The last few weeks have been an amazing time in the computer business. Conroe, or Core 2 Duo to use the formal name, has captured all our attention with a combination of stock performance, overclocking capabilities, and value that is nothing short of breathtaking. Once the excitement settled down a bit, however, we realized that all the "Intel" rules had changed with the launch of Conroe.

First is the fact that while Core 2 Duo is Socket 775, it won't work in almost any existing Socket 775 (Socket T) motherboards. With the move to 65nm, the reduced voltage Conroe was designed for, and the greater need for stable power that Conroe requires, boards had to be redesigned to work with Conroe. The first and only board that was Conroe friendly was the Intel BadAxe, which was part of the launch of the last two NetBurst processors - 955EE and 975EE. Even with BadAxe you were not home free, since we soon learned that only BadAxe Revision 0304 or later would work with Conroe. In fact, everywhere we turned we were asking, "Will this work with Conroe?" If there was hesitation or a maybe, the answer was generally "No".

If you are like most Enthusiasts you can't wait to get your hands on the new Core 2 Duo. We're excited too, but it's no fun to get burned or to go through RMA s because it won't work with Conroe. How do you know what will work with the new chip, which motherboards to buy, whether value DDR2 will work, the advantages or disadvantages of top-end DDR2, available video options, hard drives to choose, and on and on and on. This guide was put together to help you navigate the new Conroe landscape. It has a clear bent toward motherboards and memory, which are critical to a good Conroe experience, but we will also venture into other areas in a later installment to help you find the best parts for your new Conroe rig. We hope we can make those choices a little more pain free.

Because we are covering so much information in this Buyers Guide, it is easy to get lost in information overload. To help you navigate through all the reviews and recommendations in this Guide it helps to understand how it is organized. Page 2 is an overview of the chipsets that support Conroe, and a look at the only Conroe dedicated chipset at launch - the Intel P965 Express.

Pages 3-10 are one page reviews of eight motherboards that were tested with Conroe. Each page has a chart of features of that motherboard, a discussion of the good and bad things about that board's performance with Conroe, and test results from overclocking Conroe on that motherboard. Pages 11-14 provide details of how we compared performance of the eight tested motherboards, and comparative charts of General Performance, Standard Gaming, and High-Resolution gaming with CrossFire or SLI.

Memory for Conroe is the focus of the second part of the buying guide. On pages 15-16 we compare performance of six 2GB High-Performance DDR2 kits on Core 2 Duo. These memories are the fastest you can currently buy and all of them perform at DDR2-1067 or higher. Article pages 17-18 looks at the performance of Value DDR2 memory. 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.

Page 19 summarizes what we learned in testing for the Conroe Buyers Guide. It also details our current recommendations. There will be an incredible number of new Core 2 Duo motherboard choices available in August and September, so we fully expect we will need to do an updated guide in a few months. The computer industry is never static, and any recommendations are just a snapshot in time.

Testing eight motherboards, six high-performance DDR2 kits, and seven Value DDR2 kits with the new Core 2 Duo consumed a lot of our time the last few weeks. When we first planned the Conroe Buyers Guide we had scheduled our testing around a July 27th launch date. The Buyers Guide was to also include power supplies, storage and Heatsink/Fans for Conroe. Then the Core 2 Duo launch date got moved forward two weeks to mid-July. To bring you the info as soon as possible we split the Guide into two parts. This Part 1 reviews and recommends motherboards and memory for Conroe that are available now. These are the two 'Core' (pun intended) components in any new Conroe system. In the next few weeks you will also see Part 2 of the Conroe Buyers Guide that examines power supplies, HSFs, and storage options for your new Core 2 Duo system.

The AnandTech staff spent many hours testing components and compiling data for this Conroe Buyers Guide. Please let us know what you think. We would also appreciate any recommendations you may have for Part 2 of the Conroe Buyers Guide.

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  • Gary Key - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    We are looking forward to the value SLI boards in early August. Prices will range on average from $95 to $120. As soon as we can post a review up on these boards, it will be done. :)
  • EODetroit - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    Can Anandtech max out the memory and make sure these systems are stable in 64 bit Windows OS'? I'd really like to make sure that there's no time bombs if I buy 8GB of ram that will force me to RMA a lot of stuff. If you don't have 2GB sticks, at least test with 4x1GB. The motherboards advertise that they support 8GB, but no one ever seems to check them on it. If Anandtech could do that, it would be a great help.

  • Genx87 - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    Not bad for an older chipset to win the SLI benchmarks.
    I am curious what the new chipset can do!
  • supremelaw - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    Dear Gary and Wesley,

    I'm thinking back to about 8 months ago,
    when we first started assembling our
    ASUS P5WD2 Premium motherboard
    (which has recently become our primary
    production machine).

