AMD Motherboard: ASUS M2N32-SLI Deluxe
Current Cost: $178
Consecutive Guides: 5
Price Change: -$5
When we moved over to Socket AM2, the ASUS M2N32-SLI Deluxe was our inaugural AMD platform base. There has been no reason to change from this price-performance winner, and even though we really like the slightly higher-end ASUS CROSSHAIR, our budget simply can't take the heat. The M2N32-SLI Deluxe is based on the NVIDIA 590 SLI chipset that, discounting the Quad FX 680a, is still the high-end model in the NVIDIA single-processor AMD chipset line. It includes support for all the latest technologies, including SATA 3.0 Gb/sec./NCQ, PCI Express, Gigabit LAN, and dual-channel DDR2, along with NVIDIA features such as LinkBoost, MediaShield, and DualNet. Obviously, the most impressive feature is the chipset's ability to utilize two PCI Express-based video cards in SLI format, giving high-end gamers an easy upgrade path to faster performance.
The ASUS M2N32-SLI Deluxe is a serious performance motherboard with all the features our High-end Gaming PC Guide demands. It supports all AM2 Athlon 64 X2/FX, and Sempron-based processors, and offers 4 DIMM sockets capable of up to dual-channel DDR800 operation. The board features dual PCI Express x16 slots for single or SLI graphics, 1 x PCIe x4, 1 x PCIe x1, and 2 x PCI expansion slots. ASUS also includes a full host of storage options, including six native SATA 3.0 Gb/s ports, two SATA 3.0 Gb/s ports through the onboard Silicon Image controller (including one back port for SATA On-the-Go), and a single PATA connector. Networking is taken care of through NVIDIA's Dual Gigabit LAN, the ADI 1988B supplies 8-channel high definition audio, and ASUS even includes WLAN through a USB wireless module that supports IEEE802.11b/g.
The ASUS M2N32-SLI Deluxe also includes an advanced thermal design, consisting of three core features. The most visible is the fanless, heat pipe thermal cooling, which includes a chipset heatsink linked to several heat pipes and heat fins/sinks for maximum thermal protection without the noise of a cooling fan. The motherboard also supports an 8-phase power design, which not only protects the CPU and power module from potential damage, but also generates less heat than conventional power designs. ASUS has also implemented their Stack Cool 2 cooling solution, which transfers heat from critical components to the other side of the PCB.
There are also a ton of ASUS-specific features such as AI Gear (adjust system profiles on the fly), AI Nap (low power mode, while still downloading or running applications), Precision Tweaker (enhanced overclocking), AI Clock Skew (automatically skews the memory clock signal timing, improving memory overclocking) and AI NOS (Non-delay Overclocking System), just to name a few.
For those looking at an ATI CrossFire solution, rather than NVIDIA SLI, we recommend an AMD 580X CrossFire motherboard, and potential options include the ASUS M2R32-MVP or MSI K9A Platinum.
Intel Motherboard: ASUS P5N32-E SLI
Current Cost: $205
Consecutive Guides: 2
Price Change: -$5
The situation is much the same in the Intel camp, and we are sticking with our existing motherboard for the Core 2 platform. Once again, we're going back to ASUS, and their P5N32-E SLI is a superb mix of performance, price and quality. The 680i chipset features true 2 x PCIex16 slots for high-end SLI gaming, supports up to a 1333 MHz bus, Dual DDR2 memory (800 MHz standard, 1200 MHz NVIDIA SLI), PCIe peripheral support, Gigabit LAN and DualNet, MediaShield Storage, 3.0 Gb/s SATA + RAID, HD Audio and all the other standard 600 series options. Processor compatibility is also top of the line, as the 680i supports all Core 2 Duo/Extreme, Pentium D, Pentium 4, and Celeron D LGA775 single, dual and quad core processors. The main benefit of the 680i is its ability to handle the new 1333 MHz Intel processors, while maintaining NVIDIA SLI support.
ASUS motherboards continue to be a real favorite of the high-end gaming crowd, and this is mostly due to the company's design philosophy of combining high performance with exceptional quality. The ASUS P5N32-E SLI features the powerful nForce 680i SLI, which supports LGA775 processors on the 533/800/1066 (and up to 1333 for upcoming processors) MHz bus, and handles standard DDR2 memory at up to DDR2-800. The motherboard offers dual PCIe x16 slots, 1 x PCIe x16 (at 8x), 1 x PCI Express x1, and 2 x PCI expansion slots. Storage requirements are handled with 1 x PATA and 6 x Serial ATA 3.0 Gb/s, and the motherboard features Dual Gigabit LAN, SupremeFX Audio through the ADI 1988B 8-channel, and 2 x IEEE 1394a Firewire.
This motherboard also includes a fanless thermal heat pipe design, featuring an 8-phase power design, Stack Cool2, and Q-Fan2, which adjusts both the CPU and chassis fan speeds according to system load. As with many of the ASUS enthusiast motherboards, this model includes ASUS-specific features such as AI NOS (Non-delay Overclocking System), AI Overclocking (intelligent CPU frequency and voltage adjustments), and ASUS Q-Connector (one module connects the chassis front panel cables), just to name a few.
For Intel buyers looking at the ATI video card option, we really like the ASUS P5K Premium, which features the Intel P35 chipset and a potential graphics upgrade path with its CrossFire-supported dual PCIex16/PCIex4 slots.