The last few weeks have been an amazing time in the computer business. Conroe, or Core 2 Duo to use the formal name, has captured all our attention with a combination of stock performance, overclocking capabilities, and value that is nothing short of breathtaking. Once the excitement settled down a bit, however, we realized that all the "Intel" rules had changed with the launch of Conroe.

First is the fact that while Core 2 Duo is Socket 775, it won't work in almost any existing Socket 775 (Socket T) motherboards. With the move to 65nm, the reduced voltage Conroe was designed for, and the greater need for stable power that Conroe requires, boards had to be redesigned to work with Conroe. The first and only board that was Conroe friendly was the Intel BadAxe, which was part of the launch of the last two NetBurst processors - 955EE and 975EE. Even with BadAxe you were not home free, since we soon learned that only BadAxe Revision 0304 or later would work with Conroe. In fact, everywhere we turned we were asking, "Will this work with Conroe?" If there was hesitation or a maybe, the answer was generally "No".

If you are like most Enthusiasts you can't wait to get your hands on the new Core 2 Duo. We're excited too, but it's no fun to get burned or to go through RMA s because it won't work with Conroe. How do you know what will work with the new chip, which motherboards to buy, whether value DDR2 will work, the advantages or disadvantages of top-end DDR2, available video options, hard drives to choose, and on and on and on. This guide was put together to help you navigate the new Conroe landscape. It has a clear bent toward motherboards and memory, which are critical to a good Conroe experience, but we will also venture into other areas in a later installment to help you find the best parts for your new Conroe rig. We hope we can make those choices a little more pain free.

Because we are covering so much information in this Buyers Guide, it is easy to get lost in information overload. To help you navigate through all the reviews and recommendations in this Guide it helps to understand how it is organized. Page 2 is an overview of the chipsets that support Conroe, and a look at the only Conroe dedicated chipset at launch - the Intel P965 Express.

Pages 3-10 are one page reviews of eight motherboards that were tested with Conroe. Each page has a chart of features of that motherboard, a discussion of the good and bad things about that board's performance with Conroe, and test results from overclocking Conroe on that motherboard. Pages 11-14 provide details of how we compared performance of the eight tested motherboards, and comparative charts of General Performance, Standard Gaming, and High-Resolution gaming with CrossFire or SLI.

Memory for Conroe is the focus of the second part of the buying guide. On pages 15-16 we compare performance of six 2GB High-Performance DDR2 kits on Core 2 Duo. These memories are the fastest you can currently buy and all of them perform at DDR2-1067 or higher. Article pages 17-18 looks at the performance of Value DDR2 memory. We have tested seven 2GB DDR2 kits priced at less than $200 to see how they really compare to high-priced DDR2 on Conroe. You may be surprised by the results.

Page 19 summarizes what we learned in testing for the Conroe Buyers Guide. It also details our current recommendations. There will be an incredible number of new Core 2 Duo motherboard choices available in August and September, so we fully expect we will need to do an updated guide in a few months. The computer industry is never static, and any recommendations are just a snapshot in time.

Testing eight motherboards, six high-performance DDR2 kits, and seven Value DDR2 kits with the new Core 2 Duo consumed a lot of our time the last few weeks. When we first planned the Conroe Buyers Guide we had scheduled our testing around a July 27th launch date. The Buyers Guide was to also include power supplies, storage and Heatsink/Fans for Conroe. Then the Core 2 Duo launch date got moved forward two weeks to mid-July. To bring you the info as soon as possible we split the Guide into two parts. This Part 1 reviews and recommends motherboards and memory for Conroe that are available now. These are the two 'Core' (pun intended) components in any new Conroe system. In the next few weeks you will also see Part 2 of the Conroe Buyers Guide that examines power supplies, HSFs, and storage options for your new Core 2 Duo system.

The AnandTech staff spent many hours testing components and compiling data for this Conroe Buyers Guide. Please let us know what you think. We would also appreciate any recommendations you may have for Part 2 of the Conroe Buyers Guide.

