The first step in picking out a motherboard usually involves the features supported by a given product. How many PCI slots does x motherboard have? What bus speeds/voltage ranges does y board contain?
From a basic features comparison, the three motherboards in this article are pretty similar. All three motherboards contain 6 PCI slots. No ISA support is provided on any of these motherboards (Although CNR slots are present on all three products).
In typical ASUS fashion, the CUSL2 contains a universal AGP Pro slot; giving it an advantage if the new interface ever takes off. MSI continues to provide onboard D-LED support with the 815E Pro. With D-LED, a bank of 4 LEDs lights up in various combinations of red and green. If the system hangs during boot up, simply look up the color combination in the MSI manual and you'll know exactly why the system didn't startup properly.
D-LED in action
For example, if the video card isn't properly installed, the first LED will shine green while the rest are red. This eliminates the guesswork involved when diagnosing problems that can occur during motherboard installations.
On previous MSI motherboards, the D-LED bank was located next to the I/O ports on the motherboard. With the 815E Pro MSI integrated the LEDs right on the motherboard itself just below the Intel 82801BA chip. With the LEDs in this position, you won't have to look behind the computer case to determine why your system is booting properly. Just remember to keep the case off until the system is properly setup.
Another important function motherboard manufacturers use LEDs for is system power. A power LED is present on the SE6 and CUSL2, so you'll instantly know if your motherboard is receiving power when you plug in the ATX power connector.
With so many motherboards now shipping with integrated sound. We were pleasantly surprised that ASUS chose to skip this feature for the CUSL2. Unfortunately, this isn't the case for the SE6 and 815E Pro.
Rounding out the features comparison are the Windows-based applications for programming the system BIOS. For instance, both the ASUS CUSL2 (via LiveUpdate) and MSI 815E Pro (via Live BIOS) offer programs for upgrading your BIOS from within Windows.
In addition, with MSI's Fuzzy Logic II utility, end users can adjust the system bus and voltage of the CPU from within Windows. If you're new to overclocking your CPU, Fuzzy Logic can automatically do the work for you.
With the diagnostic LEDs and the Fuzzy Logic II utility, the 815E Pro just edges out the CUSL2 in the features comparison.
FEATURES WINNER: MSI 815E Pro
2ND PLACE: ASUS CUSL2
3RD PLACE: ABIT SE6