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Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: ASRock

Introduction and Features

Introduction

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Courtesy of ASRock

Our test bench has seen a flood of Z68-based enthusiast motherboards this fall and ASRock added their flagship Z68 Extreme 7 Gen 3 board to the top of the pile for testing. The Extreme 7 Gen 3 pulls out all the stops for extreme enthusiasts and ultra overclockers by arming this board with next-gen PCI-E 3.0 support and an NVIDIA NF200 chip to allow users to run dual graphics cards at PCI-E x16/x16 mode and three graphics cards at x16/x8/x8 respectively.

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Courtesy of ASRock

This $275 board brings with it a lot of features that users have been begging for like a graphical Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI), Intel's Smart Response techology, dual gigabit LAN capabilities, and support for six USB 3.0 and six SATA 3 devices. They also didn't skimp on the power components by adding premium gold caps that are made in Japan and considered by many to be luxury capacitors. 

Read our entire review of the ASRock Z68 Extreme 7 Gen 3 motherboard!

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Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: Asus

900 Series: Bulldozer Ready

The rumor on the street is that Asus makes a few motherboards.  They may or may not be the world’s leading motherboard manufacturer.  Asus may also have a pretty good reputation for quality and innovation in their products.  It is tongue in cheek hour at PC Perspective.  All joking aside, Asus anymore is the gold standard for quality manufacturing and design in motherboards.

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Some months ago AMD released their AM3+ capable chipsets, though the release was not nearly as exciting as we had hoped.  The AMD 900 series of chipsets are essentially the same silicon as those that power the non-integrated AMD 800 series.  There are three SKUs that are currently available for the 900 series that Asus makes motherboards around.

Read the entire article here.

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Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: MSI

Introduction and Features

Introduction

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Courtesy of MSI

Micro-Star International, better known as MSI, has been busy little bees in 2011 to fend off fierce competition from ASUS, Gigabyte and other motherboard vendors. This year's launch of the Z68 chipset from Intel combined the capabilities and features from the H67 and P67 chipsets, and MSI capitalized on this when they joined forces with LucidLogix to include their Virtu technology in their latest Z68A-GD80 motherboard. Lucid's Virtu tech provides users with switchable graphics, which allows users to enjoy both graphics power of integrated GPU and discrete GPU.

 

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Courtesy of MSI

MSI also used the Z68A-GD80 as their first motherboard to support PCI Express 3.0, which boosts 32GB/s of transfer bandwidth and makes this mobo a bit more future proof for users looking for their next hardware upgrade. MSI also upgraded their BIOS system to ClickBIOS II, which  provides a consistent user interface both in the UEFI BIOS and in Windows. Users can control their system settings directly from Windows and the GUI also supports touchscreen controls.

Continue reading our review of the MSI Z68A-GD80 G3 motherboard!!

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Manufacturer: PC Perspective

The Basics

Introduction

If you have been visiting PC Perspective at all over the last week there is no doubt you have seen a lot of discussion about the currently running Battlefield 3 beta.  We posted an article looking at performance of several different GPUs in the game and then followed it up with a look at older cards like the GeForce 9800 GT.  We did a live stream of some PC Perspective staff playing BF3 with readers and fans, showed off and tested the locked Caspian Border map and even looked at multi-GPU scaling performance.  It was a lot of testing and a lot of time, but now that we have completed it, we are ready to summarize our findings in a piece that many have been clamoring for - a Battlefield 3 system build guide.

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The purpose of this article is simple: gather our many hours or testing and research and present the results in a way that simply says "here is the hardware we recommend."  It is a the exact same philosophy that makes our PC Perspective Hardware Leaderboard so successful as it gives the reader all the information they need, all in one place.

Continue reading our guide for building a system for Battlefield 3!!

Author:
Subject: Motherboards

Introduction and Specifications

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Courtesy of ECS

ECS developed the HDC-I motherboard to take advantage of AMD's new Brazos platform that's based on the Hudson M1 chipset and their latest E-350 dual-core processor and integrated DDR3 800/1066 memory controller. The dual-core E-350 APU, which combines the CPU and GPU, brings a host of features to mini ITX enthusiasts like USB 3.0 compability, SATA 6Gb/s support, bluetooth and Radeon HD 6310 graphics and UVD 3 to play 3D Blu-ray and HD-1080P movies.