Chipsets
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  • Bochista - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    With the release of new Quad SLI beta drivers I would like to know what board is compatible with both the Conroe & Quad SLI. Being CPU bound in graphics I think it would very interesting to see. The ASUS P5N32-SLI SE is not on the Quad-SLI list. The Asus P5N32-SLI Deluxe is not either.

    Bo
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    quote:

    The ASUS P5N32-SLI SE is not on the Quad-SLI list.


    It should be on the list shortly. This is the board that NVIDIA has been using to test and display Quad SLI on with Conroe. We also understand this board will probably make its way into several Quad SLI systems according to NVIDIA. It will be interesting to see how this board performs against the nF590 in a couple of weeks. ;-)
    Reply
  • jonmcguffin - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    If Core 2 Duo is sucking up so much less energy, why have I not heard anything about the need to NOT buy the 500-650 watt power supplies. It would seem to me that a processor and mainboard that consumers so little power would not need anything more than a good 350 or 400 watt power supply, even in an SLI configuration.

    It would be nice to see something written up in your review that stated...

    Hey, these processors are going to require X amount of power on the lower end and X amount on the higher end. Given power supplies are typically only 75-80% efficient and leaving another 10-15% left over in overhead, you should be using power supplies with a watt rating of X.

    Jon
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    Jon,

    Anand went over the power requirements in the CPU review article. However, from a platform level the current 7900GTX and X1900XT cards in SLI or Crossfire will require a very good 500+ watt (on the edge with CrossFire) power supply with Conroe, AM2, or Netburst CPUs. In fact, we highly recommend and use 700+ watt machines in our systems to ensure proper power delivery when running SLI or CrossFire while overclocking. The power requirements of the next generation GPUs for SLI or CrossFire will require 700w power supplies and we generally will see 900+ watt supplies for those who expect to overclock both the CPU and GPU. While we have seen the CPUs reduce their power requirements over the last two years (except at the high end until Conroe, AM2 EE is great), the GPU requirements along with the platform chipsets (ATI RD580 is the exception currently) have sky rocketed. By the time you add a couple of large hard drives, optical drives, SLI or Crossfire, and a FX60 or 955XE, you are already limited by the typical 400~500 watt power supply. While Conroe will make a difference compared to most Netburst based CPUs and the upper end AM2 processor series, it is not enough to even think about dropping below 500w at this time. In my personal systems, the first item I budget for is a really good power supply, never skimp on proper rail voltages and quality, it is the basis for a trouble free system.

    Hope this helps....
    Reply
  • ninethirty - Friday, July 21, 2006 - link

    Would you guys mind doing some tests to back that up in Part 2? Reading SilentPCReview.com, there's some pretty convincing arguments that the need for higher wattage is overblown. And 900W+ is hard to believe...pretty soon you'll be talking about dedicated wall sockets.
    I think most folks are talking about one video card, not SLI. I'd like to issue a challenge: try a test with the Core 2 Duo, a Geforce 7600GT like in the "Building a Better Budget PC" article, and a 300W Seasonic PSU (or any 80% efficient, true-to-ratings). Then, see how it effects overclocking. That PSU can run an AMD64 x2 3800+ and a 7900GT, why couldn't it run the Core 2 Duo with voltage to spare?
    There, I've thrown in my gauntlet.
    Reply
  • jonmcguffin - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    #1) Paul - My point in bringing up the Digital Thermal Sensor capability of the Core 2 Duo chip and it's "possible" support on the P965 was mainly just to show that there may in fact be certain features the P965 has that are superior to the 975X. Certainly not planning any extreme overclocking and a good HSF is certainly a priority, but still utilizing the Core 2 Duo chip to its fullest abilities is important to me and that means a motherboard that supports this Core 2 Duo feature. If P965 boards support this feature out of the box and the 975X boards don’t, it’s a factor that could play into my purchasing decision.

    #2) Thanks Gary & Wesley for the explanation on why you didn't include the AB9 Pro motherboard. That makes perfect sense. It seems to me this is the board to target but to be at this point in the game and NOT have a mature enough BIOS to manipulate RAM settings is a little concerning to me. This coupled with Abit's financial issue's in the past almost have me fearful of taking a chance on this board.

    I hope in your roundup article you will provide some insight into all this business with 12-phase power and solid state capacitors. What does this mean to the over clocker or the serious workstation user?

