*** The ULTIMATE Motherboard Selection Guide For New Users ***

Discussion in 'Motherboards' started by The Pentium Guy, Jul 16, 2005.

  1. The Pentium Guy

    The Pentium Guy Diamond Member

    Jan 15, 2005
    Likes Received:
    One of the most difficult decisions to make when building a PC is deciding what motherboard to purchase. The motherboard is quite an integral part to the PC, as all of your parts connect to it.

    You hear the question ?What motherboard should I buy? being asked quite frequently. Some of the big names out there include DFI, MSI, ASUS, ABIT, etc, but you?re not sure what to buy.

    So I've taken time to write this guide to explain why people recommend the boards that they do for the unsuspecting beginner. I could easily sum up this guide by giving popular recommendations for various boards. But I'm here to explain the why's as opposed to simply handing out recommendations.

    The guide was intended for beginners who have yet to explore the vast majority of motherboards out there, and for regular forum goers who are looking to learn more about what's out there. Let's get started.

    Before you pick out a motherboard, you must first decide what processor you?re buying. Your processor choice limits you to the types of boards you can buy. I won?t be going over processor-specific information in this thread, this guide was written to cover the AMD Athlon64 series of processors*.

    *Guide will be updated with AMD AM2 and Intel Conroe motherboards as they come out.

    So you've picked out a processor (if you haven't, my recomendation for you is to take a peek at this section on Anandtech and more specifically this article) if you?re looking for AMD Athlon64s.

    Before you pick a board, it?s important that you lay out your budget, and keep in mind features that you want.

    Motherboard Terminology
    To the unsuspecting beginner, getting into hardware has a steep learning curve due to the terminology used. The most common terms you?ll hear are the following:

    Form Factor ? The size of your board, usually ATX or mATX. An ATX board can fit in an ATX case (example), and an mATX (micro ATX) board can fit in an mATX case(example). Logically, an mATX board can also fit in the larger ATX case as well.

    Retail or OEM ? OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturing. If you buy a board that is labeled OEM, you?ll most likely receive your board in a plain box, without manuals, wires, etc?just the board. Thus, they tend to be a little cheaper than their Retail counterparts. I highly recommend against buying an OEM motherboard unless you absolutely have to.

    Chipset (Northbridge + Southbridge) ? The Northbridge is a chip in your motherboard that provides the features for your board, the Southbridge supplies additional features such as USB/Firewire ports. Basically your chipset represents the features in your motherboard.

    Supported CPU/Socket ? Make sure your board supports your processor, kind of important ;).

    DDR/DDR2 ? Your board choice determines the RAM you can buy. The two common standards are DDR(example) and DDR2(example). DDR2 is the higher-bandwidth version of DDR, but it also tends to have higher latency. Make sure you get the right type of RAM for your board.

    What?s this ATX2.0 business?
    The main power connector to your motherboard used to be a 20-pin connector. New boards, especially those the ones that support PCIe require a 24-pin connector. Make sure you buy a power supply labeled ATX2.0 if your board asks for it.

    AGP/PCIe ? These are the two types of interfaces for graphics cards. AGP(example of card), Accelerated Graphics Port, was the older type of interface. Since graphics cards are getting faster and require more power, PCIe (example of card), Peripheral Component Interconnect Express, was released. Note that PCIe (or PCI Express) is not the same as PCI-X. Be sure to get the right type of graphics card for your board.

    Here?s an example of what I just described to you. Check out the following link to the DFI Lanparty Ultra-D board:

    From the site:
    ?DFI LANPARTY UT nF4 Ultra-D Socket 939 NVIDIA nForce4 Ultra ATX AMD Motherboard ? Retail?
    CPU Socket Type: Socket 939
    CPU Type: Athlon 64 FX/Athlon 64/Sempron*
    Chipset(North Bridge): NVIDIA nForce4 Ultra
    DDR Standard: DDR 400 (PC 3200)
    AGP Slots: None
    PCI Express x16: 2

    *Note, it also supports Athlon64 X2. The board came out before the processor was released so the website hasn?t been updated. Pretty much any board that supports Athlon64 should also supports X2, usually with the latest BIOS.

    Just from that, you?d know what kind of parts go with your board, and what type of CPU your board supports.

    Let?s take a look at some chipsets.

    Discussion on the nVidia nForce4 MCP (Media and Communications Processor)
    As you may know, nForce4 is a very popular chipset for Athlon64 CPUs

    nForce4 embraces the latest PCI-Express technology for graphics cards (as opposed to its predecessor, nForce3, which embraced AGP).

    The nForce4 platform requires a Power Supply that meets the ATX12V 2.0 requirements, meaning that the motherboard connector from the Power Supply must be 24-pin.

    8 Channel AC'97 Audio: This chipset comes with integrated surround sound for your enjoyment. I would recommend a separate sound card for better sound quality though, especially if you?ve got a decent pair of speakers.

    Gigabit Ethernet and ActiveArmor Firewall for your protection on the internet against hackers and malicious threats. Unfortunately I?ve heard nothing but bad things about ActiveArmor (usually relating to data corruption and programs not connecting). Most just leave it disabled.

    One feat of this latest chipset is SLI - Scalable Link Interface. This allows you to hook up two of the same nVidia graphics cards together for more speed (note carefully that I didn't say "twice the speed"), probably the trademark feature for nForce4. Many hardcore enthusiasts choose this option to get the best FPS in games.

    SATA II support and NCQ. nForce4 allows you to support the newest hard drive interface, for transfer rates of up to 3Gbps. NCQ, Native Command Queuing, is a feature for your hard drives that lets it access the data in a way optimized for servers and workstations. This won?t really benefit an ordinary desktop, but it can be disabled anyways.
    Perhaps AnandTech can help explain this better

    Please note that the SATA II harddrives will not actually operate at 3Gbps, 3gbps is simply the maximum available transfer rate.