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Courtesy of ECS

Another huge advantage of going with a mini ITX motherboard for your next home theater PC is the balance of computing power and power consumption that the AMD Brazos platform adds to the ECS HDC-I. The HDC-I is an energy-efficient motherboard that has integrated computing power and graphics firepower for users looking for an "all-in-one" solution for their next small form factor build.

Continue reading our review of the ECS HDC-I Fusion Mini ITX Motherboard!!

Author:
Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: MSI

Introduction and Features

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Courtesy of MSI

In 2011, MSI has based their enthusiast-level Sandy Bridge motherboards on two main features: novice and advanced overclocking and stable and reliable hardware components. We had the opportunity in March to evaluate the sub-$200 P67A-GD65, which flexed its muscles in several benchmarks including PC gaming and general PC tasks and applications.

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Courtesy of MSI

The P67A-GD80 adds a few more ultra-enthusiast features and an additional PCIe x16 slot, which pushes the price of this high-end motherboard to around $229 (before mail-in rebate at Newegg). This board sports Intel's P67 chipset that supports their latest LGA 1155 Sandy Bridge processors. It also has three PCIe x16 slots that are compatible with CrossfireX and SLI graphics card configurations to make this board a fantastic solution for triple-monitor, high-resolution gaming.

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Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: AMD

AMD Unleashes the 990FX: Paving the way for Bulldozer

Word of the AMD 990FX chipset first came around the end of last year.  Speculation was brisk as to what new features it would bring, and when exactly it would help to usher in the age of Bulldozer to the world.  Most thought that it would be a shrink of the then current 890FX, and the new SB950 southbridge would have improvements to the SATA 6G controller, as well as a native USB 3.0 implementation.  Today we finally get to see the reality of the situation.  It is not groundbreaking, nor is it altogether exciting, but it is certainly interesting.

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 The 990FX and SB950 chips are identical to the previous 890FX and SB850.  They are the same silicon.  For those hoping for new technology will be disappointed.  But all is not lost!  AMD did increase the HyperTransport specification from 3.0 to 3.1, which allows the HT bus to run at 6.4 GTPS as compared to the older 5.2 GTPS.  This is in place to allow the upcoming Bulldozer chips to run the northbridge portion of the chip up to 3.2 GHz, and to give the CPU more bandwidth between the different busses on the board (eg. SATA, USB 3.0, and PCI-E connections).

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Manufacturer: Lucid

AMD and Virtual Vsync for Lucid Virtu

Lucid has grown from a small startup that we thought might have a chance to survive in the world of AMD and NVIDIA to a major player in the computing space.  Its latest and most successful software architecture was released into the wild with the Z68 chipset as Lucid Virtu - software that enabled users to take advantage of both the performance of a discrete graphics card and the intriguing features of the integrated graphics of Intel's Sandy Bridge CPU. 

While at Computex 2011 in Taiwan we met with the President of Lucid, Offir Remez, who was excited to discuss a few key new additions to the Virtu suite with the new version titled "Virtu Universal".  The new addition is support for AMD platforms including current 890-based integrated graphics options as well the upcoming AMD Llano (and more) APU CPU/GPU combinations.  It is hard to see a reason for Virtu on current AMD platforms like the 890 series as there are no compelling features on the integrated graphics on that front but with the pending release of Llano you can be sure that AMD is going to integrate some of its own interesting GP-GPU features that will compete with the QuickSync technology of Sandy Bridge among other things.  To see Lucid offer support for AMD this early is a good sign for day-of availability on the platform later this year.

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The second pillar of Lucid's announcement with Virtu Universal was the addition of support for the mobile space, directly competing with NVIDIA and AMD's own hardware-specific switchable graphics solutions.  By far the most successful this far has been NVIDIA's Optimus which has filtered its way down basically into all major OEMs and in most of the major notebook releases that include both integrated and discrete graphics solutions.  The benefit that Lucid offers is that it will work with BOTH Intel and AMD platforms simplifying the product stack quite a bit.  

Read on for more information and some videos of Virtual Vsync in action!

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Manufacturer: Intel

The fast get faster

Introduction

With all the news and excitement about the Sandy Bridge architecture, platform and processors from Intel since their launch in January, it is easy to overlook the Nehalem architecture that continues to sell and be integrated into the fastest consumer PCs available. Remember Nehalem and its three digit model numbers? You really have to stretch that memory as it was before the CPU/GPU combo of Sandy Bridge and even before the Clarkdale / Lynnfield processors that began the move towards lower cost dual-channel memory based processors.

