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Motherboards

Part 4: Building A Balanced Gaming PC
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Motherboards

Although our main focus in this series is on balance between the CPU and GPU, there’s obviously a lot more hardware involved in procuring respectable performance from your platform of choice. For our purposes, we built our test systems around enthusiast-class motherboards from Asus, picked for their stability, overclocking capabilities, and PCI Express connectivity, enabling ATI CrossFireX and/or Nvidia SLI support.

Socket AM3: Asus Crosshair III Formula

At the heart of this series' Socket AM3 testing is Asus' Crosshair III Formula, based on AMD’s 790FX/SB750 chipset combination. Four DIMM slots support dual-channel DDR3-1600 (overclocked) and DDR3-1333 memory settings, while two 16-lane PCIe 2.0 expansion slots support x16/x16 ATI CrossFireX technology.

Asus-specific features for this RoG-series enthusiast motherboard include MemOK (a memory compatibility tool), CPU Level Up (a simplified overclocking utility), TweakIT, a SupremeFX X-Fi eight-channel audio card, and an external LCD poster.

Socket AM3: Asus M4N82 Deluxe

The Asus M4N82 Deluxe will be put to use when it comes time to test dual GeForce cards in SLI paired up to our Socket AM3 processors.

Based on the Nvidia nForce 980a SLI chipset, this Socket AM2+ motherboard has three 16-lane PCIe 2.0 slots supporting two cards in a x16 configuration or three at x8 signaling. The board has an 8+1 power phase design, four DIMM slots supporting dual-channel DDR2-1200 (overclocked) and DDR2-1066. It also includes eight-channel integrated sound.

LGA 1366: Asus Rampage II Extreme

The Asus Rampage II Extreme is based on Intel’s X58 Express chipset, and will be used throughout this series for our LGA 1366 platform.

This feature-packed motherboard is part of the Asus RoG (Republic of Gamers) series, and was designed with the overclocking community in mind. This works out well for us, since two of our balanced platform pieces will center on the effects of overclocking.

The three 16-lane PCIe 2.0 expansion slots support x16/x16 operation or x16/x8/x8 CrossFireX and SLI. The six DIMM slots support triple-channel DDR3-1800 (overclocked) and DDR3-1600 memory. A few of the other notable features unique to Asus' lineup include TweakIT (joystick-like overclocking control), ProbeIt (eight on-board detection points), Extreme Engine with ML Cap Design (the company's multi-phase power management system with multi-layer polymer caps), a SupremeFX X-Fi eight-channel audio card, and an external LCD Poster.

LGA 1156: Asus P7P55D-E Pro

Our newly added LGA 1156 platform utilizes the P7P55D-E Pro from Asus. Based on Intel’s P55 Express chipset, this motherboard features SATA 6Gb/s, USB 3.0, Asus 16-Hybrid Phase (12+2 phase power design + t.Probe), integrated VIA eight-channel HD audio, and overclocking features both beginners and advanced enthusiasts can appreciate.

Four DIMM slots support dual-channel DDR3-2200 (overclocked) and DDR3-1600 memory. The dual PCIe 2.0 x16 slots are configurable as a single 16-lane slot, or as dual eight-lane slots supporting both ATI CrossFire and Nvidia SLI technology.

LGA 775: Asus Rampage Formula

We use the Asus Rampage Formula for any LGA 775-based testing, aside from the Nvidia SLI configurations, which you'll see in an upcoming episode of this series.

Based on the Intel X48 Express chipset, this RoG-series motherboard has two 16-lane PCIe 2.0 slots supporting x16/x16 CrossFire operation and four DIMM slots supporting dual-channel DDR2-1200 (overclocked) and DDR2-1066 memory.

Overclocking-friendly features include Voltminder LED status reminders (essentially, a red-line equivalent for voltage), COP EX OC protection, loadline calibration (stabilizing CPU voltage under load), and cooling via the pin-fin thermal module. A SupremeFX II eight-channel audio card and external LCD poster are also part of the bundle.

LGA 775: Asus P5N72-T Premium

Based on the Nvidia nForce 780i SLI chipset and boasting two 16-lane PCIe 2.0 slots (plus one first-gen PCIe 16x slot), the Asus P5N72-T Premium supports 3-way Nvidia SLI technology (three cards at x16 signaling).

This LGA 775 motherboard has four DIMM slots supporting dual-channel DDR2-1200 (overclocked) and DDR2-1066. Plus, it comes bundled with the RoG Supreme FX II audio card.

Special thanks to Asus for arranging the motherboards needed to make this entire series possible.

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  • 3 Hide
    wildeast , August 11, 2010 6:33 AM
    "such as NVidia’s GeForce GTX 400-series and revamp the benchmark suite with some new DirectX 11 titles."
    i'll be waiting for that, and maybe some i5 cpu to see what fit sli best
  • 8 Hide
    jsowoc , August 11, 2010 6:58 AM
    "We set forth to measure the perfect balance in seven different games and four resolutions in this third of many parts." (?)

    I think you copied this paragraph from part 3 and forgot to change it to 4... ;-)
  • 4 Hide
    theshonen8899 , August 11, 2010 7:05 AM
    With the amount of love you guys have for the Athlon x3 I was really hoping to see it on here :\
    I guess I can kind of predict where it'd fall though.
  • 2 Hide
    Darkerson , August 11, 2010 7:23 AM
    I love the in-depth articles like these. Keep 'em coming!
  • 7 Hide
    L0tus , August 11, 2010 7:40 AM
    Brilliant piece.

