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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  • Beaner - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    Very well-written article guys!
    Thanks for taking the time to enlighten us all.

    Just wanted to point out that the Mushkin Redline sticks can be had right now for $355 AR. At that price, I may just have to grab 'em myself!
  • ChronoReverse - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    It was pretty much shown that the effect of using memory dividers for Athlon64's was rather minimal while most dividers were more adverse for Netburst.

    How large of an effect does using memory dividers have on the Conroe?
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    The effect of memory dividers is much smaller on Conroe than we saw on Netburst. In fact memory dividers on Conroe behave more like AM2 - probably the result of the "apparent" reduction in latency with the intelligent look-ahead in memory. Core 2 Duo is not Hyper-Transport, so 1:1 (533) tis still theoretically the highest performing setting, but we were hard pressed to find any measurable advantage of 1:1 in most situations.

    We had tested a number of high-performance dimms on Conroe before we wrote the Buyers Guide, but there just wasn't the time - or room - to include full memory performance data in the Guide. We do have memory reviews in process that will provide specifics to your questions.

    We can summarize what we have learned about memory on Conroe so far. DDR2-667 is quite a bit higher in real perfomance than DDR2-400 or DDR2-533 (1:1). We would consider DDR2 to be the minimum memory that should be used with Conroe. Going up from DDR2-667 we found the following - from fastest to DDR2-667. DDR2-1067 4-4-4 is a bit faster than DDR2-800 3-3-3 is a bit faster than DDR2-667 3-2-3. Timings are very important above DDR2-667 and you can give up any performance advantage with slower timings. DDR2-667 is a good match to COnroe bandwidth, and is better perfoming than 533 or 400 by a wider marging than you find above DDR2-667. It also appears Conroe responds better (performs better with increases) to DDR2 bandwidth increases than either Netburst or AM2.
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    We would consider DDR2-667 the minimum memory to use with Conroe, and faster timings do generally improve performance.
  • Sunrise089 - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    I would like to know this as well.
  • txt2000 - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    Just wondering, if your going to spend ~$400 on memory if you would be better off with 4GB value DDR or 2GB high performance.
  • Patsoe - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    I suppose that completely depends on your usage pattern. Almost all of my activities fit within 512MB, and probably anything I do fits within 768MB. So getting faster RAM would do more for me than more of it.

    If you could fill 3GB, then a setup with 2GB will see a lot hard-disk swapping... even a very slow 4GB of RAM will do better in that case.
  • Andy4504 - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link

    Anything over 1GB results in the OS addressing your memory differently. Never did the reasearch on how that different addressing affected system performance however.
  • supremelaw - Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - link">

    Timing and content were perfect for this article.

    And, your earlier article on the nVidia 590 chipset
    for Intel also dovetails perfectly: nice photos too.

    August+ should be VERY interesting.

    Many thanks!

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

    "The board was very stable with our X6800 and X6600 Core 2 Duo processors ..."
    It should have been E6700 (or maybe E6700)

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