If you think old motherboards go off to die long, slow deaths in an e-waste dump or silver reclamation plant, think again. Motherboards that have made a significant contribution are elevated to star status where they live forever.
Not all boards are worthy of the Motherboard Hall, of course. In fact, our list notably starts with ATX and moves forward. Why no AT or Baby AT boards? When was the last time someone thought wistfully of a 1992 VL-Bus motherboard? Those boards of old, while certainly heroic, hark back to a day when the component received little attention or enthusiasm—a time before it had realized its true potential.
You’ll also notice that our list doesn’t include any boards made in the last three years. We’ve intentionally excluded modern boards because it remains to be seen how much of an impact they’ll make over time. Even today’s most stellar boards, such as EVGA’s Classified SR-2—the board we used in this year’s Dream Machine, and an obvious contender for the Hall—are still too young to get inducted.
The reverence owed to the 10 boards you’ll see here, however, is unquestionable, as you’ll learn when we recount their respective roles in modern motherboard history. But if there are others you feel we’ve overlooked, please let us know at email@example.com.
Ready to finally build your post-recession machine?
That’s good, because we’ve decided to round up the best and brightest motherboards available. And we’re not talking Micro ATX, sub-$100 budgetrino boards here. We reached for the most feature-filled, over-the-top X58 and 890FX boards from the top three mobo vendors.
Want to know how over the top? One board lets you remotely reboot or overclock it using your cell phone. Another features power connectors usually found only on dual-processor server motherboards. Hell, one has a heat pipe so freaking big, some editors here thought it was some sort of new PCI-E add-in card. And one board is so large, you’ll have to buy a case specifically for its generous dimensions.
So if you’re ready to build a machine that will motor you away from those recession doldrums, keep reading because the best board here will be the one you want in your AMD or Intel machine.
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.
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?
This generation of gaming consoles is all about minor hardware revisions. The Sony PS3 has already slimmed down and dropped a few hundred dollars from its price, but now it looks like the Xbox 360 may be up next. A leaked pic of what purports to be a new motherboard for the console was posted to a Chinese forum. The board is significantly smaller which hopefully means a more svelte console.
The board looks much smaller than the current version, and appears to have a CPU/GPU combo chip. There’s also an extra SATA port present. We’re apt to believe the authenticity of this board seeing as Microsoft is currently hiring a Motherboard Design Engineer to “implement and verify the motherboard and other various sub-system boards that make up the XBOX 360 product line.”
We don’t know if this hardware revision will come with a price cut, but don’t bet on it. The Xbox managed to beat out the Wii in monthly sales for the first time last month. The PS3 had no choice but to drop in price to be competitive. Would a smaller, cooler console with a few extra goodies get you to drop some cash for a new 360?
In a world where you can get a pretty decent $99.99 motherboard, a lot of consumers don’t understand why you would pay one-and-a-half times more for a board using the same chipset.
That’s because those same consumers don’t seem to understand the attitude and atmosphere you get with a high-end motherboard. It’s about the flair, and the Asus Maximus III Formula offers that in spades.
While some of the flair is extraneous, such as the garish case sticker, some can be truly handy. A set of stickers lets you label your SATA cables, for example. And then there’s the flair that we’ve come to expect of Asus: the ever-useful Q-connector for front-panel connections and the no-snag I/O shield and snag-free RAM slots we first saw on the P7P55D Deluxe. Audio is upgraded over baseline boards with the SupremeFX X-Fi module. The module and drivers give you X-Fi algorithms and the codecs are moved off the noisy motherboard. Since RAM configuration can affect system reliability, the board also includes a handy BIOS-based MemPerfect utility to validate your RAM settings.
Asus takes remote-control monitoring and overclocking to the next level with the MIIIF, too. You can now connect a laptop directly to the motherboard to monitor voltages, temperature, and fans; read POST codes; and even overclock the board. It’s neat, but we wish Asus would build in logging and graphing capabilities, as well.