Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back
Because Core i7 was meant to target high-end buyers, LGA-1366 motherboards are designed to satisfy both enthusiast and workstation markets. Xeon is the way forward for the current socket, as a new interface will accompany later mainstream products based on similar Core technology. With an upscale market locked-in, motherboard makers have concentrated development efforts mostly on their highest-priced models.
We waited nearly three months for manufacturers to fix the bugs in their highest-priced parts before we began testing for our $300+ X58 Motherboard Roundup, and our patience was rewarded with trouble-free operation of most samples. Certainly those few weeks that have passed since our previous comparison would be enough time for the $200-300 parts to present a similar experience...or so we thought.
But this instead turned out to be one of the most interesting roundups in recent memory, and for all the wrong reasons. Of the ten candidates previously committed to today’s feature, one manufacturer forgot to send a sample, another missed our submission deadline, and the sample from a third manufacturer never even reached POST (Power-On Self-Test) in spite of several attempts to get it running with different processors, RAM, and graphics cards. If those sound like mundane issues, perhaps you’ll find it interesting that one of the remaining samples wasn't quite up to overclocking with Intel's Core i7 and endlessly reset. Another model that lacked such protection suffered catastrophic failure, and a third sample died, taking our Core i7 920 with it in the process.
Anyone who thought spending $200 or more on a motherboard would assure premium quality will certainly be surprised by the realities of the Core i7 market, where one typically pays an additional $100 compared to previous-generation boards simply to obtain the new socket. Yet there were a few gems, and today we’ll try to separate these from the rubble that has become the new “mid-budget” enthusiast market.