S. Louis Thomas · 01-01-2000 · Category:
No matter what happens with the technology involved, there is always one problem that plagues the DIY system builder: choices. Since we, the power builders, are usually building for exactly that reason, it's ironic that it is also our main problem. The first and largest problem that we have to deal with is what CPU we are going to use. This dictates the next question that we are going to be faced with, which is what motherboard are we going to mount the CPU and all of the other components to? After years of helping people choose motherboards, there are a few simple lessons that I've learned. Here are some tips from an old pro at motherboard selection:
1. What are you going to be doing with this system?
If your number one priority is gaming, then you are looking at the fastest processors, newest chipsets, and support for the hottest audio/video output available. If you're going to be building a professional CAD or A/V workstation, then you are also going to be looking at the best processors. But stability, expandability (Slots, Ports, and other add ons), and capacity (both RAM and hard disk space) are of prime concern. If a server is your current project, there is one Holy Grail for you: Stability. Speed, expandability, and capacity are all secondary when the rest of the network is waiting on a dead server. No matter which of these applies to you, be honest with yourself. It may be great to dream about the hottest CPU and enough disk space to swallow the Library of Congress, but do you really need it? If it helps, don't be afraid to make a list of your selection criteria ranked in order of importance for use while you're shopping. This can be pretty heady stuff and it's always good to have something to remind you of where you're aiming at.
Read everything you can get your hands on that has anything to with motherboards. Check the review sites, magazines, and chat rooms. Listen to what the experts have to say, but don't forget to listen to what they're not saying. Do they give the reasons that they have for their opinions? Do they reveal their methodology and their biases?
3. How much do you have to spend?
Balancing your budget is crucial. The components that make up a system's backbone are the most important if you actually plan to use it. Let's face it, there's no point to spending $800 on a chip if your total system budget is $1000. Buy a decent brand motherboard with a good chipset or you'll wind up with an unstable piece of very expensive junk.
4. Make sure that you buy from a reputable, stable vendor.
Though you might save $5 by purchasing from that hole-in-the-wall online e-shop with a Web site that looks like it was created by a 3 year old, you might find that it won't save you anything else. Before you purchase from anyone, do some quick checking. Can you reach a sales person? Is tech support available or are you on your own? Can you get a salesperson for your personal account or are you stuck with whoever answers the phone (no consistency sometimes means no dependability)? Have they been in business long enough to be able to support the warranty that they have listed (a lifetime warranty isn't worth much if the company is out of business in a year!)
5. Be prepared to deal with salespeople.
They will try to sell you whatever they have available. If you are sure that you want brand Y don't let them push you onto brand X unless that was your next choice and you've really made sure that you can't get brand Y anywhere else. Also, don't be afraid to say no and go back to the vendor that left you with the best feeling. Also, do you yourself a favor: keep track of your sales numbers, salesperson's name, and make sure that you are clear on when you should be receiving your new board.
Though this list may seem a bit obvious at times, you would not believe how many people miss these fairly straight forward ideas. Buying a motherboard may not be brain surgery, but it can be as painful if you don't make intelligent choices. The hardware may change but the process, benefits, and costs will always be the same. If you keep all of that in mind, you should be able make your purchase fairly smoothly. If you don't, don't blame me!