PC World Best Buys March 2003: Motherboards

In the March 2003 edition of PC World, we put 12 new motherboards to the test, comparing the latest chipsets from Intel and AMD!

Our tests were so comprehensive that we couldn’t fit all the details into the magazine. See below for information on how we tested the motherboards for this month’s head-to-head comparison, as well as additional feature comparison tables which are available to download as PDFs.

As the cornerstone of all computers, motherboards determine a system’s performance, reliability and features. As such, careful consideration is required when purchasing a board for a new system.

These days vendors try to pack everything but the kitchen sink onto their latest boards, as well as employing fancy box packaging, in order to entice punters. However, when considering a motherboard you need to go beyond the cardboard extremities. The crucial factors you will need to note are CPU support, memory support and connectivity. These features are largely determined by the chipset of the motherboard and in this review we have categorised boards according to the type of chipset for both AMD and Intel platforms.

Stability is a key issue for any computer system and our extensive tests of these boards should give you a fair indication of which chipset is the current front-runner in reliability and performance. In all, 12 of the latest boards were tested, six each based on Intel and AMD platforms, and Best Buys were given to those which we think provide the most stable performance and the best compromise between features and price for each platform.

For Intel motherboard features click here
For AMD motherboard features click here

How we tested

All motherboards were put through the wringer a number of times using industry standard benchmarks. SYSMark 2001 was used to gauge office productivity speed and reliability; 3DMark 2001 SE (build 330) and Quake 3 were used to gauge overall system graphics performance. In 3DMark we ran the default test, and in Quake 3 we ran the timedemo 1 demo 1 test at resolutions of 640x480 and 1024x768 with 32-bit colour depth.

To gauge I/O performance, we tested on all available hard drive ports; where a chipset featured an onboard graphics chip, we ran one test on a selected board to give an indication of the difference between AGP graphics and onboard graphics performance. Full results can be viewed in the performance charts. Individual report cards comment on reliability and performance differences.

We tested the USB 2.0 and FireWire capabilities of each board (where applicable) using a Maxtor 5000XT external hard drive. A standard amount of data was selected (4.02GB) and we noted the amount of time it took to transfer this data from the computer to the external hard drive.

All motherboards were tested using the following standard hardware:

Power supply: 300W ATX12V
Memory: Corsair PC3200 (DDR400) 512MB
Graphics adapter: 64MB Gigabyte Maya II R9500 (using the latest drivers from Gigabyte’s Web site)
Hard drive: 120GB ATA100 Western Digital Caviar WD1200 with 8MB cache; 120GB Serial ATA
Seagate Barracuda ST9120029AS
CD-RW: Ricoh MP7200A
Operating system: Windows XP Home

AMD motherboards were tested using an AMD Athlon XP 2600+ CPU; Intel motherboards were tested with a 3.06GHz Pentium 4 CPU with Hyper-Threading enabled.

We allowed all motherboards to run the PC3200 memory at the fastest possible speed they could support, in order for them to show their true colours (and to see which ones could actually do it successfully) and AGP 8X support was enabled where available.

Serial ATA performance was tested with a 120GB Seagate Barracuda ST9120029AS hard drive.

The Maxtor 5000XT that we used for transfer tests is a 250GB external hard drive with both FireWire and USB 2.0 interfaces built-in. It costs $899 and you can get more information at www.maxtor.com or by calling (02) 9369 3662 to find your nearest reseller.

Motherboard Buying Guide

Want to buy a motherboard? Then first check out our motherboard Buying Guide for expert advice and information.

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Elias Plastiras
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