Final Words

As the testing for the 915 roundup dragged on day after day, we realized we had been spoiled in our tests of the Athlon 64 in the last 6 months. Why do we say that? We had become accustomed to very tight clustering of test results, mostly because the memory controller is on-chip in A64, and we were no longer accustomed to the wide range of performance results that we actually found in the 915 roundup. This is both good and bad. Consistency of results is a good thing when you can buy a Socket 939 motherboard and get similar results at stock speed no matter which board you buy. This is one of the reasons ATI, who had not been particularly strong in their memory controller designs for Intel boards, was able to hit a home run with their first Athlon 64 chipset design. It might not be such a good thing when you are Asus, who can clearly design a motherboard that will outperform the competition. There, the consistent results from an on-chip memory controller could kill the significant advantage that you would enjoy otherwise.

This little exercise in self-indulgence is a prelude to the flak that we are sure will fly when we announce the winners and losers in this roundup. We expect flak because there really are a few clear winners here and there are also some dogs in the 915 camp. The difference between the top and bottom is also much larger than we would have ever expected when we began this project.

We have avoided the 915 chipset like the plague for the last 6 months - and so have our readers - voting their choices with their buying dollars. But all of this is about to change in the near future. Whether you like it or not, or approve or not, Intel is deciding for you that your next purchase of an Intel chipset board will be a 915 or 925X. You will either buy one of these, since the 865/875 stock is dwindling in supply, or you will have to opt for an Athlon 64 on a Socket 939 or 754. Frankly, many readers will move to Athlon 64, but others will want to stay in the Intel camp. That is not necessarily a bad thing, since performance and value can be found in the 915 boards that we reviewed. These boards will not compete with the Athlon 64 at the fastest A64 speeds, but in the mid-range - where most people actually buy - they are competent competitors and generally a good value for your money.

However, not all of the 915 boards are created equal, which is why you are reading this review. The purpose of any roundup is to help you find and buy the good stuff and avoid the poor performers. So, we do in fact have some recommendations.

The top performer and clearly undisputed winner in our 915 roundup is the Asus P5GD2. The Asus performs very fast at stock speeds, at the top of the heap, and it also reaches the highest overclocks that we have ever seen on our 560 ES (Prescott 3.6GHz) processor.
Based on the best performance that we have ever achieved with a Prescott chip, stellar performance at stock speeds, the top-notch implementation of Intel 915/ICH6R features, the excellent enhancements to those features such as Stack Cool, Dolby Digital Live encoding, WiFi G networking, PCI Express LAN, high-speed 1394b firewire, and the best overclocking abilities of any 915 motherboard, we are pleased to award the AnandTech Gold Editors Choice to the Asus P5GD2 Premium.

The P5GD2 is an expensive motherboard, at about $240 on the web, but you can get almost all the same features in the P5GD2 Deluxe for about $50 less. Either way, you will find value in the Asus P5GD2. It is a superb piece of motherboard engineering that pays off in top performance in every area.

The Silver Editors Choice is a tie between the DFI LANParty UT 915P-T12 and the Epox 5epa+. The 2 boards bring different capabilities to the table, but both are worthy of the Anandtech Silver Editor's Choice.

We are pleased to recognize the DFI LANParty UT 915P-T12 as our Silver Editor's Choice in the 915 roundup. The DFI is one of the best overclocking 915 boards that we have tested with features to allow the Enthusiast to extract the highest overclocks possible from their 915/ Prescott CPU system. DFI was diligent in preserving 915 features and even enhancing them with choices like Karajan High-Definition audio and PCI Express Gigabit LAN - features that clearly make a difference in the performance of the 915 system. The DFI LANParty UT will bring a big smile to any Enthusiast's face. It is an easy board to learn to love.

The Epox 5epa+ proved to be a top performer at stock speeds as well as an outstanding overclocker among motherboards based on the 915 chipset. As a result of the fast stock performance combined with the potential to extract the best performance when overclocking a 915 system, we recognize the Epox 5epa+ as Silver Editor's Choice in our 915 roundup. Audio and Gigabit LAN are thin in this Epox design, but overall performance and value for your dollar are very satisfying. Epox is to be congratulated on their excellent 915 chipset motherboard.

The ECS PF4 915P Extreme was a consistent top performer compared to other 915 boards. It also features a reasonable selection of overclocking options and a really excellent choice of features for a 915 motherboard. These include Azalia High Definition audio, Dual LAN, and the addition of IDE ports with the SiS 180 controller than will be appreciated by many users. In recognition of the great value and performance represented by the PF4 915P Extreme, we are pleased to recognize ECS with our Bronze Editor's Choice award.

While we tested 13 boards plus reference boards from nVidia, ATI, and Intel, this 915 roundup represents performance results for about 23 motherboards in the AnandTech labs. With such a large roundup, we wish we could recognize more motherboards deserving of praise for excellence in a number of performance areas. However, we think that you will agree that the four motherboards, which rose to the top of the 915 roundup, represent some of the best performance and value available among 915 boards.

Some will argue that none of the 915 boards deserve recognition, since the group is clearly outperformed in our benchmarks by Athlon 64 Reference Boards. We disagree, since the 4 top boards here represent value and performance for your buying dollar. If you want the top performance, by all means go for a top Athlon 64 board. If you insist on Intel, or you are looking for good value for your dollar, then one of these four top 915 boards will serve you very well.

DirectX 8 & Open GL Gaming Performance
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  • Live - Tuesday, December 7, 2004 - link

    Sorry Didn't see your reply before I posted Wesley.

    Sure there is some value to be had but not "outstanding". I still don't agree with you but I guess my mind is made up. Intel needs to come out with something new before I go back.

