By Jeff Bouton
October 26, 2003

         

So, you've read the reviews and now you're considering upgrading to an Athlon 64.  From what we've seen, that's not a bad choice.  As Marco showed in his introduction to the Athlon 64, AMD's much anticipated processor has shown a lot of promise.  There have been some delays in bringing the new chip to market, but in the end it looks like AMD got it right.  But where do you begin?

Soon after AMD released the Athlon 64 to the public, eager motherboard manufacturers unveiled their latest motherboards for AMD's new baby.  Some are offering basic packages that boast features and performance, yet forego the extras found in premium bundles.  Other manufacturers are offering snazzy new packages with all kinds of extras and unique features.  The only thing left to do is decide which one is for you.

Today we have put together an Athlon 64 Triple Threat that lines up 3 new motherboards from MSI, ASUS and Shuttle, each offering its own flavor of 64-Bit computing.  The focus of this article is not necessarily to be an Athlon 64 "Shootout" but rather one that covers the spectrum of features and performance.  Each package has its own niche, aiming to satisfy the full range of customers from the budget minded to the enthusiast with money to burn.  So, let's get started and see what each manufacturer brings to the party.
 

The Bundles That Accompany Each Board
Nice Package

MSI K8T Neo-FIS2R


If you've been anxious to get your hands on the new Athlon 64 and a good motherboard to go with it, MSI offers one of the most comprehensive packages around.  The package we received for review is an "early bird special" that is one of several versions being released in limited quantities.  The K8T Neo-FIS2R package not only boasts a powerful motherboard with all the extra features and peripheral components of the standard package, but it also includes an Athlon 64 3200+ as well.  MSI has put together a serious bundle with the only thing missing being a stick of high quality RAM.


 

  • 1-Athlon 64 3200+

  • 1-Cooler for Athlon 64

  • 1-Quick User's Guide

  • 1-RAID Quick User's Guide

  • 1-Drivers & Utilities CD

  • 1-D-Bracket 2

  • 2-Floppy Disks with IDE-RAID & SATA RAID drivers

  • 1-Rounded Floppy Cable

  • 1-Rounded IDE Cable

  • 1-SATA Data Cable

  • 2-SATA Power cables

  • 1-I/O Shield

With the inclusion of an AMD Athlon 64 3200+ and an ample selection of additional hardware and software, the "early bird" package is a sweet deal.  Along with that, the package included all of the hardware needed to utilize the on-board components, although a second SATA cable would have been nice.  The User's Guide was quite clear, explaining each feature of the system adequately, although some BIOS features will confuse some users, with little documentation.  Aside from that, there is little else to say other than it is a nice package.  But they are not the only ones with something extra to offer.


ASUS K8V Deluxe


Like MSI, the team at ASUS are gunning for an impressive package of their own, with plenty of extras.  However, ASUS has taken a different approach focusing on unique features and wireless connectivity.  The ASUS package includes a fair share of extra hardware and software, with plenty of IDE and SATA cabling, WinDVD Suite, FireWire and USB expansion modules topped off with 256MB of Geil PC4000 DDR RAM. The inclusion of a 802.11b WiFi adapter and antennae is a nice touch as is some of the board's more unique features such as Instant Music.

 

 

  • 1-Geil 256MB DDR500/PC4000 Memory Module
  • WiFi-b Adapter Card w/antennae
  • ASUS Support CD
  • 2-SATA Data Cables
  • 1-Single port 1394 Module
  • 1-4port USB Module w/cable
  • 1-SATA Power Cable
  • 2-80-conductor IDE Cables
  • 1-Floppy Cable
  • 1-S/PDIF out module
  • 1-40-conductor IDE Cable
  • 1-I/O Shield
  • 1-Bag Extra Jumper Caps
  • 1-User Guide
  • 1-WinDVD Suite CD
  • 1-Instant Music Label

The ASUS K8V Deluxe is a product that should appeal to someone looking for a simple wireless connection, or someone who wants to make their system the center of their home WiFi network.  ASUS covers all of the bases with a complete hardware and software package that is sure to get a lot of attention.  The Wifi package includes all of the necessary software to integrate the system into your network easily and also allows for the system to be set up as a central access point if you are running Windows XP (you are aren't you?).  Some inexperienced users may be frustrated by an error laden component diagram in the otherwise complete User's Guide that is off by one number throughout the manual.  Other than that, the documentation is quite good.

But what if all you want is a good motherboard with solid performance and the necessary trimmings to get up and running quickly?  Then Shuttle may have the answer for you.


Shuttle AN50R


The Shuttle AN50R is not a motherboard that is going to rank high on the "wow" factor when it comes to its package and bundle.  This is because it simply is not what Shuttle was aiming for with the AN50R.  The goal of this board is to provide a powerful product with the necessary tools and equipment to get it installed easily and operating quickly.  Here you will find a clear and concise Users guide and the necessary cabling to handle either ATA of SATA hard drive solutions.  If you already have all of the peripherals you want in your system or you have a limited budget to work with, then the Shuttle AN50R should be an attractive deal for you.

 

  • 1-80-conductor IDE Cables
  • 1-Floppy Cable
  • 1-Twin port 1394 Module
  • 1-Single port USB Module
  • 2-SATA Data Cables
  • 2-SATA Power Cable
  • 1-I/O Shield
  • AN50R User's Manual
  • Drivers & Utilities CD

 

The AN50R has a simple yet complete package that offers a lot of on-board features including FireWire and USB 2.0.  This should be a good solution for those looking to upgrade for a reasonable price without all of the extra bells and whistles of the other models.  The only thing missing is the extra hardware needed to enjoy the 6 channel on-board audio.

As you can see, each of these motherboard packages offer everyone something they can use.  If you are on a limited budget, the Shuttle AN50R looks like a good deal.  If you don't want a simple package but would rather upgrade your system and make it the center piece of your home network and entertainment center, the ASUS K8V Deluxe may have what you are looking for, while the MSI K8T Neo-FIS2R offers it's own flavor to the mix with loads of features and an Athlon 64 3200+.  But this is merely scratching the surface when it comes to making a purchasing decision.  One must take a closer look at each products features and evaluate if that product fills their needs.  Then you need to take a look at the overall system and be sure that it can compete on a performance level with its peers.  In the next few pages we'll take a closer look at each model and look it over in greater detail to see what each brings to the table.  Then we'll line them up in some head-to-head performance tests to see which has the best overall performance.