When buying a motherboard for an Intel CPU, the most important consideration is the chipset. This will determine whether or not it will support the latest connectivity features, memory technology and, most importantly, the latest-model CPUs. There's a stack of chipsets on the market just for Intel motherboards — and an even larger stack of motherboards based on different implementations of those chipsets — ranging from entry-level chipsets with integrated graphics, right up to high-performance chipsets that are ripe for serious overclocking. What follows is a run-down of the top five boards we think are best for a new system or upgrade, but discussed in order of their chipset (from mainstream to high-end performance).
The P35 Express chipset is perhaps the most popular current model for Intel-based motherboards, and no less than two motherboards on our top five list support it: Gigabyte's GA-EP35C-DS3R and ASRock's 4Core1600P35-WiFi+. We've ranked the Gigabyte board at number four — one spot below the ASRock — because it lacks a FireWire port. But aside from that, both boards are well featured — the ASRock even ships with a wireless networking module. Both boards also have DDR2 and DDR3 memory slots. While you can't use both types of memory simultaneously, this makes them are worthwhile investment if you currently run DDR2 memory, but one day want to switch to DDR3. It's especially useful as both boards can handle the latest 45nm (nanometre) based Intel Core 2 Duo CPUs with front-side bus speeds of up to 1333MHz. DDR2 memory, of course, can only officially go as fast as 1066MHz.
Intel's P45 Express chipset is set to become the new mainstream chipset of choice for motherboard makers, and there are a couple of differences between it and the P35 that make it stand out: it can support a front-side bus speed up to 1600MHz, it can support more PCI Express lanes for dual graphics card configurations (CrossFire) and it also features Intel's controller hub 10 (ICH10). The P45 can be found on our top-ranking board, the ASUS P5Q Deluxe, which supports DDR2 and has plenty of connectivity. It also puts an emphasis on energy conservation, and it even has a built-in operating system that allows you to get on the Internet without even having to boot up Windows.
For performance machines, Abit's IX38 QuadGT is a fine choice of motherboard. It runs Intel's X38 Express chipset, which supports two PCI Express x16 graphics slots, as well as a 1333MHz front-side bus. This board, however, actually has a maximum front-side bus speed of 1600MHz, and it will support Intel's latest 45nm-based CPUs. It still relies on DDR2 memory modules, so you won't have to throw away your existing modules just yet. Most importantly, the board recorded very good scores in our benchmarks and it has plenty of scope for overclocking, too.
Residing in the final spot of our top five list is Intel's Desktop Board D5400XS (Skulltrail) motherboard, which, even though it costs upwards of $800, is pure awesomeness for anyone who wants to built the ultimate gaming rig or workstation PC. It's based on Intel's 5400 Express workstation chipset, and it has two CPU sockets. However, it can't run any old Core 2 CPUs; because it has two LGA771 CPU sockets, it'll only run the Core 2 Extreme QX9775 or Xeon 5000 Sequence CPUs. If you populate both CPU sockets with quad-core CPUs, you've got yourself a system capable of processing eight threads simultaneously!
To help you decide on a new Intel board for your system, check out the full reviews in our top five.
Top 5 Intel Motherboards
5. Intel Desktop Board D5400XS (Skulltrail)
What's hot: Can run two quad-core CPUs for a total of eight cores, perfect for a workstation PC.
4. Gigabyte GA-EP35C-DS3R
What's hot: Runs either DDR2 or DDR3 memory, power conservation utility.
3. ASRock 4Core1600P35-WiFi+
What's hot: Well-priced and even ships with a wireless networking module.
2. Abit IX38 QuadGT
What's hot: Very good performer, a good choice for a powerful system.
1. ASUS P5Q Deluxe
What's hot: Surf the Web without even loading Windows, good power conservation utility.