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Motherboards and Features

As mentioned earlier, Cougar Point chipset-based motherboards are fully diversified into every cost niche of the motherboard market. While cutting-edge, flagship motherboards garner the most attention from enthusiasts, inexpensive, no-frills boards are generally just assumed to all be more or less equivalent in performance. But does performance vary between these budget boards? We briefly benchmark a few important motherboard features: LAN, SATA, and USB 2.0 throughput. But before we get to the benchmarks, let's compare features.

I tested eight different budget motherboards—four socket AM3 with AMD chipsets, one FM1 with the A55 chipset, and three based on Intel chipsets (all LGA 1155). Here's a quick rundown of the various features for each board.

Product Platform/
Chipset
Price RAM
slots
Rear USB
ports
LAN Graphics
ports
SATA
ports
Expansion
slots
ASRock A55M-HVS FM1 /
A55
$59 2 6 USB 2.0 1Gb VGA, HDMI 6 1xPCIe x16
1xPCIe x1
1xPCI
ASRock 880GM-LE AM3 /
880G + SB710
$55 2 6 USB 2.0 1Gb VGA, DVI 6 1xPCIe x16
1xPCIe x1
2xPCI
Biostar A780L3L AM3 /
760G + SB710
$50 2 4 USB 2.0 100Mb VGA, DVI 4 1xPCIe x16
2xPCI
Biostar A870U3 AM3 /
870 + SB850
$70 4 2 USB 2.0,
2 USB 3.0
1Gb VGA, DVI 6 (6Gb) 1xPCIe x16
1xPCIe x4
2xPCIe x1
2xPCI
MSI 760GM-P33 AM3 /
760G + SB710
$55 2 4 USB 2.0 1Gb VGA 6 1xPCIe x16
2xPCIe x1
1xPCI
ASRock H61M-VS LGA1156 /
H61
$54 2 6 USB 2.0 100Mb VGA 4 1xPCIe x16
1xPCIe x1
Biostar H61ML LGA1156 /
H61
$60 2 4 USB 2.0 100Mb VGA, DVI 4 1xPCIe x16
1xPCIe x1
2xPCI
MSI H61M-P21 LGA1156 /
H61
$55 2 4 USB 2.0 100Mb VGA 4 1xPCIe x16
3xPCIe x1

One thing to note is that of the above motherboards, Biostar and MSI offer 3-year warranties while ASRock offers a 1-year warranty. As you can see, in general, you'll get more for your money from an AMD-based motherboard than an Intel-based motherboard. That is, none of the Intel boards offer Gigabit ethernet, and only one offers DVI in addition to VGA connectivity; the FM1 board is also the only board with an HDMI port. Do the Intel platforms instead offer better performance? Let's find out.

Benchmarks

While we did not perform thorough testing like when we review a specific motherboard, we tested three important metrics for all eight boards: USB 2.0 performance, SATA throughput, and LAN performance.

USB 2.0 performance

We used a Mushkin Ventura Pro USB 3.0 flash drive and CrystalDiskMark 3 to test the sequential write and read speeds of a 1000MB file. While the Intel boards tend to perform better than the AMD boards, the differences here are very minor and would likely not be noticeable in real world scenarios. The single USB 3.0 equipped board would of course be able to run quite a bit faster with an appropriate USB 3.0 flash drive.

SATA performance

To test SATA performance, we again used CrystalDiskMark 3 to measure the sequential write and read speeds of a 1000MB file—with a Patriot Pyro 120GB SSD. This SSD is one of today's top performers and costs nearly $200—well above the budget sector. However, prices on SSDs will only fall as time passes, and this SSD illustrates what these boards are capable of better than a mechanical HDD. From these results, it's clear that all of the boards perform very similarly in terms of SATA throughput.

LAN performance

LAN Speed Test is a freeware program designed for testing the network connection between two PCs on a home network. The speed of the transfer is limited by the lowest common denominator on the network, so if you have gigabit ethernet capable computers but a 100 Mbit capable router, you are limited to 100 Mbit transfer. For this test, we use LAN Speed Test to transfer a 1000 MB file across a home network with a 100 Mbps lowest common speed to the same machine each time, in a write/read scenario. It is critically important to note that if you plan on attaching any of the Intel Cougar Point chipset-based boards in this guide to a network, you will be limited to 100 Mbps transfers as none of them have Gigabit adapters.

