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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Mobo Integration Madness

Before we jump into the last year's worth of mobos and chipsets, it's important that we quickly discuss the relative advantages and disadvantages of many of the features that are onboard modern motherboards.

Back in the day, motherboards included nothing but the basics—a PS2 port, serial, parallel and maybe, if you were lucky, a USB port. Nowadays though, motherboards include every possible add-in feature you could ask for: networking, sound, video, RAID, FireWire, multiple USB ports, and more.

DFI LAN Party Pro875

DFI's new LAN Party Pro875 won't just turn your head, it'll stop you dead in your tracks. Sporting radioactive-looking orange components that fluoresce under ultraviolet light, the LAN board is a departure from the company's sedate leanings.

Figure 3.3Figure 3.3 Rounded edges and a good accessory bundle—we like, we like.

DFI doesn't stray far from the Intel reference design. The 875P north bridge is present and accounted for, as is the ICH5-R south bridge and Gig-E support through CSA. The DFI board, unlike the others in this roundup, can also do "1.5" RAID. Using a High Point 372N chip, the DFI lets you set up a RAID array that uses both striping and mirroring, with just two hard drives. This feature works via the board's parallel ATA connections, though, so you can forget about using the onboard Serial ATA controller for this feature.

How's this for a system-tweaking feature? DFI embedded power and reset buttons directly on the PCB. This isn't new to the world of mobos (Abit did it with its 845PE series boards), but having immediate access to these buttons sure is handy when you're trying to troubleshoot a problem and your system's guts are all spilled out on the table. A power-user's feature, to be sure. Like the Chaintech 9CJS, the DFI board gives you visual POST codes, but you have to translate them from four LED's on the PCB surface using a table in the manual.

On the audio front, DFI uses a C-Media six-channel codec capable of 18- to 20-bit quality signals. The board's audio performance was slightly inferior to that of the Abit board, but definitely better than what the Asus mustered. DFI didn't include the optional Dolby Digital encoder from C-Media that would let you run the board with a digital decoder box, but because the board is intended for use in gaming rigs, we won't be too finicky about that omission.

Running a 3GHz P4, the LAN Party Pro875 ticks along at 2,995MHz. The Abit goes with 3,007MHz, the Asus 3,030MHz, and the Chaintech 3,043MHz. It's also pretty clear that BIOS optimizations for the new 875P chipset have some wiggle room. Running the latest public BIOS, the LAN Party Pro875 performed like a slower 865PE board.

While the LAN Party Pro875 is relatively slow, it still ran very close to the other two "normal" 875P motherboards here. We just can't forgive the lack of FireWire support, which is requisite in any enthusiast-level board.

Figure 3.4Figure 3.4 MaximumPC Verdict.

Originally published August 2003

In some cases, such as with onboard RAID and Ethernet, you get the same level of functionality and performance you get from an add-in card. Having these features built into your motherboard is usually a good thing, since it frees up PCI slots and saves money.

However—and experienced PC testers and builders are already keenly aware of this—integrated components are a mixed bag. As we'll discuss in Chapter 8, "Soundcards," onboard audio offers some conveniences and saves money, but can result in inferior sound quality (many chipsets offer piss-poor audio), and will definitely decrease overall PC performance because the CPU is forced to consume valuable CPU cycles for audio processing.

Similarly, onboard video saves money, but you'll pay a massive price in performance. For one, add-in cards have their own onboard memory to use in games, but integrated graphics chips must share your precious system memory. Even if you have 1GB of memory, that's bad. More importantly, however, integrated video just plain sucks for today's demanding 3D games. If you must have integrated graphics, we can half-heartedly recommend ATI's Radeon 9100 IGP since it's the only chipset that boasts the programmable shaders that next-generation games like Half-Life 2 and Doom 3 demand.

This isn't to say that all integrated, onboard features are bad; if we were to build a basic web-surfing system or a media server, we'd probably choose to go with onboard components, because we wouldn't need fancy 3D graphics or high-quality sound.

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