These motherboards span a $70 range between $110 and $180. That's the meat of the mid-range market and probably most of the high end, at least for Socket AM3 processors. The GA-MA790FXT-UD5P and the MSI 790FX-GD70 may sell for less than two bills each, but with support for full-bandwidth CrossFire configurations and a wealth of connectivity options and integrated peripherals, they're about as loaded as Phenom II boards get. I just don't see myself buying either to pair with a Phenom II, though.
Don't get me wrongthe UD5P and GD70 are both fine boards. I like the MSI's four physical x16 slots, and the Gigabyte's ALC889A codec is the only one of the bunch that can do a SoundStorm impression. However, both are high-end boards for a processor lineup that lacks high-end parts. The Phenom II X3 720 and X4 940 are the only Socket AM3 chips I'd consider recommending, and neither needs a $180 motherboard. The results of our memory performance, games, and application tests make it clear these more expensive motherboards aren't any faster than their competition. And we've yet to see evidence that a dual-x16 CrossFire implementation is any faster than a dual-x8 setup with second-generation PCI Express.
That leaves the Jetway and Asus boards, which are considerably more affordable. The HA08, for example, is just $110. But you get what you pay for. The Jetway's board's BIOS definitely needs work, not only to address what appear to be flaky voltage and memory timing controls, but also to add features like an integrated flash utility and support for multiple configuration profiles. Jetway's board designers need to do a better job avoiding clearance issues, too, and the PCIe switch card needs to go. The HA08 has the performance to be competitive with boards from better-known brands, but it falls short on the sort of features and polish for which I'm willing to pay a little extra.
Asus' M4A78T-E only costs $30 more than the Jetway, but its BIOS is far more capable, and there are no layout problems to report. What's more, the Asus board was the best overclocker of the bunch, not because it hit higher speeds, but because it brought our Phenom II up to 3.7GHz without resorting to extra voltage. The M4A78T-E also delivers all the integrated peripherals you'll need without going overboard or overbudget.
That's not to say that the M4A78T-E certainly is without flaws. I'm still not sold on the utility of integrated graphics in a mid-range motherboard, and I wish Asus had used a better audio codec. Still, of the four Socket AM3 motherboards we've looked at today, the M4A78T-E is the one I'd buy for a Phenom II build.
80 comments — Last by Mr Bill at 10:59 AM on 03/02/10
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