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)


View All Comments

  • 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. :) Reply
  • 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. Reply
  • 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. Reply
  • 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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