    10 USB ports ? as opposed to other chipset makers? 8 USB ports.

    RAID 0, 1, 0+1 support. The nVidia nForce4 chipset allows you to RAID 0, RAID 1, or RAID 0+1 your harddrive, whether it is SATA or ATA. A description of what RAID is:

    RAID 0: Data striping. You have 2 harddrives, and half the data is written to one drive, the other half is written to another drive for performance. However, this is more a gimmick than a useful feature for a mainstream computer user. If one drive fails, all your data is gone. RAID 0 is useful in environments I/O intensive environments, but perhaps spending money on an SCSI or SAS drive may be a better alternative if you?re looking for disk I/O performance.

    Raid 1: Data mirroring. Basically everything you do on one drive is backed up onto another drive. Not much performance loss here, but it?s an invaluable feature in environments where the data is crucial and must not be lost. Just remember that if you have 2x80GB drives on RAID 1, then that means that you "really" only have 1 80GB drive, the other drive being the backup.

    Raid 0+1: Both of them combined, both mirroring and striping.

    Only quirk that's with nForce4 is that Firewire is not included by default. But motherboard manufacturers will usually include it in anyways.

    nVidia actually squished the Northbridge and the Southbridge into one unit. It?s useful because it eliminates the use of busses to transfer data between the two, but it?s also a quirk because the single chipset runs quite hot ? so please note that many of the boards you?ll see may have loud fans on them.

    Note that you will not get all of these features in all boards. There are 3 versions of the nForce4 chipset:

    This is the Vanilla version and comes with everything that the nForce3 Ultra had. No SATA II support, no Active Armor, no Gigabit Lan (you do get the regular LAN though), no SLI.

    nForce4 Ultra
    This MCP comes packed with features such as SATA II, ActiveArmor, and Gigabit Lan. No support for SLI*

    *Certain nForce4 Ultra boards can be modded to work with SLI.

    nForce4 SLi
    Same as Ultra, except adds support for 2 graphics cards. Board manufacturers generally choose to include extra features as well (such as extra SATA ports, Dual Gigabit Lan).

    Note that nVidia created a new version of the SLI chipset called SLI X16, where the graphics cards operate on 2 X16 lanes as opposed to 2 X8 lanes, giving them more bandwidth.

    Also, please note that manufacturers may throw in some features. Take Gigabit LAN for example. Gigabyte (K8N-F), MSI (Neo4-F), and DFI (NF4-D), have chosen to throw in this feature as opposed to use the native LAN (note that these 3 boards are vanilla nForce4 boards).

    Discussion on the ATI Radeon XPRESS 200 MCP
    nVidia's got competition from its archenemy: ATI.

    Please note that I won't go over all the features of this chipset as many of the features are very similar to the nForce4 chipset. I'll note the differences though

    The Radeon XPRESS 200 MCP is basically divided into two parts:
    RS480 (XPRESS 200G)
    This is the integrated graphics platform from ATI that's been out for some time. If you're not a gamer, or if you feel as though you can live off of integrated graphics for some time before slapping on a PCIexpress graphics card, then this chipset is what you could get. The integrated solution allows for both DVI and VGA inputs and is based on the ATI Radeon X300 (which supports DirectX 9 natively).

    A note on Gigabit LAN though - Gigabit LAN isn't supported natively, but is provided by the PCIexpress bus on the chipset.

    I wouldn?t particularly say that this chipset is directed at the enthusiast, especially since overclocking on these boards is rather abysmal. There are very few boards that support this chipset however.

    RX480 (XPRESS 200P)
    On the other hand, THIS is the ATI chipset that is directed at the enthusiasts. Please note that there is no integrated graphics on this one.

    Let's start off with the Audio: High definition Azilla Audio. If you enjoy music but you're not an audiophile enough to buy a sound card, this should be a great integrated audio solution. Reminds me of the nForce2 and the sandstorm audio solution.

    Every chipset has its quirks?.The current southbridge that pairs with the RX480 is the SB450 and it?s not quite as feature rich as nForce4. There?s no support for SATA II or NCQ. The USB performance is mediocre compared to nForce4 (I?m guessing due to the delay caused by the separate northbridge and the southbridge, advantage to nVidia for putting the two together), and RAID 0+1 and RAID 5 aren?t supported (Raid 0 and 1 are, however).

    Also, note that due to the flexibility of the chipset, the northbridge uses a PCIe X2 bridge to connect to any southrbridge (from any manufacturer). You may see ULI southbridges in ATI boards for example.

    A word on overclocking: The reference boards that were shipped out by ATI were said to be excellent overclockers, hitting a clock of 400HTT.

    Discussion on the nVidia 6100/6150 Chipset
    For the integrated graphics platform, nVidia has its answer to ATI: the 6100 and the 6150 chipset. From the name, the 6150 is superior to the 6100, having a 50mhz higher graphics card clock. Don't be fooled though - 50mhz really doesn't make that much of a difference, and it's not that much faster.

    But?with the 6150, you get High Definition 5.1 surround, (as opposed to the 6100 where you get regular sound), support for 2 more SATA drives and a few more options. With both of these chipsets, you get SATA II support. Price difference? Not much.

    In terms of performance, this solution competes head on with ATI's RS480, taking a lead in most games. Also the features offered by this chipset surpass those offered by ATI.
    Don't expect to overclock too much on these boards; seek an enthusiast-level board if you want to overclock.

    Discussion on the VIA K8T890 MCP
    You'll frequently see VIA included in many OEM PCs with Athlon64 (as well as RX480 beucase of integrated graphics). nVidia's goal was to target the enthusiast community with nForce4. VIA's K8T890, while still appealing to the enthusiast community, was meant to target mainly the OEM audience.

