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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  • Vidmar - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    One thing that really bugs me about some of the MB manufactures is that some never state the exact number of PCIe lanes that are actually available on that second PCIe 16x slot. Some do some don’t. Some state it while in SLI/Crossfire mode but not when in non- SLI/Crossfire mode.

    Right now I’ve got an nForce 4 SLI board that has two PCIe 16x slots, but when in non-SLI mode they are at 16x and 2x respectively. When in SLI mode they are both at 8x respectively.

    The problem with this is that (at least on this board) you cannot install anything but a video card in the second PCIe 16x slot when in SLI mode.

    I’ve got an PCIe 8x SCSI raid card (LSI 320-2e) that I’m trying to use in the second PCIe slot at 8x, but this board won’t even acknowledge that its there while in SLI mode. And when running in non-SLI it only runs at 2x and becomes a bottleneck for this workstation.

    So if its possible to provide some details as to what exactly a board can do on the second PCIe 16x slot in both normal and SLI/Crossfire mode, that would be most helpful!

    For example on the ASUS P5W-DH Deluxe in your review it doesn’t state this information either way. But on the Intel 975XBX you do have that information.

    So what does the second PCIe slot run at in non-Crossfire mode on the ASUS P5W-DH Deluxe?

    Also do you happen to have a SCSI PCIe card you can test in the second slot (or any PCIe card for that matter) and see if the BIOS can recognize the card while in SLI/Crossfire mode? That too would be helpful for people who don’t care about multiple GPUs, but want to create large array workstations.

    Thanks!
    PS: nice article.
    Reply
  • supremelaw - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    Excellent points! Constant change is here to stay :)

    On our ASUS P5WD2 Premium with i955X chipset,
    we are now faced with that very same problem:

    we don't need 2 video cards, because we do
    mostly database development. And, we want
    to dedicate the second "universal" x16 slot
    to a high-performance PCI-E RAID controller.

    (Santa Claus is going to bring me an x1900
    PCI-E video card anyway, and that should
    easily last me for another 20 years, min!)

    Our consultant highly recommends the Areca model,
    but it only performs best in x8 mode. On the
    other hand, our ASUS User Manual states that
    the second "universal" x16 slot can only run
    in x4 mode, maximum.

    That limitation was a single line of text
    in that User Manual, but it is not mentioned
    in any of the other specs for our motherboard.

    His recommendation: switch to a server motherboard,
    so we can use the Areca RAID 6 controller (not a bad
    idea, actually).

    So, I think we'll have to settle for the Promise
    PCI-E model EX8350, which is also limited to x4 mode,
    but it now supports RAID 6 too.

    It only took about 4 hours of research to confirm
    this limitation, however :)

    Such specs should be better documented, for sure!


    Sincerely yours,
    /s/ Paul Andrew Mitchell
    Webmaster, Supreme Law Library
    http://www.supremelaw.org/">http://www.supremelaw.org/
    Reply
  • Missing Ghost - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    I find it weird that the pcie card does not work in 8x mode. I see no reason why it wouldn't work...the sli pcb that you flip around only redirects the lanes AFAIK. Reply
  • vhx - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    Too bad the motherboards cost more than a decent Conroe processor. Kind of sad to see the features lacking until you get into the $250 price ranges. You can spot an AMD AM2 motherboard with the same features for around $130ish, which makes this 975X chipset rediculously expensive compared to the newer AM2's. The TForce P965 looks like a great alternative for the price, although based on the 965P. Hmm upgrading to Conroe will be more expensive than I thought.... /sigh. What to do. Reply
  • Gary Key - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    quote:

    What to do.


    Wait, that is right, wait until the motherboard suppliers are in full production in August. There will be a large variety of motherboards available by the end of August that will make up the $50~$150 range with chipsets from the 945P to nF570SLI being sold. We will also start seeing the G965 boards in late August for those that want a mATX form factor, decent graphics,and the ability to upgrade later. If you need a board now, it will cost you. ;-)
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    quote:

    If you need a board now, it will cost you.

    Not to mention getting the Core 2 CPUs. :) I would expect prices to drop significantly within a month or so.
    Reply
  • jonp - Saturday, July 22, 2006 - link

    Jarred,
    Please say more about your comment on pricing.
    http://www.dailytech.com/article.aspx?newsid=3377">http://www.dailytech.com/article.aspx?newsid=3377
    says:
    quote:

    Recently released Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Extreme products will not be receiving any price cuts in the near future.

    Thanks, Jon
    Reply
  • multiblitz2 - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    I was waiting for the 965 as HDMI/HDCP-support is a must have for my new HTPC. Does 975 support this in the same way as the 965 ? Reply
  • araczynski - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    great article!

    looking forward to additional mobo's appearing (and more importantly - prices dropping) beforei build my next rig.

    i personally refuse to pay over $150 for ANY mobo, no matter the features. but i do realize that the initial price gouging is to milk the early adopters. i figure by early october prices should be just right for all the nice toys.
    Reply
  • araczynski - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    i know this is a dead horse, by why in the world can't these manufacturers make models that throw out some of these legacy 'extras' they keep putting on the boards?

    onboard sound, parallel ports, floppy connectors, etc...
    Reply

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