Motherboard mania

Windows' Senior Technical Editor Jason Saundalkar talks through what his perfect motherboard would have and why.

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By  Jason Saundalkar Published  June 23, 2008

Testing motherboards is a gruelling process and after spending quality time with the six Intel 4-series boards reviewed in our group test (August 2008 issue), I had one thought: even the winners I picked weren't what I'd consider a ‘dream motherboard'. So what exactly would my board have?

Starting with the physical layout, I'd want my board to be based on an extended ATX form factor rather than the standard ATX design. This in itself would allow for components to be spread out and would immediately help heat dissipation from notorious parts such as the core-logic chipset and CPU voltage circuitry. More space between the components on the board would also mean that installing heatsinks or any other bits of kit would be a lot easier when the board was actually sitting in a chassis.

I'd also ditch the absolutely useless - at present - smaller PCI-E expansion card slots, namely the x1 and x4, as there's no real hardware that uses them. In place of these, I'd rather have standard 32-bit PCI slots (three of these would be ideal on a board). This way even if I were to fit two dual-slot cooler graphics cards into the motherboards two PCI-E x16 slots (for some multi-GPU action), I'd still be able to use the precious PCI slots. (I have a PCI SCSI card and a PCI Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi card and I'm not willing to part with either.)

I'd also have all the storage ports sitting as far from the graphics card slots as possible thus ensuring that even if a long card is installed, I'd still be able to easily connect or disconnect cables. (Some of today's boards have the SATA ports sitting slightly ahead of the two PCI-E x16 slots, so when you install two graphics cards or even one, reaching these is nearly impossible). Having the ports near the edge of the board would also mean that users with full tower cases - such as myself - would have a much easier time routing cables from various drives to the motherboard.

Moving onto the BIOS, in terms of redundancy I'd be happy enough with a simple dual-bios setup. The quad-solutions some boards have these days is overkill in my opinion and it just adds additional cost to what is an already pricey product.

Inside the BIOS, my number one want is real-time changes. So if I were to crank up the voltage to my processor by 0.5volts for instance, I'd want it to happen then and there - not after a reboot. I'm quite sure this isn't a big ask and I'm quite surprised none of the tier one vendors have thought to implement this already. Of course, I'd also want a basic warning system in place to backup the real-time voltage adjustments, so if I jumped more than 0.5volts at a time, a message would pop up just to alert me to what I was doing. (It's surprisingly easy to mistakenly dial in a wrong voltage when overclocking and either lock up the board or, worse still, nuke the processor or whatever else you're overvolting.)

It'd also be quite useful if vendors actually standardised on a single set of terms when it comes to options like advanced memory settings. Presently, some vendors use ‘picoseconds' scales for these settings whereas others may use clock cycles or ‘nanoseconds'. Standardising would just make things a whole lot easier for everyone concerned as they wouldn't have to remember several different conversions for timings.

If you've got any suggestions or thoughts on what your perfect motherboard would include, e-mail me at Jason.saundalkar@itp.com

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