    I remember reading up on linux forums about how the previous gen VIA K8T800 was really excellent when it came to linux compatibility (especially in terms of driver support for linux). Not sure about nVidia, but this is certainly not the case for ATI (especially with video card drivers. I gave up getting my 9800Pro working on Debian).

    What's the biggest advantage? Price. Honestly though, the edge that VIA once had over nVidia (price) is now going blunt - ULI's coming up with even cheaper alternatives, and ATI offers similarly priced boards with integrated graphics. I would say that the features are comparable to ATI's RS480, minus integrated graphics. When I was shopping for a board for a budget build early this year, I remember looking at the VIA chipset because of its support for 20-pin PSUs, instead of having to use 24-pin PSUs.* Considering the fact that ATX2.0 PSUs were rare and expensive back then, I considered this route a VIAble option.

    *This might be a disadvantage now, however. If you've got a 24-pin PSU then it won't work with your board...Some PSU makers, such as OCZ (in their Modstreams) have an 20+4-pin thing so it's backwards compatible with older boards.

    Discussion on the ULI* M1695 MCP
    *ULI got bought over by nVidia?but you can still buy the boards.

    Two words: Upgradability and Flexibility

    Imagine this scenario:
    You're a gamer, and have a 6800GT AGP card, but you want a decent upgrade route for the future. You know that most of the newer high end cards will all be PCIe but you don't want to shell out cash for a PCIe card beucase you've got your beastly card sitting right next to you.

    ULI presents... Triple Graphics Interface.

    The ULI M1695 offers you a platform with both PCI, AGP and PCIe graphics cards. This is perhaps the principle feature of this chipset.

    Note that ULI southbridges can be used with other chipsets - ULI is very OEM oriented so they tried to make it as flexible as possible - so you might be seeing some of the southbridges on the ATI chipsets, for example.

    There are only a few of ULI M1695 boards out so far, so I can't comment on it too much.

    You miss out on SATAII support, however. Manufacturers may choose to include a SATA II chip in the board though (this might make it a hassle to install windows XP because it won?t be native, so you?ll need that floppy drive handy and you?ll have to load in the SATA drivers)

    Note on overclocking: Don't bother buying voltage-loving memory if you go ULI, the chipset is very limited on memory voltage adjustments and on vCore adjustments (Goes to 1.55 I beleive). Just get memory that can handle speed without raising the voltage too high (TCCD, I beleive, does this...either this or BH5, I could be mixing them up).

    Another strong selling point from ULI (besides the TGI) is the price. You'll see serveral extremely low priced boards that use the ULI chipset ? again, they?re very OEM oriented, so this shouldn?t be surprising.

    Let?s check out one more thing before looking at boards.

    What you should factor in your decision
    First of all, you need to factor in your budget. No point in spending $200 on a board when you have a $600 budget to build a computer.

    Secondly, what features are you looking for? Do you need firewall*? Are you interested in quietness**? SLI?

    * Pass this. nVidia ActiveArmor isn?t that great.
    **The nForce4 chipset runs rather hot, so many of the boards have extremely loud fans on them.

    Third of all, are you overclocking? Here's the thing about overclocking: Many beginners come here and say that they're not overclocking, but most of them do so anyways. It's good to plan ahead for the future right? The motherboard you choose will be an important factor when you overclock.

    Finally: A word on performance.
    On the Intel side, the Memory Controller is located on the motherboard. Getting a low end motherboard would probably mean that your motherboard has a bad memory controller, meaning your motherboard is a reflection of your bad performance (currently the Intel processors are very bandwidth hungry).

    On the Athlon64 side, AMD has chosen to build in the Memory Controller into the K8 (Athlon64) processors themselves. So you'll notice, by looking at benchmarks, that all the motherboards perform pretty much the same (you won't see any big fluctuations)? so don?t ask people that you want a ?gaming motherboard?, the question just doesn?t apply.

    One thing about performance that you should pay attention to is onboard device speed. For example: SATA performance, USB performance, etc.

    Remember to factor in all of this when you make your decision.

    Let's take a look at the motherboards.

    Please note that I won't go through every single motherboard here. I'll go through the main ones that people seem to mention a lot.

    Motherboards are listed from cheapest to more expensive.
    ** "Writer's Picks" will be marked by 2 stars **

    Chaintech VNF4
    $74. Vanilla nForce4 board. Good if you're on an extremely limited budget.
    Definately not a board for overclockers because this thing won't overclock well.
    Beware the lack of firewire (you could add in a firewire card for $15-20 if you wish).
    Passively cooled by a heatsink (but no fan, for quietness) - MCP might get hot.

    Update: See below for better deal. The ultra board is currently cheaper than this board, so skip this one.

    Chaintech VNF4 Ultra
    $64. nForce4 Ultra board. The MCP is actively cooled so it won't run hot, but may produce some noise due to small size. Comes with Sata II/Active Armor. What a bargain - check the price!

    EPoX 9NPAJ
    nForce4 Vanilla. Nothing much to say about this board, except that I would look at the Chaintech VNF4 Ultra instead of this board. More features for the same price.

    EPOX 9NPA+Ultra
    $105. nForce4 Ultra.
    This is the ePox board that I'd be looking at. Best performer at stock settings according to Anandtech, and an excellent choice for overclocking. This board packs a punch especially for it's price tag!
    ** This is the board to get if you're on a budget but want to do some overclocking! **

    $138. Same as the Ultra board except with SLI.

    A note on overclocking: This board will overclock slightly better than the Ultra because EPOX has chosen to include a fan with a duct that plugs in to the IO panel, sucking cool air directly into the CPU. Also, this board features a 4 phase power regulator versus a 3 phase power regulator on the Ultra, for cleaner power when overclocking (Thanks SPQQKY for this info).

    The only downside is that you lose 1 PCI slot (in exchange for a PCIe graphics card slot, for 2 cards) and a Parallel port (this may be important if you have a Parallel port printer, but Parallel port printers are a thing of the past anyways).

    BFG nForce4 Ultra
    $109. This board is based off the Chaintech board. If you want the 24/7 tech support, this is the board to get! BFG is known for their amazing tech support. Should overclock better with a BIOS flash.

    MSI K8N Neo4-F
    $85 for an nForce4 board. Decent budget board alternative to the Chaintech, hell this board even comes with Gigabit lan (not native to vanilla nForce4, but MSI opted to put it in).

    MSI RS480M2-IL
    $86.50 ATI RS480 chipset.
    Note that this is a mATX board (great for Small Form Factor PCs), but it will fit in a regular ATX case (as well as any mATX case). The chipset isn't cooled at all (no heatsink, no fan, nothing) but that's not a problem because it runs rather cool - No need to worry about noise. This solution is an Integrated Graphics Solution, but you can slap in your beast of a graphics card in there once you want :). Recommended for guys that don't game, and guys that don't overclock (as this board has very limited overclocking options).

    $78.99. Integrated Graphics, nVidia GeForce 6150 chipset. Good competition to the ASUS A8N-VM CSM. Firewire, SATA II, Integrated graphics, and mATX. What sets this off from the ASUS? 8 Channel Audio, and the ability to overclock better. Granted, you can overclock with the ASUS....barely but with the MSI you've got more potential to do so. Recommended as the board if you're looking to build a budget system (or an HTPC) while also looking to squeeze performance out of your CPU. It sure does look like a strong contender to the ASUS.

    MSI K8N Neo4 SLI
    $124.....$124 for an SLI board? This is one of the cheapest SLI boards you can get for the money! It seems as though many of the issues that were present in this board initially were kinked out. High quality board at an excellent price.

    MSI K8N Neo4 Platinum SLI
    $169. Same as the other board, except more features (More cables, more SATA ports, etc). Also, I'd recommend looking at the non platinum version unless you want these features.

    I beleive this board has a clear CMOS button as opposed to a jumper. Handy tool for mad overclockers who want to just keep trying different settings without wasting their time clearing the CMOS using a long painful process of moving a tiny jumper around;).

    Note on the MSI nForce4 boards: If you choose to go with their Ultra board (which costs $4 less than the SLI board) for whatever reason, you can mod it to SLI. I dont see why you wouldn't spend the $4 on the SLI board instead though (unless you want the extra PCI slot). But if you're already purchased an ultra, you can mod it to SLI.

    Note on MSI Integrated Sound (nForce4 boards): The MSI's got a Sound Blaster Live! (Exclamation is part of the name) built-in. You'll find it useful in games, especially with the EAX and the CPU Overhead reduction.

    Last thing about MSI nforce4 boards: The vDimm only goes to 2.85 (thanks t3h l337 n3wb) - so I wouldn't recommend using RAM such as OCZ VX/Mushkin Redline sticks with this board. These great sticks are discontinued anyways :(.

    DFI LanParty UT Ultra-D
    $130 Built and designed from scratch for the extreme overclocker. Filled with numerous options to fine tune your overclock, this board is excellent. Can be modded to SLI.
    ** One of the finest overclockers out there, with plenty of features to get you started. **

    DFI LanParty SLI-DR
    $172. SLI for the enthusiasts. Why so much money? The package: UV reactive cables, Cable sleeving kit, FrontX, Case Carrying kit, UV reactive ports. All the gizmos and gadgets you ever need. The ultimate Athlon64 board for the Lan Party goer and overclocker.

    DFI LanParty UT SLI-DR Expert
    $177. The best just got better. DFI opted to improve their flagship board, refreshing it with a new set of BIOS options for you to improve your overclock. Doesn?t come with all the accessories as the aforementioned board, but you get plenty for your needs. To the enthusiast, ?overkill? has no connotation.

    DFI LanParty UT RDX200
    $204. Quite the hefty price tag. But then agian, this is a beastly 6-layer board that is currently the performance king, supporting 4 DoubleSided DIMMS at 1T command rate, and rumored to support CAS1 and CAS1.5. It's got Azilla high-def audio too. Crossfire compatible board. It's a shame that DFI decided not to use the ULI SB600 southbridge, because you're losing out on USB performance and you miss out on SATA II/NCQ. Is it worth it for the price? Might give you some second thoughts about this.

    Quick note(s) about DFI: They've got their own (active) tech support forum: http://www.dfi-street.com.

    All DFI NF4 boards come with the "Karjan Audio Module." Generally with integrated audio, you lose performance because it's using CPU power. DFI has engineered a seperate audio module to get around this issue, thus, getting more performance in games when using integrated audio ;).

    ASUS A8V-E Deluxe
    [Sold out on Newegg] VIA K8T890 chipset. Plenty of horror stories associated with this board, but to be honest, most of those issues (instability, incompatibility with certain nVidia cards) should be resolved. I beleive they have another PCB revision out, so a lot of the initial horror and shock stories should be gone, but I wouldn't call this a solid board. One reason to look into this board perhaps is beucase of the ASUS WiFi-G that comes with it. A good summary for this board would be something to the effect of "There are better options out there for a similar price."

    ASUS A8N-E
    $114. nForce4 Ultra board. Back in stock at Newegg (thanks to johnnqq for PMing me the information). ASUS has always been known for their reliability* and longevity. This board isn't meant for the hardcore overclocker, and it's only missing feature is firewire. This board can also be modded to SLI. Older revisions of this board were plagued with problems with the chipset fan** (dying out after 4-5 months). That the newer versions of this board come with a quieter fan.

    *Except for some of their latest boards. See A8N-SLI / A8N-SLI Deluxe.
    **See note on the A8N-SLI section.

    $135. I actually do not recommend this board for all of it's problems (many of which haven't been fixed yet). This was one of the first nForce4 boards out. The major issue with this board that still affects it is the chipset fan. Since the nForce4 runs hot, ASUS bundled a tiny 40mm 8000 RPM fan with the board. Unfortunately this loud fan won?t last you long?Many users were affected by this issue (there's an extremely long thread dedicated to solutions for this problem).

    ASUS also has a Deluxe edition of this board that can be had for $15-$20 more.

    If you like this board though, I wouldn't recommend this one (or the Deluxe one), but rather this one:

    ASUS A8N-SLI Premium
    $155. A heatpipe cooling solution! Silent, Passive cooling is always good for your ears ;). This board is a solid, reliable board from ASUS. Expect a decent overclock, and save yourself from the headaches of clearing the CMOS: My favorite feature (found on ASUS's exclusively I beleive) is the CPU Parameter Recall. No need to clear the CMOS, if your board crashes due to overheating (because of high overclocks), the board will revert back to defaults on the next bootup. If anyone's interested, you get RAID 5 support as well.

    $82. Solid Integrated Graphics platform from ASUS, received many good reviews and is based the 6150 chipset. This board's MicroATX, so it's perfect for HTPCs due the size. Plus, SATA II, Firewire, Passive Cooling, and High Definition sound ..... at such a low price? NOTE: No 5.1 surround sound on this one. Aside from that, this is possibly one of the best value boards on the market.

    $98. Crossfire board at a decent price. It's got top end features (SATA II/Firewire/Azilla High Definition Audio). The board did receive thumbs up reviews at first? but when the board became available, it became revealed that this board itself isn?t a high end overclocker. Users reported the board was plagued with many problems. Pass this one? and take a look at this:

    ASUS A8R32-MVP
    $180. Crossfire board with 2 X16 lanes for faster graphics performance. The board was plagued with problems initially, just like the A8R-MVP?but with later revisions of the board it seems most of these problems have been resolved. Question is, is it worth the price tag?

    ABIT Ax8
    $96. VIA K8T90. Decent board, top quality parts made by ABIT. Temperature sensor is a bit whacky. Overall a fairly decent board, but there are better options available at similar prices.

    ABIT AN8
    $102. ABIT has always been (at least recently) premium overclocking gear. You can tell this right away by the active MOSFET cooling that comes with this board. The board itself is a decent deal, but it doesn't come with SATA II or Active Armor. Note the absense of Paralell ports. Great overclocker (you can get some good voltage running through your RAM).

    ABIT AN8 Ultra v2.0
    $118. Version 2.0 = Passive cooling. For ye who hates noise this is an excellent overclocker's board. Decent alternative to the DFI Ultra-D.

    If you need SLI:

    ABIT AN8 SLI v2.0
    $95. SLI and Passive cooling. You miss out on parallel ports and dual Ethernet. Comes with uGuru windows overclocking tool, and a debug LED. EXCLELENT BUY.

    $99. No-frills version of the above board (which has been discontinued by ABIT). The AN8 SLI (above), doesn?t come with the debug LED, uGuru, or AudioMAX. Average board for the average DIYer

    Note on ABIT: All the ABIT AN8-series boards come with an AudioMAX module (just like the DFI comes with the Karjan Audio module) to reduce overhead from integrated sound and to get more performance from games.

    $132. Nice price for an SLI board. This is an alternative to that MSI. It also features Passive chipset cooling.

    Biggest negative about this board:
    NO MOSFET COOLING! Some users have been reporting stability issues when overclocking or when the temps are hot. I can't recommend this board because of that. Unless you wish to add your own mosfet cooling, that is.

    Gigabyte GA-K8NXP-SLI
    $152. Excellent board - the "XP" series marks this board as Gigabyte's flagship series. You get Raid 5 support as a bonus. But it has the "no MOSFET cooling" issue as well - so don't expect a good overclock. Board's an excellent value because it comes with:
    1) Wireless card - 802.11g
    2) 6 Phase DPS daughterboard module for cleaner power to your system.
    3) Dual BIOS (a trademark Gigabyte feature)
    4) SLI

    For $158 that's an excellent bundle.

    Again, the no MOSFET cooling issue makes it a hinderance while overclocking.
    If you like this board and you want to have a stable overclock, then I suggest you follow this Making Your Own MOSFET Heatsink Guide.

    If you're not an overclocker (at all) but are looking for features, this board is a neat buy, especailly with the passive cooling and the whole package. I would highly advise against overclocking with this board with the hot MOSFETs uncooled.

    eVGA 133-K8-NF43 $110
    Somewhat cheap nForce4 board, Keep in mind that this is vanilla nForce4, not nForce4 Ultra. I think there are better boards for the money than this eVGA. Lack of firewire? Not a good thing.

    eVGA 133-K8-NF41 $139 nForce4 SLI board. I'd suggest looking the JetWay board as opposed to this board, Jetway actually makes the eVGA motherboards and overclocks better.

    JetWay GTDual-STD-G-OC
    $86 nForce4. Hmm, a board that supports both 754 and 939? Sounds like a great upgrade plan, but IMO it's not worth it if you've got a 754, because AM2 is out.

    JetWay 939GT4-SLI
    Jetway isn't even a Tier 1 motherboard maker, but they've spent lots of time designing this board. It's surprising how well this thing actually overclocks, and it supports 3.25 vDimm so take your BH5's and overclock them to the max. Jetway did an excellent job with the layout of this board, and also decided to give you 3 PCIe slots. Why 3? 2 for SLI and 1 for any future upgrades. If Creative ever stops monopolizing the sound card market so we can make some progress (although their XFi is excellent) then maybe sound card technology will improve such that it would need the bandwidth of PCIe - that's all speculation though. Take a gander at the price tag: $78.99. Good deal, I must say, especially it?s overclocking ability and SLI support.

    ASRock is known for making all sorts of curious little innovations with upgradability. Look at their new ULI M1695 board:

    ASRock 939Dual-SATA2
    $68. ULI didn't natively include SATA II but ASrock went right ahead and included a SATA II port. There's no firewire on this board, which is a thumbs down. But remember that you've got a passively cooled chipset, and you've got TGI (supports AGP and PCIe graphics cards) Don't forget the price tag though ? excellent buy and great upgrade route.

    Note: I highly recommend against using an ATA harddrive if you purchase this board (if you bought the drive OEM), beucase the package only comes with 1 ATA cable and 1 floppy cable. Fitting in the HD on Master and the CD drive on Slave will be a very tight squeeze (I've been in this situation before, I would know :)). If you've got an extra ATA cable lying around or if you bought your drive Retail ... by all means go for it.

    Another note: There's some talk going around about ASRock making an AM2 adapter for the socket. I wouldn't be surprised, becuase I beleive they did this for one of their 754 boards (made it 939 compatible by including an adapter). By all means, this is an extremely flexible route if this is true.

    Some Outside Reading
    First thing you want to do is take a look at the options you've got..... basically you've already done that by reading this guide.

    Secondly you probably want to compare the different boards. I've done so, but you might want to hear what the pros have to say about them. Roundups are great ways to narrow down your choices, take these 2 examples:

    Anandtech's nForce4 Ultra Roundup
    Anandtech's nForce4 SLI Roundup

    Then you start narrowing down your choices, and start taking a look at the boards individually. So I suggest you start looking at product reviews (for individual products) so you can get a brief overview of the board's packaging, what it looks like, what you can expect, etc. Just to get an idea of the board itself.

    Next place to go is get some awesome tips is "Official Threads" on Anandtech. You get a lot of information all concentrated in 1 thread so you don't go searching.
    Official DFI Thread
    Official MSI Thread
    Official EPoX thread
    Unofficial ABIT thread - Don't ask :).
    There's a few for the ASUS boards (Mainly because they're different. The A8N-E ! = A8N-SLI).
    Official ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe Thread
    Official ASUS A8N-SLI Problem Thread
    Official A8N-E "I am your father" thread - Don't ask :).
    Official Chaintech Thread
    Official Gigabyte Thread
    Official ASRock 939Dual-SATA2 Thread

    Then I suggest you look in various other places. Where?
    Your biggest companion at Anandtech!
    *** Best of AMD *** - Lots of very informative threads bundled into 1 section.

    Anandtech is not the only place to get information! There are sites such as HardOCP, ExtremeSystems, XBitLabs etc.

    Click Here ? for quite literally the most useful resource on the planet.

    Some more information from ExtremeSystems
    ExtremeSystems: DFI FAQ
    DFI Bugs and Fixes - Might be rather useful.
    Official Dead/Buggy DFI Board Thread - Might want to check this out too. DFI seems to be having a problem with the CBBID CPUs. This seems to have been resolved though.
    ABIT AN8 Tips - This link shows that some of the AN8's (older rev's) have 2.8VDimm and some of them have 3.5 VDimm. Might want to check it out.
    Gigabyte nFoce4 board's MOSFET Problem
    Gigabyte GA-K8NF-9 (vanilla nforce4) Thread
    Gigabyte GA-K8NXP-SLI Thread
    EPOX 9NPA+
    Doing a simple search will do you wonders! I'll update this thread once I find more links.

    My recommendations
    Budget (Integrated graphics):
    If you're on a STRICT budget, MSI K8NGM2-FID is my recommendation. What more can you ask for? It's got all the big features (Firewire, SATA II), and integrated graphics. What else? It's mATX, so you can squeeze it in that tiny case of yours. And heck, its a pretty decent overclocker too. For such a low price ($86), it's an excellent buy.

    Budget with overclocking:
    If you've got a better budget and want to overclock, the EPOX 9NPA+Ultra is my recommendation. One of the best overclockers out there. And at $105, you can't beat the price and overclockability.

    Got AGP?
    Looking for an upgrade path in the future? ASRock 939Dual-SATA2. You can't really go wrong at $68, it's got SATA II support as well - definately a plus. Having both AGP and PCIe is definately a plus. Put in your old AGP here and shove that PCIe beast in here once you've got it. Hell, you could also keep your AGP card, maybe they'll come out with something else that runs off of PCIe (SAS drive adapters?).

    .....Now if you take the word "Limited Budget" away from the equation.....

    Single video card with overclocking:
    DFI LanParty Ultra-D ($130). Excellent board for overclocking. You'll get a lot of support from the members at AnandTech because many of them have this board and they'll be able to help you with any of the issues. Plus, they?ve got their own active tech support forum. It?s no wonder why this was quite literally the most popular Athlon64 board.

    Dual video card (SLI/Crossfire)
    DFI LanParty SLI-DR at $172. Plenty of features (as mentioned above): Carrying strap, UV reactive, LED debug indicator, wire sleeving kit, and the sheer overclockability of the board. Excellent board for the computer enthusiast.

    Please let me know if there's anything I missed. Also, if you don't like my opinions, tell me about it. I'll be more than happy to listen.

    The Big Question Before Taking the Plunge (buying the board): "Is my board problematic?"
    For the new users that are reading this, please don't be disheartened by the horror stories that you read on this forum. Note that the majority of the users that post on the forum are the ones that actually HAVE problems with their board. Very rarely do people make a thread about how much they love their hardware. Some products tend to have more problems than others, but keep in mind they all have their share of problems. There is no exception to this rule - that's just the way hardware works.

    On the other side of that note, bear in mind that product reviews (ex: on Newegg) are filtered for bad content (ex: "This board is a POS!! Don't buy this!!") so you'll see all the positives, but in most cases, not the negatives.

    Bias is ever prevailing and unavoidable, even this guide is biased. Do plenty of research and look for common issues with each board, as well as solutions, before buying.

    Read critically. Don't take what people say for granted, no one's perfect. Look for signs of bias in review sites. Keep in mind that review sites may be biased due to hardware bribery, who knows? I can assure you that Anandtech has got a good reputation for providing thorough reviews, giving the whole picture as well as a decent price to performance ration summary.

    Keep a watchful eye on forum members, as well. If you got free hardware from a company most likely you?d lean towards that direction.

    Note down when an article was written. If there was a problem with a board, and the article about it was written several months ago, then most likely the issue has been fixed.

    Lurk around forums. Articles don?t get updated, but people do. They?ll let you know if a there?s a problem with the latest bios, or if a certain problem has been fixed.

    This guide is simply intended to guide you, to start you off, and nothing more. Don?t go about buying a board just because you read this, be sure to do some research into the board on your own.

    Take it with a grain of salt. I sincerely hope this guide helped you in making your decision.

    What's going on?
    The next few months will be an interesting time for the hardware community. AMD new socket AM2 has just been released, and the Intel Conroe platform will arrive soon.

    The big question is, should you wait?

    I cannot answer that question for you, but I can give you some more information to help you make a decsion. Judging from the intial benchmarks of the AM2 platform, it can be seen that the performance numbers aren't showing drastic improvements -- especially with DDR2-667 memory. Intel, on the other hand made a surprising comeback with their Conroe platform. It looks like we'll be seeing some intense competition in the upcoming months.

    Is this worth waiting for? That all depends on how soon you want your computer. Just remember that the world of hardware changes more rapidly than ... say... the weather in New England. There's always something new around the corner, but if you've got some time on your hands then I suggest you wait for the upcoming Conroe - it seems to hold some merit as a good competitor. Only time will tell if this holds true.

    Final Words (Updates to come)
    -Price refresh
    -Socket AM2
    (Guide will be updated this week).

    I really have to say thank you for all those who?ve PMed me with information, and all those who have contributed to helping me in making this thread.

    Thanks to the AnandTech community,
    -The Pentium Guy
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  3. The Pentium Guy

    The Pentium Guy Diamond Member

    Jan 15, 2005
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    *Bumps for opinions*. 111 views and no replies. I don't want to be misleading to the people (111 is a lot) so I'd like some feedback please.
  4. imported_Kensai

    Nov 11, 2004
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    MSI K8N Neo4 SLI = Average user with average overclocking features
    MSI K8N Neo4 Platinum = ^See above^
  5. The Pentium Guy

    The Pentium Guy Diamond Member

    Jan 15, 2005
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    You've got a good point, the MSI's SLI is pretty cheap. But from the stories I've read, I'm not too sure I can recommend them. Then again, I don't have firsthand experience with the board...
  6. Fallengod

    Fallengod Diamond Member

    Jul 2, 2001
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    From what I hear about msi, I wouldnt ever touch one of their boards. Asus or epox all the way. And Epox or DFI for ocing.
  7. imported_Kensai

    Nov 11, 2004
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    Dunno. I've just complete 400 systems from MSI K8N Neo4 Platinum boards. None of them failed. The only parts we ever had to replace were the case and some ram.

    Also, personally I can only recommend boards that I've used. I can only disregard boards that I've tried before.
  8. imported_Kensai

    Nov 11, 2004
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    What you read and what really happens are two different things. :)
  9. Fallengod

    Fallengod Diamond Member

    Jul 2, 2001
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    Not really. There are alot of experienced people on this forum. Combined with other websites. When you hear story after story of msi boards being horrible. Its not just a random coincidence. I suppose since ive never owned a msi board, I have a limited opinion but...I also never will..

  10. The Pentium Guy

    The Pentium Guy Diamond Member

    Jan 15, 2005
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    I have some indirect experience ;). I was helping a friend build and I sort of ignored the horror stories relating to the Neo2. His board failed prematurely (he had quality parts, but his board just....died). He got an RMA and now he's fine, but it just seems as though they have a higher failure rate than most other products. He's got an incredible fear of doing bios updates mainly because a lot of the versions cause his system to be unstable (even the latest). It was after a few weeks when finding an older bios that he got his board finally stable. I think it was because his board didn't really like his Winchester (it was new at the time). Dunno though.

    Now I'm definately not implying that companies like ASUS and DFI don't have problems. No way jose, they've got their fair share of problems, just a little less to deal with, compared to the MSI.
  11. The Pentium Guy

    The Pentium Guy Diamond Member

    Jan 15, 2005
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    Updated the OP with some information.
  12. GadgetBuilder

    GadgetBuilder Member

    Dec 28, 2004
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    This ULTIMATE selection guide is based on unspecified sources rather than the author's own experiences or well documented and critical review of existing published sources. Why not link to the info sources so readers can decide whether the sources used are legitimate?

    For example, the opinion that the VNF4/BFG boards are poor overclockers may be old news which has changed based on updated BIOS -- for a contrary opinion on the BFG board see:

    The recent AnandTech review of the VNF4's overclocking used a Beta BIOS which is known to have some problems with overclocking, leaving that review suspect.

    The point being that simply reading reviews and accepting them without considering what (not just who) is behind them (and not saying how the info was selected for review) might lead to erroneous conclusions. Without references being cited it is difficult for the reader of this pre-digested info to decide whether it is correct.

    Not trying to start a war here, but you did ask for opinions :)

  13. rise

    rise Diamond Member

    Dec 13, 2004
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    yeah, definitely link to more threads. look around hard and xs for more in depth user reviews than you'll find here.

    i applaud your efforts, i've wished i had the time to compile a similar thread. :thumbsup: but if its to be the "ultimate" than you definitely need more info.

    just from my experience with dfi, i've never needed to change a jumper. but what would be more useful to mention to prospective buyers is the lack of a printer serial port (or whatever its called) on the board.
  14. Icepick

    Icepick Diamond Member

    Nov 1, 2004
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    The content of this guide echos the advice I see given in countless threads here in the Motherboards forum. It's refreshing to see that someone has taken the time to compile all of the info together into one thread. I would have had an easier time selecting my motherboard last year if there was a thread that consolidated the popular boards in one place along with forum members' advice like this one does.

