We know how it is. You really want a sweet Intel Core i7 PC, but it has to be small. No, small is the wrong word; it has to be tiny. The new Congatec Conga-BM57 small form factor motherboard may be just the thing. Measuring a mere 95 x 125 mm you’d expect this board to be running an Atom or maybe even an ARM CPU. In fact, it runs a Core i7-620M clocked at 2.66GHz, and has 8GB of DDR3 RAM.
The board has integrated graphics with Intel Flexible Display Interface (FDI) allowing two simultaneous outputs via HDMI, VGA, DisplayPort, or SVDO. The architecture can support up to 5 PCI Express lanes, 8 USB ports, 3 SATA, one EIDE, and a gigabit Ethernet port.
It is certainly impressive considering the form factor. Congatec isn’t quite sure what the BM57 will be used for as of yet, but threw out gaming devices and medical imagery as options. We've got our fingers crossed for an HTPC.
In motherboards—as in life—it’s the little things that bring the greatest pleasure.
Take the new Core i5/i7 LGA1156 board, the Asus P7P55D Deluxe. Enthusiasts are used to the flashy heatsinks and tons of ports and slots, but small touches like Asus’s innovative RAM slots will make you take notice. Instead of using the typical latch connectors that can snag the GPU, Asus has designed a system that requires only one side of the RAM to be latched in.
But adding unexpected conveniences is Asus’s M.O. of late. The board also features snag-free I/O shields, a quick-connect for front-panel connectors, and ExpressGate—the somewhat handy pre-OS boot environment. Besides adding such extras, Asus said it spent an inordinate amount of time making sure the board overclocks like a champ. There are multiple ways to overclock: using the Turbo V function, AI Suite, and the OC Tuner in the BIOS. If that’s not enough, the company even includes three ominous switches to let you override BIOS limits on RAM, memory controller, and CPU voltage. Even more interesting is the Turbo V remote. This wired remote lets you power up or down and select from three overclocking profiles or crank up the Bclock in real time.
If you thought Intel’s new budget Nehalem meant rock-bottom, feature-stripped motherboards to match, think again.
Gigabyte’s GA-P55-UD6 jams just about every feature you could think of into the new LGA1156 platform. There are the de rigueur updated power-saving utilities and the dual BIOS, which can save your bacon should your BIOS get corrupted.
And then there’s a whole kitchen sink of new features, such as the ability to secure the system using the onboard TPM module and then have it unlock when the computer detects your Bluetooth phone nearby. The same Bluetooth phone can also be used to put the system in standby or hibernate if you walk away, to save power.
Two other features are probably a bit more useful: As part of the board’s Smart Six apps, the BIOS QuickBoot feature allows you to set the BIOS to initialize much faster if no hardware has been changed. With the feature turned on, we saw the system go from a 30-second POST-to-OS load to 15 seconds. That’s pretty spectacular. The OS QuickBoot promises faster boots, too, but as far as we can tell, it’s simply a different way to invoke Vista’s Hybrid Sleep mode.
With some of the first USB 3.0 and SATA 6 devices already released, the first capable motherboards are now available for purchase. Asus and Gigabyte were both known to be working on new boards earlier this summer and both companies are now shipping their latest models.
Asus is shipping two boards, one with a P55 chipset, and the other with an X58. Due to the single lane bandwidth bottleneck of the P55 chipset, Asus uses a bridge chip (PLX8613) and four PCIe lanes so the board can run in SLI and Crossfire modes. Gigabyte is shipping seven different boards in the P55A series. Gigabyte opted to avoid the bridge chip so dual-card modes will not be enabled in the board.
These motherboards are shipping despite delayed chipset releases from Intel supporting the latest interfaces. Manufacturers do not expect to have new Intel chipsets with USB 3.0 support until 2011.
Elitegroup Computer Systems (ECS) posted mixed results for the first half of 2009. On one hand, the Taiwanese motherboard maker posted consolidated revenues of NT$36.72 billion ($1.12 billion in U.S. currency), down 7 percent on the year. On the other hand, net profits grew 88 percent.
