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BIOS Features

Best Of Tom’s Hardware: Beginner’s Guide To Motherboard Selection
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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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Top Comments
  • 15 Hide
    quantumrand , February 11, 2010 5:31 AM
    Top choices for motherboards right now: Gigabyte, Asus, and MSI. Gigabyte is really the way to go, but there are a few Asus and MSI configs that you might prefer.
  • 14 Hide
    Crashman , February 11, 2010 7:01 AM
    one-shotWhat about EVGA?


    I'll let you in on a little secret: EVGA motherboards are a pain to overclock. Since that's EVGA's market, it's kind of a big deal. As an inexperienced manufacturer they're learning quickly, so hopefully we'll see the kinks worked out pretty soon.
Other Comments
  • -4 Hide
    shiroikaze , February 11, 2010 5:19 AM
    Seeing how I just built my first computer a couple days ago, this article came a little too late for me :p 

    Could've made my purchasing alot more quicker and painless.
  • 2 Hide
    micky_lund , February 11, 2010 5:30 AM
    ahh...the p55a-ud4p..great board
  • 15 Hide
    quantumrand , February 11, 2010 5:31 AM
    Top choices for motherboards right now: Gigabyte, Asus, and MSI. Gigabyte is really the way to go, but there are a few Asus and MSI configs that you might prefer.
  • 1 Hide
    one-shot , February 11, 2010 6:08 AM
    quantumrandTop choices for motherboards right now: Gigabyte, Asus, and MSI. Gigabyte is really the way to go, but there are a few Asus and MSI configs that you might prefer.


    What about EVGA?
  • 0 Hide
    tacoslave , February 11, 2010 6:11 AM
    quantumrandTop choices for motherboards right now: Gigabyte, Asus, and MSI. Gigabyte is really the way to go, but there are a few Asus and MSI configs that you might prefer.


    ah yes i got a got a msi 790fx gd70 with a combo from newegg (phenom II 955)and i absolutly love it. The best part is the overclocking utilities
    you can overclock fuckin everything in 5 min or less. Then i got another motherboard from zotac for 60 bucks (before rebate) and it died on me in less than a month and i'm still waiting on a rebate.
  • 14 Hide
    Crashman , February 11, 2010 7:01 AM
    one-shotWhat about EVGA?


    I'll let you in on a little secret: EVGA motherboards are a pain to overclock. Since that's EVGA's market, it's kind of a big deal. As an inexperienced manufacturer they're learning quickly, so hopefully we'll see the kinks worked out pretty soon.
  • 7 Hide
    porksmuggler , February 11, 2010 7:15 AM
    Great article for beginners. A quick browse through newegg, and I've built with every brand except EVGA, ZOTAC, and XFX (EVGA and XFX for graphics cards though). I've consistently gone with ASUS for my own and Gigabyte for customers when at all possible. I prefer ASUS for the best overall quality and Gigabyte usually provides the best value. I'm seeing a lot of comments for MSI lately, though I've never put them in the same league.
  • 2 Hide
    skora , February 11, 2010 7:32 AM
    This is a great reference article Crash. Lots of great info about chipsets, but I think the spot for socket type should be made long before choosing a mobo when spec'ing a rig. Is this part of Pauls "Balanced" articles?
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , February 11, 2010 7:34 AM
    skoraThis is a great reference article Crash. Lots of great info about chipsets, but I think the spot for socket type should be made long before choosing a mobo when spec'ing a rig. Is this part of Pauls "Balanced" articles?


    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/beginners-guide-motherboard-selection,1289.html
  • 4 Hide
    nzprogamer , February 11, 2010 7:53 AM
    it takes long time to read all the information here but its all good to know for 1st time builder, love it. will there be some other advice like how to keep the case cool ( how to point the fans and where )?
  • 0 Hide
    skora , February 11, 2010 8:19 AM
    Quote:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/beginners-guide-motherboard-selection,1289.html

    I'd say you're article came first. Nice update!!!
  • 4 Hide
    Crashman , February 11, 2010 10:11 AM
    nzprogamerit takes long time to read all the information here but its all good to know for 1st time builder, love it. will there be some other advice like how to keep the case cool ( how to point the fans and where )?


    Eventually there will be an update to this article:

    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/build-part-1,1364.html
  • 0 Hide
    saran008 , February 11, 2010 10:21 AM
    Great guide for Beginners!
    Tom always rocks!
  • 0 Hide
    ytoledano , February 11, 2010 11:00 AM
    Given that the motherboard is one the least reliable components in any computer, the most important factor, IMO, is reliability.
  • 0 Hide
    saint19 , February 11, 2010 11:55 AM
    Very good article, currently I have a MSI K9A2 Platinum and works very good with my X4 955. I'm waiting for Fermi to change my mobo and RAM, and I would get an ASUS or Gigabyte...or maybe the 790FX-GD70.

    EVGA build excellent mobos, the problem is that only are for Intel processors and are very expensive ($499.99), with that price you can get the half of a good rig.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , February 11, 2010 12:26 PM
    I had that Gigabyte X48T-DQ6... twice. Both had some kind of error that screwed up my internet connection, so I finally switched to an ASUS P5Q Deluxe. No more problems since.
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , February 11, 2010 12:46 PM
    I've had excellent results from ASRock, who seem to offer pretty high bang/buck. Even Foxconn is using more solid caps now, and doing so is probably what has allowed MSI to improve its quality image.
  • 0 Hide
    KupuAnd1 , February 11, 2010 12:52 PM
    I ones got a MSI board (like 5 years ago) and it was superb for reliability never dies and then I sold it. Now I got an EVGA and it is good.

    Waiting for USB 3.0 to go mainstream in boards to upgrade my mobo. I think right now is the best choice for future proof.
  • 0 Hide
    nevertell , February 11, 2010 1:09 PM
    Hey, that's my asus mobo. Although mine is underused, the other pci-e slot is empty because of the lack of money :( .
  • 1 Hide
    huron , February 11, 2010 1:22 PM
    Very nice article. It does include considerations when making a purchase and includes many details about components and all sorts of choices. Already forwarded it to a few people for reading - mostly people who want to know more, but no idea where to start.

    I hope you keep up this series - detailed articles to help beginners make decisions. This could be the starting point for many people

    Thanks again.
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