    Nominate for sticky!

    Edit: I've read just about every review of motherboards based on the Nforce4 chipset I could find and based upon that, I agree with the opinions stated by the Op in this thread. Well done! :beer:
  15. 4444

    4444 Member

    Feb 7, 2005
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  16. 4444

    4444 Member

    Feb 7, 2005
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    {Sorry fotr the empty post.
    Don't know how that happened or how to remove it.)

    If you mind me posting in this thread let me know I'll start a new topic.

    I looking for a budget a64 set.
    Using a diveder I'm still hoping to get a nice overclock.

    a64 3000 venice 939 standard cooler
    twinmoss or kingston value 2x512mb
    psu tagan 430 or sharkoon 430
    hitachi 250 sata 1
    dvd burner nec 3540
    With the money saved from more expensive parts I'll get a

    I need help picking a board.
    Never used a divider before.
    Do all boards have divider options?
    If you can recommend me a board please let me know.
    I don't care for sata 2 or the hardware firewall.

    asus A8N-E (leaning toward this one)
    Gigabyte GA-K8NF9
    MSI K8N Neo4-F
    Epox EP-9NPAJ

    Sapphire RX480AS9-A58X (ATI RADEON XPRESS 200P chip)

  17. Fallengod

    Fallengod Diamond Member

    Jul 2, 2001
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    The magical forum troll stole it.
  18. theblackbox

    theblackbox Golden Member

    Oct 1, 2004
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    my opinions on the above.

    1. MSI neo4 platinum SLI :Uses SOundblaster audio on motherboard, really good when it works. I had one for 3 months then the sli crapped out. Problem was with motherboard.

    2. DFI lan party 4 sli-dr: My worst experience. it was first SLI board i bought, could never get it to work with two video cards. Came with neat things, like a strap to hold my case, pretty IDE and sata cables, stickers and other stuff.

    3. ABIT AN8 FATALITY SLI: What I am currently using, stable, fast and lacking all the features the other boards have. Abit took off all the neat gizmos and concentrated on one thing, overclocking. I like the uGuru 5 1/4 " slot lcd screen that shows temp fan speed and cpu speed.

    I know i had bad luck with DFI a lot of people have ahad good luck, but i think DFI made a poor choice of the sli mechanism, by using rows of jumpers. MSI comes in a close second with it's flimsy SLI card and rubber holder. MSI didn't even tell you which way the bridge goes on and you can't tell on the bridge itself.
    Thats from my personal experience with different NF4 boards.

    OH. The AN8 is the nicest as far as testing, as it has a 2 character led screen on the motherboard that posts codes as the pc boots, and lets you know what is going on if it can't. The dfi and msi both use 4 little lights. It's nice to be able to see an alpha numerical code when you run into issues. That to me was worth the few extra dollars for the board.
  19. Jader88

    Jader88 Member

    Apr 17, 2004
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    What about the K8N Neo 4 Platinum (939) Nforce 4 ultra, you only mention the SLI version. Is that a good board for stability and mild overclocking?
  20. Bona Fide

    Bona Fide Banned

    Jun 21, 2005
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  21. The Pentium Guy

    The Pentium Guy Diamond Member

    Jan 15, 2005
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    Of the 4 motherboards you posted, the EPoX. I would have recommended the A8N-E if it wasn't for the chipset fan issue. I heard that it had been resolved, but it seems as though even the latest revision (2.00) come with the loud chipset fan. I've heard about issues of PCI locks not working correctly on that board, etc. Besides, it doesn't have firewire.

    Quick question though: A8N-E's nearly $110. Why don't you look at the EPoX 9NPA+ which is in the same price range ;), as opposed to the 9NPAJ.
    Edit: Oh, I see. You don't want SATA II/ActiveArmor. Stick with the 9NPAJ then.

    -The Penitum Guy
  22. The Pentium Guy

    The Pentium Guy Diamond Member

    Jan 15, 2005
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    I debated on this a bit. I saw that the Neo4 Ultra was $125, and the Neo4 SLI was $129....:Q - so I decided to just focus on the SLI
  23. CheesePoofs

    CheesePoofs Diamond Member

    Dec 5, 2004
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    Nice job!

    I disagree with yoru saying the DFI nF4 Ultra-d is incompatable with Corsair ValueSelect ram. I'm using it with the ultra-d, and I've seen numerous others who are using it also. It seems to me that most of the issues with the CVS were caused by the 1/25 bios, and now that nobody's using that anymore, its all good. You should change it to say that the CVS normally works with the Ultra-d, but in some cases they refuse to work together, so its a bit of a risk to get it.
  24. The Pentium Guy

    The Pentium Guy Diamond Member

    Jan 15, 2005
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    Thanks for the info CheesePoofs. I think I'll do what you said : "Not recommended to get Corsair ValueSelect" as opposed to "DONT get Corsair Value Select."
  25. BigCoolJesus

    BigCoolJesus Banned

    Jun 22, 2005
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    You forgot to mention the Epox 9NPA+ SLI board ($138)...... from everything ive heard and reviewed, its the same as the Ultra, except SLI (obviously) and it overclocks even better then the Ultra

  26. The Pentium Guy

    The Pentium Guy Diamond Member

    Jan 15, 2005
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    Wow. I feel stupid ;). I didn't know they had an SLI solution. After looking into it, I realize that it overclocks better only because of 1 thing: That CPU-Duct-Cooling-Thing that comes with the board (it sucks in cold air from the IO panel directly to the CPU).

    Only downside is that you lose your Paralell port (like many nforce4 boards, but who uses Paralell printers nowadays?) and 1 PCI slot.