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Motherboard And Memory

System Builder Marathon, Sept. '09: $650 Gaming PC

Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-MA790X-UD4P

At a bare minimum, we needed a motherboard supporting Socket AM3 processors and dual-card CrossFire. Because we were under a tight budget, it made sense to find a DDR2 motherboard, thus keeping the RAM cost down.

Read Customer Reviews of Gigabyte's GA-MA790X-UD4P

The Gigabyte GA-MA790X-UD4P was chosen for its PCIe 2.0 x8/x8 CrossFire support and known friendliness toward overclocking and unlocking Phenom II processors. Other notable features are the two ounce copper inner-layer PCB, Ultra Durable 3 technology, Japanese all-solid capacitors, dual BIOS, and 8+2 phase power design.

One problem with multiple graphics cards is that they are typically associated with an additional motherboard cost, so undoubtedly some readers will point out that there were cheaper motherboard options available had we instead gone with a single higher-end graphics card such as the Radeon HD 4890. In that case, we surely would have considered saving a little cash and using an AMD 770 chipset. This, in turn, could have allowed us to stay under $625 or instead add a decent aftermarket CPU cooler.

However, the problem we faced was that although core “unlocking” was not part of our plans for SBM testing, we still wanted to allow the winning reader of this Tom’s Hardware SBM PC to have that option should he or she desire such an attempt. Unlocking the dormant cores requires a SB710- or SB750-based motherboard with Advanced Clock Calibration (ACC), and all of the AMD 770-based board with the SB710 southbridge were Socket AM3 platforms requiring DDR3 memory. Adding $20 or more for RAM essentially would eliminate all the savings on the AMD 770 motherboard.

Memory: OCZ OCZ2G10664GK

Read Customer Reviews of OCZ's OCZ2G10664GK Kit

This dual-channel DDR2-1066 kit was not only among the cheapest 4GB kits available, but it also runs CL 5-6-6-18 timings. The kit contains OCZ’s Gold Xtreme Thermal Convention (XTC) heat spreaders, and has 2.15V Extended Voltage Protection (EVP), which lets you set up to 2.15V without voiding the manufacturer’s lifetime warranty.  

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