The heart and soul

We look at motherboards, chipsets and processors
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Motherboards and processors are without a doubt the most important components in any PC, and with the proliferation of mobile PCs and out-ofthe- box solutions, integrated chipsets are growing in popularity too.

While users often place the emphasis on more eye-catching products like the graphics card, it is the motherboard that forms the backbone of a rig, and often dictates its performance; a good example of this is that a slow bus speed can negate any of the performance benefits brought by a cutting edge processor or GPU.

The last few years have seen a great deal of development in this sector, which previously only had to ensure that the appropriate sockets were in the right place. The increasing number of cores in CPUs and the development of the General Purpose GPU has spurred a greater degree of sophistication in memory controller hub (northbridge) design, while the growth of PC peripherals and networking has necessitated a greater emphasis on the I/O controller hub (southbridge), with the introduction of USB 3.0 and wireless networks as examples.

“The biggest developments recently have been energy efficiency, connectivity and the development of the balanced workload,” says AMD’s senior manager for EMEA marketing, Sasa Marinkovic.

“We’ve recently announced the inclusion of 6Gb SATA and USB 3.0 in our motherboards and chipsets. Looking at the balanced workloads, I think we’re seeing that the importance of the CPU remains the same; however, there is a more balanced story between the CPU and GPU. The workloads are definitely changing – in the past we’d hear about the frequency of a chip, whereas now we hear about how many cores it has, and now in 2010 we’re seeing a shift from the number of cores to heterogeneous computing.”

A number of these developments were included in AMD’s 890GX chipset, which features an integrated Radeon HD 4290 GPU, a move that is hailed as groundbreaking by Asus’ technical PR and component marketing specialist, Iain Bristow: “The introduction of the new 1156 socket from Intel and the new 890GX chipsets from AMD have been really important in moving the industry forward. Coupled with the introduction of new CPUs from both vendors, the industry has remained exciting.”

The increasing level of integration between the various components has interesting implications for the future of chip and motherboard design. The importance of mobility as a form factor has seen the growth of chipsets as a commercially popular system. When the majority of users are unfamiliar with rig customisation, the appeal of integrated components is wide ranging.

The appeal of integration has also come about due to the fact that although we still refer to these components as computer chips, they can often be found in what would once have been the most unlikely places. “I think chips will still be seen as primarily a PC product in the near future,” predicts Asrock’s European marketing manager, Rob Canta. “But of course you see chips and chipsets in a range of other products including cars, electronic devices, instruments and domestic devices, so I think this is a trend that will continue to develop and gain share.”

“I think the integrated graphics card, as a category, will face a challenge over the next couple of years,” states Marinkovic. “With the introduction of AMD Fusion, which combines the properties of the CPU and GPU in to a single chip, I definitely think the need for the IGP will be reduced.”

Bristow sees the changing nature of the processor chip market as a good thing, with the industry having a strong influence on the way wider markets develop and vice versa. “Chips and chipsets are moving closer and closer to the consumer electronics market each day, with set-top boxes and mobile phones adopting chips and chipset technology. I don’t think it’ll be long before we start seeing chips in everything,” he forecasts. “But I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing; with more focus being put on the consumer electronics side, developments can only improve the PC and bring the products to a much wider range of consumers.”

Marinkovic feels that this process is already under way, with PCs showing a much greater emphasis on the visual experience of using a computer and the development of intuitive control methods, as opposed to the specialist knowledge that was required to use older generations of PCs. “PCs are going to change,” he notes. “But they will be changing for the better. They’re going to be small, faster and easier to use.”

Intel Core i5 660
Distributors: Entatech, Ingram Micro, Realtime, VIP
SRP: £160.00

They say: The Intel Core i5 processor automatically allocates processing power where it’s needed most – with the Intel Core i5 processor you can multitask with ease and be more productive than ever

Specs: Dual core, 32nm, 64-bit, four threads, 3.33GHz clock speed, 3.6GHz Max Turbo Frequency, 2.5GT/s DMI

MSI P55 CD53
Distributor: Realtime
SRP: £94.00

They say: Ensuring the best performance per watt, MSI’s P55 mainboard is also equipped with DrMOS and APS technology, which is still the only OS independent power saver on the market
Specs: Intel P55 chipset, Intel i5/i7 socket, 6.4GT/s bus speed, DDR3 support, four DIMM slots, 16GB maximum memory, eight SATA II slots, ten USB 3.0 ports

MSI 790GX-G65
Distributor: Realtime
SRP: £89.00

They say: Features full support for multimedia applications, Blu-ray highdefinition hardware audio, and complete display output interface to provide full HD and high-performance 3D display capabilities. This mainboard is simply one of the best solutions for gamers and multimedia users
Specs: AMD 790GX chipset, AM3 socket, DDR3 support, 16GB maximum memory, 5200MT/s bus speed, five SATA II slots, four DIMM slots, six USB 2.0 ports, CrossFire and Hybrid CrossFire support

AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition
Distributors: VIP, Realtime
SRP: £130.00

They say: Build a total system tuned for performance, beginning with an all-AMD solution including AMD Phenom II processors, AMD chipsets, and ATI Radeon HD graphics with CrossFireX technology for multi-GPU support. Experience the power of gaming beyond high definition
Specs: Quad core, 45nm, 32/64-bit, 3200MHz core clock, 128kb L1 cache, 512 L2 cache, 6144kb L3 cache

Zotac Ionitx F-E
Distributor: Realtime
SRP: £140.00

They say: The mini-ITX form factor Ion combines a high-performance Nvidia ION graphics processor with a power-efficient Intel Atom processor for the ultimate eco-friendly platform that has no troubles handling regular web browsing, email and HD video playback tasks
Specs: On-board Atom processor, integrated GeForce 9400M, integrated LAN, 5.1 channel onboard audio, BGA 437 socket, 533MHz bus speed, 3+1 eSATA slots, ten USB ports

