As explained in the new Motherboard Guide, I’m now not only focussing on performance but particularly on stability, features and compatibility. Thus there will be an overall recommendation as well as a recommendation in each of these areas.
The seven motherboards that showed the best combination of stability, compatibility, features and performance are :
- Asus P2B
This board is an example of stability as it runs with each SDRAM I threw against it, up to 112 MHz FSB. The compatibility tests were all successful, I only had to block IRQ5 for the ISA legacy soundcard following the official specs. The board is very flexible for overclockers as it offers FSB clocks from 66 to 133 MHz regardless which CPU is plugged in. On the negative side the board does not offer a software adjustment of FSB and multiplier, you have to use old fashioned jumpers. The board offers all the ’Wake ups’, ’Power on Keyboard’, SBLINK and a hardware monitor. From the performance point of view the P2B is one of the fastest boards. All in all this board is fast, stable, reliable, very compatible and it carries a well known name. There are also versions with onboard U2W SCSI and onboard LAN adapter.
- Microstar MS-6119
The MS-6119 would almost have ruled this review, if it wouldn’t have stumbled over an ISA network card. This card ran only with IRQ5, IRQs 9-11 would result in an inability to connect to any network. Otherwise the board is as stable as the Asus P2B and it offers more features. It comes with SBLink and all the new ’Wake up’ features, you can get it with an optional hardware monitor and it can switch off the CPU fan in suspend mode for the ones who hate noise. Multiplier and front side bus can be adjusted from the BIOS setup, so that you don’t need to fiddle around with jumpers or dip switches. People who want to run 66 MHz FSB CPUs at 100 MHz FSB or more will need to do the procedure of covering up ’B21’, because otherwise the BIOS wouldn’t let you choose any FSB above 83 MHz. Performance wise it’s the fastest board in the test, a tiny bit in front of the Asus, Supermicro and Tyan board. The MS-6119 is certainly a motherboard to be considered and as soon as Microstar’s BIOS engineers have fixed the problem with the ISA network card it will even surpass the Asus P2B. It is also a very attractive board from the price point of view.
- AOpen AX6B
The AX6B is also running rock stable up to 112 MHz FSB with any SDRAM I used and it offers the adjustment of the CPU multiplier as well as the FSB from 66 to 133 MHz in the BIOS setup, thus also no jumper setting is required. The features include not only all the different ’Wake ups’ and SBLink, but as the only one in the test it offers ’suspend to disk’, as known from notebooks, which enables you to start your system at the very same state as you left it before. There was no flaw in the compatibility tests and the board is equipped with 4 DIMM slots instead of only three as the two boards above. However, I have to criticise the cheap DIMM slots, which don’t offer any fixation for the plugged in SDRAM DIMMs. The performance of the AX6B is in the middle of the test field. This board is a stable and very compatible solution, which will also apply to overclockers.
- Chaintech 6BTM
Chaintech’s 6BTM is another example for motherboard stability, it also ran flawlessly with the Samsung PC100 SDRAM from Corsair as well as with the PC100 Toshiba SDRAM and with the PC66 Samsung SDRAM. The CPU settings can all be adjusted in the BIOS and since Chaintech made some adjustments due to my Celeron article, you can now choose from 66 to 133 MHz FSB regardless which CPU is plugged in. The features of this board include almost everything except of ’suspend to disk’, like all ’Wake up’ modes, hardware monitor, SBLink, Keyboard Power On, fan off in suspend mode. It also comes with 4 DIMM slots instead of the common 3 and these slots are of good quality. After Chaintech improved the BIOS the 6BTM passed all compatibility tests without a glitch. The performance is equal to the AOpen AX6B in the middle of the test field and if you can live without ’suspend to disk’ I would prefer it over the AX6B even.
- DFI P2BXL (Yakumo Y686BX)
The P2BXL is another board that proves the fact that quality doesn’t have to be expensive. The board ran rock stable with all SDRAMs, it offers all common features and it didn’t have any problems in the compatibility tests. It recognizes the FSB of the CPU, but you can choose 66-133 MHz FSB in case you do not choose ’default’ in the BIOS setup. The FSB is adjusted in the BIOS setup, the multiplier is adjusted via dip switches on the board. The performance is average, which means it’s only 1.5% slower than the fastest board in the test. This board is good and comes at an attractive price.
