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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  • jonmcguffin - Friday, July 21, 2006 - link

    Actually, heck, I'm not much of an overclocker at all (I know that makes me the minority here). I'm looking at the Core 2 6600 at its native 2.4Ghz, 4Mb L2 Cache & 1066Mhz BUS Speed and figure that should be seriously fine for me.

    In regards to memory, I'd much rather purchase 2Gig's @ $180.00 than at $450.00 and since I'm not overclocking that shouldn't be a problem. But what I would have liked to have seen in this article were value sticks rated at DDR2 800Mhz as opposed to 667Mhz. So I anxiously await a "value-ram" roundup article of some sorts to not only show us what memory modules work well in the various mobo's but also which sticks can operate at those frequencies with low timing.

    Jon
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Saturday, July 22, 2006 - link

    The Buyers Guide shows all the Value Ram operating at DDR2-800 at 4-3-3-3 at around 2.2V. We also show the timings and voltage of the value Ram at 667, 533, and 400, in addition to 800. Reply
  • jonmcguffin - Sunday, July 23, 2006 - link

    Correct, but the ratings from the manufacture don't have those memory module's spec'd at DDR2-800. You were overclocking them essentially. Check out the

    Corsair 2Gb TWIN2X2048-6400 DDR2-800Mhz set. These two sticks are rated at DDR2, sell for $160 - $170 and run at 5-5-5-12-T1 timings at 1.9V.

    I would consider these a good starting point. Again, I'm not necessarily into running anything beyond the manufacture's claims, but for this price, it would seem these memory modules would fit the bill for a lot of users out there.

    Jon
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Friday, July 21, 2006 - link

    All,

    I received a new beta bios from Abit today. I will be testing it later and will provide a quick update before we publish our final review on the board. Abit has spent considerable time this week testing this bios before release to us and hopefully it will fully address the memory setting issue we first reported in our preview issue.
    Reply
  • perpetualdark - Friday, July 21, 2006 - link

    I dont know where you priced your motherboards for this review, but I purchased the DFI 975x/g on july 18th from zipzoomfly for $187. It shipped the next day and I should see it today or Monday.

    Given that the DFI board is available for $62 less than your article shows, I think I made a good choice, since I dont need to overclock or run any high end graphics.

    Now I just need to get my hands on a cpu. This is for a work computer, but after things settle out around octoberish I will upgrade my home gaming setup with the conroe. I am playing titan quest right now, and even with a geforce 7950 the game hitches quite a bit in certain areas at most resolutions.. I figure increasing the cpu power will help substantially, at least thats my excuse for upgrading.
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Friday, July 21, 2006 - link

    The price was taken at the time the article written (17th) based on pricing from three different suppliers that had the board in stock. Now that ZipZoomFly (would assume others shortly) has it in stock at a price point (slightly below) that we had discussed with DFI I will update our article. The 7950GTX has not been qualified on this board yet so performance issues could occur since the required bios optimizations between the board and card are not completed. We really like this motherboard and for the $187 price, it is a great value now and one that should be seriously considered for purchase by early Core 2 Duo buyers. Although, we expected more in the way of overclocking, a very solild 375FSB is nothing to sneeze at and stock performance is excellent. Thank you for the price update! :) Reply
  • Gary Key - Friday, July 21, 2006 - link

    Where is the edit button?

    a very solid.....
    Reply
  • Roy2001 - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    I am looking for OC a E6600 with 4MB cache to 4Ghz with minimum budget and I never OC my system. So I don't know which value board/RAM would meet the target. I don't care about timing/latency. I would like to see anandtech to publish guides for high performance OCers and value OCers and help us to reach max speed.

    In addition, I can pickup DDR2-800 RAM priced similar to those 667 RAMs, I don't understand why they are not included in review?

    Thanks.
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    We will have additional guides in the near future. As for the DDR2-800 memory, we will be looking those modules in a mid-range section and a couple of the lower end that we have tested did not do any better than the high end DDR2-533/667 from a timing viewpoint or a high speed. Getting a E6600 to 4GHz is not that easy with a minimum budget but your suggestions are noted for the next guide. Thank you for the comments. :) Reply
  • Roy2001 - Friday, July 21, 2006 - link

    I know minimum budget system won't be easy to hit 4Ghz speed. I am not too sensitive to the money, but I just don't want to spend $450 for best RAM while I can hit 4Ghz with $150 RAM. Same thing happens to motherboard. I don't care 1394 port, optical port, as long as it is stable @4Ghz, I just pick the lowest priced although I can afford a $250 mother board. Hope that helps as I think I am not alone. Thanks for your hard work! Reply

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