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It seems odd to think that today we are taking a step BACK in time to review the new Core i7-990X processor and a very nicely upgraded X58 motherboard from Intel in the form of the DX58SO2. The Core i7-990X is a Gulftown (6-core) processor that in many cases becomes the fastest consumer processor on the market and flagship CPU for Nehalem and the “Extreme Edition” suffix. Replacing the i7-980X, the 990X will fill that $999 processor segment for extreme enthusiasts and high end system builders.

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Manufacturer: ASUS

Z68 is what we wanted all along

In reality, this is what we wanted all along.  When the Intel P67 chipset launched in conjunction with the Intel Sandy Bridge desktop processors, the combination of the new architecture of the x86 processing cores and the newly revamped overclocking capability (courtesy of the enhanced Intel Turbo Boost technology) made for a lethal configuration.  Without a doubt it was the highest performing platform for enthusiasts and gamers and put even more pressure on the AMD CPU division to step up its game.  Intel asserted itself again as the dominant CPU vendor.

The other key feature addition to Sandy Bridge was the inclusion of some fairly high performing integrated processor graphics on the CPU die itself, NOT on the chipset.  The Intel HD Graphics 3000 / 2000 far exceeds the horsepower of the integrated graphics on the Clarkdale processors but that really wasn't hard to achieve.  Along with that added graphical performance was the inclusion of a very interesting feature called Intel Quick Sync that allowed specific applications to take advantage of fixed function hardware on the CPU for incredibly fast video transcoding times.

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The problem was that even mainstream users that decided to use a discrete graphics card in their computer rather than depend SOLELY on the integrated graphics of the Sandy Bridge architecture, lost out on the Quick Sync feature all together.  Why?  The P67 chipset that supported overclocking and other "high-end" features didn't include video output support.  The H67 chipset that DOES support video output does not offer overclocking functionality.  And since the Quick Sync technology was only available when the integrated graphics were initialized, most of our readers that really wanted to game and use a discrete GPU from NVIDIA or AMD were out of luck.  

Today's reveal of the Intel Z68 chipset finally presents a solution that combines the features of the H67 chipset with those of the P67 chipset to create the best option for Sandy Bridge system builders. 

Author:
Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: ASRock

Introduction and Features

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ASRock is teaming up with Johnathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel to bring back to life the Fatal1ty series of gamer-centric motherboards. Their latest creation is dubbed the P67 Professional and this particular LGA 1155-based motherboard pulls out all the stops in terms of quality components and enthusiast-level features. The use of premium gold caps, Japanese conductive polymer capacitors, and support for quad SLI and CrossfireX graphics configurations makes the P67 Professional a true head-turner for gamers looking for every edge to max out their system's gaming prowess.

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Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: MSI
Tagged:

Introduction and Features

MSI packed the P67A-GD65 with several high-end features that cater to a variety of users ranging from novice overclockers to hardcore enthusiasts looking for the best components at a competitive price. The B3 version of this board is fixed squarely under the $200 ceiling and includes highly-conductive polymerized capacitors, super ferrite chokes, and solid capacitors that should give this board a long lifespan and higher efficiency overall.

MSI brings out the big guns with military-grade P67A-GD65


Courtesy of MSI

 

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Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: MSI
Tagged:

It is not what you can add, but what you can successfully take away...

While MSI's original 890FXA-GD70 was a nice success story for the company, they were hoping to have a greater presence in the sub-$150 range of parts. To achieve this while not stepping on the toes of the 880G and 890GX stable of boards, MSI released a more focused board based on the now mature 890FX platform. The 890FXA-GD65 is aimed squarely at the budget enthusiast who asks a lot from their board without having to shell out the big bucks.Have I ever mentioned my fondness for midrange and budget enthusiast products?  I personally feel that it is one of the most interesting places in the market, where manufacturers struggle to pull off unique designs for the lowest price possible.  This is usually a point of extreme innovation where money is certainly an object to be conserved, but users demand a level of functionality and performance that can usually only be attained for much more money.  Being made of money is the problem here.  Most of us simply do not have the budget to buy an extreme motherboard at $300 to $400, a video card for $700, or a processor for $1000 for that matter.  Nope, the real world is a hard and cruel place for those of us without trust funds or a sugar mama (or daddy), or that rare individual with a high paying job who actually works for a living!  You know, guys like Jeremy Hellstrom.

