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BIOS Features

Best Of Tom’s Hardware: Beginner’s Guide To Motherboard Selection

Motherboard manufacturers rarely advertise which features that the BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) makes available to the end user, let alone how to use them. Two ways to preview this information are to read reviews or download the manual, but learning how to use these requires a more careful reading of both reviews and how-to articles such as our BIOS for Beginners.

Performance motherboards usually have a larger number of performance-oriented adjustments than mid-range boards, with more detailed memory settings and on-board feature controls, in addition to overclocking options. For certain components, this is an either/or proposition. Memory can often be configured with either enhanced latencies or higher frequencies. CPU overclocking is an option for those who desire the greatest performance. Underclocking is another option for users who seek the quietest possible air cooling and/or lower energy consumption.

Besides performance tuning and commonly-used settings, such as boot device order, the BIOS also allows the disabling of undesired on-board features like sound controllers, modem and network interfaces, and unused ATA/SATA controllers. Once disabled, these devices no longer consume CPU resources and no longer need to be configured by the Windows Device Manager. There is no real reason for buyers to claim they don't want certain on-board features because of a performance penalty, as these are easily and completely disabled.

Final Thoughts

Buying a motherboard shouldn't be difficult. Simply choose a processor, a chipset, your preferred form factor, and expansion devices, then pick the motherboard that most closely matches those needs. But even experts can stumble when a specific build requirement puts these decisions out of order, creating issues like "who makes a microATX board with the chipset I want?" In the end, buyers of all experience levels are often forced to modify their selection criteria.

If you've pre-selected anything other than a full-sized ATX case, be prepared to make compromises. Smaller boards required for use with smaller cases often have fully-integrated mainstream chipsets rather than top-performance parts. Be prepared to accept on-board devices you won't use, since these can be disabled anyway. And try not to be upset about paying for unwanted features, since a motherboard custom-produced to match your specific needs would be far more expensive than one designed for everyone whose needs are somewhat similar to yours.

Luckily, beginners have access to all the resources that professionals use to determine their needs, through review sites like ours and support communities such as our Community Forums.

Author's Opinion

Too often have the latest trends come between the first-time builder and his or her perfect system. Watching as readers flock to our Community Forums to find out how to put full-sized components into pint-sized systems, my first instinct is to tell anyone to "go big." Choosing a full-sized motherboard, power supply, and case offers a lot of assurance when it comes time for the next upgrade, but most users looking for full-sized features in a smaller chassis can--with enough effort--find suitable alternatives.

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