    As a roundup it was very good reading tough. I can't wait for the next AMD roundup to hit AnandTech.
    Reply
  • Live - Tuesday, December 7, 2004 - link

    #12

    "The P5GD2 is an expensive motherboard, at about $240 on the web, but you can get almost all the same features in the P5GD2 Deluxe for about $50 less."

    Thats expensive to me. Compare that to the 134.99 for the 939 Gold Editors Choice winner "MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum"

    But thats not the point. If the 915P was substantially cheaper then a 939 system you might call it value for money but is it not. Mind you a 939 board is generally not cheap either but at least it delivers in comparison.

    The CPU used in the review that hardly beat the much cheaper 3500+ had a max overclock of 14% and I bet you would find it hard to reach that high without the CPU overheating and start throttling http://www.anandtech.com/news/shownews.aspx?i=2345...

    LGA775 CPUs does not offer great overclocking headroom compared to the much cheaper earlier Intel platforms or AMD for that matter. Sure they still overclock but nothing that we haven't seen before at higher cost and temperature. Again not what I would call outstanding.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, December 7, 2004 - link

    #11 - We just ran the 3500+ benchmarks in the same configuration this morning, and we do agree that the 3500+ is a particularly good value in performance for the dollar. However, the larger picture of prices of AMD CPUs compared to Intel show the Intel processors are a good, if not outstanding, value.

    Our conclusion was based on Anand's value analysis in the 3.46EE/1066 launch review at http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?... There he compared the 3800+ at over $600 to a Intel 560 3.6GHz at about $450 and found the 3800+ the winner but probably not a big enough winner to justify the price premium for the 3800+. At that time, there was no 570 (3.8GHz) and the 3.6 was the fastest Intel CPU unless you considered the $1000+ Xeon-based EE processors. Price changes continue, and with them the value relationships do change.

    A quick check of prices today shows
    Intel 520(2.8GHz)- $160 AMD 2800+(754) - $128
    Intel 530(3.0GHz)- $180 AMD A64 3000+ - $152
    Intel 540(3.2GHz)- $220 AMD A64 3200+ - $194
    Intel 550(3.4GHz)- $282 AMD A64 3400+ - $269
    Intel 560(3.6GHz)- $455 AMD A64 3500+ - $270
    Intel 570(3.8GHz)- $795 AMD A64 3800+ - $630
    AMD A64 4000+ - $716
    AMD A64 FX55 - $812

    With current prices we would have to agree that there is really no great value advantage to Intel any more. But there is good value in the Intel processors from 2.8GHz (520) to 3.6GHz (560). Certainly the 4000+, at $80 less than the 570 and faster performance, and the FX55 at about the same price as 570 and significantly faster in most benchmarks, are better value at the top. But we still stand by Intel being good value in the middle.
    Reply
  • deathwalker - Tuesday, December 7, 2004 - link

    "outstanding value and performance for your buying dollar" ?????????? at $240 for a Mobo?..I guess I need to retake Economics 101...Bah...Intel just continues to shot themselves in the foot. A side note not related to this review..Dell must be deep inside of Intel's pocketbook with there contiued refusal to market AMD based products. Reply
  • danidentity - Tuesday, December 7, 2004 - link

    #11 - 915P motherboards are not expensive. They are equal or cheaper in price than socket 939 A64 motherboards.

    LGA775 CPUs offer great overclocking headroom if paired with the right board. Intel CPUs have traditionally have had more OCing headroom than AMD chips. That still holds true, for the most part, today. Especially when talking about the low-end chips, like the 2.8GHz.
    Reply
  • Live - Tuesday, December 7, 2004 - link

    I'm sorry but I don't see the "outstanding value and performance for your buying dollar"

    Expensive Motherboards and CPUs with little overclocking headroom compared to the Athlon 64 competition. How does that translate to excellent value and performance? even the much cheaper 3500 comes out on top on most benchmarks.

    Sure there are niche markets where the Intel platform excels but for the big majority of us AMD is where its at right now.

    I don't think this review is in sync with your conclusion so either list some valid arguments for your point (Since its not there in the benchmarks) or edit the conclusion.
    Reply
  • danidentity - Tuesday, December 7, 2004 - link

    Wesley, thanks for including tests from a more comparable AMD CPU. Listening to your readers is always appreciated. Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, December 7, 2004 - link

    #4,#5,#6 - The Athlon 64 results with the FX55 were included for Reference, and not direct comparison. However you do make a good point.

    The closest A64 we had in the lab to a 3.6GHz 560 was the 3500+ based on the 90nm process. This should provide an advantage to the Intel 560. Since there are complaints here the FX55 is too high end, these new tests tilted toward Intel should balance the playing field. The 3500+ costs about $265 and the Intel 560 (3.6GHz) is about $455, so the 560 is about 70% more expensive than the 3500+.

    The added 3500+ benchmarks were also an opportunity to test with the SAME ATI X800XT PCIe we used in benchmarking the 915 boards. Enjoy!

    Color codes have been updated and there are now 3500+ results on the Gigabyte nForce4 with the ATI X800XT PCIe in all benchmarks.

    Original plans were to include the Intel 570 in this roundup, but much of the testing was already done when the Intel 3.8GHz CPU was launched. This Intel 3.8 is priced at around $800, which is very close to the FX55. You can see how it compares to the FX55 in performance in Anand's launch article at http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?...
    Reply
  • CrystalBay - Tuesday, December 7, 2004 - link

    It's a pity that all these 4 dimm slot, dual channel
    MB's have such a rough time doing it. Imagine trying
    to run 4 1GB dimms in DC, this goes for ddr1 as well 2.
    Reply
  • Glassmaster - Tuesday, December 7, 2004 - link

    Now that Northwood and 865/875 are on the way out, only a fool would buy Intel.

    Glassmaster.
    Reply

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