Socket 939 Motherboard Roundup: ABIT, MSI, Gigabyte
Summary & Conclusions
Benchmark Summary: Throughout the synthetic, gaming, and encoding tests, all four of the motherboards we've looked at in this article performed at near identical levels. In the "real-world" testing with the Business and Content Creation Winstones benchmarks, however, the two NVIDIA nForce3-powered motherboards - the Gigabyte K8NSNXP-939 and the MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum - had a distinct performance advantage. And now for our picks...
MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum:
Looking at the benchmarks, no single board had any real advantage over another in the majority of benchmarks, but the nForce3 boards really pulled ahead of the pack once we ran the Business and Content Creation Winstone tests. This put the nForce3s in a favorable light when it came time to pick a winner in this roundup, which brings us to our top pick: the MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum. This motherboard is well equipped; it overclocked very well; its performance was top-notch and consistent; and, at about $140, the MSI K8N is also competitively priced. We have been using this board for a few weeks with nary a problem and will be using this board for future Socket 939 processor testing. When we took all these aspects into consideration, the K8N Neo2 Platinum seemed to be the best all-around choice, in our opinion. It's strong in every category and would be an excellent choice for anyone looking to build a high-end Athlon 64 based system. We're giving the MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum a solid 9.5 on the Heat Meter and declare it HotHardware's Editor's Choice...
Yet again, ABIT has delivered a solid motherboard targeted squarely at enthusiasts looking for stability and performance without a lot of "fluff." The ABIT AV8 was the only board we tested to feature a diagnostic LED readout incorporated right onto the PCB, it was one of the better overclockers, and it was the fastest of the bunch in the gaming benchmarks. The AV8 was rock-solid stable throughout all of our testing (and then some), and it was one huge advantage over the other boards we've tested: price. The AV8 is available for under $100 at multiple online resellers, which is about 30%-40% less expensive than the other boards in this roundup. With Socket 939 Athlon 64 processors still selling for a hefty premium, we're sure saving a few bucks on a first-class motherboard will make many potential buyers happy. The ABIT AV8 was a strong performer, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a better value in this market segment. We're giving it a 9 on the Heat Meter; had the K8T800 Pro not faltered in the Winstone tests, the AV8 could very well have been our top choice...
We were very impressed by Gigabyte's K8NSNXP-939. It's the most feature-rich motherboard in this group, the bundle was spot-on, and performance was consistently very good. Gigabyte also scores some points for actively cooling both the nForce3 chipset and the VRM and by building in some redundancy with the Dual-BIOS feature. Anyone who has ever killed a motherboard because a BIOS flash went awry will definitely appreciate the Dual-BIOS feature! The K8NSNXP-939 also did well in our overclocking tests, and even some of the simpler items such as the AGP locking mechanism and clearly labeled headers gave us the impression that Gigabyte really paid attention to the details. Unfortunately, the K8NSNXP-939 was the most expensive motherboard in this group, and by a significant margin. The lowest price we found for the K8NSNXP-939 was $180USD, but most retailers had it priced right around $200. That makes the K8NSNXP-939 roughly $50-$100 more expensive than any of the other motherboards represented here. And although Gigabyte has a heck of a motherboard in its lineup in the K8NSNXP-939, we feel it's a bit expensive. We're giving the Gigabyte K8NSNXP-939 an 8.5 on the Heat Meter...
MSI K8T Neo2-FIR:
The MSI K8T Neo2-FIR struck us as a "Jack of all trades, but a master of none." This board does a lot of things well and has a lot going for it, considering it's the second-least-expensive board in this roundup. But each of the other boards just seems slightly better in a few different categories. The K8T Neo2-FIR was a decent overclocker, but the K8N was better. The VIA K8T800 Pro chipset powering this board is fast, but the nForce3 was slightly faster. The K8T has a great feature set, but Gigabyte's was a bit better. And the K8T Neo2-FIR is cheap, but the AV8 is cheaper. The K8T Neo2-FIR, however, did arguably have the best bundle, and it was the only board to include a wireless NIC. Ultimately, we don't think anyone would be disappointed if they purchased a K8T Neo2-FIR, and AMD themselves took a liking to this board, as evidenced by the company choosing it to showcase the first batch of Socket 939 processors sent to technical editors. The MSI K8T Neo2-FIR is a very good motherboard that just happened to get overshadowed by some worthy competition in this roundup. We're giving the K8T Neo2-FIR an 8 on the Heat Meter.