- Soyo SY-6BA
Soyo’s SY-6BA made only place six in this list, because it’s a tiny bit slower than the other five above. It also runs absolutely stable with all tested SDRAMs, has no compatibility problems and is nice for overclockers, because it offers FSB clocks from 66 to 133 easily adjustable in the BIOS setup, no jumper setting is required. I was missing the features ’Wake up on LAN’, ’Wake up on Clock’ and ’suspend to disk’, but the SY-6BA is coming with ’Wake Up on Ring’, a hardware monitor and SBLink. It also offers 4 DIMM slots, however of cheap quality without any fixation for the DIMMs. It is the only one of the six recommendations, which has 5 PCI and only 2 ISA slots, so if this should be important to you ... I read somewhere that Soyo would be a ’small player in the motherboard arena’. This is completely wrong ! Soyo is currently the 7th largest motherboard manufacturer in the world.
- Tyan Thunder 100 Pro S1836D
The main reason why the Thunder 100 is last in this list is simply its price. People who don’t care about the costs will probably just love this board. Its onboard dual channel SCSI, 100 MBit Intel ethernet and Creative Vibra 16XV don’t leave much to desire. This board needs two Voodoo2 cards and a Matrox G200 AGP card and you’re all set. There wasn’t much to test from the compatibilty point of view, since this board has everything already integrated onboard. The only bad thing was its inability to run Toshiba’s PC100 SDRAM, however it runs rock stable with Samsung PC66 SDRAM, currently in my own Roadrunner. It shouldn’t surprise you that I had to get exacly this board into my own system. Please consider that you need the ’B21-procedure’ if you want to run a 66 MHz FSB CPU at 100 MHz FSB. It’s not necessarily an overclocker board. The performance is average, which means it’s about 1.5% behind the fastest in this test. If you want it all, don’t take less than the Thunder Pro 100.
Dual Board Recommendations
The Supermicro P6DBS could unfortunately not make it inside the recommendation list here, although it shows the best performance of the tested dual CPU boards. This is due to incompatibility problems due to AMI’s WinBIOS as well as to the inability to run Toshiba PC100 SDRAM. Thus I consider this board as a definite trouble maker in its current state and cannot recommend it.
- Tyan Thunder 100 Pro S1836D
Of the four dual boards I tested the Thunder was the one with the best features and due to this equipment the compatibility test was an easy thing to pass. The only annoying thing with this board is its inability to run with Toshiba’s PC100 SDRAM, which could mean that it won’t run with other PC100 SDRAM as well. As long as you go for Corsair or maybe other PC100 SDRAM that’s using Samsung PC100 chips, you should be save though.
- Iwill DBS100
Iwill’s DBS100 is the only dual board in the test with Award BIOS, resulting in only few compatibility problems. However I would have had appreciated if the ISA PnP network card would run with IRQs higher than 7 as well, so I hope that Iwill will do some work here. Chaintech has already proven that this is possible. This board would also not work with Toshiba’s PC100 SDRAM, so this is anoter thing to worry about. The performance is in the middle of the test field and the dual UW SCSI adapter and RAIDport II are some features to make you happy.
- Tyan Tiger 100 S1832DL
I did a lot of thinking if I would include this board in my recommendation list, since it has the typical AMI WinBIOS incopatibility problem and its performance is at the bottom of the list. However, it’s the only dual board in my test that would run fine with any SDRAM I tested and this should make it worth a recommendation. Unfortunately this board does not come with onboard SCSI, sound or ethernet.
Compatbility And Stability Recommendations
Compatibility Test Results
Only motherboards that passed the compatibility tests without problems could make it into this list. Siemens’ D1064 is a shiny example for a ’no-trouble’ board, since it seemed as if you could plug into it whatever you wanted and Windows 95 or NT would start without any complaints. The 6 boards in second place required to set IRQ5 to ’ISA legacy’ for the ISA legacy soundcard I used in the test. This is still according to official spec and hence the test can be seen as successfully passed.
- Siemens D1064-E
The only board that didn’t require any BIOS setting for the successful passing of all the compatibility test was the D1064. This board comes with Phoenix BIOS and this BIOS seems to be smart enough recognizing that the ISA legacy soundcard is simply grabbing IRQ5 so that it wouldn’t try giving this IRQ to any other device. The board ran stable with both PC100 SDRAM brands and according to Intel’s spec it would refuse to work with PC66 SDRAM. You will see the D1064 again on top of the recommendation list for motherboard features. It is a very good board, particularly for corporate use and that’s what it was designed for.
- AOpen AX6B, Asus P2B, Chaintech 6BTM, Soyo SY-6BA, Tekram P6B40-A4X, DFI P2BXL (Yakumo Y686BX)
These six motherboards only required the BIOS setting ’IRQ5 - ISA Legacy’ to run the old ISA Soundblaster 16, which is according to spec. Otherwise there were no problems noticed, everything was running perfectly and without any problems. Stability was no issue for these six boards either, they all ran any SDRAM inclusive the PC66 Samsung DIMMs at even 112 MHz without the slightest glitch.