Asus M4A89GTD
Distributors: VIP, Ingram Micro
SRP: £123.95

They say: The M4A89GTD PRO features AMD 890GX + SB850 chipset supporting AMD’s latest AM3 and multi-core CPUs to provide excellent system performance and overclocking capabilities. DDR3 Dual channel memory supports up to 1866 MHz (OC) to unleash system performance
Specs: AMD 890GX chipset, AM3 socket, up to 16GB in four DIMM slots, DDR3 support, 5200 MT/s bus speed, six SATA 6.0 ports, ten USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports

Asus P6T Deluxe
Distributor: VIP
SRP: £267.33

They say: Asus’ True 16+2 Phase Power Design combines unprecedented innovation with the best quality component for the best performance. The groundbreaking 16+2 phase VRM design is brought to the Asus motherboards.
Specs: Intel X58 chipset, Intel socket 1366, six DIMM slots with 24GB maximum capacity, up to 6400 MT/s bus speed, six SATA 3Gb/s ports, eight USB 2.0 ports, supports Nvidia 2-way or Quad SLI and ATI Crossfire

Intel Core i7 930
Distributors: EntaTech, Ingram Micro, Realtime, VIP
SRP: £215.00

They say: With faster, intelligent multi-core technology that applies processing power dynamically when it's needed most, the Intel Core i7 processor family delivers incredible PC performance with a rich feature set
Specs: Quad core, 45nm, 64-bit, eight threads, 2.8GHz core clock, 3.06GHz maximum turbo frequency, 4.8GT/s bit rate

Gigabyte GA-X58
Distributor: EntaTech
SRP: £154.99

They say: Based on the Intel X58 chipset, the Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD3R delivers all the killer next generation features that gaming enthusiasts and power users have been waiting for
Specs: Intel X58 chipset, Intel socket 1366, six DIMM slots with up to 24GB maximum capacity, 800 to 2200 MHz memory bus speed, two eSATA ports, eight 3Gb/s and two 6Gb/s SATA internal ports, four USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports

Gigabyte GA-H55
Distributor: EntaTech
SRP: £85.50

They say: The Gigabyte motherboards feature the next generation graphics display interface DisplayPort that delivers up to 10.8 Gbps of bandwidth over standard cables, providing billions of colours, enabling the fastest refresh rates and the greatest colour depths
Specs: Intel H55 chipset, LGA1156/socket 1156, four DIMM slots with up to 16GB maximum capacity, 800 to 2200 memory bus speed, eSATA 3GB/s external port, six USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports

Asrock P55 Deluxe 3
Distributors: EntaTech
SRP: £127.00

They say: Supports ASRock Instant Boot, Instant Flash, OC DNA, Good Night LED, Multi-Speed Fan Control, OC Tuner, IES
Specs: Intel P55 chipset, LGA1156 socket, four DDR3 DIMM slots with up to 16GB maximum capacity, two PCIe x16 slots, two PCIe x1 slots, two SATA3 6Gb/s connectors, two USB 3.0 ports, supports ATI dual and quad CrossFireX and Nvidia SLI and quad SLI

Intel Core i3 530
Distributors: EntaTech, Ingram Micro, Realtime, VIP
SRP: £90.00

They say: The Intel Core i3 processor family with Intel HD Graphics delivers a revolutionary new architecture for an unparalleled computing experience
Specs: Dual core, 32nm, 64-bit, four threads, 2.93 GHz core clock speed, 733MHz integrated graphics, 2.5GT/s bit rate

Asrock X58 Extreme
Distributor: EntaTech
SRP: £155.00

They say: ASRock True 333 series motherboards can run the PCI-E for VGA card, SATA3 and USB 3.0 at full speed together at the same time. However, other 333 series motherboards can only run one of them at full speed at one time
Specs: Intel X58 chipset, Intel socket 1366, dual channel DDR3 memory, six DIMM slots with up to 24GB maximum capacity, two PCIe 2.0 slots, one PCIe slot, two SATA3 slots, two USB 3.0 ports, supports ATI dual and quad CrossFireX and Nvidia SLI and quad SLI

EVGA X58 Classified 4-Way SLI
Distributor: Westcoast
SRP: £450.00

They say: An enthusiast layout allows for multiple configurations, including 2-Way SLI + PhysX, 3-Way SLI + PhysX or 4-Way SLI, and the incredible 10 Phase Digital PWM allows for switching frequencies of up to 1333KHz
Specs: Intel X58 chipset, Intel socket 1366, six triple-channel DDR3 DIMM slots with up to 24GB capacity, seven PCIe slots, 12 USB 2.0 ports, nine SATA2 ports, supports 2-Way and 3-Way SLI plus PhysX and 4-Way SLI

Asus P5KPL-AM EPU
Distributor: Centerprise
SRP: £28.38

They say: The Intel G31 express chipset boosts your gaming and multimedia experience with the integrated graphics engine Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 3100
Specs: Intel G31 chipset, Intel socket 775, two DIMM slots with four GB maximum capacity, two PCI slots, one PCIe x16, one PCIe x1, four USB 2.0 ports

Asus P6T SE
Distributor: Centerprise
SRP: £121.35

They say: This motherboard supports the latest Intel Bloomfield processors in LGA1366 package which has memory controller integrated to support 3-channel DDR3 memory
Specs: Intel X58 chipset, Intel socket 1366, six DIMM slots with up to 24GB maximum capacity, three PCIe x16 slots, one PCIe x1 slot, two PCI slots, 12 USB 2.0 ports, supports ATI Quad-GPU CrossFireX

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