    I wish I had read this before building my system as I can see that I clearly spent too much on my CPU instead of GPU (i5-750 + HD5770) . Would have done much better with (X2 550 BE + HD5850) !

    ...ain't hind sight a b***h!

    Also interesting to see how GPUs really start to distinguish themselves at higher resolutions. Again, brilliant work.
  • 2 Hide
    TheStealthyOne , August 11, 2010 8:01 AM
    I built a computer for my brother using a Phenom ii 550 paired with a 5770, and it screams! Fantastic gaming chip! It just goes to show you can achieve fantastic performance by planning and balance.
  • -1 Hide
    garlik_bread , August 11, 2010 9:10 AM
    Personally, i'd be interested to see results from a card with less han 1GB RAM on the GPU.

    On the lower end of the spectrum, with the lower resolutions, is the 1GB really necessary?

    Basically, i have a 512MB Asus 5770 and want to validate my purchase :D 
  • -1 Hide
    plasmastorm , August 11, 2010 10:22 AM
    Still running a Maximus formula 775 board with a Q6600, 8gb ram and a Radeon 5850 but this is certainly handy for future reference.
    Probably skipping the i5/i7 generation as I can still play anything at max settings on my 22" monitor while running a 2nd for a film tho :) 
  • 4 Hide
    Tamz_msc , August 11, 2010 11:22 AM
    Please test some newer games, which is essential for an article like this.
  • 1 Hide
    descendency , August 11, 2010 12:27 PM
    plasmastormStill running a Maximus formula 775 board with a Q6600, 8gb ram and a Radeon 5850 but this is certainly handy for future reference.Probably skipping the i5/i7 generation as I can still play anything at max settings on my 22" monitor while running a 2nd for a film tho


    i5/i7 isn't a generation. it's like 5 or so.

    It's the same thing as C2D and C2Q
  • -1 Hide
    jonpaul37 , August 11, 2010 12:35 PM
    plasmastormStill running a Maximus formula 775 board with a Q6600, 8gb ram and a Radeon 5850 but this is certainly handy for future reference.Probably skipping the i5/i7 generation as I can still play anything at max settings on my 22" monitor while running a 2nd for a film tho


    I hear ya man, i have a Q6600 @ 3.6 and a GTX 285 and i can rock anything i play with really nice settings at 1920 x 1080 so it looks like i will be holding out for another year or two...
  • 1 Hide
    Onus , August 11, 2010 1:14 PM
    Very nice. I really like this series.
    Suggestions: there's no need to draw curves; they should be point-to-point lines, as the data is discrete rather than continuous.
    For the RPG, I would suggest Dragon Age: Origins as being more demanding at higher settings, and/or Sacred 2 because of its use of PhysX. The latter runs the risk of becoming an ATi vs. nVidia comparison, but still may be useful.
    It would also be useful to have commentary on what bare minimum lowering of a setting or two is most likely to restore playability without sacrificing appearance too much.
  • 1 Hide
    lunyone , August 11, 2010 1:16 PM
    This totally makes my point, when I say a ~$100 CPU and a $200-$300 GPU are a the best budget gaming machines you can get. I usually make ~$100 CPU choices and ~$100-150 GPU choices when I'm building a budget gaming rig!! :) 
  • -4 Hide
    lemieuxxx , August 11, 2010 2:06 PM
    what about the i3 540. Is it horrable i see its not on here.
  • -2 Hide
    wolfram23 , August 11, 2010 2:46 PM
    Great article. Good to see how a faster CPU can really pull out better FPS, and it seems to make much more difference when having dual GPUs - I can only assume the trend would hold true on dual card (sli/cf) set ups, which makes me even happier to have an i5 750 @ 4ghz with my two 5850s.

    I hope Part 5 has i3, i5, i7, X955, X965, 1055T, 1090T and concentrates on DX11 performance (4xx vs 5xxx). I'd also LOVE to see a more in depth look at CF/SLI configs. There's not a lot of in depth looks at CF5770, CF5850, SLI470... there's some, but not a lot and none comparing these set ups to different CPUs.
  • 2 Hide
    felang , August 11, 2010 4:18 PM
    Catalyst 9.12 and only outdated games... is this January 2010 or what? you should at least test BFBC2, it uses as many cpu cores as you can throw at it...
  • 1 Hide
    Onus , August 11, 2010 4:32 PM
    Felang: they wanted it possible for readers to compare the results with previous articles in the series.
  • -1 Hide
    DXRick , August 11, 2010 5:04 PM
    Very nice article! I noticed that HD5970 and GTX295 benefited the most from the i7-920 CPU. This implies that Crossfire and SLI (multi-GPU setups) scale better with faster quads (and duals?). Thus, it would be nice to see how various CF and SLI setups depend on the CPUs in this test.

    Why did you use the older generation of Nvidia GPUs in this test? We are looking at the GTX460/470/480 now, with numerous test showing how well two 460's in SLI do.
  • 0 Hide
    nforce4max , August 11, 2010 5:04 PM
    Nice article, as for the L3 assessment I do agree that the lack of L3 cache does negatively impact performance but at least its not catastrophic as seen with the early days of the Celeron. Personally I use a meager 8250e that I nuked to 2.57ghz and it gets the job done plus it was dirt cheap. $16 after selling off some junked parts.
  • 1 Hide
    tognetta , August 11, 2010 5:19 PM
    I would like to see the great GTX460 here too ...

    Great job, i am thankful that i read it before building my next gaming machine !
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