Micwil Computer Consulting Presents the Canadian Computer Buying Guide

Canadian Computer Buying Guide - Motherboard Information

Motherboards are often overlooked by consumers when purchasing their system, which is a mistake as the motherboard is the most important component in your computer. If you take two systems with identical components except motherboards which vary in quality and chipset, you can see a performance difference as great as 100% (i.e. the poor quality older chipset could have half the performance of the good quality newer chipset).

In addition, your motherboard is the primary component which determines the degree of upgradeability of your system, as it houses all of the critical sub-systems of your computer, such as the CPU, RAM, system chipset, system I/O, expansion bus and the interconnections between these components. If the CPU is the 'brain', the motherboard is the 'heart' of your computer, as all other devices communicate with each other through the motherboard.

The most important factor in buying a motherboard is making sure there is a manual for it which a) matches the motherboard and b) is written in intelligible English. There are a large number of generic Asian motherboard manufacturer's who are eager to offer sub-standard products to unwary consumers. Other concerns include how upgradeable it is (both in terms of the CPU and the quantity of DIMM RAM slots), and what special features it offers.

Current good quality Pentium II/III or Celeron Socket 370 motherboards should have the following features:

  • Support Pentium III CPUs at BUS speed of 133 MHz x 9.5 multiplier up to future 1200 MHz + processors
  • Intel 815e AGP chipset
  • 1 AGP (2x & 4x mode, 66/100/133 MHz) slot
  • 6 PCI (32 bit) slots (PCI 2.2 compliant)
  • 1 CNR slot
  • Support CPU Built-In 256K/512K SRAM (L2 cache System Memory)
  • 4 x 3.3v DIMM/SDRAM (168 pin) 133 MHz RAM slots
  • Support 16/32/64/128/256 MB DIMM modules, and maximum DRAM size of 1 GB
  • On-board 2 x PCI BUS IDE Ports (support up to 4 devices), supporting PIO Mode 3, 4 UDMA/66 and ATA 66/100 IDE and ATAPI CD-ROMs
  • On-board Floppy Port (360K-2.88MB), PS/2 mouse port, PS/2 keyboard port, bi-directional parallel port (ECP/EPP), 2 High Speed 16550 Serial Ports, 2 USB Ports
  • Optional front USB on board connector, and infra-red device support
  • Dual BIOS to protect from BIOS-directed viruses (backup BIOS in the event primary BIOS becomes infected or defective
  • ACOPS feature (Auto CPU Overheating Protection System) and fan activity control
  • Power off and on features
  • Suspend-to-disk function: the memory content is saved to a hard drive before shutting down which allows quick resumption of work following boot up (STR mode)
  • 256K Flash BIOS
  • ATX Form Factor and power
  • Reliable manufacturer home page with technical support and FTP site

Additional features which you may wish to look for include:

  • How many devices can you boot from?
  • Higher external clock rates: 150 MHz and up
  • Wake up or power on functions: on lan, on modem ring, by keyboard, by mouse, by real time clock (RTC)
  • How many fan headers are available? One is required, but two or three are better.

In addition you should try to avoid additional built-in features (like SCSI controllers) as advances are still occurring in this area.

General Comments on Motherboard Manufacturers

Note that each manufacturer is given ratings in three categories according to the feedback from clients and other companies in the computer industry, and industry magazines. These areas are performance, reliability and cost and the ratings range from a high of 10 to a low of 1. Note that a 10 in each categories would mean the fastest performance, most reliable and highest cost. The ideal ratings values would be 10,10,1.

Manufacturer/Comment Speed Quality Cost
Gigabyte - Innovative features and superior design including dual BIOS 8 9 5
Abit - Pioneered jumperless design, designed for overclocking 9 6 6
Intel - High standards of manufacturing, less features 7 9 8
Asus - Established brand used in many clone systems, large number of BUS speed frequencies 7 6 8
Biostar - Autoconfiguring system good for non-tech people 4 5 8
Microstar - Innovative troubleshooting indicators (LEDs) 4 4 7
Acer/AOpen 3 5 4
No-name or 'Asian Direct' - Questionable warranty and poor documentation/support 4 1 2

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This page last updated April 4, 2001.

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