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Motherboard

Updated: 2012-01-25

The motherboard is a major determinant in the whole system because what ever goes into the system has to plug into it.
  • The "Socket" will determine which CPUs can be used.
  • The chipset will determine the features the mother board is likely to have.
  • Memory will need to be compatible with the motherboard.
  • Where a separate graphics card is required a slot will need to be present for it and the mother board will need to support it.
Most features of a motherboard will be determined by the onboard "chipset" and some simply by what the manufacturer decided to offer. Some have onboard graphics and some do not, usually determined by the chipset.

Linux compatibility is established by Google searches for "Ubuntu 11.04" followed by the classification number of the motherboard.

Gigabyte was recommended by a dealer friend of mine as reliable but it seemed that Gigabyte did not provide anything other than Windows drivers. Also there seems to be some problems reported with AMD AM3+ Gigabyte boards.

Looking at the motherboard website pages I found whether Linux drivers were available but only Asus seemed to provide them on a few newer boards. Asus do well in this respect according to the Linux community.

The CPU and Socket

You will also need to choose a CPU at the same time as the socket you want. The "Socket" will determine the range of CPUs that can be used and so will limit your upgradability. These strike me as some of the better options;
  • Processors for Intel socket 1155 run typically from £50 to £250 with the i3, i5, i7 processors featuring on chip GPUs.
  • Processors for Intel socket 1366 run from £230 to £850 without GPUs.
  • Processors for AMD socket FM1 run from £50 to £123 with the Llano APU range of processors featuring on chip GPUs.
  • Processors for AMD socket AM3+ run typically from £30 to £210 without GPUs.
I quote the prices here as some reflection on processor performance but of course its a bit deeper than that.

The CPU

For CPU performance see CPU Benchmarks its better than Tom's hardware below.

Tom's hardware will allow you to see a comparative list of CPUs under various bits of test software. I chose video editing as the first way to select a processor Tom's Hardware on Video Editing  From Tom's Hardware CPU Charts you can tick the processors you like and get a table for those processors with each piece of test software. WARNING: At first glance, AMDs appeared usually slower on the whole then Intel's, memory access appeared to take half again as long for the AMD processors. This is because. Tom's Hardware is deceptive in its processor benchmarking because it benchmarks using 1 core only running at 3GHz. I Quote them;

Our CPU core performance charts compares various different processor architectures at a normalized clock speed of 3.0 GHz and only using a single processing core per CPU. This allows a direct comparison between different processor models that are otherwise hard to compare, as today’s products run different architectures, clock speeds or core counts. Which CPU delivers the best performance per clock?

The effect of this is to make AMD look worse than Intel when it isn't.


AMD Bulldozer FX-8150 vs Intel Core i5 2500K 8-Core Gaming Benchmarks Linus Tech Tips

YouTube Video


AMD FX-8120 Bulldozer Benchmark (Prefers FX-8150)

YouTube Video


Intel 2500k vs. AMD Bulldozer 8150 (Prefers i5)

YouTube Video



Linux compatibility

Now of course I am using a recent Ubuntu 11.04 and it seems to work on everything.

The Chipsets

I have chosen to go with Intel Socket 1155 and AMD Socket AM3+ and so will only consider chipsets in relation to these.

Choose your chipset based on the features you want then choose a motherboard with that set and check it implements the chipset features that you wanted. Look for a block diagram for a system based on the chipset just to make sure there aren't any bottle necks for what you want. i.e. if you intend to use a lot of hard drives you want to make sure that the data can get to and from the CPU fast enough.

The Intel H67 chipset is very similar to the Intel P67 but with support for onboard graphics. For this benefit over the H57 it looses 2 PCI express ports and the "extreme tuning support" i.e. you can't over clock it.

The chipset limits the architecture of the board and that determines what it will do best and what it will do worst. The chipset on a board may be but are not always made by the same manufacturer as the processor.
Wikipedia gives the following but no diagrams!
To be frank this is far from enough. When trying to evaluate the graphics capability of a mother board, for example, you really need just a bit more detail. Sad!

Memory Architecture

Motherboards are available with duel or triple channel memory architectures. This will be determined by the chipset. This simply means the processor has 2 or 3 independently accessible memory banks which can be accessed simultaneously, giving 2 or 3 times the performance of a single channel memory architecture.

Most modern motherboards are duel channel. You should put the same amount of memory in each channel to get best performance. i.e. if your motherboard has a duel channel architecture use two SIMMs one in each channel rather than one SIMM of twice the capacity in just one channel.

Motherboards usually have 1, 2 or 4 slots per channel of memory, thus giving various upgrade options.

PCI Express

You are unlikely to be short of PCIe slots nearly all modern graphics cards use PCI Express 2.x (x16) slots so its good to have one. 

To work out the speed of a PCI Express slot the first digit is a power of two the second a multiplier so for example;

PCI Express 1.0 (x1 link) = 2 Gbit/s
PCI Express 2.0 (x16 link) = 4 x 16 = 32 Gbit/s
PCI Express 2.0 (x8 link) = 4 x 8 = 16 Gbit/s
PCI Express 1.0 (x16 link) = 2 x 16 = 16 Gbit/s

Note that normal PCI slots are more chunky with lower density connections.

The Brand

Gigabyte Motherboards

On the first pass, I chose a motherboard based on brand and the experience of a supplier friend of mine and he had very good things to say about Gigabyte. You can compare gigabyte motherboards here Gigabyte Motherboards and Tom's hardware comments on reliability here Tom's Hardware on Gigabyte

Trying to sift through the features was next to impossible and the serial numbers don't help much. The processor socket I chose at the time was 1155 so that eliminates a few. The classification numbers are a almost useful, this is all I could figure out about them. Here is an example;

GA-H67A-UD3H-B3

GA- just means its a Gigabyte mother board
H67 Means its the Intel H67 chipset
A- Means its a bit better then without the A
UD3H- The D3 means its got more interfaces than D2 and less then D5 but the U and the H told me nothing.
B3 That means its the new revision from Intel where the faults in earlier H67 and P67 chipsets have been corrected.

AsusMotherboards

Asus appears to supply downloadable Linux drivers for its "AMD AM3+" chipset and for their "Intel CPU on a board". Use the menu on the left of this page Asus Motherboards to look at the specifications for these boards.

The Asus Sabertooth motherboards have a 5 year guarantee and use mil-spec components they claim it comes with Intel X58 and P67 chipsets.
Discussions on it;
So how about a high reliability board from a not so reliable company but one that provides Linux drivers for at least some of its boards.

Well at least Asus bother to provide some drivers for Linux. Even if its only for a few of their boards, it shows willing.

Linux Compatibility

Now of course I am using a recent Ubuntu 11.04 and it seems to work on everything. But its worth googling "ubuntu 11.04" and the motherboard you like with the word "problem"


Notes

VIA chipsets Have supported linux for 2 years
Silicon Integrated Systems for SiS Mainboard chipsets
Acer Laboratories Incorporated for ALi chipsets




© Tom de Havas 2011. The information under this section is my own work it may be reproduced without modification but must include this notice.



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