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Clearly, this second wave of Core i7 motherboards offers far better value than the first crop of X58 offerings. We've gone from mobos priced between $300 and $350 to ones in the $200-240 range, and performance hasn't skipped a beat. Sure, you don't get quite as many extras with these more affordable models, but they're hardly hurting when it comes to onboard peripherals.

As the only board with dual Gigabit Ethernet controllers, MSI's X58 Platinum is technically the most loaded from a peripheral standpoint. The Platinum also has the lowest power consumption of the bunch, likely due to the fact that it's running fewer power phases to the processor. That might also be why our sample didn't overclock as well as the Asus and Gigabyte boards. At least MSI did a better job than its rivals with the Platinum's BIOS-level fan speed controls, though.

Although the vanilla X58 Platinum model we tested seems to be rare online, SLI-compatible versions of the board can be had for as little as $225. At that price, the Platinum is a solid contender.

With a street price hovering around $240, Asus' P6T is a little more expensive than the X58 Platinum. The extra cash does buy you a third PCI Express x16 slot with three-way CrossFire and SLI compatibility, though. It also gets you a board that, at least in our labs, effortlessly cruised up to a 200MHz base clock.

The P6T is a good board, but I wish its BIOS offered more control over the Core i7's uncore components, such as its QPI link speed. I also can't get past the fact that the only justification for this board being more expensive than the others is its support for three-way CrossFire and SLI configurations that simply aren't attractive to most enthusiasts. The P6T may be cheapest X58-based motherboard to support three-way configs, but I don't expect those looking to run three graphics cards are too concerned with the cost of such a setup.

That brings us to the EX58-UD3R. As the least expensive board of the bunch, the Gigabyte should be the most appealing to budget-minded enthusiasts. You can nab standard versions of the UD3R for just under $204 and SLI flavors for around $210. The UD3R's bargain price tag comes with its own share of baggage, however. Not only does the board lack external Serial ATA connectivity, it also has only four DIMM slots—two fewer than the Asus and MSI offerings.

Of course, the UD3R also hit the highest base clock speed of the bunch, and its BIOS has the most generous assortment of overclocking and voltage tweaking options. The cheapest board of the lot is every bit as fast as its rivals, too, so you don't have to sacrifice performance to save a few bucks.

Were I building a Core i7 system for myself, I'd be torn between the Gigabyte EX58-UD3R and the MSI X58 Platinum. Both are great boards that offer good value. I'd recommend the UD3R to serious overclockers and the Platinum to those who want to load up on memory. If it were my money, though, I'd buy the UD3R on the strength of its overclocking potential. My Core i7-920 easily runs at 3.3GHz, and while that requires all of the base clock headroom in our X58 Platinum sample, it's well within the capabilities of the UD3R we tested.TR

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