It’s almost impossible to drop a processor into MSI’s 890FXA-GD70 motherboard without overclocking it. The reason has nothing to do with MSI not letting you run a chip at stock speeds—it does—but the temptation to goose your processor presents itself at every turn. If you’re poking around the BIOS, you need only enable the OC Genie Light option for a free speed boost. Alternately, you can turn a knob on the motherboard to make front-side-bus adjustments on the fly. And yet a third way to overclock is to fire up the included Control Center software and start moving sliders, or press the OC Genie button and be done with it. Using the latter option, we were prompted to restart our test bed, at which point the MSI board cranked our Phenom II X4 955BE up from 3.2GHz to a stable 3.68GHz. Not bad.
Any old scrap heap will get you from point A to point B, but it’s about the ride, playa, and that’s where the Crosshair IV Formula shines. Not only does the red and black color scheme look pimp, the board backs up its ferocious style with extensive overclocking controls and enough cooling potential to blow down a brick house. How so? Asus plopped eight freakin’ PWM fan headers around the motherboard.
Gigabyte has a frustrating habit of releasing a dozen motherboard models per chipset, and sometimes more—we counted no fewer than 15 Gigabyte boards based on Intel’s X58 chipset. That isn’t the case in 890FX land, where Gigabyte offers just two variants to choose from—the GA-890FXA-UD5, and the board reviewed here.
The differences between the two are big, and we mean that literally. Unlike the UD5, the UD7 ditches the tried-and-true standard ATX formfactor and comes constructed in XL-ATX, which is even larger than Extended ATX (E-ATX). Only folks with full towers need apply, and even then you’ll want to verify with your case manufacturer that an XL-ATX motherboard will fit. Gigabyte’s Chassis Support List of qualified cases is disappointingly sparse, though not all-inclusive.
At first glance, you might think the Asus Rampage III Extreme board has just four PCI-E slots, which would be simply wimpy next to the whopping six slots in MSI’s Big Bang-XPower. But don’t be fooled by the optical illusion. The Rampage III actually has five PCI-E slots capable of fitting full x16 PCI-E cards, and one oddly empty space.
One look at the Big Bang-XPower’s row of six x16 physical PCI-E slots tells you the board is special. PCI? Feh, who the hell needs that in 2010?
MSI has now also adopted the one-clip DIMM slots that let you easily remove RAM without having to pull out the GPU first. The board also includes a somewhat nifty wired remote to monitor system vitals and perform an overclock. Unfortunately, we found the OC Dashboard a bit buggy. While trying to crank up the bclock using the small device, we had to manually refresh the display in order to see the correct frequency.
Want to know how insane the enthusiast motherboard bracket has become? Gigabyte’s X58A-UD7 seems pedestrian next to the other two contenders here. Sure, it has a rakish, liquid-cooling-ready heat pipe to keep the north bridge chilled out, but frankly, without that Hybrid Silent-Pipe 2 in place, the board is damn near boring next to its contemporaries. Where’s the dual 8-pin supplemental CPU power connectors? Or Bluetooth remote-control capability, wired remote overclocking tool, or audio riser card?
Do you consider yourself a power user? It’s a tough question. After all, where do you draw the line? Hardware hacking? Command-line skills? Unix?
As we sat down to answer this question, the possibilities seemed endless, making our task feel more daunting. Windows registry hacks? Networking know-how? Upgrades? We even asked you, our readers, to contribute your suggestions. We received a bunch of great ones, but this only further broadened our pool of ideas.
Undeterred, we took a step back to consider the very essence of a power user. Eureka! A power user, we reasoned, is not a simple state of being. It’s a path, filled with accomplishments and achievements and failures and applied knowledge. And merit. We imagined a Boy Scout sash, filled with badges indicating various acts of heroism and knowledge, as well as empty spaces where future achievements will eventually reside.
On the following pages, you’ll learn what our version of this path is. Enjoy!
There’s a lot of history behind the Phantom lapboard (and its ill-begotten console progenitor) but we don’t need to go into that. What you do need to know is that the Phantom lapboard is essentially a wireless keyboard on a hinge. You can (and must) lock it into an angled position to use the mouse on the surface below and to the side of the keyboard. Now, this raises a question: Do you like typing on a keyboard that’s locked at a significant angle to the natural plane of your hands? Of course you don’t.
Also, about that mousing surface. It’s really slippery, and so is the mouse. And it doesn’t have any sort of lip on it. So if you’re thinking about relaxing on the couch and using the Phantom in any sort of natural position, forget about it. The second you take your hand off the mouse to type something, that sucker’s clattering to the floor.
SandForce-based drives have quickly emerged as the frontrunners in the solid-state wars, thanks to impressive read and write speeds, both sequential and random (which finally gives them an edge over the previous random-write leader, the aging Intel X-25M G2). All SandForce drives use the same controller, so differences between models come down to the commodity NAND used and—most importantly—firmware.
SandForce played a tricky game with its firmware, letting some manufacturers ship drives with release-candidate firmware, giving other vendors special “max IOPS” firmware, and so forth. Even its SF-1500 and SF-1200 controllers (enterprise and consumer, respectively) are only differentiated by firmware—but this firmware can vary quite a bit. We’ve never tested a bad SandForce drive, but the question remains: Is the Patriot Inferno a great SandForce drive, or merely a good one?
We believe that everyone who considers themselves a computer enthusiast should have at least some experience with a Linux environment, but it can be daunting to just jump into the deep end of a completely unfamiliar operating system. One way to get your feet wet is with Cygwin, a free program that provides you with a Unix-like command line, without having to leave Windows. Cygwin is not a Unix emulator (it cannot run native Unix programs, although it does contain the tools needed to compile and run a program from source code), but it does have a wide array of optional packages that let you use most of the tools and utilities that you would commonly use in Unix, in Windows. In this guide, we’ll show you how to get Cygwin set up, the basics of how to navigate a Unix file system, and how to find more information as you need it.