The company's notebook shipments remained flat at 1.6 million units in the first half of 2009, whereas the motherboard business tumbled to the tune of 22.06 percent on year to just 8.4 million units, ECS said.
Despite the shipments setbacks, ECS will maintain its goal for 2009 to ship 21 million motherboards, 4 million notebooks (half of them netbooks), and 1.5 million videocards, DigiTimes reports.
ECS recently debuted new motherbord, videocard, and multimedia solutions at this year's Computex, which will not be affected by this financial report.
To run Asus’s $400 Rampage II Extreme board you’d have to be either extreme or the world’s biggest poseur. How extreme would you have to be? You’d have to be the type of person who boils liquid helium atop his CPU to keep it cool. And because you can’t waste time overclocking from within the OS, you’d want to reach your hands into the guts of your case and use the board’s PCB-mounted controls that let you check and change voltage, fan speeds, and temps on a tiny one-line LCD external display.
In fact, you’d be so damn hardcore, you wouldn’t even fully trust those voltage readings from the board. Instead, you’d want to hook your Fluke meter directly to the available ports on the board to check the voltage of the CPU, the PCI Express lanes, and the north bridge directly. That’s how badass you’d be.
An eclipse occurs when one celestial body obscures another. When MSI stuck its X58 motherboard with that moniker, we wondered just what it wanted to hide. Our guess is it’s the fact that the board supports ATI’s CrossFire X. Despite the Eclipse’s support for CrossFire X, MSI chose to change the name of the board at the last minute from simply Eclipse to Eclipse SLI. Regardless, the Eclipse SLI is jam-packed with features that would make any geek weep, including cross-platform GPU support, Core i7, six-slot DDR3, and onboard soft X-Fi audio.
Today, hard drive manufacturer Seagate and chip manufacturer AMD unveil the first tech demo of Serial ATA Revision 3.0, which boasts transfer rates of up to six gigabits per second, twice the speed of the current SATA spec. The specification, which was announced by the Serial ATA International Organization last August, will appear in hardware starting later this year.
SATA 6Gb/s comes several years before Seagate estimates it will be needed for standard hard drives, but, as we reported last year, several current-gen SSDs are already bumping against the 3Gb/s limit of the current spec.
Maker’s Mark is of course the name of a fine Kentucky bourbon whiskey, but the phrase also applies to the stamp that skilled artisans apply to their creations. When you’ve finished building your custom PC, we’d encourage you to stamp it with your own maker’s mark; after all, the one-of-a-kind creation you’ll have wrought will have nothing in common with the mass-produced rigs that mainstream manufacturers churn out by the millions.
That’s one of the most exciting aspects of our hobby. Automobile buffs can tune and customize their factory-built cars and trucks, but computer geeks like us get to build something new and unique almost entirely from whole cloth. And it’s so easy that you have to wonder why anyone would buy a preassembled PC in the first place.
Thanks to the relatively open architecture that IBM stumbled into oh so many years ago (and has likely regretted ever since), we can rebuild and retune our creations again and again, boosting their performance and postponing their obsolescence. We do hit a wall every now and again. Intel’s new Core i7 CPU is a good example. Because the new processor features an onboard memory controller—a first for Intel, although AMD’s procs have had the technology for years—the company had to design a new socket architecture to accommodate the additional pins. That blocks the upgrade path for anyone using an LGA775 motherboard.
Intel has AMD on the run in the CPU front, but AMD is poking Nvidia in the behind in the graphics processor market. The result: ever more powerful, ever less expensive videocards. The two companies have shipped so many new parts that we expect things will stabilize over the next quarter or so, so now’s the time to find a great deal whether you’re building a new rig or retrofitting an old one. And if you’ve never experienced the joy and pride of building your own PC, click through to read our in-depth, hands-on guide.
Stop the presses! (Ok, maybe not). We wanted to let you know that Best of the Best, our comprehensive list of our favorite PC hardware components, has just been updated and overhauled with new categories and parts that you’ll need to consider for your next PC build or upgrade.
In addition to three new processor categories (Extreme, $500, and $250), we’ve listed our pick for the top Core i7 motherboard. The budget through high-end GPU lineup as also been refreshed, and we now make two hard drive recommendations based on performance and capacity.