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[ The PC Guide | Articles and Editorials | Choosing Your Motherboard ]

Speed Means Nothing If You Crash

The one factor in choosing a motherboard that is probably way over-emphasized by most hardware sites and by many "high-end" users is performance. It is important to note that while the word "performance" is commonly interpreted as "speed", it really encompasses not only speed but stability, reliability, compatibility and other factors that are important to the individual user. A board that can run every application thrown at it and never crashes may be described as a great performer by one user, but be called a poor performer by another who only wants to run a limited number of apps extremely quickly.

Most users look at the various benchmarks provided on the hardware-oriented web sites and choose one of those that get the higher marks. Unfortunately, these comparisons focus strictly upon the speed of the motherboard, and completely ignore the other important issues - reliability, compatibility, stability, etc. - that were mentioned above. Remember: any number of motherboards using the same chipset will almost certainly be within a few percentage points of each other as far as benchmarked speed is concerned, which is well within the margin of error for most benchmark tests, and not noticeable to most users in any event. The fact is that benchmark results should probably be the last consideration when selecting a motherboard, not the first.

While some of the hardware-oriented web sites also claim to test motherboards for stability and reliability, this is very likely not the case. In order to test for either of these, the motherboard would need to be exposed to many days - or even weeks - of stress testing under various conditions. You can be certain that any reputable motherboard manufacturer has probably already done this with their prototypes, so once again we can assume that most motherboards from major manufacturers will be very close in this regard.

Hardware compatibility is an area that is extremely difficult to test for, even for the manufacturer. The main reason for this is that the open architecture of the PC platform allows manufacturers to vary in how they implement certain "standard" features, to best suit their own particular needs. Because of the sheer number of manufacturers and components, testing every possible combination is virtually impossible. Because of this, compatibility testing will typically consist of testing those components that are determined to have a large market share. In this case, only time in the field will truly determine how compatible the motherboard is with various components. If you have the need to use a device that is not one of the most commonly used, you may wish to find out if the manufacturer has tested it already. Most vendors and manufacturers will not warranty compatibility problems unless they have specifically stated that the device in question will work.

Another area of confusion is the term "Quality". Some hardware sites claim to evaluate the quality of a motherboard by looking at the components used (SIMM/DIMM slots, capacitors, etc.). Quality should be a measure of the overall percentage of motherboards that met or exceeded their stated specification. Using this definition, it is impossible to determine quality based upon a single sample motherboard, and certainly impossible by merely looking at it. It is entirely possible to design and construct a motherboard out of "average quality" components that has a higher quality in the finished product than one that is poorly designed or constructed using "high quality" materials. It is no coincidence that industry quality awards are given to those companies with the best process, not the ones that use the best materials.

Next: Conclusion

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