Most candidates offer alternative system speeds. 150 MHz were tolerated by each motherboard in this review. Some even offer 166 MHz or more (AOpen, Asus, DFI, IWill, Jetway, MSI, QDI). Only ABit, AOpen, Asus, MSI and Epox include the option to raise the CPU voltage. According to our experience it's often necessary to increase the processor voltage in order to get a stable system. For example if you run a Pentium III 733 at 160 MHz system speed, the CPU will have to cope with 880 MHz. Most of today's Pentium III CPUs will likely fail at the default voltage of 1.65 V, but will work stable as soon as they get 1.7 or 1.75 V.
Asus has far the best overclocking motherboard right now, as I could get the board running even at 185 MHz FSB! Please note that the memory will only run at 3/4 of the system speed if you exceed 166 MHz. The BIOS setup menu makes it very easy to select system and memory speed as well as the core voltage.
ABit offers similar features, but the clock generator seems to be limited to 153 MHz. I've no other obvious explanation for this.
Compared to the VIA motherboard reviews I've done some months ago, this one was almost a pleasure. It took me far more time than I expected, but all motherboards within the test bed ran absolutely stable.
The biggest source for problems seems to be the main memory. Most PC133 memory modules are only specified for CAS Latency 3, reducing the overall performance by approx. 3%. CAS 2 memory is more expensive and more difficult to obtain. Running CAS 3 memory at CAS 2 does sometimes work, but usually you will only experience hang-ups or crashes. One common symptom we see is a SYSmark run that stops.
All candidates left quite a good impression. Two years ago, I did a comprehensive BX motherboard review. I underlined the fact that the performance differences between the motherboards are too little to base a buying decision on them. The same is valid now as well. Most motherboards perform pretty even. Check out the features you really want. Solano boards belong to the most expensive types available right now. I would only spend the higher price for an Asus or Gigabyte motherboard if there is a feature that I really want.
The best overall motherboards are the AOpen AX3S Pro, Transcend TS-ASL3, QDI SynactiX 2E and Tekram S3815-ANE. AOpen comes with excellent features and makes the best impression: Excellent package, great manual and a USB cable to use the ports 3 and 4.
Transcend also has a solid motherboard with good memory compatibility and nice features. QDI and Tekram left the best impression to me for users who are not sure what they really need. The Tekram motherboard also comes with integrated LAN.
Two boards are suited just perfect: ABit, AOpen and Asus. All three allow the user to set all CPU parameters in the BIOS and leave a lot of margin to play around.
ABit stops at 153 MHz, AOpen at 166 and Asus can be operated even at >180 MHz.
The CUSL2 definitely has the best recovery system, as it enters the BIOS automatically if the system is not working. Just restart pushing the reset button. AOpen is the only one of those three which comes with two BIOSes.