Building an AMD Based Computer System
This content was originally featured on Amdmb.com and has been converted to PC Perspective's website. Some color changes and flaws may appear.
Motherboards (mainboards) are the nervous system for the components in your computer. It allows the CPU to interface with the RAM and the graphics card to interface with the CPU, etc. Before attempting to select a motherboard, you’ll want to make sure that you rule out all motherboards with a different CPU socket than your CPU. All Athlon XP and Athlon XP Barton processors have a Socket A (Socket 462) interface. Another thing you’ll have to keep in mind when selecting a motherboard is that your motherboard must support the FSB (front side bus) of your processor. Some Athlon XP processors run on the 166MHz (333MHz) FSB and all Athlon XP Barton (AXP-B) processors (excluding the 3200+, which runs on a 200MHz (400MHz) FSB) run on the 166MHz (333MHz) FSB.
Some of the questions about motherboards include:
- What features should I look for?
- What features can I ignore?
- If I want to do dual processing…what motherboards can I get? Which is the best?
- Budget boards? Can I live with onboard video?
- I want to overclock. Which board will provide the most stability at extremely high speeds?
Features to Look for and Features to Ignore
Basically, choosing a motherboard comes down to what type of computer you want. Basic features to look for include an AGP slot, the amount of PCI slots, USB 2.0, and the amount of RAM slots. Additional features that you may wish to look into are onboard RAID controllers, onboard LAN, onboard audio, possibly the color of the board, and for the overclockers, the amount of space around the CPU socket. Features you can generally ignore include CNR, AMR, and usually IR ports on the motherboard. CNR and AMR slots are rarely used today…although for some reason, companies keep putting the slots on the boards.
By going with dual processors, you narrow down the choice of motherboards to a very select few. A myth about dual processing is that if you have two processors, you’ll have twice the performance. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Because both processors have to use the same resources (RAM, VC, etc…), you’ll only see a 20-35% increase in processor performance. Overclocking is out of the question if you use dual processors.
If you want a low cost solution that will satisfy the needs for a web surfing / occasional spider solitaire game, then a board with integrated video, audio and LAN would be the best option. Or, if you are interested in starting a “farm” of computers for a distributed computing project, then going with several low cost, integrated boards would be a viable option. Whenever buying a budget board for whatever reason, there are a few things to look at.
- What kind of onboard video is the best?
- What is the difference between AC 97 audio and Soundstorm?
- What’s the difference between MATX, ATX, and FlexATX?
Onboard video is a touchy thing that is generally not very powerful and can only handle basic desktop actions (word processing / Internet surfing). It is definitely not for the gamers out there, nor the CAD developers. If you must go with onboard video, I would look at the integrated nForce 2 IGP chipsets. With the equivalent to a Geforce4 MX, this flavor of onboard video is one of the best. But, nearly any type of onboard video will do in a budget crunch.
Soundstorm audio was created by NVIDIA to make their onboard sound stand out from the crowd – which it does a fairly decent job at. While not on the level of an M-Audio, Creative Audigy, or Turtle Beach Santa Cruise, soundstorm has the ability to provide SPDIF (digital) audio outs and allows for true 5.1 analog sound, which although as much as the AC ’97 series has tried, has failed miserably at each and every time. Gamers on a budget, look at the nForce2 boards with soundstorm audio.
MATX, ATX, and FlexATX are all form factors that generally determine the size and shape of your motherboard. ATX is the standard style of motherboard and almost all performance motherboards will use the ATX style.
Many budget motherboards will use the MATX (Micro-ATX), which is smaller, and obviously cheaper to assemble. Unfortunately, with the smaller size comes fewer PCI slots and you generally have less space between any device on the board. This will sometimes cause a conflict because your video card may be too long and will interfere with your IDE cables or memory slots. Most manufacturers will make sure that everything is compatible, but occasionally, you will still run into an issue.
FlexATX boards are extremely small and are catching on in the SFF (Small Form Factor…cutely named “shoebox” computers) area as they are tiny and allow for the motherboard features to be packed into a very small area.
Current popular AMD Motherboards: