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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  • Vidmar - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    One thing that really bugs me about some of the MB manufactures is that some never state the exact number of PCIe lanes that are actually available on that second PCIe 16x slot. Some do some don’t. Some state it while in SLI/Crossfire mode but not when in non- SLI/Crossfire mode.

    Right now I’ve got an nForce 4 SLI board that has two PCIe 16x slots, but when in non-SLI mode they are at 16x and 2x respectively. When in SLI mode they are both at 8x respectively.

    The problem with this is that (at least on this board) you cannot install anything but a video card in the second PCIe 16x slot when in SLI mode.

    I’ve got an PCIe 8x SCSI raid card (LSI 320-2e) that I’m trying to use in the second PCIe slot at 8x, but this board won’t even acknowledge that its there while in SLI mode. And when running in non-SLI it only runs at 2x and becomes a bottleneck for this workstation.

    So if its possible to provide some details as to what exactly a board can do on the second PCIe 16x slot in both normal and SLI/Crossfire mode, that would be most helpful!

    For example on the ASUS P5W-DH Deluxe in your review it doesn’t state this information either way. But on the Intel 975XBX you do have that information.

    So what does the second PCIe slot run at in non-Crossfire mode on the ASUS P5W-DH Deluxe?

    Also do you happen to have a SCSI PCIe card you can test in the second slot (or any PCIe card for that matter) and see if the BIOS can recognize the card while in SLI/Crossfire mode? That too would be helpful for people who don’t care about multiple GPUs, but want to create large array workstations.

    Thanks!
    PS: nice article.
    Reply
  • supremelaw - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    Excellent points! Constant change is here to stay :)

    On our ASUS P5WD2 Premium with i955X chipset,
    we are now faced with that very same problem:

    we don't need 2 video cards, because we do
    mostly database development. And, we want
    to dedicate the second "universal" x16 slot
    to a high-performance PCI-E RAID controller.

    (Santa Claus is going to bring me an x1900
    PCI-E video card anyway, and that should
    easily last me for another 20 years, min!)

    Our consultant highly recommends the Areca model,
    but it only performs best in x8 mode. On the
    other hand, our ASUS User Manual states that
    the second "universal" x16 slot can only run
    in x4 mode, maximum.

    That limitation was a single line of text
    in that User Manual, but it is not mentioned
    in any of the other specs for our motherboard.

    His recommendation: switch to a server motherboard,
    so we can use the Areca RAID 6 controller (not a bad
    idea, actually).

    So, I think we'll have to settle for the Promise
    PCI-E model EX8350, which is also limited to x4 mode,
    but it now supports RAID 6 too.

    It only took about 4 hours of research to confirm
    this limitation, however :)

    Such specs should be better documented, for sure!


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

    I find it weird that the pcie card does not work in 8x mode. I see no reason why it wouldn't work...the sli pcb that you flip around only redirects the lanes AFAIK. Reply
  • vhx - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    Too bad the motherboards cost more than a decent Conroe processor. Kind of sad to see the features lacking until you get into the $250 price ranges. You can spot an AMD AM2 motherboard with the same features for around $130ish, which makes this 975X chipset rediculously expensive compared to the newer AM2's. The TForce P965 looks like a great alternative for the price, although based on the 965P. Hmm upgrading to Conroe will be more expensive than I thought.... /sigh. What to do. Reply
  • Gary Key - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    quote:

    What to do.


    Wait, that is right, wait until the motherboard suppliers are in full production in August. There will be a large variety of motherboards available by the end of August that will make up the $50~$150 range with chipsets from the 945P to nF570SLI being sold. We will also start seeing the G965 boards in late August for those that want a mATX form factor, decent graphics,and the ability to upgrade later. If you need a board now, it will cost you. ;-)
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    quote:

    If you need a board now, it will cost you.

    Not to mention getting the Core 2 CPUs. :) I would expect prices to drop significantly within a month or so.
    Reply
  • jonp - Saturday, July 22, 2006 - link

    Jarred,
    Please say more about your comment on pricing.
    http://www.dailytech.com/article.aspx?newsid=3377">http://www.dailytech.com/article.aspx?newsid=3377
    says:
    quote:

    Recently released Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Extreme products will not be receiving any price cuts in the near future.

    Thanks, Jon
    Reply
  • multiblitz2 - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    I was waiting for the 965 as HDMI/HDCP-support is a must have for my new HTPC. Does 975 support this in the same way as the 965 ? Reply
  • araczynski - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    great article!

    looking forward to additional mobo's appearing (and more importantly - prices dropping) beforei build my next rig.

    i personally refuse to pay over $150 for ANY mobo, no matter the features. but i do realize that the initial price gouging is to milk the early adopters. i figure by early october prices should be just right for all the nice toys.
    Reply
  • araczynski - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    i know this is a dead horse, by why in the world can't these manufacturers make models that throw out some of these legacy 'extras' they keep putting on the boards?

    onboard sound, parallel ports, floppy connectors, etc...
    Reply

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