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What Does It Take To Test A Motherboard?

Tom's Hardware Visits Intel's Motherboard Team
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Should  You Worry About ESD?

We covered much of this next video in our previous picture story. The follow-up I had, however, was just a bit of personal curiosity. Mainly, how big of an issue is electrostatic discharge today compared to year’s past? I’ve been doing this an awfully long time, and it has been almost a decade since I’ve unknowingly damaged a board and even longer since I’ve worn a wrist-strap handling PC components.

Intel's Dave Cook Demonstrates Motherboard Testing

To that question, Brian answered with a story. A couple of years ago, Intel started getting motherboards returned with electrical over-stress damage, which he admitted could be caused by a number of things. After putting together a team and collecting data, it identified a number of components that had external I/O with an end-user (think USB, audio, and FireWire); those were getting fried. They figured out that the previously-required 2 kV protection against direct-pin zap wasn’t enough, and so protection was increased to 3-5 kV.

Then came another challenge to the motherboard industry at large: based on evaluation in Intel’s own lab of its boards and competing platforms, nobody else was passing the ESD tests that Intel’s beefed up platforms were able to pass. That’s not to say other vendors are experiencing more ESD-related failures. However, enhanced protection all around does seem like a practical improvement that other manufacturers’ marketing departments would likely make a much bigger deal about. That doesn’t seem to be Intel’s style (its marketing is still pretty low-key, in our eyes), but don’t be surprised if it becomes a more prominent differentiator in the future.

Inside The Test Lab

Our next stop landed us in Intel’s test lab with Grant Metzgar, senior validation engineer/senior EMC engineer on Brian’s team. Grant walked us through the different validation processes and procedures used to qualify each platform, which of course triggered a number of what I’m sure were sensitive questions.

First, what role does the lab have in making sure Intel’s on-die graphics are working properly? Rather than compatibility-testing games or anything like that, this lab looks at the output quality of the back-panel connectors and checks the routing of differential signaling on those ports.

Intel Walks Tom's Hardware Through Its Motherboard Test Lab

Even more pressing, what the heck happened with the validation of P67 and H67’s SATA functionality? Brian admits that during the course of testing Intel’s own Cougar Point-based boards, he didn’t see the issue that triggered the stop-shipment. The problem was very difficult to replicate, and first surfaced on a mobile platform, where demanding thermals likely made it detectable in the first place. At the same time, Brian stands by the way Intel addressed that situation. And indeed, we haven’t heard any of Intel’s board partners speak ill of the company’s handling of it.

More exciting was that Grant talked about liquid nitrogen-based testing—something I doubt anyone thought they’d ever hear about from Intel’s own board division. Brian acknowledges that Intel’s history in overclocking is steeped in a more conservative approach. But he’s trying to push the company forward in stages. The next phase, he says, involves an X79 enthusiast board for the LGA 2011-based interface, which will support Sandy Bridge-E-based processors with four memory channels. From the ground-up, he wants this board designed to be LN2-friendly. It’s to sport the highest-rated POSCAPs (a solid electrolytic capacitor with a sintered tantalum anode and semiconductor cathode) with high thermal tolerances and a more open processor interface area to accommodate large pots.

Admittedly a halo product that probably won’t do crazy volume, Brian is more interested in seeing the enthusiasts who’ve been giving Intel feedback on its boards for years finally able to take an über-validated board and then crush overclocking records with it. Brian’s passion about this is evident when he talks about it. And if his team is working on another great option for enthusiasts, well, that’s what we’re all about.

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  • 2 Hide
    TheProfosist , June 17, 2011 10:09 AM
    great to hear. my P3 intel board was crazy stable. i have stuck with asus since the P4 era but ill turn some of my attention back to intel now.
  • 0 Hide
    compton , June 17, 2011 10:24 AM
    I just got a new DP67BGb3 and I'm diggin it. I had a great P4 Intel board, the D865PERL with sata, optical and coaxial digital audio out, and several other nice features -- except for overclocking. The board is still good 8 years later. The DP67BG feels like more of a successor to that, except for the overclocking and the Extreme Skull (which is actually kind cool -- I likes it). Some of the early criticisms of the board in January are no longer valid (like cold boot problems with 1600mhz ect). I very much appreciate the care and thought Intel put into the board and hope that they keep up the high level of excellence as represented by the DX58SO2 and DP67BG.
  • 9 Hide
    ivaroeines , June 17, 2011 11:03 AM
    I think the multi phased(8+) motherboards is more about marketing than a stability thing, we(the normal consumer) tend go for motherboards with many phases in the belief that their better than one with few phases.

