Big Business: 18 P4 boards In Price / Performance Face-Off

Maximum Possible Effectiveness: Hardware Features, Continued

RAID controllers are another hot topic today. Almost every major motherboard maker offers products with integrated controllers from HighPoint or Promise. However, buyers beware: RAID is eminently suitable for chronic power cravings (RAID-0, striping) or the need for increased reliability (RAID-1, mirroring), or even both at once (RAID 0+1). In any case, you will need two (0, 1) or four hard drives (0+1) to do it. In settings where price/performance is paramount, RAID takes a back seat.

Uninteresting for home users but important for corporate customers are the expansion slots AMR (audio modem riser) and CNR (communications and network riser). These allow appropriate hardware to be added; the real reason is to save costs. Home users don't need either of the two slots, since the necessary plug-in cards are hard to find in stores and, compared to PCI components, save no money and hamper flexibility to boot.

The subject of overclocking is not to be overlooked. What used to be just for speed demons has now gained the status of a popular sport. Now and again there are processors that can be significantly overclocked with very little problem. However, anyone who relies on a functional system should leave this option be, or have the computer tested after overclocking-and invest several days in doing so.

Several options are necessary to allow the system speed, CPU core voltage and, if desired, the clock speed of the AGP bus and the main memory to be manipulated. For fine-tuning, the manipulation options of the AGP, chipset, and main memory input power will suffice, but very few users make use of them.

Questionable: Intel 845PE And FSB800

Many manufacturers sent us boards with Intel's well-known 845PE chipset for this round of comparative tests. Although it is no longer brand-new, the bulk of Pentium 4 systems sold are based on the chipset, thanks to its low price (compared to the 865 and 875).

While Intel is hardly likely to rework the chipset - i.e. release it for 800 MHz FSB speed - the manufacturers are taking care of that themselves. After all, there is still no low-budget platform for the fastest Pentium 4 models. Price usually determines sales, and that's why the question of how much sense such a combination would make tends to be ignored.

The 845PE chipset with single-channel DDR seems to be predestined for overclocking. In numerous tests, it proved to be robust and capable of overclocking. In combination with expensive cooling systems like AseTek's VapoChill, an FSB speed of 800 MHz was reached months ahead of the launch of the new P4 models.

Manufacturers have seized on this amount of leeway as an advertising appeal, with the result that motherboards with Intel 845PE and FSB800 support are no longer rare.

Stability varied dramatically. However, it should remain clear that this option is meant as an add-in for overclocking enthusiasts and not as a regular feature.