Every user has a different set of requirements, but one thing is clear. Most people want to have flexibility, stability and support when they buy a motherboard. Many manufacturers are following Intel’s dictates that BX motherboards only support 66MHz and 100MHz bus speeds, and that they further automatically detect the CPU to prevent any attempt at overclocking.
There are a few manufacturers who have decided that selling product is more desireable than just satisfying Intel. So far four of these have been identified by us, which are ASUS, Soyo, Abit and AOpen. We have tested all but the ASUS board, and have made our decision about which one is best, which may not be the ‘popular’ choice.
Rather than focus purely upon the overclocking features, we have a unique perspective regarding the other important issues that were mentioned. Our diagnostic tools allow us to detect low level problems and to measure the signals at the circuit level. We also have experience with various manufacturer’s and their reputation for providing accurate and timely support. These are serious issues for users – especially when buying a new product design, such as these BX boards.
Rating the Manufacturers
The first issue to consider is reliability, or RMA rates. AOpen has always had a very low RMA rate. We consider AOpen to be one of the highest quality motherboard manufacturers because of this. Not much more can be said about them in this area. Abit has truly come around in regards to product quality in the last year. Previously we had some serious problems with some of Abit’s products, but since September of 1997, we have noticed a marked improvement in this area. During that period, the RMA rate for Abit boards has plummeted. There are, however, some issues that still seem to haunt Abit, such as the keyboard problem of the LX6. M Tech has gotten a bad reputation recently because of problems with their product – which has not always been entirely their fault (i.e. the SiS 5571 USB fiasco). With the release of the R581A, M Tech has proven that they can produce a product that rivals the quality of anyone’s. The RMA rate on that board is the lowest of any we have ever sold – less than 1%!.
The second factor to consider is that of support. M Tech excels in this area. In our experience, no manufacturer supports their product like M Tech. Since they have a manufacturing facility in the U.S., M Tech can provide services that nobody else can when it comes to repairing motherboards. There is also a newsgroup which is frequented by an M Tech support representative to answer user questions. AOpen comes a close second in this area. They are the only manufacturer we are aware of that has an end-user support line where you can get answers, RMAs, etc. for problem products if your vendor cannot help you. Since there is no AOpen newsgroup, it is more difficult to find users to share their problems and solutions, unfortunately. The support areas is the one that Abit tends to fall short in. Their USA office does not respond well to problems and questions, and most of the newsgroup postings originate out of Taiwan. Even then, the individuals who post are primarily from the marketing department. Typically, the regular newsgroup visitors provide the vast majority of the support, and fortunately for Abit most of these are staunch supporters of the product.
The one area that Abit excels in is price. Their product is typically priced about 5% to 10% lower than most other quality manufacturers, which makes them very popular. M Tech also typically is lower priced, but since they don’t have the same reputation as Abit, most users consider them to be a lower-grade product. This is simply not the case, at least not anymore. AOpen usually has amongst the highest prices of any manufacturer. This is because of the quality materials, design and manufacturing of their products. Unfortunately, most users are looking primarily at price, which limits the desireability of the AOpen motherboards.
Of the three manufacturer’s BX motherboards we have tested, our choices would be as follows:
For those who wish to have the best quality, great support and the best mix of features, go with the AOpen AX6B. The price is a bit higher than the others, but you will definitely not be sorry you chose this one.
If you want a board that is well made, has superb support and has more PCI slots (5 as opposed to 4 on the other two), the Soyo SY-6BA is the one for you. The price is midway between the Abit and the AOpen, which makes it a very good deal.
For those who want to follow the crowd, or just get a lower priced board, the BX6 will be your choice. This is not to say that the BX6 is a bad board. On the contrary, it is a very find product. Unfortunately, when stacked against AOpen and Soyo’s offerings, it falls just a bit short in the area of features and support. If you do get this one, you will very likely be happy with it, in any case.
Most of the other manufacturer’s boards have not been considered here, because they have implemented the ‘clock locking’ that Intel has pushed for. As stated above, the only board we cannot specifically recommend is the ASUS board, because we have not tested it. ASUS is a fine manufacturer of quality products. Their support falls somewhere between AOpen’s and Abit’s, while their price is somewhere near what AOpen’s is. Their reliability is historically somewhere between AOpen/Abit and M Tech.
Hopefully, this report has helped to clear up some of the issues surrounding the choice of motherboards. One thing not discussed is the electrolytic vs. tantalum capacitors, which some visitors have queried us on. We will be writing an article addressing this issue, as it is much less important than some would like you to believe. This was originally a marketing scheme that got into the popular press, and is now being propagated by those who do not really understand the issues. Let us just say that every manufacturer mentioned here uses high quality components, and an ‘early demise’ is not much of a liklihood.
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