Choosing the perfect motherboard and processor could be a difficult task if you don’t know what to look for, but we take out the hassle and deliver a list of options you should peruse. Both AMD and Intel are covered, as are all price-ranges.
AMD fans were treated to a few launches this month that cover all of the bases: Phenom, 790FX and HD 3800. Phenom is of most interest though, because it was the first desktop Quad-Core processor to step out of the AMD HQ. Unlike Intel’s offerings, Phenom is also the first native Quad-Core, meaning that all four cores are on the same die. By comparison, Intel’s Quad-Cores are comprised of two dies with two cores per each.
As I mentioned in our intro, as much as I love AMD and wish to see them do well, from a consumers standpoint it’s hard to recommend Phenom or most of their current line-up. It’s been well-known since the reviews flourished a few weeks ago: Phenom is slower clock-for-clock when compared to Intel’s Quad-Cores.
To add to the agony, Intel’s CPUs also use less power. So even though the rock-bottom Q6600 2.4GHz costs about $40 more than the Phenom 2.2GHz, it’s about 20% faster on average. Price-drops can solve all of this though, but that might not happen until the new year.
On the upside, AMD’s latest offerings are still not bad processors by any stretch. I mean, for one thing, they have FOUR cores. That is a -lot- of processing power. In addition, these new processors will also work in many AM2 motherboards, although you will have to do some digging to find out if that’s the case for the board you currently own or plan to purchase. If it’s a board that’s readily kept up to date with new BIOS downloads, then there is a good chance AM2+ processors will be supported.
Because Phenom is the new “killer” AMD product to have, we have focused on the top-of-the-line offerings here, with a few mentions of the more modest models after that. Bear in mind that we did not delve as much into AMD motherboards as we did with Intel, but there are a slew of other options available for both. If you are pondering a motherboard purchase for a model that’s not listed here, post in our thread and ask our forum members opinion!
Phenom launched alongside two new chipsets, the 790FX and 790X. The main difference between the two is that the former has a faster Hyper Transport and supports not only Crossfire, but Quad-Crossfire, meaning four ATI cards on the same motherboard. If that’s not extreme, I am unsure what is! Of course, this won’t matter to most people, but the option is there. 790X has a few other limitations, but most will not matter to the majority of people, such as 4 S-ATA 3GB/s ports instead of 6.
What I will also mention is that due to the fact that both of these chipsets are brand-new, there are bound to be some issues that will be experienced. You might be lucky and not experience any issue at all, and chances are good that the existing issues will be taken care of fast thanks to BIOS updates. Various reviews around the web expressed certain issues with their review samples, so it’s something to keep in mind. On the other hand though, purchasing a Phenom CPU without a 790x board makes little sense, unless you are certain it works with your current AM2 board, and works well.
That all said, the 790FX chipset has three supported boards at current time, with more en route. First up is MSI’s K9A2 Platinum board at $179 which supports Quad-Crossfire and all the other features to come with 790FX. In case you want to go big, 8GB of DDR2 ram is also supported.
Moving on up we find Gigabyte’s MA790FX (pictured above) board for $209. Like the MSI board, this one also features Quad-Crossfire support, includes 6 S-ATA ports with support for RAID, 6 USB 2.0, 2 eSATA (nice bonus!) and includes the nice durability factor that Gigabyte has become well known for. Not to mention their color will really add some flavour to your case. Seriously, what color was NOT used on that motherboard?
Last up we have ASUS’ M3A32-MVP, which is no doubt the most unique board of the bunch. It will retail for around $259 and includes more copper than the pipes in your house. Oddly, copper heatspreaders for your RAM are even included, which means you will need to purchase RAM that do not include those, or not be afraid to peel off the spreaders on the RAM you have. For the ultimate in cooling ability, this might be the AM2+ board to consider.
As far as the 790X goes, there are only two offerings currently on the market. MSI has their K9A2 and Gigabyte has the MA790X-DS4 . Both are fully competent motherboards for those who want the latest chipset on a relative budget, since both boards sit at the $160 mark. Both boards include 4 S-ATA ports and dual PCI-E 16x (supports Crossfire). Overall, these boards would make fine choices to coexist with your new Phenom processor.
It has been a while since decent AM2 boards have been released, so I am sticking to the classics in my choices here. First up is the ASUS M2N32-SLI Deluxe WiFi which I fell in love with last September. This board proved entirely feature-rich (heck, it has WiFi built-in!), had great cooling and overclocking ability, fantastic media-related features, a full-featured BIOS and support for ATI’s Crossfire (although all motherboards with dual PCI-E slots offer this). Overall, it’s a fantastic board and was worthy of an Editor’s Choice and that still stands.
Looking for a fantastic HTPC motherboard? Our AMD-fan Rory took Gigabyte’s GA-MA69GM board for a spin and loved what it offered in terms of features and stability. Aside from normal HTPC attire, it offered fantastic BIOS functionality, plenty of expandability, onboard HDMI (!), great performance and an attractive design. All for $80! The downside? The lack of voltage options in the BIOS, but if you have no intentions of overclocking, this won’t affect you at all.
I’ll admit that one of my all-time favorite AM2 boards is DFI’s own LP M2R/G, but I can’t recommend it because it seems impossible to find it in stock anywhere. Luckily, the next-best-thing is readily available, the Infinity SLI-M2/G. Aside from the great tweaking-ability this board offers, one of the main draws is its SLI support, which seems to be becoming more rare by the day. On the other side of the coin is the CFX3200 M2/G, which is quite similar in specs, except it is designed for Crossfire instead of SLI. Either board proves to be a fantastic AM2 choice, especially given it’s average retail price of $100.
Here are a few more recommendations!
This concludes our motherboards and processors gift guide. As mentioned earlier, if you have any lingering questions, feel free to jump into our thread (no sign-up is necessary) and pose it there!