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'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.
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.
Common to this trio of motherboards is Intel's ICH7R southbridge, replete with four on-chip Serial ATA 2 ports, HD audio and copious amounts of USB 2.0 connectivity. ABIT carries over a few of its better features from other deluxe models. The large ASIC just below the four SATA ports is ABIT's µGuru monitoring/tweaking chip. It provides a wealth of voltage/speed manipulation options. To the right is the customary big-headed clear CMOS jumper, and below that is the useful debug LED display that stops at a number or code, during the POST sequence, if something goes awry. It's also nice to see colour-coded motherboard-to-case pins, as well.
Intel's ICH7R doesn't provide support for FireWire, so each manufacturer here has to integrate ASICs themselves. Texas Instruments continues to be ABIT's high-end provider of choice, with both the company's TSB82AA2 and TSB81BA3 ASICs working in tandem to deliver two 1394b ports and a single 1394a port.
Moving on around and past the two PCI slots and the backwards-facing slot that ABIT uses to add an audio riser card, we see two x1 PCI Express slots just below the longer x16 slot that's reserved for graphics cards. ABIT's Fatality motherboards concentrated on performance and overclocking before all else. The AW8-MAX, however, is a well-rounded board in most respects, including features. Adding to the four on-chip SATA ports are another couple run off Silicon Image's Sil3112A PCIe controller, which sits to the right of the board's clock generator. Keeping the features flowing are a couple of Broadcom BCM5789 Gigabit Ethernet controllers. It's just as well that the i955X chipset supports up to 22 PCI Express lanes.
The need to use an additional audio riser card becomes apparent when you look at the I/O section. ABIT's Silent OTES system takes up a chunk of space, leaving room for a single FireWire port (1394a), good ol' PS/2 and four USB 2.0 ports.
Intel's i955X chipset is one where partners usually show just how many goodies they can add on to their respective boards without overcomplicating layout. ABIT's done a pretty good job of both keeping up features count high and ensuring that layout and accessibility remain clean.
ABIT's extra-large box is required to hold the motherboard, soundcard and two accessory boxes. ABIT needs to add an additional audio riser card due to the lack of space present in the I/O section. Like the others, it's driven by Intel's High-Definition ICH7 audio and, in this case, the audio stream is converted by Realtek's ALC882M eight-channel codec. Similarly, it also meets Dolby Master Studio Technology's specifications. We'd be surprised if many i955X boards don't feature the Dolby Master Studio sticker on the box.
One of the accessory boxes contains another excellent manual. There's also separate manual for the board's µGuru features and briefer quick-start literature. Six SATA cables match the number of ports, and it's nice to see that the cables clip into the ports, thereby eliminating the possibility of loose connections when on the move, say, to a LAN event.
The black-coloured bracket carries connectivity for the two 1394b and two USB 2.0 ports. ABIT also bundles in a handy optical cable as well as rounded floppy/IDE ones. The AW8-MAX is compatible with ABIT's µGuru utility, although that's an optional extra on this model.
Speaking of µGuru, ABIT provides a newer iteration of its Windows-based tweaking software. One can see identical voltage/speed manipulation and reporting in a Windows environment.
ABIT's now-familiar µGuru-based BIOS is a must if the AW8-MAX is going to appeal to enthusiasts. ABIT offers you the opportunity of saving and reloading up to five separate BIOSes. It's a handy and much-needed feature here, as the AW8-MAX's BIOS has just about the broadest set of user-defininable parameters of any current motherboard.
µGuru is sub-divided into OC Guru and ABIT EQ categories. OC Guru allows you to tinker with voltages and speeds. Specifically, the CPU's external clock (FSB) can be changed from 133-400MHz, opening up the way for some serious overclocking. Common on this trio of i955X chipset-based boards is the ability to lock PCI and PCI Express buses at default speeds, so that overclocking will be limited by either the CPU or the North Bridge's ceiling.
DRAM can be set to run at DDR 2's 533MHz and 667MHz speeds, assuming a CPU FSB of 200MHz. Higher RAM frequencies don't make a great deal of sense on a board bereft of onboard graphics, so no problems here. Voltage-wise, ABIT does well. The CPU's ranges from 1.4-1.75V, the memory's from 1.75-2.3V, and the North Bridge's from 1.5-2V. We noted that all reported lines were a little weaker than what's inputted in BIOS. It's just as well that the enthusiast has a lot of voltage to play with, then.
