Four MicroATX Mobos for Core 2

Chipset No-Choice: G965 Or G965?

Each PC comes with a processor, main memory, a hard drive and a graphics subsystem. But each system also requires a core logic solution (the so-called chipset), which can be found on the motherboard. This component is responsible for linking all components together and to provide bandwidth, connectivity and expandability for your specific needs. The motherboard is the backbone of your PC, as it holds the processor and memory sockets, PCI and PCI Express expansion slots, UltraATA or Serial ATA interfaces for DVD drives or hard drives and USB ports for external devices.

If all you do is browse the Internet, work on simple documents or spreadsheets, listen to music and watch video content you will probably never notice whether your PC is powered by a high-end chipset or a low-cost solution. If need be, you can also add on to your system platform as your computing requirements evolve.

Although the dominate core logic solution is Intel's G965, there are a few options available. SiS offers the 671FX chipset and VIA has its P4M890 chipset available. However, both are clearly geared towards the low-end of the business PC market and thus don't offer as much value for the tech-savvy user as Intel's G965 does. We also discovered that both aren't as overclockable as the Intel chipset.

The G965 offers very much the same features as the P965 - with the exception that it uses the latest integrated graphics solution called Graphics Media Accelerator X3000. It sports support for DirectX 9.0c including OpenGL 1.5 and Shader Model 3.0; the latter is important to have for Windows Vista. The GMA X3000 is based on an array of execution units that can dynamically be allocated to process 3D or video data. The graphics core runs at 667 MHz and allocates up to 384 MB of your DDR2-RAM for graphics. At 400 MHz speeds (DDR2-800), it provides a bandwidth of up to 12.8 GB/s. This may sound like a lot, but don't forget that it is being shared by the graphics subsystem and the processor.

The G965 chipset supports HDMI interfaces (although these mostly are not equipped yet) and Intel's video acceleration technology called Clear Video, which provides de-interlacing and automatic color control - for standard and high-definition video.

All four motherboards in this roundup support the Core 2 Duo processor family, Pentium D or Pentium 4 CPUs. For ideal performance you should make sure the memory runs in dual-channel mode: Install a pair of PC2-6400 (DDR2-800) memory modules to do so. Slower memory is supported as well, but for the sake of system and graphics performance, you really should go for DDR2-800 RAM.

The ICH8 southbridge offers a total of six 300 MB/s Serial ATA hard drive ports (the ICH8DO for office use has only four), one UltraATA/100 port for legacy storage devices and optical drives, a Gigabit Ethernet controller for high-speed network connectivity, six PCI Express lanes for various slot configurations and a high-definition sound system.