Motherboards and Memory
The MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) features a mouse-friendly “Click BIOS II” UEFI that’s much easier to navigate than traditional text-based BIOS menus. The board is also in MSI’s “Military Class III” family and features super ferrite chokes, highly conductive polymer capacitors and / or solid capacitors throughout, which should offer increases stability and longevity. MSI also claims the board is PCI Express 3.0 ready.
Socket 2011: MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) X79 Express-Based Motherboard
The MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) also supports “1 second overclocking” thanks to its OC Genie II feature, but the UEFI sports all of the overclocker-friendly features we’ve come to expect from MSI for manual tweaking as well. MSI also includes their new Instant OC Control Center II utility, which gives users the ability the monitor and control system parameters from within Windows, with no need to reboot when making changes.
Other features of the MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) include USB3.0 and CrossFire / SLI support, along with “Super Charger” which allows users to charge USB devices even when the system is powered down. We found the layout of the MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) to be quite good and also like the dark blue and black features on the board. Its accessory bundle is also top-notch and includes additional USB 3.0 ports and numerous cables and manuals.
If a socket 2011 system is our of reach, however, a socket 1155 Z68 Express based board may be just the ticket. To that end, we like the Gigabyte GA-Z68XP-UD3-iSSD Z68 Express due to its good feature set, competitive price, and built-in 20GB SSD for taking advantage of Intel's Smart Response Technology.
As expected from an Asus RoG (Republic of Gamers) board, there are plenty of overclocking tools built in too and an onboard SupremeFX X-Fi 2 chip delivers decent audio, especially for an integrated solution. Other noteworthy features of the Asus CrossHair V Formula include its "CPU Level Up" tool which allows for easy overclocking, RoG Connect for accessing PC health status via a secondary system like a notebook or netbook, ProbeIt voltage check points, and its Intel Gigabit LAN controller. The layout of the board is also very good and there is ample cooling for the chipset and voltage regulators. As you can see in the final image above, there is also plenty of connectivity in the board's backplane, including USB 3.0, USB 2.0, eSATA, PS/2, LAN, digital and analog audio, and RoG connect port.
High-End Intel System: MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) X79 Express - $279
Mid-Range Intel System: Gigabyte GA-Z68XP-UD3-iSSD Z68 Express - $229
AMD System: Asus CrossHair V Formula - $229
DDR3-1866 memory seems to hit the sweet spot this holiday season. While DDR3-2000 and 2133 kits abound (and some even faster), they're price much higher than their DDR3-1866 counterparts. One of our preferred dual-channel kits comes by way of Corsair, the Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1866 (PC3 15000) memory kit, model. CMZ8GX3M2A1866C9. As its name implies, this kit will run at 1866MHz at CAS 9, but it does so at only 1.5v. The kit also suppports XMP and it plenty overclockable as well. Although the kit is optimized for Intel platforms, its relatively low votlage requirements and high-clocks make it ideal for AMD-based systems as well.
Corsair Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1866 Memory Kit, Model CMZ8GX3M2A1866C9
High-End System: G.SKILL RipJaws Z Quad-Channel DDR3-1866 Memory Kit - $129
Mid-Range System: Corsair Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1866 Memory Kit - $79