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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Careful Considerations for New Mobos

If you're in the market for a new motherboard, you must also worry about new technologies looming on the horizon. We're amazed at the rate with which the mobo has mutated. Constantly evolving and continuously being released, new technologies like CPU sockets and networking features can make your shiny new purchase obsolete before you can even get home from the store.

This last year has probably been both the worst time and the best time in years to invest in a new mobo! It's the worst time because in the next few months we'll see the emergence of an entirely new memory technology (DDR-II), peripheral bus (PCI Express), and motherboard formfactor (BTX), as well as new CPUs from both AMD and Intel that may not be compatible with all current mobos. These new technologies will make everything on the market now "yesterday's news" overnight. (We'll discuss these future technologies in the "Looking Ahead" section at the end of this chapter.)

Chaintech 9JCS Zenith

Chaintech went nuts with the accessories and features on this board. In addition to the screwdriver and SATA data/power cables, it also includes PATA cables, a bay-mounted media reader, front-mounted USB and FireWire ports, and a remote control and LED read-out!

Figure 3.5Figure 3.5 With this Chaintech board, you not only get the motherboard, you get a screwdriver, SATA data cables, and SATA power cables.

Like the other three P4 boards reviewed this month, there's the full 875P chipset with the ICH5-R south bridge for RAID support. Chaintech includes support for Intel's CSA LAN, and for good measure throws in a RealTek Fast Ethernet controller. This dual-LAN arrangement gives you the ability to run the board as a router without having to add any PCI cards.

Chaintech actually ran out of room on the board, so it added a small daughterboard bearing additional audio jacks, an optical SPDIF out, and two FireWire ports. Compared with our other contenders, the 9JCS Zenith is lacking only in dual-RAID functionality.

The Zenith is the first mobo we've tested that includes a VIA Envy24PT chip, which supports 24-bit audio. Don't assume you're getting a full DSP, though, because the Envy24PT is a host-based solution. What's more, while the VIA chip may sport 24-bit capability, Chaintech limits the Envy24PT by using a VIA VT1616 codec. This codec supports six audio streams, but is limited to 18-bit support only!

We were confused by the audio drivers Chaintech included. Once the initial drivers were installed, we were unable to tweak environments or change the speaker setup. Also, of the three P4 boards we tested, only the Zenith was unable to run Unreal Tournament 2003 when 3D audio hardware was enabled.

Performance-wise, the Chaintech put up mighty fine numbers. In fact, it was one of the fastest we saw back in August 2003.

There's just once catch with the 9JCS. The price. The accessories aren't free, Homer. Chaintech wants you to shell out $269 for its board. The street price will likely be lower, but that's a pretty penny for a motherboard, even if it is a six-layer design. Worse still, the Chaintech features the shortest warranty period (just two years) of all the boards in the roundup. Nonetheless, we love the "give 'em everything" approach, and considering the board's solid performance, we doubt you could want much more from an 875P mobo.

Figure 3.6Figure 3.6 MaximumPC verdict.

Originally published August 2003

The good news, however, is that as newer mobo technology begins to arrive, today's top-of-the-line hardware has started to become extremely affordable, meaning you can get high quality performance for reasonable prices.

Figure 3.7Figure 3.7 Every now and then, we get in a monstrosity of a mobo. Such was the case in mid 2004. In order to test a dual-CPU rig for our June 2004 Speed Issue, we got in this Tyan mobo, which looks like the Death Star.

Let's take a look at the major chipsets available and the major developments over the past 12 months. Then we'll look ahead to the bright and shiny future, which is chock full of chipset developments.

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