    Intel is in a lucky spot, they are so well off that they dont have to compete, they can just work on a product till its ready and rock solid, and their products just become awesome and Intel become even more well off.
  • 0 Hide
    JackFrost860 , June 17, 2011 11:37 AM
    does that mean the 24 phase Gigabyte boards are compensating for a sh*t design ;) 
  • 4 Hide
    ojas , June 17, 2011 11:58 AM
    ivaroeines...Intel is in a lucky spot, they are so well off that they dont have to compete, they can just work on a product till its ready and rock solid, and their products just become awesome and Intel become even more well off.


    yeah pretty cool ppl...i remember reading that they entered the SSD market just for the sake of improving SSDs...respect these guys a lot, really...

    greghome...never had a Intel branded board fail in 10 years


    neither have I...very stable products...
  • 6 Hide
    Onus , June 17, 2011 12:45 PM
    ivaroeinesI think the multi phased(8+) motherboards is more about marketing than a stability thing, we(the normal consumer) tend go for motherboards with many phases in the belief that their better than one with few phases.

    Once you get past 3-4 phases, I agree. Two few phases doing too much work (including the poor balancing of many phases that Intel mentions) could cause failures. Varying the number of operating phases based on load does apparently yield some energy savings, although that shouldn't take more than 4-6 to implement either.
    ivaroeinesIntel is in a lucky spot, they are so well off that they dont have to compete, they can just work on a product till its ready and rock solid, and their products just become awesome and Intel become even more well off.

    That IS how Intel competes; they just need to do a better job of letting people know that. Read the comments here though to see word-of-mouth at work; I'll add my agreement that the Intel boards I've owned have been very stable.
  • -4 Hide
    fball922 , June 17, 2011 1:13 PM
    Surprised Tom's would post this after that embarrassing advertorial on Intel motherboards.
  • 4 Hide
    eyemaster , June 17, 2011 3:36 PM
    Articles such as this make me show more respect towards the work the companies (in this case, Intel) put into products they sell.

    Very nice, I like.
  • 3 Hide
    cangelini , June 17, 2011 4:18 PM
    fball922Surprised Tom's would post this after that embarrassing advertorial on Intel motherboards.


    This story--an editorial opportunity--had nothing to do with the advertorial that went up. I've already expressed my disagreement with the fact that was even posted to \articles\ (even though it's clearly labeled as a sponsored piece).
  • 1 Hide
    boiler1990 , June 17, 2011 4:29 PM
    ceh4702My last motherboard was an integrated 720p HD Video motherboard. It works great in dual display so we can watch Korean historical videos online. I have gotten to the point where almost no american TV is worth watching. My biggest problem is Microsoft operating systems and IE being a substandard video blocking product.


    There are American-made TVs? ;) 


    Back on subject - getting to visit Intel's lab must be just wholly awesome. Some of my professors at Purdue worked with them on some research a little while back, and I think that's how they're developing the 22nm and smaller transistors.
  • 1 Hide
    king_maliken , June 17, 2011 5:04 PM
    boiler1990There are American-made TVs? Back on subject - getting to visit Intel's lab must be just wholly awesome. Some of my professors at Purdue worked with them on some research a little while back, and I think that's how they're developing the 22nm and smaller transistors.

    They've had these transistors in the works for quite a while now, and they successfully made smaller chips by using these transistors...
    Onto this article; I personally really liked it, and must confess that I would love to have their job.
  • -3 Hide
    joshyboy82 , June 17, 2011 7:02 PM
    So I open the embedded video and it barely loads at 360p on a 22mb broadband connection. I hit the source link to youtube and it istantly fully loaded? Web fail.
  • 2 Hide
    razor512 , June 17, 2011 7:21 PM
    On some boards the additional phases is to reduce heat as it is cheaper to add an extra phase than it is to add a heatsink (when you consider pure production cost) The downside is since the phases are not 100% efficient, you increase overall power consumption)

    It is also largely marketing. People like higher numbers. To the average user, they may thing "I don't know what that is but this board has more of it than the other board for the same price"

    When I get these types of board, I run it without the side panel for the forst few hours while running a CUDA accelerated password cracker (mainly because it maxes the CPU and GPU the entire time and gets hotter temperatures than even prime95)

    I then use the thermal probe that came with my multimeter, then place it against each of the phase chips (my msi board had no heatsinks on them)

    I then monitor the temperatures, and what I found was that each phase had about the same temperature so the power was being shared evenly, especially with a CPU using well over 140 watts since it is overclocked (Phenom II x4 965 overclocked)

    So not sure about all other boards but in my case with the msi board, the crazy amount of phases was to avoid the production cost of adding heatsinks to the phases.
  • 1 Hide
    djridonkulus , June 17, 2011 8:19 PM
    Newb question:

    Why does Intel use Prime95 and not IntelBurnTest?

    I was told IBT works the cpu harder and produces more heat than Prime95 does, and it even does it faster, completing a pass in under 5 minutes as opposed to P95's hours.

    Please enlighten me.
  • 0 Hide
    cangelini , June 17, 2011 9:10 PM
    Good question Dj, I'll ask the guys over there about it.
  • 0 Hide
    thechief73 , June 17, 2011 10:27 PM
    Awesome article... I love the strait from the horse's mouth aspect of it, and not just a second hand overlook. Now can we get the same thing on Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI? Please =) Though this might require quite a bit more traveling than taking a trip to Intel.
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