Whether you're upgrading your existing PC or building one from scratch, the motherboard you choose is of pivotal importance.
Make the wrong decision and you could be left behind when the next generation of hard disks, graphics cards and memory hits the market.
For many, the first decision is whether to use an Intel or AMD CPU. Then there's the chipset. This determines support for memory types, AGP 8x graphics cards, USB 2.0 and much more. As well as giving a guide to each chipset's features, we have tested their speed in both 2D and 3D (see Performance analysis, page 66).
But there are plenty more decisions to be made beyond the processor and chipset. Factors such as expansion potential, integrated components, memory type and even overclocking options must be weighed up, as they all differ from board to board.
While purists may still consider integration to be a dirty word, we were surprised at the high quality of integrated components. The majority of motherboards have six-channel audio – adequate for all but the most demanding users – and 10/100 Ethernet. In addition, several feature built-in Ultra ATA RAID, Serial ATA and even Gigabit Ethernet.
The layout of this Labs differs from others we've conducted recently. Instead of presenting winners, and then smaller reviews, we've grouped boards by chipset, with descriptions of the advantages and disadvantages of each. From within these groupings, we've chosen the best AMD and the best Intel boards overall.
To find out exactly what features each board has, take a close look at the Feature table on page 64 – you won't find a more detailed side-by-side comparison. so if you're looking to perform an upgrade, or build your own PC, this Labs holds all the answers. Plus, with prices ranging from $119 to $1,088, we've got every budget covered.