Final Words

As the testing for the 915 roundup dragged on day after day, we realized we had been spoiled in our tests of the Athlon 64 in the last 6 months. Why do we say that? We had become accustomed to very tight clustering of test results, mostly because the memory controller is on-chip in A64, and we were no longer accustomed to the wide range of performance results that we actually found in the 915 roundup. This is both good and bad. Consistency of results is a good thing when you can buy a Socket 939 motherboard and get similar results at stock speed no matter which board you buy. This is one of the reasons ATI, who had not been particularly strong in their memory controller designs for Intel boards, was able to hit a home run with their first Athlon 64 chipset design. It might not be such a good thing when you are Asus, who can clearly design a motherboard that will outperform the competition. There, the consistent results from an on-chip memory controller could kill the significant advantage that you would enjoy otherwise.

This little exercise in self-indulgence is a prelude to the flak that we are sure will fly when we announce the winners and losers in this roundup. We expect flak because there really are a few clear winners here and there are also some dogs in the 915 camp. The difference between the top and bottom is also much larger than we would have ever expected when we began this project.

We have avoided the 915 chipset like the plague for the last 6 months - and so have our readers - voting their choices with their buying dollars. But all of this is about to change in the near future. Whether you like it or not, or approve or not, Intel is deciding for you that your next purchase of an Intel chipset board will be a 915 or 925X. You will either buy one of these, since the 865/875 stock is dwindling in supply, or you will have to opt for an Athlon 64 on a Socket 939 or 754. Frankly, many readers will move to Athlon 64, but others will want to stay in the Intel camp. That is not necessarily a bad thing, since performance and value can be found in the 915 boards that we reviewed. These boards will not compete with the Athlon 64 at the fastest A64 speeds, but in the mid-range - where most people actually buy - they are competent competitors and generally a good value for your money.

However, not all of the 915 boards are created equal, which is why you are reading this review. The purpose of any roundup is to help you find and buy the good stuff and avoid the poor performers. So, we do in fact have some recommendations.

The top performer and clearly undisputed winner in our 915 roundup is the Asus P5GD2. The Asus performs very fast at stock speeds, at the top of the heap, and it also reaches the highest overclocks that we have ever seen on our 560 ES (Prescott 3.6GHz) processor.
Based on the best performance that we have ever achieved with a Prescott chip, stellar performance at stock speeds, the top-notch implementation of Intel 915/ICH6R features, the excellent enhancements to those features such as Stack Cool, Dolby Digital Live encoding, WiFi G networking, PCI Express LAN, high-speed 1394b firewire, and the best overclocking abilities of any 915 motherboard, we are pleased to award the AnandTech Gold Editors Choice to the Asus P5GD2 Premium.

The P5GD2 is an expensive motherboard, at about $240 on the web, but you can get almost all the same features in the P5GD2 Deluxe for about $50 less. Either way, you will find value in the Asus P5GD2. It is a superb piece of motherboard engineering that pays off in top performance in every area.

The Silver Editors Choice is a tie between the DFI LANParty UT 915P-T12 and the Epox 5epa+. The 2 boards bring different capabilities to the table, but both are worthy of the Anandtech Silver Editor's Choice.

We are pleased to recognize the DFI LANParty UT 915P-T12 as our Silver Editor's Choice in the 915 roundup. The DFI is one of the best overclocking 915 boards that we have tested with features to allow the Enthusiast to extract the highest overclocks possible from their 915/ Prescott CPU system. DFI was diligent in preserving 915 features and even enhancing them with choices like Karajan High-Definition audio and PCI Express Gigabit LAN - features that clearly make a difference in the performance of the 915 system. The DFI LANParty UT will bring a big smile to any Enthusiast's face. It is an easy board to learn to love.

The Epox 5epa+ proved to be a top performer at stock speeds as well as an outstanding overclocker among motherboards based on the 915 chipset. As a result of the fast stock performance combined with the potential to extract the best performance when overclocking a 915 system, we recognize the Epox 5epa+ as Silver Editor's Choice in our 915 roundup. Audio and Gigabit LAN are thin in this Epox design, but overall performance and value for your dollar are very satisfying. Epox is to be congratulated on their excellent 915 chipset motherboard.

