Summary: Features Win Out Over Performance
Intel already signaled the trend in its use of DDR266: the world no longer revolves around maximum speeds. The new focus is on efficiency and parallelism - HyperThreading is the model. The dual-channel memory interface enables high performance at moderate memory prices. Maybe you still have two DDR266 DIMMs? In that case, an upgrade will be especially cheap.
With today's motherboards, features play an important role, too. For example, a FireWire interface makes it possible to connect an external hard drive or a digital camera. USB 2.0 has become a standard, fortunately, and even serial ATA is slowly but surely coming into its own. The controllers from Silicon Image rank particularly high because of their efficiency - they are no longer based on parallel ATA architecture and turn out lots of power with their signal conversion (AOpen, Asus, Gigabyte).
Gigabit Ethernet controllers are desirable, as the added power can clearly be seen in the access and transfer speeds in suitable networks and during intensive use. It is only the high price of hubs and switches that has prevented them from becoming viable up to now. But that will change, and then you will be glad that you already have the necessary hardware.
More than any other, Gigabyte was supposed to stand out in this test. Six more-or-less useful dual features, accessories en masse and the highest performance made the board a front-runner. But it got there partly by unfair means, because the processor speed of our P4 3.06 was more than 3.1 GHz. The board is among the best, but the maker overshot its goal - come on, who really needs two IDE RAID controllers?
High performance and generous equipment at a premium price are available this time again from Asus. Specifically, the additional features could be better integrated - three modules for the slot bracket are too many for us. Otherwise, it gets only good grades.
The AOpen AX4R Plus is a sensible, well-equipped board with high performance at a reasonable price. It offers all the important features, works very fast and thus offers an excellent compromise between price and performance/ equipment.
In terms of features, the winner in the comparative test this time around is MSI because, with its integrated Bluetooth controller, it offers clear added value, particularly for those who use modern mobile phones. In other respects, it can do everything its rivals can do: IDE RAID with serial ATA, PCI sound, Gigabit LAN and FireWire. A generous amount of software comes with it. In the end, only the overclocking features deprive it of an unconditional recommendation - but this could be fixed with a BIOS update, as we saw with the pre-production version, which was sent to us along with the board.