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Holiday Hardware Buyers Guide
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by Techgage Staff on November 15, 2006 in Staff Editorials

The holiday season can be a rough time if you are not sure what you buy, or ask for. We have taken out the hassle and delivered a comprehensive guide of our top picks that covers every type of component inside your computer.

Update: We’ve added a gadgets page!

Motherboards


When building a new machine, the -last- thing you want to skimp out on is a motherboard. It’s the heart of your system, and if you buy a low quality board you can expect far more issues than you’d like. Because there is such a divided market between Core and AM2 motherboards, this page is designed a little differently.

Ultimate – ASUS Striker Extreme (Intel Core)

This board is so hot off the line, you can still smell the plastic! With the introduction of the NVIDIA G80 cards last week also came the chipset many Core 2 owners have been waiting for, the 680i. Basically an elaborate nForce 5 chipset, the 680i is the ultimate board for your Core 2 machine. It’s designed for any Core CPU you throw at it, whether that be an E6600, X6800 or QX6700. This board is built for speed, and proves the fact with its 1,333MHz FSB!

If you are a gamer, then this board was developed with you in mind. In fact, ASUS recently kicked off a series line called “Republic of Gamer” and the only other board included is the Crosshair, and we all know how far the tweaking ability was with that one (3.4vdimm anyone?). The same, if not better tweaking ability can be expected with the Striker. To add to the bling factor, included is an advanced onboard audio card, LCD screen on the back for diagnostics and a very unique looking NB/SB heatsink. The only catch? The Striker may be one of the few motherboards to ever hit the $400USD mark. Ouch.

Ultimate – ASUS M2N32-SLI Deluxe (AMD AM2)

It may seem like I am on an ASUS binge, but they’ve really impressed me this past year. The M2N32-SLI was the first AM2 motherboard I used, and I was immediately impressed. Like the DFI M2R/G, this board also features the nForce 590MCP chipset, so SLI is your friend quick as long as you have two of the same capable cards. While the board caters to enthusiasts, it also delivers in other departments to make it a great board for all around use. Gaming, HTPC, alarm clock… you can use it for whatever you want.

You may laugh at the alarm clock reference, but it’s no joke. You can set this board to start playing an audio CD for whatever time you specify and it will turn on your computer to do so when that time hits. Other great features include built-in WiFi, 8-phase power design, LinkBoost technology and other odds and ends. One feature I particularly enjoyed was the fact that you could back up your entire bios to your thumb drive! You also have the ability to load a BIOS backup from the same drive or a CD-Rom, and it will give you specific info before you proceed with a flash so that you can make sure it’s the right move. Without a doubt, this is one serious feature-rich AM2 motherboard.

You can read our ASUS M2N32 review here.

Great – Gigabyte DQ6 (Intel Core)

The DQ6 doesn’t really need any introduction, but I will give it one. This is one fine Core 2 board from Gigabyte that offers a lot of tweaking and overclocking ability to the user. It has multiple features that make it stand out in a crowd. It features the unique Quad BIOS feature, which essentially adds a layer of security in case your primary BIOS becomes corrupted. This is a huge benefit that you wouldn’t exactly realize unless you were in that specific situation without this protection ;-)

Also here is an All-Solid capacity design, which is reassuring if you are an overclocker. The board features no cooling fans at all, for 0db operation, a plus if you are looking at an HTPC or generally enjoy a quiet PC. Reliable chipsets, decent on-board sound, 4 primary USB ports, 8 S-ATA… this board offers a lot of what you would expect and a lot of what you wouldn’t. Like all recent Core motherboards, this one is also compatible with the upcoming Quad-Core from Intel. Lastly, the board fully supports ATI Crossfire, so you are good to go with a dual GPU setup.

Great – DFI LanParty NF590 M2R/G (AMD AM2)

Speaking of motherboards for enthusiasts, nobody understands the need better than DFI. The reason for this is that the people behind the boards are hardcore enthusiasts themselves, and painstakingly design each product with passion, which is why we get boards with incredible tweaking ability. The M2R/G came out a few months after the AM2 platform launch, and was quite hard to wait for. Luckily, the few extra months that the board took, showed up in it’s overall quality.

The board supports every AM2 CPU as you’d expect, and the usual DDR2-800 memory speeds. NVIDIAs top of the line nForce 5 chipset, the 590MCP, is used here. So, SLI is ready for you straight out of the box. The board features an 8-channel Realtek audio card, 8-SATA ports, CMOS Reloaded and very, very quiet chipset cooling. Where the board shines though is with overclocking, but that’s not a real surprise. The limits are endless, as you can hit a staggering 1.94Vcore and 3.0Vdimm in small increments. Yes, that’s “extreme” if I’ve ever seen it. Without a doubt, this is the board you want if you are an AM2 enthusiast.

Note: To use this board without issue, we recommend you use a power supply with 3.0a to the +5VSB rail, as some DFI motherboards will choke on anything less.

You can read our DFI M2R/G review here.

Good – Gigabyte DS3 (Intel Core)

When Conroe first launched, there wasn’t exactly an abundance of motherboards to choose from. However, one board did stand out from that small bunch, the Gigabyte DS3. This board is compatible with all of the Core CPU’s and is very overclocking friendly. The huge bonus of the board is that it retails for only around $150, so it’s perfect for overclockers on a budget.

Good – ABIT AN9 32x (AMD AM2)

Now here is a great board worth your consideration. The AN9 32x is equipped with the MCP590 chipset like the M2N32-SLI and M2R/G boards are, but costs around $50 less! Feature-rich is not really how you would describe the board, but it boasts a fair amount of tweaking ability, and SLI for those who want it. The layout of the board overall is great, and there is absolutely no noise thanks to the blue heatpipe that runs along the entire proximity. AM2 on a budget… the AN9 32x is for you.


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