Conclusion: Purchase Decision Not Dependent On Chipset
The longest and, at the same time, most extensive comparative test of motherboards lasted four weeks in total. As a result of this gargantuan effort, we can now give users an overview of 24 motherboards from the foremost manufacturers, as well as a basis for making individual purchase decisions. Fundamental changes to the hardware are hardly expected to take place in the next few months, so most of our conclusions will continue to apply.
Our key findings are as follows: the marketing strategists from Intel argue that the two chips differ from one another in that the 875P essentially performs better than the 865PE. The performance advantage is mainly said to result form the fast "PAT" memory access, which is officially not possible in the case of the 865.
In practice, however, a completely different picture emerges: the benchmark results of our test field prove that, depending on the manufacturer, boards based on the Intel 865PE are just as fast as boards with the Intel 875P. The key factors here are optimization of the BIOS software and adjustment of running times through the appropriate layout of the track conductors. The fast storage access (in the case of the 875P) is therefore not the sole factor determining the speed of a board.
Abit, Asus and MSI have activated PAT in the 865PE, whereas Aopen has deactivated this feature. Gigabyte most likely works with PAT, which the benchmarks prove. Users should therefore not restrict their purchase decision criterion to the chipset and should make their choices individually. THG has given two awards within the context of this comparison, which may well be interpreted as purchase recommendations.
In terms of technology, the following trends are apparent: higher integration is continuing, so that more and more components that were previously available in the form of plug-in modules now end up on the motherboard. Thus, features that include an additional RAID controller from Silicon Image, Promise, Highpoint, VIA and Intel, which allow the connection of up to 12 IDE drives (as in the case of Epox PE-4PCA3+), are considered acceptable. Although the manufacturers enclose a wealth of cables, there is cause for criticism: due to the limited cable lengths, it is not possible to use all the connections. This prompts the question as to why, out of all the possible alternatives, the shortest versions of Serial-ATA cables are included in the accessories pack.
There have also been innovations regarding voltage controllers: the miniature SMD design is increasingly being used, which ensures less heat build-up. Depending on the design, good overclocking potential demands a powerful four-phase controller; this is still not a standard feature. Gigabyte sets a good example here and installs a six-phase model as standard procedure.