Features List :
- Siemens D1064-E
Siemens equipped the D1064 with a lot of unique features. It offers :
- Onboard Chip Card Reader PortDip Switch for BIOS recoveroptional Onboard VGA, Matrox G100 chip, 4 MB, upgradeable to 8 MBQuiet BootWake Up on Chip CardPower on KeyboardWake Up on LANWake Up on RingWake Up on ClockHardware Monitor
The chip card reader port may be a little bit too fancy, but I really like a sensible feature like the dip switch for recoverage of the original BIOS, in case disaster struck when you tried flashing a new BIOS. ’Quiet Boot’ is a feature typical for corporate use, it keeps the screen black until the OS pops up. The optinional MGA-G100 VGA chip is also a very sensible solution for companies and here the chip card can be used very well for identification of the user. This last board that Siemens ’Made in Germany’ shows how much thought a manufacturer can put into a product. It’s horribly sad that Siemens sold the motherboard manufacturing facilities to Acer.
- DFI P2XBL/S
The P2XBS is the only single CPU board in the test that has not only got a SCSI adapter onboard, but it’s even the latest one from Adaptec (AHA-7890AB), with the new Ultra 2 SCSI interface. The board also offers all te ’Wake up’ features, SBLink and a hardware monitor. If there wouldn’t have been a slight compatibility problem which made it unable to run a PCI network card in PCI slot 3 without assigning resources manually, this board would definitely have made it into the overall recommendation list.
- Tyan Thunder 100 Pro S1836D
Some of you may wonder why this board isn’t on top of this features list, but I decided to list single CPU boards first. All in all the S1836D offers more than most can dream of. It’s a dual Pentium II BX board with onboard dual channel UW SCSI (AHA-7895P), RAIDport II, onboard Intel 82558 10/100 Mbit Ethernet and onboard Creative Labs Vibra 16XV. The coolest thing is that you can disable each of these components with a jumper so well, that these components are indeed invisible to an OS as e.g. Windows95. It’s no question that all these features have its price, but if you want to have one of the most perfect all-in-one solutions, then you will fall in love with this monster board.
- Abit BX6
Abit focussed on overclocking again, but this time they almost took it over the top. The ’SoftMenu’ doesn’t only offer the adjustment of the CPU multiplier and the FSB in a large range, it also gives you the ability to change the CPU voltage. In the first BIOS revisions the range was so big, that you could easily fry your CPU, as successfully accomplished by nobody less than Georg Schnurer, c’t-Magazine’s star motherboard tester, who had all reasons to be very upset about this crazy feature which killed a brand new Pentium II 400 CPU. Abit reduced the range, but I still want to make clear that it’s fairly unlikely to be more successful in overclocking after raising the CPU voltage to levels beyond Intel’s spec, whilst having a good chance of sending your shiny new Intel CPU into the eternal hunting grounds. Anyway, for the gamblers of you this board may be the number one choice. The BX6 does not offer any adjustments of the memory timing, which I consider as pretty good. It runs fine with all the memory I used for testing, but it had a compatibility problem with an ISA network card. The performance of the BX6 is average, the feature list is average too.
- AOpen AX6B, Chaintech 6BTM, Soyo SY-6BA
These three boards let you adjust the FSB in a range from 66 to 133 MHz regardless which CPU is used. This as well as the multiplier setting is adjusted comfortably form within the BIOS setup. The performance of these three is equal as well, so you’ve got to look into the features list to find out which board applies to you most.
- DFI P2XBL/S, DFI P2BXL (Yakumo Y686BX)
The two DFI boards have a dip switch for the multiplier setting whilst the FSB can be adjusted in a range from 66 to 133 MHz from within the BIOS setup. Whilst the P2XBL is a tad faster than the P2XBL/S, the latter comes with onboard U2W SCSI adapter.
- Asus P2B
The P2B is certainly no bad board for overclockers, but it’s the only one in this list which requires fiddeling with jumpers. If you haven’t got a problem with that, you will certainly remember why this board is on top of the overall recommendation list.
- MSI MS-6119
The MS-6119 is the fastest board in the test, which doesn’t mean that it’s a lot faster than the others in the list. It comes with pretty good compatibility, great stability and good features.
- Asus P2B, Supermicro P6SBA, Tyan Tsunami S1846
These three boards are a tiny bit less fast than the MSI board. Unfortunately, the Tyan Tsunami board suffers from the incompatibilities caused by AMI’s pretty useless WinBIOS and so does the Supermicro P6SBA.
- Elitegroup P6BX-A+
The P6BX-A+ is also a board from the fast league and if the BIOS setup would allow to disable the IRQ for the oh-so-wonderful USB, it would even have been mentioned in the overall recommendations list