The underlying technology that makes all other things possible, the base upon which all dreams are built – so ‘no pressure' then.
We need to say, at this stage, that bad boards don't really exist any more.
Sure, some can be over priced and we've managed to lose days in the lab when a vendor decides to completely overhaul their BIOS when we're almost done testing – but the latest chipsets from Intel and AMD are both feature-full and stable.
That said, some are a dream to work with, while others are still 1 or 2 generations back in terms of software (UEFI) and support.
Given that you can be building a system for pure performance or with a specific budget in mind – and you might be choosing Intel or AMD – we have covered all four of those options: Value & Performance for Intel & AMD.
While recent success has been focused around graphic cards, sporting the Twin Frozr cooling solution, MSI still knows how to compete in the fierce mainboard market. Arguably one of the better specifications being offered in this sector of the market is the MSI FM2-A75MA-E35 which seems to offer an extensive feature set around the £48 mark. It's hard to understand why AMD doesn't use these for all its APR-sampling instead of sending mega boards costing more than the APU itself. No overall winner here, but we're expecting big things from FM2 boards in 2013.
There might be cheaper options if you want a simple Bulldozer set-up, but for anyone who's interested in pushing their O/C skills to the max, then the Asus Sabertooth 990FX R2 is a great choice around the £130 mark. Even though you have to turn off most of the cores in the FX-8150 – some of the world's top overclockers have managed more than 8.5GHz with AMD. That's WAY past a 100% overclock, which is traditionally considered the ‘point at which things start to get very serious.
Sometimes we feel like the technology market is too close to the financial market – the price of products goes up and down so much. At the time we put the Gigabyte Z77-D3H through the Kitguru Labs torture testing, it was close to £80. After picking up out top award, pricing drifted up, but – fortunately – it's now down closer to £75. However you look at it, the Z77-D3H is a killer product. If you have £30 more in your budget, then MSI has an excellent Z77 mainboard for your consideration. When we put the MSI Z77A-G45 board through its paces, we concluded that it could overclock with the best of them – even past £200. It clocked a 3770k to 4.8GHz only the smallest of BIOS adjustments and it also supports memory through to 2,666MHz – giving you plenty of bandwidth for demanding applications. So we declare these two board as our Intel Value selections for 2012.
At the top end of the performance spectrum, the quality available is incredible. Having considered all the options, we have a tie between the ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Champion and the Asus Rampage IV Extreme, so they share the Intel Performance award.