|MICRO CENTER: COMPUTERS AND ELECTRONICS|
|In The Lab
Build Your Own PC Chapter 9: Adding components to a motherboard Part 1
by chris & rob
Rob: Now that we have built a complete system, maybe we can share some insights with our loyal readers when they're shopping for components.
Chris: Instead of building our first system with a careful pre-planned approach, we chose many cool product features (or cost-saving ones) and cobbled one together. This is not too difficult if you stick to middle-of-the-road type components, but if you're going for high-performance, you'll need to make sure your components match up.
Rob: And by matching up, say, a high-end motherboard with a high-end processor, we can be sure that both run as fast as advertised.
Chris: Right you are Rob. But no matter if you are going to assemble a system for the first time, or want to build the most cutting-edge, fastest game-playing monster of a system possible, there are a few "rules" you can follow.
As an example, let's try to see what choices we get for a super-fast gaming system. I am going to start with the CPU first since this has only a few requirements, and they all apply to the system board.
The fastest Intel CPU I see this week is the Intel® Boxed Pentium® 4 Processor Extreme Edition 3.4GHz. Under the product specifications, it requires a Socket 478, and it uses an 800MHz Front Side Bus. Our motherboard will have to match both requirements to be compatible, and it should also indicate that it will support a CPU up to 3.4GHz. System Boards may have socket 478 slots, and provide an 800MHz FSB, but if the BIOS doesn't know what a 3.4GHz CPU is, it is not going to even go through a POST (Power On Self Test), or if it does, will only run at a slower speed.
Rob: What would we have to do to get this monster processor to work with a motherboard that doesn't recognize 3.4GHz?
Chris: This would very likely imply that a BIOS flash will be required before my system will even start. (see this month's Tech Term for a BIOS definition)
Rob: Do we need to buy a motherboard with an Intel chipset or could we go with a SiS or VIA chipset?
Chris: While there might be third-party chipsets that support all of the CPU features, the Intel chipsets are designed and tested specifically with the Intel CPUs. Looking through the list of Socket 478 system boards, I find seven that use the Intel 875 chipset. Of these, two list a "Maximum Processor Speed" of 3.06 GHz, while the rest make no mention of a maximum speed.
Rob: That doesn't mean they have no maximum speed supported, it just means the manufacturer didn't supply that information. So, we'll have to visit manufacturer's website to find that info.
Chris: And research is a big part of selecting components when manufacturers have to constantly update BIOS microcode for the latest processors. By the time a motherboard is produced with a chipset to support the fastest processor, Intel has come out with a faster version. Sometimes a BIOS flash will be all that's needed to support the newest processor, but often motherboard makers stop updating chipsets. You will need to make sure the motherboard has a recent BIOS update for that newer speed.
Rob: Yes, it takes a bit of work to track some things down but those of you out there on the cutting edge are used to that, aren't you?
Chris: On the Asus website, I found updates to their BIOS (updated 4 March 2004) for the Asus P4C800-E Deluxe P4 ATX Motherboard. This is an example of motherboards that should support the 3.4GHz processor we've selected. Just keep in mind that Intel-brand motherboards will continue to produce BIOS updates to support faster processors for 1 or 2 years while other motherboard manufacturers only update their BIOS for about six months.
Rob: This just goes to show you that you need to be very selective and well planned-out when selecting your core components.
Chris: And that's just the beginning. Now that we have a motherboard, we will use its specifications to select memory, hard drive and even the case.
Join us next time when we'll show you how the motherboard defines your other components.
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