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Generation Change: Eight Motherboards For The Athlon 64

Conclusion: A Lot Of Variety And A Clear Winner

For the first time in months, a decision on a victor from among sometimes almost identical products was easier than usual. A half percent here or there in the benchmark results are good for manufacturers' reputations, but they're no use to the user. The compulsory swamping of customers with features that are bought out of uncertainty and then not used is not the way forward in the long run.

The most important criterion in choosing a board in our view is the innovation offered by the product. And, it must actually be able to produce the touted added value. Only one board matches this wish at present: the K8T Neo from MSI. Some competitors have better equipment and, in some cases, minimally better performance. But no one else offers the energy and performance management represented by Core Cell and Cool & Quiet.

If activity is low, AMD's Cool & Quiet throttles back the processor, thus saving power and cutting down on noise by slowing the CPU fan. Core Cell by MSI, meanwhile, automatically overclocks by up to 10% under heavy load. Added to that, the price tag on the K8T Neo is center field and thus earns our recommendation.

As market leader in the mobo business, Asus cuts a familiarly fine figure. Its K8V Deluxe has everything the heart could wish for, including optional wireless LAN, and makes a good showing in the benchmark results. A fantastic board that joins only MSI in offering Cool & Quiet support. In combination with Q-Fan, it makes for a quiet system.

Gigabyte also has its finger on the pulse of the times with both its boards, which offer fantastic equipment and good performance. We also liked the integrated FireWire controller on both boards that supports 1394b with 800 Mbit/s, too. That's a great thing, but the slot module for running external SATA hard drives shouldn't really be necessary, since the FireWire 800 is fast enough by far.

Shuttle keeps a low profile. Its AN50R is a solid board that steers clear of unnecessary luxury. Its equipment is in keeping with the times, and we found its performance data satisfactory. This is exactly what we wanted to see in a down market supermarket special offer because it's sure to be a different kind of customer that will want to experiment. We also put Biostar's K8VHA Pro in this category.

Experimenters will doubtless be most attracted by the boards from Chaintech that shine with a staggering scope of equipment and the best sound system in the test. A great basis for a multimedia home computer.