Battle of the chips
Here at Firingsquad, we answer a lot of email. While most of it is related to which video card is best, one of the more common questions we've been asked recently is which motherboard to buy.
This isn't surprising, considering the wide range of options available. After all there are dozens of motherboard manufacturers, many with multiple products based on the same chipset. In the past choosing a motherboard was easy - determine which features you're looking for and then which motherboard comes the closest to meeting those needs and you're all set.
The chipset was mainly a given, if you wanted a system with an Intel processor you typically chose a motherboard with an Intel chipset. With the K6-2 and K6-III CPU's Ali or VIA chipsets were considered the norm.
However, recent developments have changed the situation drastically. On the Intel front, an entirely new platform has emerged based on the 820 chipset. Offering a completely new memory architecture based on Rambus RDRAM, 820 motherboards and RDRAM are just beginning to hit the retail channel in volume.
From the VIA camp is the more evolutionary Apollo Pro133A chipset. Based largely on the first chipset to offer official support for the 133MHz front side bus, (the Apollo Pro133) Apollo Pro 133A motherboards are also beginning to arrive on store shelves.
For Athlon users only option has existed in the past - the AMD-750 chipset. This will soon change however, with VIA offering their KX133 chipset.
With all these options things can get confusing for consumers. "Should I buy a motherboard based on the VIA chipset or stick with my current BX motherboard and wait for RDRAM prices to drop?" is a common example of the questions we've been asked lately.
Sorting it out
When choosing a motherboard, the first thing you must decide is which chipset meets your needs. For instance, if you're looking for a motherboard with Pentium III and AGP 4X support, but still want to use your PC100 or PC133 SDRAM, a motherboard based on the VIA Apollo Pro 133 or 133A (694X) chipset would probably be ideal. While the 820 chipset supports SDRAM via a memory translator hub, our tests have shown the performance hit with this setup is too great. Of course, a standard BX motherboard will still work with an AGP graphics card, but won't take advantage of the AGP 4X interface.
That's why choosing a motherboard is a little more difficult today than it has been in the past. With so many choices, it's important to get the motherboard that will best serve your needs. That's what the purpose of this article is - to outline which chipsets you should consider when upgrading your system.
We've taken a sampling of motherboards based on the various chipsets and combined them with a CPU operating at 600MHz and the Voodoo3 3D accelerator to answer one question: which chipset is fastest?