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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  • Bochista - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    With the release of new Quad SLI beta drivers I would like to know what board is compatible with both the Conroe & Quad SLI. Being CPU bound in graphics I think it would very interesting to see. The ASUS P5N32-SLI SE is not on the Quad-SLI list. The Asus P5N32-SLI Deluxe is not either.

    Bo
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    quote:

    The ASUS P5N32-SLI SE is not on the Quad-SLI list.


    It should be on the list shortly. This is the board that NVIDIA has been using to test and display Quad SLI on with Conroe. We also understand this board will probably make its way into several Quad SLI systems according to NVIDIA. It will be interesting to see how this board performs against the nF590 in a couple of weeks. ;-)
    Reply
  • jonmcguffin - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    If Core 2 Duo is sucking up so much less energy, why have I not heard anything about the need to NOT buy the 500-650 watt power supplies. It would seem to me that a processor and mainboard that consumers so little power would not need anything more than a good 350 or 400 watt power supply, even in an SLI configuration.

    It would be nice to see something written up in your review that stated...

    Hey, these processors are going to require X amount of power on the lower end and X amount on the higher end. Given power supplies are typically only 75-80% efficient and leaving another 10-15% left over in overhead, you should be using power supplies with a watt rating of X.

    Jon
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    Jon,

    Anand went over the power requirements in the CPU review article. However, from a platform level the current 7900GTX and X1900XT cards in SLI or Crossfire will require a very good 500+ watt (on the edge with CrossFire) power supply with Conroe, AM2, or Netburst CPUs. In fact, we highly recommend and use 700+ watt machines in our systems to ensure proper power delivery when running SLI or CrossFire while overclocking. The power requirements of the next generation GPUs for SLI or CrossFire will require 700w power supplies and we generally will see 900+ watt supplies for those who expect to overclock both the CPU and GPU. While we have seen the CPUs reduce their power requirements over the last two years (except at the high end until Conroe, AM2 EE is great), the GPU requirements along with the platform chipsets (ATI RD580 is the exception currently) have sky rocketed. By the time you add a couple of large hard drives, optical drives, SLI or Crossfire, and a FX60 or 955XE, you are already limited by the typical 400~500 watt power supply. While Conroe will make a difference compared to most Netburst based CPUs and the upper end AM2 processor series, it is not enough to even think about dropping below 500w at this time. In my personal systems, the first item I budget for is a really good power supply, never skimp on proper rail voltages and quality, it is the basis for a trouble free system.

    Hope this helps....
    Reply
  • ninethirty - Friday, July 21, 2006 - link

    Would you guys mind doing some tests to back that up in Part 2? Reading SilentPCReview.com, there's some pretty convincing arguments that the need for higher wattage is overblown. And 900W+ is hard to believe...pretty soon you'll be talking about dedicated wall sockets.
    I think most folks are talking about one video card, not SLI. I'd like to issue a challenge: try a test with the Core 2 Duo, a Geforce 7600GT like in the "Building a Better Budget PC" article, and a 300W Seasonic PSU (or any 80% efficient, true-to-ratings). Then, see how it effects overclocking. That PSU can run an AMD64 x2 3800+ and a 7900GT, why couldn't it run the Core 2 Duo with voltage to spare?
    There, I've thrown in my gauntlet.
    Reply
  • jonmcguffin - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    #1) Paul - My point in bringing up the Digital Thermal Sensor capability of the Core 2 Duo chip and it's "possible" support on the P965 was mainly just to show that there may in fact be certain features the P965 has that are superior to the 975X. Certainly not planning any extreme overclocking and a good HSF is certainly a priority, but still utilizing the Core 2 Duo chip to its fullest abilities is important to me and that means a motherboard that supports this Core 2 Duo feature. If P965 boards support this feature out of the box and the 975X boards don’t, it’s a factor that could play into my purchasing decision.

    #2) Thanks Gary & Wesley for the explanation on why you didn't include the AB9 Pro motherboard. That makes perfect sense. It seems to me this is the board to target but to be at this point in the game and NOT have a mature enough BIOS to manipulate RAM settings is a little concerning to me. This coupled with Abit's financial issue's in the past almost have me fearful of taking a chance on this board.

