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The motherboard is the
foundation of any PC. All the critical subsystems, including the CPU, system
chipset, memory, system I/O, expansion bus, and other critical components run
directly off the motherboard. Likewise, the interconnections among these
components are laid into the motherboard itself.
The mainboard is possibly the
most important part of the computer. It manages all transactions of data between
CPU and the peripherals. It houses the CPU and its second level cache, the
chipset, the BIOS, main memory, I/O chips, ports for keyboard, serial I/O,
parallel I/O ,disks and plug-in cards.
The first decision you have to
make before buying a motherboard is nowadays which CPU and then which chipset
you're gonna use and which motherboard to choose. There's no doubt about it - you
really should go for a brand motherboard, preferably a brand that's present
on the web, because that is by far the best way to get the latest Flash BIOS
update, drivers and information about the board you might require.
It is becoming pretty common to
use a few more cards in your system than only a graphics card. A gaming system
without a modem, ISDN or network card is certainly not worth being called a
gaming system anymore, simply due to the fact that the only real gaming
experience is generated by multiplayer games, my beloved Quake II is only one of
many many others. Hence it's not out of the world if I expect that any network
card should work flawlessly in any motherboard.
People who buy expensive
Pentium III systems are certainly making a smart move when investing in SCSI
rather than EIDE. SCSI still offers the highest disk performance, a great
upgradeability for e.g. CDROMs, CD-recorders, scanners, streamers, ... and last
but not least a very low trouble level. Thus I do appreciate if motherboards
that are targeted towards expensive high end systems have got a SCSI adapter
already onboard, a RAIDport is even better, and it's almost perfect if it's even
Adaptec's latest U2W SCSI adapter, as e.g. on DFI's new BX board. The
least I would expect however, is that any SCSI adapter runs flawlessly in any
A sound system is nowadays a
basic component of any PC. Thus I'd appreciate if there's either a decent sound
system onboard or the board works fine with older ISA soundcards as well as the
new PCI soundcards. In case of the latter it's useful having the new 'SBLink'
onboard, which enables compatibility to the old ISA Soundblaster standard.
All in all do I think it's not
really asked too much that a modern motherboard can host all these components
together at the same time. If it doesn't, it may be as fast as it wants, it will
still be pretty useless for any home or office user, system integrator or OEM.
Another requirement of a
motherboard is certainly the stability. In the most cases boards become instable
when they cannot work properly with the RAM that's plugged in. As we are fast
moving towards the 100 MHz system bus as a standard, memory problems will become
a lot more common. It can easily be that a board only works reliably with RAM of
only a few memory vendors, other boards were designed and tested better, so that
you can throw virtually any memory at it, as long as it applies to the basic
One way of testing this out is
of course overclocking. If the board is running stable at a higher system bus
than what it was designed for, it will most likely be rock stable at the
specified system clock. However, testing a board to the limits is very
difficult, because no board manufacturer and neither any CPU manufacturer would
tell you which instructions are most sensitive to timing problems and
So it's virtually impossible
saying that a board or a CPU run absolutely stable at a particular clock speed,
because it is very likely that the really touchy procedures haven't been ran at
all. This means for the reader that you of course can be lucky as long as you
are not using these procedures on your system, but it could as well be that you
are using particularly the very software that will cause a crash in a board that
was testified as stable.
Finally, the features of a
board should be pointed out as well. I already mentioned onboard SCSI, network
adapter and sound, but there are other things too. System monitoring can be an
issue for people and it's certainly not wrong if a board is equipped with it. It
can tell you if your fan stopped working, if your power supply fails or if your
CPU gets too hot.
The new wake up features maybe
worth a look at too, because it can save you from leaving your system running
permanently, thus saving energy. Wake up on ring, on LAN and also on clock are
features that I do appreciate. These features are used best in combination with
the 'suspend to disk' feature, as well known from notebooks. AOpen is one of the
few manufacturers who have this feature implememted into their boards for more
than a year now. It starts your system exactly the same way you left it. The
same programs are running, the same data is still there.
The above said leads to the
following new evaluation scheme for motherboards in exactly this order:
1. Compatibility and Reliability
(AGP, PCI, ISA cards, BIOS, RAM)
2. Features (onboard features)
3. Performance (office
performance and gaming performance)