The ECS PF4 915P Extreme was a consistent top performer compared to other 915 boards. It also features a reasonable selection of overclocking options and a really excellent choice of features for a 915 motherboard. These include Azalia High Definition audio, Dual LAN, and the addition of IDE ports with the SiS 180 controller than will be appreciated by many users. In recognition of the great value and performance represented by the PF4 915P Extreme, we are pleased to recognize ECS with our Bronze Editor's Choice award.

While we tested 13 boards plus reference boards from nVidia, ATI, and Intel, this 915 roundup represents performance results for about 23 motherboards in the AnandTech labs. With such a large roundup, we wish we could recognize more motherboards deserving of praise for excellence in a number of performance areas. However, we think that you will agree that the four motherboards, which rose to the top of the 915 roundup, represent some of the best performance and value available among 915 boards.

Some will argue that none of the 915 boards deserve recognition, since the group is clearly outperformed in our benchmarks by Athlon 64 Reference Boards. We disagree, since the 4 top boards here represent value and performance for your buying dollar. If you want the top performance, by all means go for a top Athlon 64 board. If you insist on Intel, or you are looking for good value for your dollar, then one of these four top 915 boards will serve you very well.

DirectX 8 & Open GL Gaming Performance
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  • krelian - Wednesday, December 8, 2004 - link

    I been a Intel user since the first Pentium 3 came out now I have a Intel P4 3.0C I refused to spend more money on things I had already bought so I stayed with the 478 socket, seeing as Intel wants me to move to an expensive platform, I say I'll ditch Intel head with the AMD crowd, I'm sure I won't be the only one, maybe legions of intel campers will leave. Reply
  • ChineseDemocracyGNR - Tuesday, December 7, 2004 - link

    About the config I put together in the previous post; does anyone know if the overclock lock on the 915P chipsets apply to lower FSB's too? Could I overclock the 133MHz Celeron D to 200MHz on any 915P motherboard?
    Reply
  • ChineseDemocracyGNR - Tuesday, December 7, 2004 - link

    The 915P chipset provides good value for the money. For example:

    ECS 915P-A $79
    Intel Celeron D 325J 2.53GHz $88
    Albatron GeForce 6600 128MB $120.50
    or
    Albatron GeForce 6600GT 128MB $190.50
    (newegg prices)

    The processor can be overclocked to 3.6+GHz very easily, much like the Athlon Mobiles.

    That makes a good budget gaming rig, better than anything you could put together with an AMD processor for the same money. So, at least in my opinion, AMD has a better mainstream/high-end processor, and Intel wins the value segment. Who would say?
    --

    I have now read the entire article, and oh boy! Though I prefer to read about socket 754/939 motherboards, this has to be the best motherboard roundup I ever read. Ever. Well done.

    --
    #22,

    thank your fixing it. The typo I wrote about on page 10:
    "The fact that Asus manages a higher OC than more recognized OC boards like DFI and Asus "

    Don't you mean ABIT in the last word there?
    Reply
  • ocyl - Tuesday, December 7, 2004 - link

    Wesley > Thank you for paying attention to the audio features/components of these motherboards, particularly Dolby Digital Live :)
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, December 7, 2004 - link

    #21 - The Foxconn results have been corrected on p.20. Thank you for bringing it to our attention. Reply
  • ChineseDemocracyGNR - Tuesday, December 7, 2004 - link

    A few typos:
    "The fact that Asus manages a higher OC than more recognized OC boards like DFI and Asus "

    page 10.

    On page 20, the "Front Side Bus Overclocking Testbed" table is probably wrong.

    ---

    Good article.
    Reply
  • LeadFrog - Tuesday, December 7, 2004 - link

    Why does only the socket 915 get a 16mb cache Hard Drive? Reply
  • danidentity - Tuesday, December 7, 2004 - link

    Wes, I said thanks before but I'll say it again, great roundup. We appreciate your hard work, always. Reply
  • danidentity - Tuesday, December 7, 2004 - link

    Live -

    The P5GD2 is expensive compared to most boards, but it includes a ton of stuff, like 8 SATA ports, dual gigabit LAN, on-board 802.11g/b, and on-board hi-def audio with Dolby Digital Live (realtime encoding, like SoundStorm).

    Most 915P boards aren't as close to as expensive as the Asus. The Abit AG8 is ~ $130, equal or cheaper in price than the K8N Neo2.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, December 7, 2004 - link

    #16 - After I did the price analysis today I changed "outstanding value" to "good value". Thanks for the comment about the review being good reading. It is appreciated as a huge amount of work went into this roundup. Reply

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