Recommendations

Testing Conroe with eight motherboards and thirteen different 2GB memory kits taught us quite a lot about using Conroe as the center of a new system. The Core 2 Duo CPU is fast, cool, and generally easy to work with in every motherboard with every memory we tested. Most of our Reference systems have been based on AMD/AM2 for the last couple of years. To be honest, going back to some of those same systems after our Conroe testing, the differences are more obvious and painful than you might think. Conroe is clearly the faster platform - and not by small, barely measurable differences.

However, Core 2 Duo is not as mature as AM2 at this point, nor are there as many options currently available for building a system. Things like NVIDIA nForce 590 and ATI dual X16 are just not readily available, although we are grateful ASUS updated the nForce4-based P5N32-SLI for Core 2 Duo. The availability of Conroe parts will quickly change, however, because Conroe is clearly the top performing platform, and there are no obvious weaknesses in the Core 2 Duo performance suite. Manufacturers are rushing to fill the void and provide the options buyers want for Conroe.

The board we would choose for our own Conroe system is the ASUS P5W-DH Deluxe. Performance is rock solid and the feature set is superb. It is the best overclocker of the eight boards here and it is based on the 975X chipset, which allows the X6800 to be set to both higher and lower multipliers. You cannot set higher multipliers on the P965 and 965 overclocking is poorer on every board we tested than 975X overclocking. We could recommend the 965 if it were cheaper, but the ASUS P5W-DH costs $269 on-line, the ASUS P5B is the SAME price, and the Gigabyte GA-965P-DQ6 is $269. If you don't plan to aggressively overclock the Intel 975XBX is fast at stock and solid at about $250 to $260. The DFI Infinity 975X/G is also a very stable and solid 975X, but it has a hard overclocking wall at 385 FSB - a problem other major 975X board makers have worked around. At the current $249, the DFI price looks high for the features and performance it brings to the table. UPDATE - The DFI Infinity 975X/G is now available at pricing near $190 making this board an extremely attractive and great recommendation for those who do not expect extreme overclocking results.

With the slightly slower performance, multiplier problems, and poorer overclocking 965 has to be a good deal cheaper than 975X for us to recommend the current 965 boards, The Biostar TForce P965 Deluxe meets our requirements and provides excellent value with an online price of around $135. The Biostar is not quite as good an overclocker as the ASUS at 372 or the Gigabyte at 376, but at just 12 FSB lower (364 MHz) we can definitely justify paying half the price for the Biostar. Overall the Biostar P965 was very stable with average to above average performance among the 7 boards. As the cheapest 965 in the roundup the Biostar performed very well. There will be cheaper 965 boards from Gigabyte and others that will likely be good options to compete with the Biostar. Until we see much more from the P965 chipset than we now see, the P965 needs to be a good deal cheaper to be recommended.

The ASUS P5N32-SLI SE is the only board currently available that brings NVIDIA SLI to Conroe. That will be an important consideration for many. However, it is based on the older nForce4 Intel Edition chipset and suffers from very poor FSB overclocking when compared to the Intel chipsets for Conroe. On the other hand, if you plan to use an X6800 the ASUS P5N32-SLI SE does support higher multipliers and can likely take your X6800 wherever it can go on overclocking by adjusting multipliers instead of FSB. If you plan to use one of the locked Conroes (E6700 and below), you will not be happy with the limited FSB overclocking performance of the P5N32-SLI SE. nForce 500 Conroe boards will be out in August and September, and overclockability on Conroe should improve up to 10% over the P5N32-SLI SE according to NVIDIA. That's still a far cry from the 400+ overclocks some of the 975X boards are reaching, however. Overall, the board turned in some excellent performance scores and swept the 1600x1200 game benchmark results.

