Lately, Biostar has tried its hand at indulging enthusiast desires with a line of T-Series motherboards built with tweaking and overclocking in mind. Unlike Abit and DFI, however, the Biostar name is a little short on pedigree. So, instead of banking on its reputation, Biostar is coming at enthusiasts from a different angle: price.
Enthusiasts crave bargainsperhaps even more than we lust after performanceand Biostar's new P35-based motherboards are very affordable indeed. The TP35D2-A7 can be had for less than $90, for example, and the TP35D3-A7 Deluxe rings in at only $160. But there's more to a bargain than a budget price, and the market is already teeming with good enthusiast boards based on Intel's P35 chipset. The question, then, is whether Biostar's affordable P35 boards can compete with more expensive offerings. Read on for the answer.
A P35 for any budget
Since Biostar is banking on affordability with its T-Series lineup, the budget TP35D2-A7 is a logical place to start. This board is selling for as little as $90 online, so it's actually among the cheapest P35-based motherboards on the market.
At first glance, the D2's flashy colors don't look like they've been pulled from the bargain bin. However, closer examination reveals pastel greens and oranges that seem more appropriate for something out of a country living magazine than an enthusiast-oriented motherboard.
Fortunately, color schemes only matter if you plan to show off your motherboard through a case window. The D2's power plug arrangement is more problematic, though. The board's primary power connector and its auxiliary 12V plug are both clustered together below the CPU socketnot our favorite placement due to cooling concerns. In standard ATX enclosures, reaching this plug requires snaking power cables around the CPU cooler, interfering with airflow between the processor and rear chassis exhaust.
Apart from pesky power supply cabling, you won't find much crowding the board's CPU socket. Extremely wide aftermarket heatsinks may interfere with the handful of taller capacitors or the board's north bridge cooler, but most should fit without issue.
Speaking of north bridge cooling, the D2 relies on a simple passive heatsink that eschews the mess of heatpipes common on more expensive motherboards. Perhaps the P35 Express north bridge doesn't require cooling as elaborate as high-end motherboard designs would lead us to believe. Then again, the lack of more extensive north bridge cooling could cause the D2 to fail spectacularly when overclocked. We'll find out in a moment.
Moving south, we find another simple heatsink sitting atop the board's ICH9 south bridge chip. This is a vanilla ICH9 rather than the ICH9R common on more expensive boards, and dropping the R costs you a few features, including support for multi-drive RAID arrays and AHCI. Intel implements Native Command Queuing through AHCI, so you lose that, as well. There are only four Serial ATA ports in the base model ICH9, tootwo fewer than on the ICH9R.
With Intel's entire ICH9 lineup lacking "parallel" ATA support, Biostar is forced to farm out IDE duties to an auxiliary chip from Marvell. It's probably too early to banish IDE support from motherboards completely, particularly for budget offerings like the D2.
Just because the D2 is a budget board doesn't mean you don't get some high-end perks, though. Below the IDE port, we find a set of onboard power and reset buttons typically reserved for high-end models. We love having these onboard buttons when troubleshooting or running boards on open test benches, but much of that value will be lost on mainstream users who never actually crack open their cases.
Mainstream users are also less likely to run multi-GPU configurations that require additional PCI Express slots, so the D2 only comes with one PCIe x16 slot. That makes the P35 Express chipset's CrossFire support moot, although Biostar has at least provided enough space below the board's graphics card slot to ensure that double-wide coolers don't compromise access to the PCIe x4 slot. The board also offers a PCI Express x1 slot alongside three PCI slots, ensuring plenty of expansion potential for new and old peripherals alike.
Around back, we find just about the bare minimum number of ports. There are six USB ports here, complemented by onboard headers for another six. However, you won't find any Firewire connectivity. Digital audio ports are also missing in action, although there is a smattering of analog input and output ports courtesy of a Realtek HD audio codec chip. Realtek also provides the Gigabit Ethernet controller that drives the board's RJ45 network jack.