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There are many ways to do something different in the motherboard space, especially with respect to functionality and design. In terms of the design element, we have seen many motherboards recently go for a black and red theme, but in the past we had yellow, pink, and all sorts of interesting combinations. Upon popular request, ASUS is releasing the ASUS Z97 Mark S, an arctic camouflage special edition version of the TUF Z97 Sabertooth Mark 1. We were lucky to get motherboard number #0001 for review.

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All the recent talk of Haswell-E and high-end refreshes has obscured the more casual computing market. The Bay Trail platform uses Intel’s Atom based Silvermont cores and competes directly against AMD’s Kabini for integrated computing, digital signage and cheap computing models. Today we compare two mini-ITX Celeron J1900 based motherboards: the GIGABYTE J1900N-D3V at $85 and the ASUS J1900I-C at $92, as well as the SoC itself.

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Sometimes it feels odd to review the cheaper elements of the motherboard market. The more expensive models have more to play with, whereas the sub $160 market for Z97 comes down to the choice of an individual controller or two. Here is where brand loyalty and styling seem to matter more than absolute feature set. To make matters worse for MSI, one of the other manufacturers is also branding their motherboards with ‘Gaming X’, making it harder to forge that nomenclature as a brand. Today we are looking at the MSI Z97 Gaming 5 at $160, which at the time of writing is sold out on Newegg.

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ASRock is quietly confident of its OC Formula range. We awarded the Z77 version because of its aggressive tactics at the $240 price point and while the Z87 model offered even more but at $330 it missed that sub-$250 market which cheaper overclocking builds are built on. The Z97 OC Formula ditches the Lamborghini on the box and comes back down to earth at $210, although the feature set becomes lighter as a result. The mainstream overclocking motherboard market is always hot at $200, so today we are putting the Z97 OC Formula through its paces.

This mainboard looks good, easy to tweak, provides excellent performance at nominal mode and with CPU overclock. And it’s simple good platform, because it’s a flagship mainboard designed and manufactured by large and well-known company.

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The mainboard has comfortable design, good features set and basic bundle. It has good overclocking power and typical performance. The mainboard has many pros, but we found one very bad thing: power consumption of GA-Z97X-Gaming 3 is too high.

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MSI mainboards don’t seem to have improved much with the transition from Intel’s Z87 to Z97 chipset. Although they have actually got better in some aspects, there are some “buts” that prevent us from calling the tested model perfect.

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<p><span style="font-size: small;">ASUS&rsquo;s new mainboard looks improved with its updated BIOS and modern interfaces. But are all of those improvements really good? And what exactly is the difference between it and the older models? We&rsquo;ll find the answers right now in this review.</span></p> <p><span style="font-size: small;"><a href="http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/mainboards/display/asus-z97-a.html" target="_blank">Read more...</a></span></p>
A dual processor system sounds awesome to the home user but in reality it is almost entirely a professional market. The prosumer has to use Xeons at JEDEC memory speeds and then ensure that the software is NUMA aware, especially if it decides searching for data in the other processor's L3 cache. However now GIGABYTE Server is selling to the prosumer via Newegg, and they sent us the $640 GA-7PESH3 for review.

For most users, a dual processor system affords several issues, aside from the cost. Performance with a 2P system is very dependent on the software in use. With a single processor system, each core can ‘snoop’ into the other core cache in order to see how data is updated. In a 2P system, the latency of talking between the two CPUs is at least an order of magnitude higher. This means that memory accesses can be delayed causing branched and locked code to be slow. In order to get around this, the software has to be NUMA aware, and the majority of regular applications are not.

There is no overclocking with a 2P system, and single thread speeds can be lower. As a result, gaming often sees a hit in performance, as well as basic tasks. The optimal use case scenario, for most software that is not aware of dual processor architecture, is any workload that needs as few memory accesses as possible and is ‘embarrassingly parallel’ such as ray tracing, video editing, virtualization or particular types of scientific compute. 2P motherboards, particularly those built by server teams, also often come with system management tools not seen in the consumer space, allowing users to access their system as it processes data and monitor progress as well.

Next in our recent run of lower cost motherboards is the MSI Z97 Guard-Pro, a motherboard that MSI billed to me as one suited for the overclockable Pentium G3258 on a budget. At $110, we see if it differs much from the more expensive options on the market.

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