    Lastly.......

    Slightly off-topic here but PERHAPS something you two could include in your more extensive roundup of the next Core 2 Duo motherboards or maybe in a separate article.

    On-Board Audio……….

    This may be old hat to many here, but this is an issue that I haven't seen addressed anywhere recently. On-Board audio solutions have "evidently" been creaping up on SB products for sometime now. A better explanation as to the feature benefits of some of these on-board solutions (RealTek 882D, 882, 883, 885, 888, ADI, etc) and how they are implemented would be helpful.

    #1) Top of this list is the confusion regarding digital audio & HD Audio. Seems every mobo now includes either Optical or Coax digital out on their back plates. What does tihs mean to the gamer, the audio professional, audiophile, or just the everyday computer user who wants to hook up an external amp and some higher end speakers and listen to very high quality stereo music. What the heck is HD Audio and what does that mean? How does it apply to the various groups I mentioned above?

    #2 – If I’m going to use the digital out on my board, what difference does it make what onboard or offboard sound solution I use. If the computer is spitting out bit-by-bit digital audio data, isn’t a RealTek ALC650 digital out everybit as good as a Creative Labs SoundBlaster X-Fi Platinum Edition?

    #3 – What is the deal with all the new audio codec’s out and their supposed support for Dolby Digital. What does this mean to the consumer? I would imagine 90% of all computer users here and a similar vast majority elsewhere don’t use anything more than a simple 2.1 configuration or perhaps headphones. 7.1 or 7.2 sound is worthless. Does Dolby Digital provide any extra benefits to these 2.1 or headphone listeners? Does it play back my music from .MP3’s or iTunes sound any better?

    #4 – What really is EAX and is there that big of a difference between EAX 3.0 – EAX 5.0? And again, how does this relate to digital audio. If some external source is doing the audio conversion, do these technologies even matter?

    These may appear to be rather easy questions to answer, but the reality is that we’ve been bombarded so badly with marketing by Creative and others with audio that most of us really don’t know what the heck it is we’re buying.

    Personally, the quality of audio output is really important to me. I mostly listen to music and occasionally will play a few games. One BIG question for me is do I save $125 and go with on-board “digital” audio or not.

    Thanks!

    Jon
    Reply
  • Paladin165 - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    7.2 sound?? Reply
  • ic144 - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    Just by looking at this article, you can see how much attention is on Intel's Core 2 Duo. I don't remember so much attention was invested for the AMD Athlon64 FXs when they were launched. LOL. Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    We looked back at the launch review of A64 on Sept. 23, 2003. As you can see for yourself at http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?...">http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?... the AMD won Business Winstone and the Intel 3.2 won the MMC Winstone. Gaming results were split, with A64 winning most and the Intel 3.2 winning Quake 3. A64 led in Workstation development and Intel in Encoding. In other words, A64 won by a small margin. The AMD lead grew over time and our coverage continued to grow.

    We can't remember the last time a new CPU was laucnched that was 20% to 30% faster than the competition in everything we tested. There are really no weaknesses we have found in Core 2 Duo performance. This is a once in a decade event. AMD has responded with massive price cuts that position their new CPUs much more in line with Core 2 Duo based on performance, but they really don't have an answer to conroe, since almost every Conroe chip is faster than the fastest A64. We wish AMD did have a quick fix, since competition is good for buyers.

    We are fans of performance at AT, and we have been very supportive of A64 as it took the performance lead and extended it over the past 2+ years. However, those who ignore the current Cnroe advantage are not looking at performance, they are speaking from emotion. Conroe performance can not be ignored or twisted with GPU-bound benchmarks to show show something that is simply not true. Things will likely shift again in the future - AMD has shown itself to be very resilient - and we will loudly proclaim AMD's lead if they regain the performance crown.
    Reply
  • MadBoris - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    I owe Anandtech much, you guys have consistently provided excellent quality info for years.
    Thx for another great article, I'm looking forward to part two.

    You guys have peaked my curiosity on the tuniq tower. I didn't see it reviewed here yet. Is it that much better than the competition, it's definitely beastly looking?
    Reply

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