Latency tweaking is just how we would expect it, and the use of some low-latency Corsair DDR 2 memory allowed us to run with tight, performance-enhancing 3-2-2-8 timings.
From whichever way you wish to look at it, ABIT's AW8-MAX has the best BIOS of the trio on test. Excellent range of voltage and speed manipulation is augmented by similar excellence in reporting and monitoring, and that's what a performance/enthusiast BIOS is all about.
Gigabyte 8I955X Royal
Gigabyte knows that retail i955X-based boards from other manufacturers will be littered with every conceivable feature under the sun, so it has equipped the 'Royal' with a generous level of deluxe componentry. There's everything we expect nowadays, including dual PCI Express Gigabit LAN, excellent on-board audio, copious amounts of SATA, FireWire, and, as proprietory measures, the company's own U-Plus DPS and Dual BIOS features.
Gigabyte is a fan of colour-coded layouts. You'll either love it or hate it, although it does it make it easy to spot various ports and sockets easily. How on earth could one miss the lime-coloured IDE ports on the left-hand side?
One of the Royal's more interesting features is an orange slot that's reserved for Gigabyte's U-Plus DPS (Dual Power System) system. Once the additional (and supplied) U-PLUS board is inserted, the Royal is transformed into a motherboard featuring eight-phase power circuitry. Gigabyte reckons that it adds further stability when the motherboard is overclocked and overvolted, and the heatpipe design is helped by the airflow generated by the CPU's fan. The U-PLUS DPS board is designed to fit around a reference heatsink, and we can see no problem if you're inclined to use larger aftermarket coolers, too.
There are four blue LEDs on the U-Plus DPS which serve as a rudimentary troubleshooting guide during the POST sequence. The four-pin power connector is located close to the power-delivery system. It makes the contact shorter but also makes installation a little messier, as you have to place the cable around the CPU's heatsink.
Gigabyte opts for a passively cooled heatsink, and a large one at that, which seems to be the norm for i955X boards. It's not large enough, however, to cause problems when installing or removing a reference heatsink.
Floppy, a single IDE - which is common on all i955X boards - and the main 24-pin power connector are all sensibly located, just below the four DDR 2-compatible RAM slots which are located high enough to allow RAM installation/removal without having to remove the PCI Express card. The i955X chipset is designed with performance in mind, and our benchmarks have shown it to be up to five per cent faster than Intel's very own i945P. Unlike ABIT's offering, Gigabyte only offers three usable fan headers.
The ICH7R is hidden underneath another passive heatsink. The standard four SATA 2 ports are arranged alongside Gigabyte's tried-and-trusted Dual BIOS setup that's been present on high-end boards for some time now. Once the system is powered up, the board checks both BIOSes for integrity. If the primary one fails the secondary one is activated and the user is given the option of fixing the first or continue booting with the backup. We suppose it's also handy when the primary one is flashed with a newer BIOS.
The Gigabyte 8I955X Royal focus on storage flexibility is evidenced by the use of an ITE IT8212F ASIC which offers IDE-based RAID in 0, 1, 0+1 flavours. You just need to look next door to see where the accompanying ports are, and one can add up to four drives in addition to the four SATA-driven off the ICH7R's southbridge.
The board's two x1 PCIe slots are located in a sensible position, right below three regular PCI slots. However, we reckon that Gigabyte could have done a better job of locating the extra two SATA 2 ports hanging off the now-ubiquitous Silicon Image Sil3112A controller. The ports, we feel, should have been nearer the on-chip variety, thus making it easier to connect a number of drives without have to stretch cables. Also, if one decides to use the lower x1 PCIe slot, then cable connection is a slight worry. It's no surprise that Gigabyte uses the same Texas Instruments FireWire ASICs as ABIT does.
More similarities exist in the choice of audio codec that's used to route the ICH7R's sound to the speaker ports. Realtek's ALC882M is sufficiently capable for Gigabyte to proclaim Dolby Master Studio certification for the Royal. The Royal also features dual Gigabit PCI Express-connected Ethernet, although Gigabyte uses a couple of slightly older BCM5751 ASICs.
