955X-based mobo shoot-out
We test the top LGA755 motherboards
What makes a good i955X motherboard? From what we've seen here, it's a combination of adding a number of useful discrete features to boost a i955X-equipped motherboard to deluxe standard. All three motherboards here carry additional SATA support from Silicon Image, FireWire 800 connectivity and, in the case of the ABIT AW8-MAX and Gigabyte Royal boards, dual PCI Express Gigabit LAN ASICs from Broadcom. Both also add in enthusiast-specific features, with ABIT opting for heatpipe northbridge cooling and Gigabyte running with a potential eight-phase power supply.
Let's take each motherboard in turn. Intel's D955XBK falls way short of the others by offering a BIOS that's not really geared up towards the gamer/enthusiast. Furthermore, the lack of a second Gigabit ASIC is conspicuous in this high-end comparison. Intel, somewhat strangely, also goes with the older Silicon Image PCI-riding 3114 SATA four-port controller when both ABIT and Gigabyte opt for the newer two-port PCI Express version. The D955XBK package is solid rather than spectacular, and its £150 or so price tag demands that it be just that, spectacular. CrossFire compatibility will only become a feature when ATI finally gets its SLI-like technology out of the door.
Moving on to the Gigabyte 8I955X Royal. The features count is impressive enough, as is the general layout, thanks to colour-coded ports and sockets. Basic performance and overclocking performance are both pretty hot for an i955X motherboard. The Royal makes a compelling enough case to be put on a shortlist of i955X motherboards, we feel. It's strong in the areas that count most. We can see many users opting for the Royal with a high-end, dual-core Intel CPU.
ABIT's AW8-MAX is scarily similar to Gigabyte's board in most respects. Both use company-specific features to boost stability at higher FSBs, both contain dual Gigabit LAN ASICs from the same manufacturer, run with discrete SATA from Silicon Image and both opt for a combination of FireWire400/800 connectivity from Texas Instruments. ABIT's board, however, shines in the BIOS department, thanks to its µGuru technology, making it most appealing i955X mainboard from an enthusiast's perspective.
Retail i955X motherboards are all much of a muchness, so the question a prospective buyer really needs to answer isn't which board to choose, but whether investing in a high-priced i955X motherboard is sensible. Take another look at our benchmarks and see just how close an i945G board is to our trio's performance. While they may not carry quite the feature-set found on these three models, retail boards will be significantly cheaper.
Another fly in the i955X ointment is the lack of SLI or CrossFire support for all boards that ship without two x16 slots. Nvidia's nForce4 SLI Intel Edition appears to match the i955X on the performance front and has the added goodness of built-in SLI support right here, right now. We also expect ATI to have a CrossFire-compatible Intel Xpress 200 out imminently, too, making some i955X's non-support much more of an issue, especially when you're spending in the region of £150. Speaking of gaming, we cannot also ignore the fact that an equivalent AMD setup, be it single- or dual-core, would be faster.
If i955X still appeals to you, we can recommend both the ABIT AW8-MAX and Gigabyte 8I955X Royal as decent examples of what high-end retail i955X implementations are all about. Given a straight choice between the two and appreciating that we tend to err on the side of the enthusiast, ABIT's AW8-MAX, we reckon, is the best of the trio.