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955X-based mobo shoot-out

We test the top LGA755 motherboards

Review Which motherboard to buy? Determining the answer to this question is, arguably, the most important of all hardware choices. The choice of motherboard defines, in part, just how future-proof a system will be. Making a bad choice can lead to problems that aren't apparent for, say, CPUs and processors. Having to replace a motherboard usually necessitates a long-winded process of reinstalling an OS, programs and data. In short, your motherboard has to be good or your system won't be.

Let's assume that you've opted to go down the Intel LGA775 route and want the best possible motherboard available. Intel will tell you to go for a retail board based on its i955X chipset, which is the successor to the decent-performing i925XE and offers dual-core CPU support but, as of now, no official dual-card 3D graphics tech, be it Nvidia's SLi or ATI's delayed CrossFire.

We've had the chance to evaluate three i955X-based retail motherboards from ABIT, Gigabyte and Intel, respectively. Read on to find out if any or all are right for you.

ABIT AW8-MAX

ABIT's attempt to fill the board with high-end features doesn't leave much free PCB space. ABIT has gone to some lengths to prioritise board cooling. The hot-running MOSFETs around the CPU area are all cooled by a set of four heatsinks, although unlike the Fatal1ty series of boards, ABIT doesn't implement any fan-based cooling. It's hard to ignore the AW8-MAX's North Bridge cooling, so let's skip right to it.

ABIT

Motherboard manufacturers usually have to decide between mounting a noisy 40mm fan, albeit one that can sometimes controlled via BIOS software, or use a large heatsink. ABIT's Silent OTES system reaches a happy medium between enthusiast overclocking and quiteness by using a heatpipe-cooled North Bridge. This makes sense as a number of mid-range video cards are now being silently cooled using the same approach. The lengthy heatpipe hooks up to a radiator-like section which is located on the top-right of the board. It should, in theory, be better than the average oversized, fanless heatsink found on most models. ABIT also adds what it terms "OC strips" on the back of the PCB, with an eye to increasing heat dissipation.

The OTES system's heatpipe has been designed not to interfere with the mounting of CPU coolers, and, thankfully, the socket area is easily accessible, making installation a cinch. ABIT packs in both the 24-pin and 4-pin power connectors within easy reach of the system PSU.

The i955X chipset runs with DDR 2 memory at varying frequencies depending upon manufacturer. ABIT plays it safe by affording official support to DDR 2 667MHz RAM with LGA775 CPUs running at 200MHz. Of course, being an i955X board, the AW8-MAX also supports the few 266MHz FSB Extreme Edition processors, too.

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