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

    Thank you for the comments. Our focus on the first cooler roundup will be on units that cost under $25 but the Tuniq will be included as a reference point along with the retail Intel unit. Our follow up will include the high end air coolers and some water cooling units.

    The Tuniq is considered to be one of the best air coolers available at this time although we are starting to see this design being incorporated by other suppliers quickly.
    Reply
  • biggersteve - Tuesday, September 19, 2006 - link

    Hope you can get an Arctic Cooler Pro 7 into that cooler review. Quiet as a tomb and mighty cool. Reply
  • jonmcguffin - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    A feature built into the Core 2 Duo processors is this new Digital Thermal Sensor that supposedly has the ability to provide much quicker and more accurate thermal information about each processor. The key with this though is that it requires support from the motherboard. Why did you guys not mention this feature in any of the motherboards you tested?

    My guess is that since the P965 was "built" for Core 2 Duo, my guess would be that it supports this feature while the older 975 does not. In going back and forth between pro's and con's of the P965, if this feature is in fact built into the chipset/motherboard, it is worth pointing out. I'm not really an overclocker though I do want to buy a system that will be rock solid in stability for many years to come. Quite PC's that are very reliable and stable are critical and this is a good feature.

    Also, you reviewed the Abit AB9 Pro motherboard a few weeks back but somehow it was left out of this overview. At $160 on the street, despite it's layout issue's, this looks to me like perhaps the best board right now for the guy who isn't rich and just wants a very solid Core 2 Duo mobo.

    Hope you get a chance to review and respond.

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

    Jon,

    The Gigabyte DQ6 actually has the ability to select readings from either sensor (Digital/Legacy) on the CPU in the power management settings. We will go over this in detail in our full review of the board or other Conroe capable boards in the future. These type of features along with audio and storage performance are not generally not reviewed in the guide articles but covered in the full product reviews.

    The Abit AB9-Pro is shaping up to be a very good mid-range board (prices around $142 already) once the bios is complete. We are due to receive bios B6 next week that is optimized for Conroe and allows full memory configuration from both a timing and ratio viewpoint. The board was not ready to be included in the buyers guide until Abit had a final bios to us. We will report the results as soon as we complete testing.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    We had planned to include the Abit AB9 in our roundup IF Abit got the memory issue fixed before the review. Unfortunately even the latest beta BIOS we received on Tuesday does not fix the issue. There is no means on the current Abit board to change memory speed or timings. It supposedly reads the SPD and boots at DDR2-533 5-5-5-15 with every dimm we tried. You can't run Value Ram at DDR2-800 for example or run DDR2-800 at rated speed. Or change timings to 3-2-3 at DDR-533 even if you know the ram can run at those timings. We did not think it fair to make a big deal of this in a review since Abit is supposedly working on it, but we see they are now also selling the board at some retailers and memory is still broken as far as we know.

    We consider this problem, if not fixed, to disqualify the Abit from consideration by any Enthusiast. We plan to do a full review of the Abit AB9 Pro if and when Abit fixes this major problem.
    Reply
  • supremelaw - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    Jon,

    Why would more accurate thermal sensors
    have high priority, if the Conroe runs
    much cooler and more efficiently?

    Are you planning extreme O/C, perhaps?

    Wouldn't a superior HSF have higher priority?

    e.g.:
    http://www.supremelaw.org/systems/heatsinks/warnin...">http://www.supremelaw.org/systems/heatsinks/warnin...

    Just curious here.


    Sincerely yours,
    /s/ Paul Andrew Mitchell
    Webmaster, Supreme Law Library
    http://www.supremelaw.org/">http://www.supremelaw.org/
    Reply
  • falc0ne - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    The usual best from Anandtech..I was in a bit of fog if switching to conroe or not, but now I have a mutch more clearer picture. After the part2 of this suite, it will all be clear to me.
    P.S. Your articles on Nvidia's NForce 4 platform made me choose that platform and AMD64.

    My sincere thanks, I owe you a lot
    Reply
  • wackypete - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    Thanks for putting this article together. Your effort has not gone unnoticed. Reply
  • Howard - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    Anybody know what chips it uses? The 5-5-5-15 DDR2-667 variety, that is. Reply
  • Gary Key - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    We still have additional memory selections from a variety of suppliers arriving for further memory reviews at this time. Reply

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