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Motherboard And Graphics

System Builder Marathon, June 2010: $2,000 Performance PC

Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD3R

While our previous system used a similar motherboard to allow the option of a multi-card upgrade, the two graphics cards in this month’s system would require two PCI Express (PCIe) 2.0 x16 slots simply to reach intended performance levels. Gigabyte’s X58A-UD3R gives up few features compared to the prior build’s -UD7 in order to achieve its far lower price, a combination that earned it a value award one month ago.

Read Customer Reviews of Gigabyte's X58A-UD3R

Chief among the X58A-UD3R’s features are USB 3.0, SATA 6Gb/s, and support for up to four single-slot or three double-slot graphics cards. We, of course, only needed the two primary PCIe x16 slots for our two cards, as any third card would steal eight lanes from the second slot.

Features given up to save money compared to the previously used X58A-UD7 include a reduction from 24 medium-capacity to eight high-capacity power phases, the loss of a second network port, and the lack of Gigabyte’s Hybrid Silent Pipe 2 heat sink/water block apparatus.

Graphics: Two Gigabyte GeForce GTX 470 cards in SLI

Our highest-priced PC has always been designed to game at 2560x1600. Reaching that resolution without giving up visual features has often required a graphics configuration priced at over half of the budget for today’s system. Our most-recent machine stepped up graphics power at a lower price with its liquid-cooled dual-GPU card, and today we’re hoping to beat those results using two lower-priced parts.

Read Customer Reviews of Gigabyte's GeForce GTX 470

Though previous tests have shown that each GeForce GTX 470 graphics card is only about as powerful as a Radeon HD 5850, additional tests have shown that SLI scales more predictably. Our hope is that better scaling will allow these two second-seed cards to outperform the two top-rung graphics processors of our previous machine.

SLI does present a cooling challenge for motherboards like ours, with its full-bandwidth slots only two spaces apart. The problem for many previous and/or competing solutions is that the top card must draw its air from the tiny space between it and the second graphics card. Nvidia designed its GeForce GTX 470 to mitigate that issue, with three holes in the circuit board to allow air intake from above.

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