    I hope in your roundup article you will provide some insight into all this business with 12-phase power and solid state capacitors. What does this mean to the over clocker or the serious workstation user?

    Lastly.......

    Slightly off-topic here but PERHAPS something you two could include in your more extensive roundup of the next Core 2 Duo motherboards or maybe in a separate article.

    On-Board Audio……….

    This may be old hat to many here, but this is an issue that I haven't seen addressed anywhere recently. On-Board audio solutions have "evidently" been creaping up on SB products for sometime now. A better explanation as to the feature benefits of some of these on-board solutions (RealTek 882D, 882, 883, 885, 888, ADI, etc) and how they are implemented would be helpful.

    #1) Top of this list is the confusion regarding digital audio & HD Audio. Seems every mobo now includes either Optical or Coax digital out on their back plates. What does tihs mean to the gamer, the audio professional, audiophile, or just the everyday computer user who wants to hook up an external amp and some higher end speakers and listen to very high quality stereo music. What the heck is HD Audio and what does that mean? How does it apply to the various groups I mentioned above?

    #2 – If I’m going to use the digital out on my board, what difference does it make what onboard or offboard sound solution I use. If the computer is spitting out bit-by-bit digital audio data, isn’t a RealTek ALC650 digital out everybit as good as a Creative Labs SoundBlaster X-Fi Platinum Edition?

    #3 – What is the deal with all the new audio codec’s out and their supposed support for Dolby Digital. What does this mean to the consumer? I would imagine 90% of all computer users here and a similar vast majority elsewhere don’t use anything more than a simple 2.1 configuration or perhaps headphones. 7.1 or 7.2 sound is worthless. Does Dolby Digital provide any extra benefits to these 2.1 or headphone listeners? Does it play back my music from .MP3’s or iTunes sound any better?

    #4 – What really is EAX and is there that big of a difference between EAX 3.0 – EAX 5.0? And again, how does this relate to digital audio. If some external source is doing the audio conversion, do these technologies even matter?

    These may appear to be rather easy questions to answer, but the reality is that we’ve been bombarded so badly with marketing by Creative and others with audio that most of us really don’t know what the heck it is we’re buying.

    Personally, the quality of audio output is really important to me. I mostly listen to music and occasionally will play a few games. One BIG question for me is do I save $125 and go with on-board “digital” audio or not.

    Thanks!

    Jon
    Reply
  • Paladin165 - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    7.2 sound?? Reply
  • ic144 - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    Just by looking at this article, you can see how much attention is on Intel's Core 2 Duo. I don't remember so much attention was invested for the AMD Athlon64 FXs when they were launched. LOL. Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    We looked back at the launch review of A64 on Sept. 23, 2003. As you can see for yourself at http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?...">http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?... the AMD won Business Winstone and the Intel 3.2 won the MMC Winstone. Gaming results were split, with A64 winning most and the Intel 3.2 winning Quake 3. A64 led in Workstation development and Intel in Encoding. In other words, A64 won by a small margin. The AMD lead grew over time and our coverage continued to grow.

    We can't remember the last time a new CPU was laucnched that was 20% to 30% faster than the competition in everything we tested. There are really no weaknesses we have found in Core 2 Duo performance. This is a once in a decade event. AMD has responded with massive price cuts that position their new CPUs much more in line with Core 2 Duo based on performance, but they really don't have an answer to conroe, since almost every Conroe chip is faster than the fastest A64. We wish AMD did have a quick fix, since competition is good for buyers.

    We are fans of performance at AT, and we have been very supportive of A64 as it took the performance lead and extended it over the past 2+ years. However, those who ignore the current Cnroe advantage are not looking at performance, they are speaking from emotion. Conroe performance can not be ignored or twisted with GPU-bound benchmarks to show show something that is simply not true. Things will likely shift again in the future - AMD has shown itself to be very resilient - and we will loudly proclaim AMD's lead if they regain the performance crown.
    Reply
  • MadBoris - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    I owe Anandtech much, you guys have consistently provided excellent quality info for years.
    Thx for another great article, I'm looking forward to part two.

    You guys have peaked my curiosity on the tuniq tower. I didn't see it reviewed here yet. Is it that much better than the competition, it's definitely beastly looking?
    Reply

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