Buying Guides -> Hardware -> Motherboard
VERSATILITY WITH VALUE
Team CHIP | 23 February 2011
VERSATILITY WITH VALUE
We lined up 12 mainstream motherboards for socket AM3 CPUs based on AMD’s latest 880G and 870 chipsets. Find out what each one of them has to offer.
By ANAND TULIANI AND FRANCIS D'SA
We saw a lot of action from AMD in 2010, and it was indeed good - entry-level and mainstream HD 5000 series GPUs, new chipsets for socket AM3 CPUs, new Athlon II and Phenom II CPUs, and HD 6000 series GPUs. The new 8-series chipsets were launched in the second quarter of this year, and by now, all brands have a complete line up of new motherboards based on the new chipsets.
The AMD 880G chipset is an upgrade to the 785G chipset with better integrated graphics (Radeon HD 4250), support for SATA 6 Gb/s courtesy the new SB800 series southbridge, and a few other enhancements to deliver better performance and efficiency. The AMD 870 chipset, on the other hand, is a cut down version of the 890FX, with the absence of integrated graphics and CrossFire support. It’s targeted at those who need an affordable board without integrated graphics. The 890 GX and 890 FX chipsets, which are the most powerful, are for those who need powerful systems for gaming, demanding applications and overclocking.
In this comparison, we tested a bunch of motherboards based on the AMD 880G and 870 chipsets, which offer good value for money. Funky heat sinks, designs with eye-catching colors, and ranging from feature-packed to wallet-friendly, we have them all in this round-up.
You might want to upgrade your graphics card to play the latest games, or throw in more RAM, or an additional hard drive, but the motherboard is one component that you wouldn’t want to upgrade in the near future. I would go in for the Asus M4A88TD-V EVO/USB3 because it offers a brilliant feature set and is future proof with support for USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gb/s. I don’t mind paying the premium for loads of additional features and rock solid stability. Also, it has sufficient PCI slots to comfortably accommodate a sound card and a video capture card along with a graphics card. The MRP of this board is Rs 9,700, but this board retails in the market for around Rs 7,500, which is a very sweet deal. If your budget doesn’t allow it, I suggest going in for the Asus M4A88TD-M EVO/USB3, which is a micro-ATX variant that costs Rs 1,000 less.
This roundup highlights motherboards with AMD 880G and AMD 870 chipsets, which are almost similar, but differ in certain characteristics, such as integrated graphics, USB 3.0 and SATA 6 GB/s storage support. I would recommend an AMD 870 or an AMD 880G chipset-based motherboard, which features the SB850 southbridge if you want to ensure future upgradability. Look out for a board with a maximum number of USB ports and the maximum memory capacity support. If you need a motherboard for a rig intended for multimedia and office use, an AMD 880G chipset-based motherboard should suffice as it uses powerful enough integrated graphics. But if you’re a gamer, an AMD 870 chipset-based motherboard should be on your list. I would recommend the MSI 870A-G54 from among the boards we tested. It is feature-rich, with the above mentioned characteristics, and not to forget, it also bagged the Best Performance and Best Value title in its category.
The heart of the MSI 870A-G54 motherboard is the AMD 870 chipset coupled with the powerful and feature-rich SB850 Southbridge. The motherboard features two PCIe x16 slots for CrossFireX multi-GPU technology support, ideal for building a powerful gaming rig. The board is also future-proof, with six SATA 6 GB/s ports and two USB 3.0 interfaces for next generation high-speed storage drives, 8-channel audio support and a physical switch for automatic overclocking. Though the motherboard’s layout is quite good, with accommodative SATA and IDE ports, the CPU’s voltage regulators lack a heatsink; a good, efficient cooling case would be necessary in extreme conditions. While comparing pure performance scores, the ECS A875M-A managed to beat this one with a marginal difference, but since the additional features of a motherboard can actually boost the overall performance, the performance and superior feature-set combined to help the MSI 870A-G54 motherboard grab the Best Performance as well as the Best Value title in its category.
Verdict: A feature-rich motherboard with a budget price tag.
For: Good layout, Good price, USB 3.0, CrossFireX support.
Against: No heatsink for CPU voltage regulators.
The ASUS M4A88TD-V Evo/USB3 doesn’t compromise on any aspect. It boasts an expansive feature set with support for CrossFireX and an array of ports, which includes USB 3.0, eSATA and FireWire. Unlike most AMD 880G chipset-based motherboards, which feature a micro-ATX form factor, this one uses a full ATX design to accommodate extra expansion slots comfortably. In addition to the two PCIE x16 slots, there are three PCI slots and a PCIE x1 slot. The heat sinks and voltage regulators are fairly large for effective heat dissipation. ASUS has used a 10-phase power design for the CPU for effective power delivery, especially while overclocking. Those who aren’t well-versed with overclocking can use the Turbo Key switch near the RAM slots. When activated, the OC processor automatically determines the optimal overclocking values and overclocks the CPU. A switch for unlocking the cores of dual-core Phenom II and triple-core Athlon II CPUs is also present. The integrated graphics chip is backed by 128 MB of discrete on-board memory. The performance, layout, features and warranty put this board at the top spot.
Verdict: Doesn't compromise on features and performance.
For: Rich feature set, superior performance, excellent layout.
The ASUS M4A88T-M LE is built around the AMD 880G chipset and uses the ATI Radeon 4250 HD integrated graphics processor, which supports Hybrid CrossFireX technology for enhanced graphics performance. The Southbridge used here is the SB710 with no support for USB 3.0 and SATA 6 GB/s. This motherboard is identical to the ASUS M4A88T-M, except for a few downscaled features such as lack of USB 3.0, two DIMM slots instead of four, and four voltage phases instead of five; a good reason for being cheaper than the latter by almost Rs 1,600. The motherboard has a below average layout. Firstly, the IDE connector is behind the main power connector, and secondly, the SATA connectors are upward-facing and four ports can tend to get blocked if a large double-slot graphics card is used. Bonus points, where the motherboard gained, were in the BIOS section, which features automatic overclocking, core unlocking and profile backups. Overall, the motherboard has better performance at a great price, earning it the Best Value title in the AMD 880G segment.
Verdict: Good performance on a low budget.
For: Good price, great performance, all solid capacitors.
Against: Below average layout, only two RAM slots.