The Royal has a busy I/O section. There are co-axial and optical S/PDIF-out, old world LPT and COM connections. High-speed connectivity, on the backplane at least, is left to four USB 2.0 ports. Rounding it off are six speaker ports, which offer up to 7.1-channel sound.
We're impressed by the total number of features the Gigabyte 8I955X Royal carries, although, we reckon, the layout could do with just a slight refinement.
Gigabyte's bundle begins in deluxe fashion. Six SATA cables allows one to make use of the board's full complement of SATA 2 ports immediately, and three molex-to-SATA extenders cover power requirements perfectly. Gigabyte also bundles in some funky IDE cables and, it must be noted, an excellent manual that, for once, is written well. There's a small USB-based Bluetooth key and accompanying driver CD, although Gigabyte hasn't gone the whole ten yards and added Wi-Fi.
The driver CD deserves a mention. Gigabyte's XPress Install makes onerous installation a simple one-touch affair. The install utility correctly identifies which components require driver support and installs them one after another. There's also a plethora of additional, useful software that includes Easy Tune 5 tweaking/overclocking Windows-based software.
Making full use of the feature-set on offer, Gigabyte also bundles in three brackets that take up space usually reserved for PCI boards. An extra six USB 2.0 and two FireWire 800 ports then become available.
All in all, a decent, functional bundle for a deluxe motherboard.
Quick accesses to the MB Intelligent Tweaker section, Gigabyte's name for voltage and speed manipulation, proves to be fruitless. There appears, on first glance, to be no way of inputting desired DRAM timings, thereby potentially hindering performance. However, help is at hand if you press Ctrl and F1 simultaneously. The board manual does a poor job of explaining that one needs to press both keys to access key performance parameters.
CPU ratios will only be present and applicable if, like us, you're in possession of an unlocked Pentium 4 CPU. Robust Graphics Booster is an ASUS-like feature that dynamically overclocks graphics cards in DirectX 8/9 games/applications. For example, setting it to Fast and loading up 3DMark05 highlighted that our test ATI RADEON X850 XT PE card was running at 567MHz core and 1215MHz memory, up from the default of 540/1180. It's something users need to be aware of before implementing, as the RGB feature could overclock a card too far and cause unecessary problems. It was left at Auto (no overclocking) during testing. The CIA 2 function purports to do the same thing with respect to CPU speed.
CPU host frequency ranges from 100MHz through to 600MHz, which is a rather optimistic top-end figure, and you can input any desired frequency without having to cycle through each one. PCI Express frequencies range from 90MHz through to 150MHz, but we urge you to leave it at default speeds. Gigabyte uses system memory multipliers (of FSB) to generate final DRAM speeds. At 200MHz FSB that results with available DDR 2 speeds of 300MHz, 400MHz, 500MHz, 533MHz, 600MHz, 667MHz and 800MHz, although anything above 400MHz is largely unecessary. Voltage-wise, it's all quite good. 0.8375-1.6V for the CPU, up to 0.6V above DDR 2's 1.8V native spec., up to 0.35V above the chipset's and PCI Express' stock voltages. The use of some quality DDR 2 modules from Corsair allowed us to run the board at DDR 2 533MHz with 3-2-2-8 timings.
It's great to see a deal of voltage manipulation on key lines, but then Gigabyte takes a step backward by not providing voltage reporting in the BIOS' health section. It doesn't make a whole heap of sense, does it?
Who better than the chipset designer to make a fully-fledged i955X motherboard? Intel's desktop motherboards tended to be simple showcases for its newest iteration of chipsets, and, consequently, often miss out on the featured tacked on by the likes of ABIT and EPoX. The D955XBK, however, is designed to change all that.
Intel uses an eight-pin (2x4) 12V power connector that's in line with ATX 2.0 spec. You needn't worry if your power supply only has a four-pin 12V connector, as Intel provides the necessary adaptor in the bundle. There's plenty of room around the CPU socket which is dwarfed, on the left-hand side, by a massive passive heatsink. It's the largest we've seen, and Intel has enough confidence in its cooling ability to forego the usual fan on top.
