You might think the motherboard makes little difference to the performance of a modern PC thanks to the highly integrated nature of the latest processors. You'd be partly right.
The difference in terms of application performance between our test boards is frankly negligible. We found that little more than one per cent separates them in the x264 HD video encoding test, for instance.
However, as our benchmarks prove, there's plenty to choose from in terms of storage throughput and overclocking headroom. What these benchmarks don't show, however, is the difference a good BIOS menu can make.
Oh, and for the record all testing was performed courtesy of a test rig using a Phenom II X4 955 BE and 4GB of 1,600MHz-rated Corsair DDR3 memory.
Best AM3 motherboard 2010 is...
Do you jive with integrated graphics? That is the question. At least, it's one of the most important questions when choosing a new motherboard.
Certainly, it's always handy to have an integrated GPU available for emergencies. Likewise, plop an ageing mobo with onboard graphics into a media PC and it can often have several more years of useful life.
What's more, boards with integrated graphics tend to be keenly priced. The problem is cheaper integrated boards traditionally come with less features. It's often the enthusiast friendly options that get the chop.
More to the point, squeezing a graphics core into the northbridge chip only adds to its complexity. Not ideal if you plan to overclock using the processor bus. At least, that's what we used to think.
But this round up of boards based mainly on AMD's latest 8 Series motherboard chipset suggests otherwise. So long as you are using discrete graphics and disable the integrated GPU, you get almost as much overclocking headroom as the fastest discrete graphics chipsets.
Our test boards also prove that even cheaper models often come with a full complement of BIOS options, including overclocking and CPU core unlocking. There's now remarkably little downside to an integrated board.
With that in mind, it's time for the prizes. First for the chop are Gigabyte's GA790XTA-UD4 and the Sapphire PURE CrossfireX 890GX. Both are disappointing with poor overclocking performance, while the Sapphire is short of several features we feel are key, including core unlocking.
Asrock's quirky little 880GMH USB3 is next to fall. Despite impressive overclocking performance, it's not quite cheap enough to offset the lack of SATA 6Gbps support and its lonely singular USB 3.0 port.
As for the Asus M4A88TD-V Evo, it does nothing wrong. But it neither does it do much to justify its price premium over MSI's competing 880G model.
Things start to get really interesting with Asrock's 890FX Deluxe 3. If you're looking for an affordable motherboard based on a high performance discrete chipset you could do a lot worse. With dual USB 3.0 controllers, it's a lot of mobo for the money.
Meanwhile, the Asus Crosshair IV Formula is a lot of board, period. Money no object, it's clearly the best model here. But it's too expensive to take the win.
Instead, the top spot is shared by two boards. Rather sickeningly for the competition, they're both from MSI. With the 870A-G54 and 880GMA-E45 MSI has the bases covered. The 870A-G54 delivers all we could ask for from a cut-price board with discrete graphics, while the 880GMA-E45 adds integrated graphics and crams it all into a handy little microATX package.
Pay your money. Take your choice. Either way, you won't be disappointed with what you buy.