fancy solutions do keep noise levels to a minimum. It seems that the smaller (Micro ATX) and lower-end boards are being replaced by higher-end boards (if numbers are any indication) that are more affordable. A great trend and one we encourage!

What To Look For
Processor support: A motherboard should be capable of supporting processors launched over the next six months. We don't recommend going with older chipset-based boards simply because they are cheaper. You'll pay for it in the long run! Even though the newer chipsets may be slightly costlier than the previous generation ones, the flexibility of upgrade options makes them worth the price.

Support for multiple Serial ATA devices: Serial ATA is the interface of the future. Pretty soon optical drives will also go SATA, and Parallel ATA will collect cobwebs in museums. We recommend a motherboard with no less than four Serial ATA ports.

Dual Channel memory support / Four DIMMs: Most motherboards today support dual-channel memory, but some boards, especially the Micro ATX ones, have only two memory DIMMs. This means memory upgrades are limited. Avoid bottlenecks by looking for such details.

Quad-core support: There are a handful of motherboards that boast quad-core processor support today. Although dual-core processors will easily match your performance expectations, getting a quad-core-ready motherboard will mean that only your processor needs to be changed when upgrading, instead of a motherboard changeover as well.

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