The heatsink is big enough almost to encroach on the PCB space alloted to the four DIMM slots. Of course, being an i955X motherboard, the D55XBK supports up to 8GB of DDR 2 memory (both non-ECC and ECC) in the preferable, performance-enhancing dual-channel mode. The Memory Controller Hub, covered by the massive heatsink, controls accesses between system RAM and your chosen LGA775 CPU. The location of the primary IDE port and legacy floppy are both good.
Moving on past the CMOS battery and one of the board's four fan headers, we stumble upon SATA galore. The heatsink-covered ICH7/R southbridge powers the four black SATA 2 ports to the right. A further four ports, coloured blue, are available from the tried-and-tested Silicon Image Sil3114 controller; it's kind of hard to miss, situated right in the middle. However, whereas the Intel D955XBK 'outports' both the ABIT and Gigabyte boards, it does so by using a PCI-based controller, and not the preferable PCI Express implementations on the other two. You probably won't soak up the bandwidth available on the PCI bus, but Intel should really have invested in the newer Silicon Image ASIC, the Sil3134.
Complementing the board's eight USB 2.0 ports are three FireWires ports (two 1394a and a single 1394b) run off the same Texas Instruments combination as found on the ABIT AW8-MAX.
Beyond the single x1 PCI Express slot and a trio of PCI slots are two longer PCI-Express slots. SLI or CrossFire compatibility? Unfortunately not for SLI at the moment, but ATI has announced support for its delayed CrossFire dual-card setup. The upper slot is a regular x16 used by every PCI Express graphics card under the sun. The lower slot, although a x16 connector, can only use up to four lanes (x4). There's no present certification for dual-card running, although you can use the x4 slot for expanded display options.
Intel also adds in Gigabit Ethernet support from its 82573V ASIC. The ICH7/R's HD audio is routed via SigmaTel codec. The sound is then routed out to the I/O section.
Speaking of which, Intel goes with a mixture of legacy and high-speed ports. From left to right, we have the ubiquitious PS/2 ports, alongside parallel and serial ports. Intel adds S/PDIF support through coaxial-out. Four USB 2.0 ports sit underneath a single 1394a port and RJ45 connector. Lastly, eight-channel audio support is helped by optical-out.
A smattering of extra features helps turn the otherwise reference-like D955XBK motherboard into a real retail contender, and it scores points for having a three-year warranty, common on most Intel boxed motherboards. It doesn't have some of the more esoteric features found on the Gigabyte and ABIT models, but has enough to keep most users happy, especially with CrossFire around the corner.
The board is bundled with a well-written main manual, comlete with colour illustrations, that only covers basic installation. There's no reference to the BIOS settings and overclocking features at all. Intel's excellent one-click installation CD takes the boring work out of chipset and features installation, and a second CD adds in a whole slew of extra, useful software from the likes of Norton, Farstone, NTI, MusicMatch, Intervideo and Jasc, as well as a number of Intel-specific utilities.
What's interesting to note is that the eight funky SATA cables supplied with the D955XBK carry SATA 2 latches that are UV-reactive. That also goes for the ATA-100 and floppy cables, and all are manufactured by BizLink. Intel, as you would expect, also adds in floppy discs for both its own Matrix Storage and Silicon Image's controllers.
A 3.5in front-mounted box adds in a couple of USB 2.0 ports and the remaining two-port FireWire support for 1394a (blue board header) and 1394b (pink header). Microphone and headphone sockets are also provided.
Extra fly cables are supplied to further boost high-speed connectivity ports and audio connections. A couple of USB 2.0 ports bring the total up to the ICH7/R-supplied eight. A single FireWire port doesn't make a whole heap of sense if you use the front-mounted box.
The first informative screen in the D955XBK's BIOS shows us processor and memory information. Of course, Intel's very own i955X motherboard supports all of its LGA775 CPUs, from lowly Celerons right up to expensive, fast dual-core models. That implies support for CPUs with native FSBs of 200MHz and 266MHz, respectively. System memory, when run with the common 200MHz FSB CPUs, can be set to 400MHz, 533MHz, 667MHz or 800MHz. Dual-channel DDR 2 400MHz provides, theoretically, enough bandwidth to satiate the processor's requirement, and using, say, DDR2 667MHz or DDR 2 800MHz memory, without the additional burden of onboard graphics, is relatively futile. It's best to go with lower latencies than higher bandwidth, we reckon. All major parameters are set from a separate configuration screen.
