4 AMD Socket 754 MicroATX Motherboards: Getting the Job Done on the Cheap

One thing stands out strong in these comparison tests: these motherboards definitely don't play in the high performance leagues! But they're chock-full of built-in components, and aim instead at squeezing out as much performance that can be had for a low price. Thus, they're best suited for office systems or other uses where buyers seek to buy smart and stretch their money as far as it can go.

Even though AMD stretched out the life cycle of its Socket A when it craftily renamed its Athlon XP processor family to Sempron, the end of that life cycle seems certain before the year is out. Socket 754 is a worthy successor, because it stands ready to accommodate a whole slew of CPUs:

Starting with the Sempron 2600+ with its 1.6 GHz clock and 128kB of L2 cache and the rest of that family, this socket also covers products from the Athlon 64 with its 1.8 GHz clock and 512 kB of L2 cache and peaks out with the Athlon 64 3700+ with its 2.4 GHz clock and 1 MB of L2 cache. If the 754 socket is destined to handle faster CPUs than that, the stars haven't yet told us so. But in the past AMD has always been heavily market-oriented, so if there's continuing interest in using Socket 754, it seems likely that faster processors may find a home there as well.

That said, AMD does a good job of keeping its feet planted firmly on the ground. The four motherboards reviewed here that also use the 760GX chipset from Silicon Interactive Systems (SiS), are clearly aimed at the price sensitive, low cost end of the market. For these boards, performance plays second fiddle to price. Though the past year has witnessed back-and-forth one-upmanship between Intel and AMD on the performance front, it's also true that much current software is sadly unable to exploit high-end capabilities. Of course, this pronouncement hangs on the interpretation of "current," because new application models and high-end 3-D games indeed cry out for as much performance as they can get. The four motherboards reviewed here can't even contemplate such high-end uses, but we can attest to their suitability as cheap but usable home or office systems.

That probably explains why hardware enthusiasts will probably read the ingredients that make up these four boards with the same excitement they'd muster for Mom's shopping list for her next grocery run. All our candidates share these basics: a couple of PCI slots, a simple sound system, and a network interface, plus various Ultra-ATA interfaces along with a pair of Serial ATA connectors. In addition, you'll find integrated graphics that support DirectX-8.1 and a single AGP 8X slot, in case anybody wants to play games more seriously. These systems surely won't knock your socks off, but they do meet all the usual requirements for a basic, functional PC.

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