HotHardware Holiday Gift Guide
Making A Happy Home: Motherboards
Now that we've checked out the hottest CPU picks in the land, let's look at a few motherboards. Let's start with our picks for the high-end motherboards, shall we?
ASUS MAXIMUS FORMULA / SE - $265
If you're interested in an Intel-powered motherboard, it's hard to top the ASUS MAXIMUS FORMULA / SE. This board is the brawny big brother to the Blitz Formula board we gave our coveted Editor's Choice Award to earlier this year.
This motherboard has everything an enthusiast could want: support for a 1600 MHz FSB, 8 GB RAM capacity, PCI-E 2.0, and 6 SATA-2 ports with RAID and enough overclocking features to satiate the most ardent power user. If you want to build a serious enthusiast rig for current and future Core 2 CPUs, this board should be in your short list.
We wanted to see an X48 board in this guide, but they just aren't shipping quite yet. Despite that, the ASUS MAXIMUS FORMULA / SE does all you could reasonably ask for.
Gigabyte GA-MA790FX-DQ6 - $270
Now for the high-end AMD board; we chose the AMD 790FX-based GigaByte GA-MA790FX-DQ6.
GigaByte has a long-standing reputation for quality and great features, and despite somewhat high power consumption, we think this board has a lot going for it: four PCI Express 2.0 PEG slots to compliment its CrossFireX support, support for up to 16 GB of DDR2, support for DDR2-1066, 6 USB 2.0 ports, 2 eSATA ports, 6 SATA connectors that support RAID 0/1/10 and JBOD or a combination thereof, a pair of FireWire ports (one internal, and one on the back panel), and a whole range of digital outputs.
If you are planning on building an AMD CPU powered rig, the 790FX chipset at the heart of the GA-MA790FX-DQ6 is the latest core logic available. You might also want to consider getting a case with a window, because Gigabyte DS series boards certainly have a unique look that will draw "oooohs and aaaahs" from your friends.
ASUS P5N-E SLI - $120
If you're looking for a more affordable socket 775 motherboard that still offers a great feature set and excellent performance, you're in luck. Our pick for a good mid-range Intel motherboard is the ASUS P5N-E SLI. It offers an excellent feature set, easy overclocking and considering its performance is on par with the 680i, it is a veritable bargain.
Don't confuse bargain with "lacking in features;" this board has all you will likely need, including 1333 MHz FSB support, SLI support, support for up to 8 GB of DDR2 memory, and a long list of BIOS features. For the price, this board has a great combination of quality and feature-rich performance.
Abit AN9 32X - $129
The mid-range AMD motherboard market is chock full of good solutions. Take the Abit AN9 32X, for example. It's built around NVIDIA's current flagship socket AM2 chipset, the nForce 590SLI. The board supports all flavors of Athlon 64 X2 and Sempron, and should support Phenom with a BIOS update. In addition, it supports NVIDIA's SLI multi-GPU technology, plenty of memory, RAID, and it has a wealth of overclocker-friendly BIOS options. For about $130, the Abit AN9 32X represents a solid value, especially considering all of the features offered by this motherboard.
ASUS P5B SE - $90
If you're looking for an affordable socket 775 board, then feast your eyes on the ASUS P5B SE. It might be running a last generation chipset (P965) but it still has some life left in it. Our favorite feature has to be the 1333MHz FSB support that will even allow you to plug in a new Penryn CPU down the road. It's good to know that you would be able to upgrade next year without having to do a complete overhaul, even with a $90 mobo. Just look for that all-important BIOS update for the new CPU microcode you need.
ASUS has earned a reputation for rock-solid reliability and unique features at the high-end, but this particular board isn't just a stripped down version of a pricier product. In fact, this is more of a souped-up version of a last-generation board, and that means that you can expect a lot of features such as: eSATA, support for up to 8 GB of DDR2-800, and 4 SATA ports to tackle all of your storage needs.
MSI K9AG Neo2-Digital - $75
Those interested in an affordable AM2 (not AM2+) solution that doesn't compromise speed or reliability need look no further than the MSI K9AG Neo2-Digital. This board is based on the AMD 690 chipset that we looked at earlier this year, and found to be quite impressive for its market segment.
Despite the affordable nature of this board there doesn't seem to be any type of connector that isn't present: from 6 USB 2.0 ports, to Firewire and 8 channel audio. This board even has integrated video that could save you a few dollars if gaming wasn't in your plan.
The bottom line is that if you're shopping for an Athlon 64 X2 CPU and are trying to stay on a budget, this board is one to look out for.