Last is the ASRock 775Dual-VSTA. What can you expect for $55? Actually the performance is pretty decent considering the board supports AGP 8X and PCIe only up to 4X. This should not be a real issue with a value system which would use a cheaper video card. It is also a real option for any remaining AGP video card owners. With this $55 board and an E6300, you can put together a value system with remarkable performance. Throw in 2GB of Value DDR2 for $120 to $147, run the system at DDR2-667 at the fast memory timings this board supports, include a good midrange GPU like the 7600GT, and you will have a value rocket. The ASRock is not the system to grow to top video with, but if screaming value is what you want the ASRock can deliver.

All six of the brands tested in High- Performance DDR2 were based on the latest Micron memory chips. All six reached DDR2-1067 and most also hit DDR2-1100 or higher. The real key here is the memory that can do 4-4-4 or near 4-4-4 timings at DDR2-1067. Those timings at DDR2-1067 can actually improve performance and make it worth running 1067 instead of running the DDR2-800 3-3-3 all of these DIMMs could run. Three of the memories stood out for slightly better timings, a bit more headroom, or slightly lower voltages required than the others. These are the Mushkin PC-8000 Redline, Corsair PC2-8500C5, and OCZ PC2-8000 Platinum EL. Any of the six memories will satisfy a high-end DDR2 buyer, but these three are the best of the best. At $400 to $450 for a 2GB kit the price is steep, but if you want the best DDR2 you can buy these should be your choice.

The Value DDR2 tests comparing seven 2GB DDR2 kits at less than $200 provided quite a few surprises. ALL of the seven brands reached DDR2-800 with a voltage increase to around 2.2V. This performance was a complete surprise for DDR2 memory kits rated at DDR-533 or DDR2-667. Most of the value kits also reached DDR2-800 memory timings of 4-3-3. This is only slightly slower than our High-Performance DDR2 group at DDR2-800 3-3-3. This means performance of this group is almost exactly the same at DDR2-800 or DDR2-667 as the High-Performance DDR2 - at less than half the price! We will have additional Conroe performance test results from this group in a future article.

If you want the absolute top performance in DDR2 you should still choose from the High-Performance group, but Value DDR2 on Conroe is shaping up to be remarkable in performance. Unless you have to have the absolute best, you can save $200 to $300 by buying one of these value DDR2 2GB kits instead. The Wintec AMPX 3AXD2675-1G2S-R and AData Vitesta ELJKD1A16K both stood out in this group by providing slightly better timings and/or slightly lower voltages than the others. They also cost $147 and $144 for a 2GB kit. ANY of the seven memories in this value roundup that are based on Elpida chips should perform similarly. We were not as impressed with Infineon chip value memory. The Infineon did mange lower voltages than the Elpida DIMMs, but at the price of slower memory timings. There is also the PQI PQI25400-2GDB memory, which at $117 with rebate is the cheapest we tested. It required a bit more voltage to reach the timings of the other Elpida value DIMMs, but if price is your guiding light $117 for 2GB of DDR2 that will do DDR2-800 is a steal.

We hope you had as much fun reading our Conroe Buyers Guide as we did putting it together. We learned a lot about Conroe in our testing and we hope you have learned something about what works well with Conroe and what doesn't in wading through this guide. We have already begun Part 2 of the Conroe Buyers Guide, which will take a closer look at heatsink/fans, power supplies, video, and storage options on the Conroe platform.

Value DDR2 (cont'd)
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  • Gary Key - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    quote:

    "The board was very stable with our X6800 and X6600 Core 2 Duo processors ..."


    I am surprised I did not see this posted on a news site somewhere announcing Intel has a X6600. ;-) The line was corrected this morning to (X6800, E6700, E6600) although late last night my mind was probably thinking unlocked E6600 equals X6600 for some reason. Thanks for the notice! :)
    Reply
  • drarant - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    In recent months the memory market has moved from a 1GB kit to a 2BG kit being the common memory configuration.

    2GB*

    Excellent article, I'm assuming the OCing results were default voltages on the chipsets and/or the cpu?
    Reply
  • drarant - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    page 11, 2nd to last sentence* Reply
  • Patsoe - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    quote:

    If you compare the new board to the earlier P5WD2-E you will find the board is virtually the same.


    To be honest, I would say it's quite different!

