Choosing a Chipset for Phenoms and Penryns - Summary & Conclusion

Written by:  • Edited by: Christian Cawley
Updated Jul 17, 2009
• Related Guides: Intel

In this, the concluding part of the Choosing a Chipset series, we sum up our findings on all recent AMD, nVidia and Intel chipsets for Phenom and Penryn CPU's and tell you which chipsets suit your budget and needs?

Which Board do I Buy?

That was certainly a lot to look at! Recent CPU's and plans for the future at AMD and Intel, major innovations in on-board graphics, Radeon GPUs landing a solid 1-2 punch to nVidia in the upper midrange, and everything else discussed combine to impact your chipset decision.

People on a budget have a lot of suitable options. With AMD CPUs topping out just over $200 and competing effectively on a price/performance basis with Intel CPUs, both choices make sense, though one could argue that the ability to upgrade to a nicer CPU makes Intel the winner. While you won't see the next generation Nehalem CPU's on boards available today, there will still be plenty of Core 2's to choose from through the next year, complete with falling prices. The 45nm Phenoms, called Deneb, will likely run on current chipsets for AMD CPUs, but they don't appear to quite close the gap with Intel's Penryns.

On the Intel side, boards based on the P35 offer a wide variety of options, allowing builders to find one that has everything they need without breaking the bank on features they don't. The weak point of the chipsets for Intel CPU's is definitely the on-board graphics. For those who don't use discrete GPU's but would still like some graphics ability, Intel's G prefixed chipsets (the ones with on-board graphics) and nVidia's offerings can't keep up to the chipsets that support AMD processors.

Better Graphics from AMD and Nvidia

Both nVidia's GeForce 8 series and nForce 7 series chipsets on the AMD side (save the 710a) offer on-board graphics farmed from its entry-level discrete chipsets, as well as Hybrid SLI. These graphics are in the same league but not quite as good as those that come on AMD's 780G chipset which offers similar Hybrid CrossFire technology based on entry-level Radeon graphics. The 780G chipset is also a big winner in terms of power consumption, so for a quiet home theater unit that plays your Blu-Rays, or a mini-pc with decent graphics without having the room or power to spare for a graphics card, the 780G is a revelation. Just make sure you find one with a SB700 southbridge, not its SB600 predecessor. Another caveat about the 780G chipset is it generally won't run AMD CPUs with Thermal Design Power requirements of 125 watts or above. This is also true of AMD's 770 and nVidia's 710a, 720a, and 730a chipsets.

People who want to run 125w AMD processors need to step up at least to an nVidia 750a SLI or AMD 790X. At prices around $140 and $100 respectively, an AMD fan that wants to run a couple of graphics cards could make a case for these. Again, if you are going with AMD's 790X, look for a board with an SB700 or SB750 southbridge, not an SB600. nVidia's 780a SLI and AMD's 790FX are very nice chipsets (providing, yet again, one avoids an SB600 equipped offering) that start to become too expensive and provide for too elaborate multi-GPU support to bother coupling with AMD's conservatively priced CPU line-up for all but the most dyed-in-the-wool AMD fan.

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Conclusion and July 2009 Update.

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