System RAM's latencies can be reduced in order to increase performance. We ran with a pair of Corsair's 3-2-2-8 DDR 2 667MHz modules at DDR2 533MHz speeds. It's nice to see that DDR 2 voltage can be raised from the default 1.8V up to 2.08V. Enthusiast-orientated DDR 2 RAM tends to require more than 2V for operation at its rated frequency and timings. The SPD for the modules is rather relaxed.
Where the D955XBK Extreme really falls down is in providing the user with easy-to-use FSB and CPU voltage adjustment. One can add up to ten per cent extra clock speed from the menu, but it's far, far less than what's available on most partners' boards, including the ABIT and Gigabyte models reviewed here. It's somewhat strange that Intel provides a reasonable degree of MCH voltage adjustment but then doesn't do the same for the CPU. This may, of course, change with newer BIOS release, and Intel seems to update pretty often.
We'll be looking at the performance of these three high-end Intel boards against Intel's very own, supposedly slower i945G chipset. Further comparisons will be made against an Nvidia nForce 4 SLI Intel Edition motherboard and, as usual, a Socket 939 motherboard with an AMD Athlon 64 4000+ in the socket. This time it's ABIT's Fatal1ty AN8.
There were zero stability problems to report during installation and testing. The i955X chipset is a proven design with an impressive memory controller.
Benchmark differences between motherboards sporting identical chipsets is often down to the exact FSB speed of motherboard in question. That being so, the running speed of the boards was as follows:
3611.3MHz - Gigabyte 8I955X Royal - Intel i955X - Intel Pentium 4 660
3600.2MHz - Intel i955XBK - Intel i955X - Intel Pentium 4 660
3600.2MHz - Intel D945GTP - Intel i945G - Intel Pentium 4 660
3599.4MHz - MSI P4N Diamond - nForce4 SLI I.E. - Intel Pentium 4 660
3591.3MHz - ABIT AW8-MAX - Intel i955X - Intel Pentium 4 660
2411.2MHz - ABIT Fatal1ty AN8 - nForce4 Ultra - AMD Athlon 64 4000+
The three black-coloured lines represent the performance of our i955X trio on test. It's of no real surprise that memory bandwidth performance, according to ScienceMark 2.0, is nearly identical in all three cases, and it's just above the figure for the i945G chipset, which lacks the MCH optimisations present in the i955X.
Memory access latency is also just about where we'd expect fine-tuned i955Xs to be, which is around 8ns better than an i945G's
What can be said for one well-tuned i955X motherboard's performance can be said for them all, evidently.
What's clear is that an AMD Athlon 64 4000+ is faster than an Intel Pentium 660 in the gaming benchmarks. The i955X chipset, thanks to a tweaked memory controller, is just a touch faster than an i945G and around the same speed as well-tuned nForce4 SLI I.E. However, the latter sports the all-important SLI technology that gamers just love.
Default performance, as expected, between the three boards, hasn't been a decisive factor when considered from an enthusiast's point of view. All three boards could literally be substituted for one another in a test system and you wouldn't be able to discern the visual performance difference. Overclocking, though, may shed some light on which board is best.
The usual caveats apply when discussing overclocking. Each sample is different, so the results obtained here may or may not be indicative of AW8-MAXs, Royals or D955XBKs as a whole. Overclocking tests were carried out by using a semi-unlocked Pentium 4 670 (3.8GHz, 200MHz FSB). Its native 19x multiplier was dropped to 14x, system memory was dropped to run synchronously (1:1), and both CPU and chipset voltage was raised a touch. We already know that each board is ratified to run with 266MHz FSB CPUs, so just how high would they go?
Intel's D955XBK was ommited from the results due to a lack of fine-tuning within the BIOS. What's pleasing is that both ABIT and Gigabyte boards managed to hit 300MHz FSBs with basic air cooling. It seems as if ABIT's Silent OTES and Gigabyte's U-PLUS DPS systems work well. We're adamant that retail examples will manage similar FSBs.
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.