When selecting a motherboard for our Value Gaming System, it is important we find the best overall value, while ensuring the most future-proof and high-performance hardware possible. Naturally, these goals are often at odds with each other, and the sticker price is usually the main stumbling block. To find that right combination, the motherboard needs to be affordable, but also have a good mix of performance, overclocking, and onboard features. Whether you're buying a low-cost gaming system or an ultra high-end powerhouse, the motherboard is still one of the most important components, as it provides the backbone for your entire computer and determines your future upgrade path.
AMD Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-MA790X-DS4 (AMD 790X)
Current Cost: $121
Consecutive Guides: 2
Price Change: -$2
Socket AM2+ is the AMD platform through 2008, and it really comes down the choice of individual chipset. We've had great luck with the AMD 7 Series, specifically the 790FX, 790GX and 790X. These will support all the features of the newest Phenom processors, while remaining backward compatible with existing Socket AM2 Athlon 64 X2 models. Due to our budget, we going to save a few bucks and go with the less expensive AMD 790X, which still supports dual PCI-E 2.0 x16 CrossFireX (the AMD 790FX doubles that to Quad CrossFireX) and has all the high-end features of the 790FX. For an entry-level system, there is absolutely no downside to the less expensive AMD 790X.
The Gigabyte GA-MA790X-DS4 is powered by the AMD 790X chipset, which other than lacking quad GPU support, is virtually identical to the more expensive 790FX. It features the AMD SB600 Southbridge, while supporting features like PCI Express 2.0, CrossFireX (dual PCI-E 2.0 x16), SATA 3.0 Gb/s with RAID, IEEE 1394a, Gigabit LAN, and High Definition 7.1 Audio. The motherboard includes support for all Socket AM2 and AM2+ Phenom, Athlon 64 X2, Athlon 64 FX, and Sempron processors, and includes 4 DDR2 sockets capable of handling up to 16GB of DDR2-1066 memory. Onboard expansion slots include 2 x PCIe x16 graphics, 3 x PCIe x1, and 2 x PCI, while storage options offer 2 x PATA devices, 4 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s and 1 x Floppy.
Intel Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-EP45-UD3P (Intel P45)
Current Cost: $125
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: N/A
There is no reason to upgrade from our previous Gigabyte P35 motherboard, but since there are newer, faster and more feature rich P45 boards available, we're making the switch. The Intel X48 motherboards are still priced higher than our budget will allow, but the P45 gets us all the performance and features we need, and at a noticeable savings. Also, since Core 2 Duo prices have dropped a bit since our last guide, we have a bit more money to play with for the motherboard, which allowed us to upgrade to the Gigabyte GA-EP45-UD3P.
The Gigabyte GA-EP45-UD3P motherboard is powered by the Intel P45 Express + ICH10R chipset, which is an excellent platform for the Core 2 Duo E8400 processor. The 4 DIMM slots support DDR2 in standard 667, 800 and 1066 MHz formats, as well as overclocking to DDR2-1333/1366 speeds. The P45 supports 800, 1066, 1333, and 1600 MHz FSB speeds, and its onboard expansion include 1 x PCI-Ex16, 1 x PCI-Ex8 (both 2.0), 3 x PCI-Ex1, and 2 x PCI slots. Storage options feature 8 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s with RAID and 1 x PATA. Other onboard features include 12 x USB 2.0, 3 x IEEE 1394a, 8-channel high definition audio, and 2 x Gigabit LAN, along with a range of overclocking options.