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- Very good performer, ran 65nm and 45nm-based Intel Core 2 CPUs without any problems, supports DDR2 or DDR3
- It doesn't have optical or coaxial digital audio ports, the layout of the power plugs is a little awkward, doesn't ship with extra USB brackets, only two PCI Express slots
This is a worthwhile base for any new system. It was fast in our tests and its ability to run DDR3 and DDR2 memory modules, as well as the latest 45nm-based Core 2 CPUs, give it good versatility for future upgrades.
Price$ 209.00 (AUD)
When it comes to motherboards, the most prominent names are ASUS, Gigabyte and MSI, but there are lesser-known players out there who also offer well-featured models at competitive prices. ASRock is one such player, and the company names its products so that you know exactly what you're getting without even having to read the specs.
Take the ASRock 4Core1600P35-WiFi+, for example. It's a motherboard that's based on the Intel P35 chipset; it supports quad-core CPUs with a front side bus speed of up to 1600MHz and it also ships with a wireless networking plug-in card. It could be assumed that the "+" is an indicator for the board's DDR2 and DDR3 memory module support, as well as eSATA and FireWire ports. Indeed, this board has it all... except for optical or coaxial digital audio ports, and it could use one more PCI Express slot.
The Intel P35 chipset isn't the latest and fastest on the market, but it does have support for all of Intel's latest Core 2 dual-core and quad-core CPUs -- including the 45nm-based ones -- and its ability to use DDR2 and DDR3 memory modules makes it a versatile and long term solution.
We tested it with an older 65nm-based Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6850 CPU (3GHz) and 2GB of 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM, as well as an ATI Radeon 3850-based graphics card and a 750GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 hard drive. In WorldBench 6, the board recorded a score of 118, which is a very swift result. It was able to encode 53min worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3s in 55sec using iTunes, which is also a solid showing for a motherboard based on the P35 chipset.
In the BIOS (which can be accessed by pressing [F2] instead of the more common [DEL] key), the front side bus speed of the CPU can be manipulated, as can the CPU multiplier (if you have an unlocked CPU), but you can only use one of two set DDR2 memory speeds: 667MHz and 800MHz. We upped the CPU speed to 3.6GHz (by using a front side bus of 400MHz and a CPU multiplier of nine) and the board didn't like it at all. It was much happier at 3.4GHz, where its iTunes score improved by seven seconds.
Using a 45nm-based Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650 CPU (3GHz) and 2GB of 1066MHz DDR3 RAM, the board recorded an identical time in the iTunes MP3 encoding test (55sec) and 117 in WorldBench 6, so the newer components didn't automatically make it a faster platform.
As we've already mentioned, this board is well featured; you get six SATA ports, as well as one IDE port for your internal drives, and it also has an eSATA port for quick external drive access. However, to use the eSATA port, you must first connect it to one of the internal SATA ports. This means that a SATA cable will have to cross the motherboard, under (or over) the graphics card and around the CPU heat sink, which is inconvenient.
As well, the layout of this board is a little all over the place. The power connector, in particular, is located just above the graphics card slot and below the CPU. This could add to the cable clutter in a lot of cases. Likewise, the supplemental 8-pin power connector for the motherboard is located between the CPU socket and the rear I/O panel, which makes it hard to access once the CPU heat sink has been attached.
The board is also bundled with an 802.11g wireless networking module, which makes it a good, complete choice for anyone who wants to build a second or third PC -- no extra bits need to be bought to hook it up to an existing wireless network. The wireless module plugs into a dedicated pin header in between two of the PCI slots and an antenna with a 1m long cable is supplied for reception. We had no problems using its supplied software interface to log into our office network.
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