Conclusion: It Always Pays To Compare
Our benchmarks and analysis underscores the disparity in performance and design among the boards we tested. The boards from Acorp, Biostar, QDI, and XFX are the most basically equipped, while Biostar and QDI include overclocking features and Norton software as part of their package. On the other hand, these are the cheapest boards available, along with those equipped with VIA chipsets. The XFX does not even provide a network port, which is clearly taking cost-cutting a bit too far.
Be wary of the Abit and Albatron. The Abit is limited to USB 1.1 and the Albatron doesn't even have an option for fitting an AGP graphics card.
AOpen, Intel, and, Soyo rank high in the feature they offer. AOpen has Serial ATA RAID and FireWire together with numerous other useful features, but factory overclocking beyond our tolerance levels disqualifies it. Intel offers a fast chipset and even Gigabit Ethernet, and was the winner of our benchmark tests. Soyo overshot the mark here. Its board offers two Serial ATA controllers, plus Ultra ATA RAID, Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire, and overclocking features that will delight all fans of overclocking. All very nice features, but they make this board the most expensive in our group test by a wide margin.
It is always a good idea to carry out an objective comparison of short listed motherboards before laying your money down. Data management programs that breakdown and analyze quality points and preference variables, can be instrumental in buying the right system as well. This assumes, of course, that short listed boards have already received an independent third-party recommendation.
We have divided our recommendations into three best-bet categories:
- Low cost/budget:
For tight budgets, the Shuttle AV49N is king. Based on VIA's P4X400 chipset, it proved to be an able performer in our tests. It is also positioned at the lower end of the price scale. The only downside is that it will not boot from a USB connection. However, the Intel chipset boards are considerably more expensive without offering a great deal more.
- Low cost/future proof
Here we have two boards running neck and neck - the DFI PS35-BL and the FIC P4-865P Ultra. The first offers built-in graphics thanks to the 865G, but is in MicroATX format and has only three PCI slots. Both operate in single- or dual-channel mode and are equipped with two Serial ATA ports. However, both of these boards are nearly twice the price of the cheapest offering here. The AOpen board in the same price bracket offers more features, but is fitted with a not quite so up-to-date 865 chipset. We cannot recommend the Intel board; it is simply too expensive.
So which board comes out on top in the price/performance ratio? First, MSI and AOpen should stop overclocking their boards' chipsets. We also think the AOpen is overpriced for an 845PE board. Both of these models fail to gain our recommendation.
Priced exactly midway between the MSI and AOpen boards is the DFI PS35-BL, which we are happy to recommend. While it lacks RAID and Bluetooth capabilities and its built-in graphics are not first-rate, the lack of these potentially pricey extras is always appreciated by thrifty-minded corporate buyers.