All four MicroATX motherboards are based on Intel's G965 chipset with integrated GMA X3000 graphics, and they do a great job of proving a fast and timely basis for business computers, small sized PCs or Home Theater PCs (HTPCs). There were only minor differences in platform performance, and these differences should not trigger your buying decision.Motherboard products with integrated graphics will always provide the best energy efficiency at the cost of 3D performance, which, to say the least, is inadequate for gaming; If you intend to run 3D applications or recent 3D games, we thus strongly recommend that you put a decent graphics card on your shopping list as well. We also need to make clear that none of these motherboards was designed to be good overclockers. We found basic overclocking options here and there, and increasing the system bus speed or altering the CPU clock multiplier is possible. But all the motherboards in this trial lack voltage tweaking capabilities or any other sort of fine-tuning that you rely on for serious overclocking. Go get a fully-featured ATX motherboard if you're on a performance run instead.
Cost and features should be taken into account before you buy. All boards have four memory slots, two PCI slots, one x16 PCI Express slot for a graphics card, another PCI Express slot for add-in cards, a sound system, multiple USB 2.0 ports and a Gigabit network port.
If you want a platform that offers maximum flexibility, Foxconn seems to be the best choice: The G9657MA is the only product to offer both an eSATA port and digital audio outputs together with the usual four USB 2.0 ports and Gigabit networking. But it lacks a Firewire controller, which can be found on the three other products. Gigabyte and MSI do not offer eSATA, but they have a COM port and as many as six internal SATA ports. Asus offers the only MicroATX product that features a x4 PCI Express slot instead of only an ordinary x1 PCIe slot for expansion cards.
If you find a Foxconn G9657MA that spots the optional Firewire controller chip we recommend going for this product, since it offers a broad feature variety at a presumably acceptable price. We found both Asus and Gigabyte to be slightly too expensive and we could not find MSI's new motherboard in retail channels yet. Should you merely be looking for a workhorse to power your new HTPC, watch out for the best deal on these motherboards.
The Best Video Cards for Your Money: November 2006
Shootout at the Core 2 Corral: Seven P965 Motherboards Compared
Building a Low-Power Home Theater PC System
How To Build A PC, Part 1: Component Selection Overview
The Gaming Case Showdown
Your DIY 4 GHz Dual Core Gaming Rig For $720