Yeah, you saw right... that's a big "G" in orange on the right side of the box.

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Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: MSI
Tagged:

The AMD Fusion Processors Arrive

The MSI E350IA-E45 mini-ITX motherboard is the first system to hit our test bench that integrates the AMD E-350 Fusion APU into a desktop-ready configuration. By combining great performance per watt with features like SATA 6.0 Gb/s and USB 3.0, the MSI motherboard would make a great contender for a new low cost home theater build. Does it stand out at all from the reference platform we saw last year though?Introduction

I have been looking forward to retail availability of the AMD Fusion APU based platforms since I first got hands on time with them back at GDC in 2010.  Since then I have gone to AMD's offices once or twice to sit down with marketing, engineers, designers and the hardware itself to really put it to the test and to get AMD's take on the platform, it's stance in the market and the company's goals against Intel.

Last November I was able to actually benchmark and test a reference system at AMD's Austin campus to get a preview of how the performance of Fusion-enabled notebooks and desktops panned out and the initial results were intriguing. 

 Unfortunately, our testing was done on the device you see above - hardly indicative of what end users will see in the market in either desktop or notebook form.  While the performance results were great to see as we were still a ways off from the official product release, I knew that getting retail motherboards like the MSI option we are testing today, were critical to put a final stamp on the both this series of APUs and the Fusion philosophy at AMD completely.

Also, we did have a short preview of a Toshiba C655D 15.6-in notebook last month with a full review pending using a single-core iteration of the platform.  Check that out if you are interested before continuing on with this review below.
 

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Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: Elitegroup
Tagged:

Introduction and Features

ECS has put together an extremely unique LGA 1155 motherboard that hardcore gamers need to pay attention to in the P67H2-A. While it has all the high-end features available in other P67 offerings, the P67H2-A went a step further and incorporated Lucid Hydra technology that allows gamers to use different GPUs from NVIDIA and AMD in one system. Now gamers can use their legacy cards in tandem with newer graphics cards to boost gaming performance!

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Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: Gigabyte
Tagged:

Introduction and Features

Gigabyte joins the fray of vendors sporting the new LGA 1155 socket and now defunct P67 chipset on their latest P67A-UD4 motherboard. The P67A-UD4 brings Gigabyte's redesigned heatsinks, black PCB, and a ton of features including a 12-phase power design, USB 3.0, SATA 6GB/s, and support for dual PCIe x16 graphics cards in either SLI or CrossfireX configurations.

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Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: Asus
Tagged:

Introduction and Features

The fireworks surrounding Intel's "Sandy Bridge" processors have brought mixed reactions about the new CPU's overclockability and graphics prowess. As usual, ASUS leads the way with eight P67 motherboards right out of the gate and we benchmark the P8P67 Pro and others from Gigabyte and ECS to determine which vendor was able to incorporate the right amount of features and performance options.

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Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: Asus
Tagged:

Not Much Left to Put on There...

Asus has a strong history of high end and expensive motherboards, and they are adding to that resume on the AMD side with the Crosshair IV Extreme. This board features all the bells and whistles that one would expect on a board of this class, and it also integrates the Lucid Hydra technology for multi-GPU functionality across a multitude of card types and manufacturers.

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Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: Gigabyte
Tagged:

Introduction and Features

Today's mini ITX motherboards are slowing starting to support quad-core CPUs, advanced chipsets, and PCIe 2.0 graphics cards, but only a few vendors are actually taking advantage of it. Gigabyte jumped on the mini ITX train and suited up the H55N-USB3 with support for today's latest LGA 1156 processors, USB 3.0, and DDR3 memory. It should be interesting to see how this board fairs against other form factors that use the same chipset.

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Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: Elitegroup
Tagged:

Introduction and Features

ECS continues to bring more aggressively priced motherboards to market in both Intel and AMD flavors. Their newest AM3 lineup includes six motherboards sporting the AMD 890GX chipset. We have the A890GXM-A (v1.0) on our test bench to evaluate some of the performance advantages available with this platform as well as the addition of native SATA 6GB/s support via the SB850.