From these benchmarks, it appears that the budget boards are mostly equivalent performers. I was heartened to experience neither anomalous behaviors nor frustrating issues with any of the boards in the course of testing. Though it's somewhat disappointing to not find a hidden gem, it is useful to know that many budget boards are solid performers—so savvy consumers can watch for sales and rebates.

We cover the rest of the system components on the next page.

Battle of the Budget Processors RAM, HDDs, SSDs, GPUs, PSUs, and Cases
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95 Comments

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  • Taft12 - Tuesday, November 08, 2011 - link

    For a long time lurker, you could have done a lot better with your first contribution. You've completely missed the point of this article. Try harder for your second. Reply
  • mhahnheuser - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    ...IMO very rude reponse. Maybe you should use your energy on something other than punching the keys on your keyboard. He was only pointing out that you could get much more cpu performance for relatively little extra dollars. I thought a valid point myself. Reply
  • SleepyFE - Tuesday, November 08, 2011 - link

    My friend you are thinking of the first generation Athlon, which would be a bit slow and old. For anyone not needing more cores (since you can only play one game at a time and other things are less taxing) a good idea is to look at Phenom II x2 555. I am from Slovenia (it's in Europe) and you can get it for 80€ while the athlon at 3GHz is about 65€.
    Also it is a good Idea to buy a motherboard with USB 3.0 since USB 2.0 will get real slow real fast once you get a taste of USB 3.0.
    Reply
  • antef - Tuesday, November 08, 2011 - link

    Thanks for this but could you do a mid-range guide by Christmas :) I plan to build over my vacation. Can't decide if should do 8 GB of RAM or more, if I should wait for new AMD video cards, or what SSD I should get... Reply
  • Beenthere - Tuesday, November 08, 2011 - link

    antef-

    8 GB. is plenty for most folks. AMD Vid cards should be available in Jan. SSDs are still immature technology and some what unreliable and having compatibility issues. If you can afford BSODs, lost data, weekly firmware updates and RMA'ed drives, then an SSD may work for you. If not you may want to wait another six months and see if they sort the problems out better.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, November 08, 2011 - link

    Woah there tiger... SSDs are not 100% reliable, but let's not get carried away. I've yet to experience a BSOD that I'd attribute to my use of SSDs (haven't been using SF-2200 stuff, though), and firmware updates are really only necessary if you're an early adopter of a specific model. I've got a Vertex, Vertex 2, a couple Intel SSDs, and several 64GB Kingstons that are all running fine. Now, they're not inexpensive so I wouldn't necessarily force one into a budget build, but for midrange builds I would definitely try to get at least a 120GB in there for the OS and apps. Reply
  • StevoLincolnite - Tuesday, November 08, 2011 - link

    Never had a problem regarding system stability and SSD's.

    Had my OCZ Vertex 2 60gb drive for months. Never had a crash or RMA'd the drive, lost data... Or even updated the firmware. It just works and it's an upgrade I highly recommend to anyone.

    Currently counting 17 days of total up-time without a single reboot, crash or error even with a "buggy SSD".

    The great thing about an SSD is how much faster and responsive windows feels over a mechanical drive.
    Reply
  • slayernine - Tuesday, November 08, 2011 - link

    I just RMA'd my one year old OCZ Vertex that just randomly died on a desktop system that saw very light use. Crossing my fingers that my replacement does not fail. A close friend of mine had that happen to him. Bought the same or similar model of OCZ, it died, got a replacement and it died too. The claimed 3% failure rate is more like 30-40% in my estimations. I think many people just don't bother to RMA due to the shipping costs, effort and system down time. Reply
  • Death666Angel - Tuesday, November 08, 2011 - link

    I have an OCZ Agility (first Indilinx generation) 60GB and a OCZ Vertex 2 120GB running, alive and well to this day. The 60GB was in my desktop and got transferred to the Acer Travelmate 8172 once the Vertex 2 got affordable. Have flashed them and done one or two secure erase, but other than the Vertex 2 giving the BIOS some SMART-data grief after a cold start, no issues. Also, I have been employing a 1.8" OCZ Onyx for about 2 months in my HTPC without issues. Reply
  • geniekid - Tuesday, November 08, 2011 - link

    "SSDs are still immature technology and some what unreliable and having compatibility issues."

    That I can somewhat agree with.

    " If you can afford BSODs, lost data, weekly firmware updates and RMA'ed drives, then an SSD may work for you."

    That's definitely hyperbole. Maybe you had a bad experience, but I counter your anecdotal evidence with my own - I've been using an Intel X-25M for a year now with no firmware updates or lost data.
    Reply

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