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The High End And Down
Traditionally, Intel has debuted new products by focusing on the high-end market first, and then allowing the technology to trickle down into more budget-oriented hardware. The release of the Core i7 processor follows this strategy, as did the platform. The only chipset currently available for Core i7 processors is Intel's X58 chipset. The motherboards based on this chipset are aimed more towards enthusiasts than towards value-minded users.
That said, finding a good value in a Intel X58 motherboard is likely more important now than it will ever be in the future. Prices are astonishingly low for a recently released enthusiast chipset, which makes it unlikely that waiting a year (maybe even more) will result in significantly better values. Also, buying the best Intel X58 possible now means that the core of your PC will be ready to accept the best Intel processors for the new few years.
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Gigabyte's GA-EX58-UD3R is, discounting possible sale prices, currently the cheapest Core i7 motherboard than money can buy. At a price of $199 dollars, this Gigabyte X58 motherboard has a price comparable to mid-range enthusiast motherboards for the older LGA 775 socket. That's a very impressive value. This may still be much more than you'd pay for a middle-of-the-road P45 motherboard, but it goes a long way towards negating the early-adopter penalty that current Core i7 buyers face.
Even better, this is a Gigabyte board. It is not odd to see budget-minded board makers like ASRock or Bioware come out with cheap boards. And it isn't unusual to see their users complain about defects and missing features. But this board should be as sturdy as any other Gigabyte product, which is plenty sturdy.
There are a few things missing from the EX58-UD3R. The board only has 4 RAM slots, compared to the six found on many X58 boards, which means the ways you can configure your RAM will be more limited than on other X58 boards. Also, this board lacks SLI support, which can be found on many Core i7 motherboards. However, it does support ATI's Crossfire.
All things considered, the GA-EX58-UD3R is an outstanding value. If you'd like to purchase the Core i7, but want to try and keep the costs as low as possible, this is the motherboard to buy.
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Yes, another Gigabyte board. It isn't often that I recommend two products from the same manufacturer at once, but I feel this is a special case. At $299, the price of the GA-EX58-UD5 is more mid-range for EX58 motherboards. As such, it has many competitors. But it seems that none of them provided the same combination of expected reliability and features that can be found in this Gigabyte board.
Compared to the cheaper GA-EX58-UD3R, the UD5 features more RAM slots. The maximum amount of RAM supported - 24GB - is exceptional. ASUS offers a board (the P6T Deluxe) with a similar price and feature set, but it only accepts 12GB of RAM. This board also offers three-way SLI for both ATI and Nvidia products. The UD5 also seems to perform well when compared to similarly priced boards, like the Asus P6T Deluxe and the MSI X58 Eclipse. Motherboard performance doesn't make or break most PCs, but this board does have an edge.
There are some down-sides to the Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5, the most notable of which is power consumption. Tests seem to indicate that this board uses more power at both Idle and at Load than any other X58 board on the market. However, the difference is relatively small, on the order of a few percent. This could be a major flaw when speaking of a motherboard meant for low-end systems, but if you're buying a Core i7, performance and features are probably more important.
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ASUS P6T6 WS Revolution
ASUS has always made high-quality boards, and in this case, I've picked the best of the best. The ASUS P6T6 WS Revolution is not a budget board. It is a motherboard aimed at people wanting tons of features and at gamers wanting high-end performance in the most demanding games. Its price tag of $359 dollars reflects this, but you get what you pay for.
Probably the most interesting feature of the P6T6 WS Revolution is the "True @16 3-Way SLI" feature which ASUS includes in this motherboard. This motherboard has been set up for the possibility of three-way GPU setups. Its three PCIe primary slots are spaced to fit three double wide cards. Whats more, this board also runs all three cards at full x16 speed. That is impressive, considering that most Core 2 Duo motherboards are forced to run only two cards at x8 lane speeds. PCI-E lanes and speed are explained here. Oh, and this ASUS board can also run 3-way Crossfire at the same blazing fast speed.
The P6T6 WS Revolution gets rid of most older technology. IDE, Floppy, and old-fashioned PCI do not exist on this board. This could be a problem if you have some old components you can't part with, but it does help result in a board layout that is not cluttered, despite a wealth of features. The only real downside to this board is its limited RAM capacity. 12GB isn't much for a motherboard of this price. Even the $199 dollar Gigabyte board can support more. However, 12GB will likely be more than enough unless you're planning to build an extremely high-end workstation. So, with that catch stated, it is safe to say the P6T6 WS Revolution is the best high-end X58 motherboard you can buy.
Top 3 Core i7 Motherboards
Considering an Intel Core i3, i5, or i7 processor? If so, you'll need an Intel chipset motherboard. This guide to Intel's motherboards will help you pick the right motherboard for your processor.