    The storage controllers have been changed a lot... there is now a port-multiplier type of SiI chip that connects to one of the ICH7 ports, which provides driverless (!) RAID. Also, the previous board had a Marvell SATA/PATA controller instead of the JMicron controller.

    For another difference: the new board is missing the PCIe 4x slot, too.

    Anyway, thanks for the great overview! And it's amazing how fast after launch you got this up.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    Thanks for your comment. We added information to the P5W-DH page with a little more info on the differences from the earlier board. Reply
  • nicolasb - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    ...is what is the actual impact on system performance of different memory speeds and timings? Possibly you guys actually derive a direct erotic thrill simply from knowing that your memory timings are 4-3-3-9 ;-) but what the rest of us care about is whether any given timings actually provide a tangible improvement to running applications. If I spend an extra £200 on memory, am I going to get an extra 10fs in a certain game, or just an extra 1fps if I'm lucky? That's what I want to know.

    Conroe is a new chip and it is by no means obvious (to me, anyway) whether the speed/latency of the memory will have a greater or lesser impact on the performance of the system than is the case for Netburst or A64 chips.

    So, how about re-running some of your benchmarks on one particular board and producing results for different memory speeds and latencies?
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    The original plan was to publish a Conroe memory article prior to this huge motherboard and memory roundup. The move forward of the Conroe launch by two weeks shifted our schedule quite a bit, as we discussed in the Buying Guide. we have found the timings DDR2 memory can achieve give a rough idea of the performance hierarchy on Conroe. That is 1067 at 4-4-4 is a bit faster than 800 at 3-3-3 is faster than 667 3-2-3. 667 is generally faster than nything slower regardless of timings.

    With 13 DDR2 kits it was impossible to do proper and complete performance testing on all the memory on Conroe and still deliver an article when you want to read it. There will definitely be followup reviews of memory on Conroe anwsering your questions in detail. We knew there would be complaints from some, but we also hoped you could understnad the roundup is posting 4 days after an early Conroe launch - and you can't even buy Core 2 Duo until 7/27 or later.

    We wanted to provide solid info as soon as possible for those planning a Conroe purchase. We thought our finding that almost any Elpida value DDR2 will do DDR2-800 4-3-3 at about 2.2v was big news you would want to know, we will fill in the rest of the performance data as soon as we can.

    As it is the roundup is over 15,000 words and one of the largest articles ever published at AT - in word length - and we really tried to be brief in each review. We really like giving our readers exactly what they want, but sometimes the realities of time and volume shift our priorities.
    Reply
  • Tanclearas - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    Although I can understand what you're saying, maybe the following should not have been included in the introductory page.

    quote:

    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.


    I guess the only surprise was that the comparison wasn't there. :P

    Honestly, I tried to jump right to that section only to find rather useless comparisons of ridiculously expensive memory (which I won't buy) and "value" (read cheap) memory (which I won't buy). Also, can you really tell me that it was much of a surprise that the expensive memory all topped out at roughly the same speed (~1100, 5-5/4-5-15)? Nor am I particularly surprised the value memory could overclock reasonably well, but how about tests of the memory that I think most of your readers are likely to buy? I've been looking at DDR2, and you can get memory rated at DDR2-800 for a little more than the DDR2-667/533 variety, and still a lot less than the DDR2-1000 modules.

    I know that you were pressed for time, especially with the launch being pushed forward. I just think (and it is only an opinion) that other tests should have been given priority over the ones you've completed.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    Also, what motherboard was used for the DDR tests? Often, value RAM is paired with a "value" motherboard. Value RAM may not look so well when paired with a value motherboard. I'm wondering how cheap we can go for reasonable peformance :) Reply
  • Gary Key - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    quote:

    So, how about re-running some of your benchmarks on one particular board and producing results for different memory speeds and latencies?


    We stated at the end of page 18 that we will be publishing performance results of the value memory roundup shortly. The amount of time required to test these seven modules at four different settings in several different applications was incredible and warrants a separate article update.
    Reply

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