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Biostar TP43D2-A7

Roundup: Six Core 2 Motherboards Under $100
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Biostar takes a middle path towards cost reduction with its TP43D2-A7, which has an almost full-sized circuit board and a relatively good layout. A Web price of around $90 also puts it directly between the first and second motherboards in this comparison.

The TP43D2-A7 doesn’t support CrossFire, simply because its P43 chipset’s northbridge doesn’t have the divisible lanes needed to properly accommodate two high-bandwidth slots. It does, however, spread a total of six expansion slots across seven slot positions, eliminating only the slot under the graphics card. This position is usually left empty in performance systems to allow better graphics cooling, so we don’t mind seeing a vacancy there.

There’s so much to praise about the TP43D2-A7's layout that it’s easier to handle the few minor complaints first. For starters, the floppy connector often used for loading AHCI drivers during a Windows XP installation is found beneath the bottom expansion slot, making cable management difficult. Second, the Ultra ATA connector is located far too low for use with upper-bay optical drives, again creating a cable-management issue. Finally, the uppermost SATA connector can be blocked by double-slot coolers of long graphics cards such as the GeForce GTX 280. These complaints can usually be ignored, since few builders install a floppy or Ultra ATA drive in a new system and few buyers in the sub-$100 motherboard market plan on using super-expensive graphics cards.

Biostar put its TP43D2-A7 power connectors exactly where they should be, with the four-pin ATX12V connector in the top rear corner and the 24-pin ATX/EPS main jack at the motherboard’s front edge. But Biostar went a little further in the area of cable management by also putting its front-panel audio cable slightly forward from the rear-panel analog jacks, easing installation in cases that have top panel audio jacks.

Conveniences don’t stop with the layout, as Biostar also added power and reset buttons, which are very useful for bench testing even though they have little value once a motherboard is installed.

But a good overall layout and reasonable feature set can’t excuse one failing of the TP43D2-A7: This is the first motherboard in today’s comparison to use electrolytic capacitors in most locations, with higher-quality solid capacitors used only for the CPU voltage regulator. The electrolytic capacitors come from OST, which is one of Taiwan’s most-respected brands, but is still far behind the reputation of Japanese competitors.

Biostar TP43D2-A7 (Revision 6.0)

Northbridge

Intel P43 Express

Southbridge

Intel ICH10

Voltage Regulator

Four Phases

BIOS

0802 (07/10/2008)

333.3MHz (FSB1333)

332.2 MHz (-0.30%)

Clock Generator

Realtek RTM875T-529

Connectors and Interfaces

Onboard

1x PCIe 2.0 x16

2x PCIe x1

3x PCI

3x USB 2.0 (2 ports per connector)

1x SerialPort header

1x ParallelPort Header

1x Floppy

1x Ultra ATA (2 drives)

6x Serial ATA 3.0Gb/s

1x Front Panel Audio

1x CD-Audio In

1x Fan 4 pins (CPU)

2x Fan 3 pins (Chassis)

1x Internal Power Button

1x Internal Reset Button

IO panel

2x PS2 (keyboard + mouse)

6x USB 2.0

1x RJ-45 Network

3x Analog Audio (5.1 Channel or Stereo + Mic/Line-In)

Mass Storage Controllers

Intel ICH10

6x SATA 3.0 Gb/s

JMicron JMB368 PCI-E

1x Ultra ATA-133 (2-drives)

Network

Realtek RTL8111C PCI-E

Gigabit LAN Controller

Audio

Realtek ALC662 HDA

Six Channel (5.1 Surround) Output


Two features that set the TP43D2-A7 apart from more costly mainstream motherboards are the lack of FireWire or CrossFire support, yet a look at the ports reveals a few other missing details.

Biostar didn’t just rid its TP43D2-A7 of several legacy ports, it also left out half of the analog audio jacks and any digital audio ports. Users are limited to 5.1-channel analog audio at best, and that’s assuming they don’t try to convert one of the three connectors to a line-level or microphone input. Of course, most cases have front panel jacks for a microphone.

The Realtek ALC662 is slightly downscale from the parts of most competing products, and it is even cheaper than the codec Biostar lists in the specifications for this motherboard. However, it does support the TP43D2-A7’s limited number of outputs.

The JMB368 adds support for Ultra ATA drives, which is a bonus feature for anyone who can’t afford new drives. Completely new systems don’t need it, but we can’t fault Biostar for putting one of the extra PCIe lanes from the ICH10 southbridge to use.

The Realtek RTL8111C Gigabit Ethernet controller gets double the required bandwidth from its PCIe x1 interface.

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