    We offered our assistance at the ASUS
    User Forum, because a LOT of users
    were stumbling over the IT8211F IDE
    controller, which requires a device driver
    to be extracted from the Support CD.

    I fear that P965 motherboards are headed
    for the same serious problems, particularly
    if motherboards add an on-board IDE
    controller that is NOT "native" e.g. JMicron.

    Here's the scenario: a less-than-expert
    user sees a PATA IDE port, and thinks
    he can use (or recycle) a PATA optical
    drive to run Windows Setup. And, he's
    probably read (or heard) the stories about
    SATA optical drives that just don't work
    with Windows Setup.

    Is this user headed for major problems?

    I think so.

    And here's why ...

    If the BIOS has not been modified to
    support native PATA / IDE optical devices,
    a Catch-22 results: you need the device
    driver from the Support CD, but you can't
    read the Support CD without the device
    driver -- not if the optical device is wired
    to that on-board IDE controller.

    If you want confirmation of this problem,
    check out the ASUS User Forum for the
    P5WD2 Premium, particularly the numerous
    complaints Users were posting about the
    ITE IT8211F on-board IDE controller.

    To make this problem even more exasperating,
    the User Manual failed to mention that the
    F6 sequence will load the ITE driver during
    Windows Setup, BUT one can STILL not
    run Windows Setup from an optical drive
    wired to that ITE controller. The device driver
    can be added AFTER Windows XP is
    successfully installed.

    Fortunately, the P5WD2 Premium has a
    BLUE native IDE port as well, and we
    avoided all of these problems by running
    Windows Setup from a PATA optical drive
    wired to that BLUE native IDE port.

    Thanks for all the great reviews!

    Sincerely yours,
    /s/ Paul Andrew Mitchell
    Webmaster, Supreme Law Library">
  • Gary Key - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    Hi Paul,


    Is this user headed for major problems?

    The scenario you listed is a very real possibility and as you have noted has existed in past boards. In fact, I was on the phone with Wes when our first P965 was fired up and the Optical Drive was not recognized. Of course, I had a few choice words to say about the situation. The only way to load the new OS image and Driver CD was through the Optical drive and that was not going to happen in this case. I ended up loading a new image on a drive in another system, installing the inf and network drivers in a folder, and then moving this drive to the new machine. The issue was a very early bios that did not support the hooks from the external IDE chipset into the ICH8. We received an updated bios a few days later and all was well from that point forward.

    Since Intel has basically left a "lane" open in the ICH8 to support IDE (much in the same way as the LAN controller logic, being real simple here to keep it short), then the only issue is to ensure the bios has support for the IDE link. We have not seen this issue at all in the latest boards that we have received and have been told it will not occur in shipping boards. While most suppliers are going with the JMicron solution, Biostar included the VIA VT6410 that turned out to offer excellent performance in our upcoming storage tests. I hope this helps and thank you for your comments today.
  • Andy4504 - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    I was most surprized by the poor BadAxe (X975XBX) Overclocking. Because the memory controller isn't directly tied to the FSB speeds, the fact that you cannot incrase the memory voltage without hardware modification should make little / no difference in CPU overclocking.

    I personally own a X975XBX with an 805D. I've found that the best overclocking isn't done by selecting +30% OR + any percent for that matter, but rather choosing the higher bus speed, then selecting an underclock from that higher speed.

    With full access to the memory multiplier range, most any ratio could be set.

  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    Conroe runs at 1066 FSB speed. 1333 support has been in and out of the different BIOS revisions. So with Conroe you can select no higher bus speed at worst, or a modest 1333 at best. 805D runs at 533 (166 quad) so you have differnt options. It really isn't possible to select higher bus speeds and clock down with Conroe on the BadAxe.
  • Paladin165 - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    In the review you mention that the 7600GT would work with the cheap ASrock board, I was thinking about going with this setup (if another ultra-cheap board doesn't come out soon). I was wondering, how much impact would the 4x PCIex speed have on the 7600GT? Are there any situations where it would choke off performance? Does it provide enough power?

    This cheap board seems like a good buy because new motherboards are going to be coming out so rapidly over the next six months it doesn't make sense to drop $250 on a bleeding-edge board.
  • Gary Key - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    The 7600GT works fine. I am trying to procure a 7600GS PCIe and AGP cards to directly compare the video performance on the board. Hopefully, I will have both cards before the full review goes up. We also have two other ASRock boards that are under $75 arriving shortly. I think the performance with the 7600GT will be fine unless you like to play Oblivion and even with the PCIe x4 interface you will not notice a real difference with this card.
  • Paladin165 - Thursday, July 20, 2006 - link

    "I think the performance with the 7600GT will be fine unless you like to play Oblivion"


    Oblivion is exactly what I want to play! What is it about this setup that hurts Oblivion performance?

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