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Build a Gaming PC – The Motherboard: Lifeblood of the Computer

The motherboard! This is the big one. This is the most critical of components to scruitinize when you build a gaming pc – or any pc for that matter. Why? It is the backbone of your whole system. It is the central nervous system. It conducts all communications between each of the parts. This piece is so critical to get right. Almost all the problems I’ve had in the past with computer systems have been with the motherboard. It is such a critically complex component – more so than any other that you add to the system. I’m here to make the choice easy.

First off I feel like I should explain this upfront. I tend to lean towards Asus when I pick a motherboard. The reason being all the critical points I just mentioned above. If there were a peice of hardware to sweat over it would be the motherboard. But we aren’t going to be doing any sweating here, because ASUS is a magnificantly supreme manufacturerer of motherboards. The quality is absolutely top notch. The unique technology they provide is amazing (DIGI+ VRM power management, but we will get to that). Most of all, their standards and service are above any other manufacturerr. That being said, I would like to mention that Gigabyte boards are being reviewed extremely well right now – so if you have an issue with me recommending ONLY Asus, then I would say it would be safe to also go with Gigabyte. I would recommend staying away from the cheaper end – essentially, you get what you pay for. There is no ‘supreme deal’ in motherboards. The value is in the assured longevity and service that comes with the product, not in the price tag. And the technological combinations. Many peopel talk about ASRock because it is cheap and powerful, but I have seen cheaper manufacturers in the past (like MSI), and their motherboards always fail the test of longevity for me. Ok so to summarize that block of text, I like ASUS – I recommend Asus. On to the motherboards!

My current goal is to build a gaming pc that is a solid long lasting system, which will be roughly a middle budget gaming computer. I am continuing the Sandy Bridge build I started with the CPU article. This means we will be looking at two chipsets – P67 and H67. My last article I wrote about the P67 problem – this is no longer an issue, the only thing you might run into is some delay in getting a new motherboard, as retailers are still replacing the defective ones.

P67 is the standard chipset of choice for Sandy Bridge. P67 allows system power adjustments (“overclocking”), and for gaming this chipset has tested the best in combination with the i5-2500K. The ASUS P67 boards also comes with DIGI+ VRM power design – a digitally controlled voltage regulator. This is a modulated power system that provides digital control over power output (whereas in the past, one had to tinker directly with the board). In the long run, this gives greater control to anyone who is looking to squeeze more power out of their system (“overclock”). Most of the P67 Asus boards also provide a higher number of power phases – more power phases = less load which in turn will equate to greater longevity of the board.

While my main motherboard recommendation is going to be a P67 motherboard, I do want to mention H67. H67 is an often overlooked, yet still powerful chipset. It has most of the benefits of P67 – minus a few key things. You cannot overclock with the H67. You cannot run two video cards in SLI. The H67 also doesn’t have the DIGI+ VRM power system, and it features lower power phases than most of the Asus P67 boards. That being said, if you aren’t going to get a K variation CPU (i5-2500K), and you are looking to shave off some $$ on the budget, then consider the H67. In the near future, I’ll be writing articles for different budgets, and the H67 will most likely make my ‘low budget’ pc pick.

Summary Thus Far:

  • Due to our Sandy Bridge Processor choice, we are looking at the P67 chipset (H67 for low budget).
  • P67 allows overclocking, and it allows SLI (over the H67)
  • Those two benefits define the true value of P67, as it gives us a wide road for improvement in the future, thus increasing the value of our purchase.
  • P67 Asus boards also have a greater amount of power phases which = greater longevity which = higher value

The motherboard which provides all of the above at the lowest price is the Asus P8P67 Pro Build a Gaming PC   The Motherboard:  Lifeblood of the Computer. For the folks who love to look at benchmarks, here is all the info from Toms Hardware:

Overview

3DMark Benchmark

SiSoftware Sandra Benchmark

Crysis Benchmark

As you can see, the motherboard tops the charts in a couple of those tests, and stays consistantly high in the rest. The value in the power system of the Asus motherboards (aside from my love of asus), pushes this motherboard beyond the rest in overall value. And as we all know, my goal when I build a gaming pc is to create value – a system that will be very powerful and last a long time, with headroom for cheap and easy upgrades in the future.

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Build a Gaming PC – Clearing the Air on the Intel P67 glitch

Late last year/ early this year, Intel released its Sandy Bridge architecture CPUs, and the motherboard chipset to unlock all that juicy power – Cougar Point. Then in January of this year, they announced a defect found in the first run of the chipsets designed to support the new architecture. In my neverending quest to build a gaming pc, I found this issue was surprisingly challenging to unearth – if I had not been digging around, I may have indeed found myself the proud owner of a faulty board. Read on for all the details, plus links to articles fully explaining the original issue and the solution.

It is actually quite simple. On January 31st, 2011, Intel announced the discovery of a flaw in their Cougar Point chipset – see here. To clarify that point, Sandy Bridge is the architecture of the CPU, Cougar is the chipset which supports its juicy power. Intel identified the problem to be in the SATA 3 Gb/s connections on the P67 boards – where that connection in 5% of boards would degrade over time, eventually resulting in the link to the hard drive being severed completely (though no danger was ever presented to the actual data on the drive itself). Every single motherboard manufacturer was affected, and any Intel board with the P67 chipset was affected – my favorite manufacturer, Asus, not withstanding.

In the past 3 months, the following has occured: Intel stopped manufacturing all P67 motherboards, and stores like Newegg pulled all P67 Mobos and Sandy Bridge CPUS. Intel announced that a fix would be released. A new version of the P67 chipset not containing the glitch was released. All is happy. You can also read about the issue at Tom’s Hardware here and here.

Even though Asus was not immune to this defect, I stand by them as my primary choice for motherboard manufacturer – part of this reason being their service, which has been displayed to great extent during this debacle. If you happened to purchase a P67 board prior to the creation of their B3 revision (the response to this glitch), then I recommend visiting that link.

If you visit Asus website now, you can see that they provide glitch free motherboards of all types for the P67 chipset – all you need to do is make sure that the box displays the B3 Revision on the outside.

The long and short of it is that if you are wanting to create a new system now, you don’t need to wait for Intel’s new Z68 chipset – the current P67 boards are clear of this defect – just make sure that, in the case of Asus boards, you verify that the board is the B3 Revision. You can find a list of Asus motherboards currently supporting the P67 chipset by going to this link, and clicking through Intel Socket 1155 on the left then Intel P67.

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