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I have a dream. I dream of BIOS, which menu offers the following choice: Auto and Cancel. Many a true word is spoken in this jest. De facto, BIOS Setup offers only few really useful options. The most important are those that allow to disable idle on-board controllers. Perhaps it's aestheticism (or paranoia), but I always disable them. For example, if I don't need an LPT port, why should I leave it available to programs? No, perhaps it's paranoia... There are also options responsible for the frequencies of FSB, memory, PCI, PCI Express and AGP buses, and memory timings... you see how many options you should leave alone? :) However, if these options are set to something different from "Default", "Auto" or "By SPD", you had better change these options to these values. A still better decision is to choose "Load Setup Defaults" ("Load BIOS Defaults", or better "Load Optimal Defaults") and then modify no settings at all. You may just disable idle devices and controllers. If your motherboard works "in a wrong way" with these settings, it's just a bad motherboard. High quality motherboards work fine with default settings. Motherboards that require thorough configuration are a wrong choice. Thus, BIOS settings and its fine tuning capacities don't get us. We need just one "thick tuning" – Auto. The more parameters it configures, the better.
Assemblage convenience is traditionally given much prominence in motherboard reviews, that's quite logical: firstly, this factor plays an important role for people who constantly assemble computers (or always overhaul their own computers). Secondly, this characteristic can be evaluated more or less objectively, then why not do it? Store is no sore. However, you should keep in mind that the existence of some characteristic (and the rating of this characteristic) does not at all mean that it's important to YOU. Trust my experience: if you are going to "pack it up in a PC case, screw the lid and forget it like a bad dream", extra 15 minutes (in total) spent on assembling the system based on an "inconvenient" motherboard will hardly abate your spirits for those couple of years you will use this computer. Well, you may mutter a swear or two when trying to plug the IDE cable into the corresponding connector hidden below a couple of other cables. So what's the problem? You will do it in the long run, won't you? No jumper descriptions? Just look them up in the manual. Anyway, an hour after the last screw has fixed the lid, you are sure to forget all your sufferings for a long time. So, you shouldn't overestimate this parameter. It's only important to professional integrators or those who overhaul their systems each week. By the way, there are cases when an excellent PCB layout in terms of reliability is very inconvenient in terms of connector locations. I mean it.
For example, in motherboards with a single 20-pin ATX power connector, the optimal layout (and thus increased reliability) is when this connector is as close to VRM module as possible, i.e. somewhere near the CPU socket. This is totally inconvenient from the point of view of a system integrator.
CPU socket is interesting only for one reason in the context of this article: it (or a mounting pad in immediate proximity to it) serves as a base for a cooler. A cooler is a CPU cooling system. This term is already applied both to classic coolers (heatsink + fan) and to fanless cooling devices (though it would have been more correct to call them "CPU heatsinks"). The main problem here is that not every cooler can be installed on every motherboard (even with the proper socket). There is one exception here: "box" coolers (shipped with processors) must always fit any motherboard compatible with a given CPU. Even if you cannot install such a cooler: firstly, I would never recommend such a motherboard; secondly, if you have already bought it, you'd better return it to the store. Though, I tell you that to be on the safe side: I have never met motherboards, which couldn't house boxed coolers.
You may dislike the idea of using boxed coolers (or you already bought a CPU without a cooler – it also happens...). In this case I can give you a single universal recommendation: take care of this problem at the right time. Choose a cooler (a quote from user's guides: "cooler selection guide is not included into the article" :), choose a motherboard, and try to find out whether they are compatible before you buy them. You may use forums and conferences in Internet, friends and acquaintances, shop assistants after all. Shop assistants (at least in decent shops and companies) actually seldom tell lies. So, if you are promised that "everything will be fine", it will really be so or this promise will give you the right to return it to the store and take the money back.
But let's return to our muttons: motherboards. In my personal opinion, motherboards that cannot carry massive coolers (we don't mean huge coolers, they are unique...) are not well designed. I'll explain you why. The fact is, if you cannot install a large cooler there (it abuts against motherboard components), a standard cooler will also be closely surrounded by them. This is bad. This is bad from the point of view of normal working conditions for a CPU cooling system. And if a motherboard hampers CPU cooling, it's not a good choice, not even if it can boast of an excellent design and of a high quality. Of course, you have to make a compromise sometimes: mATX motherboards have little space, so the crowded socket area is quite a frequent sight. But no one tells you to write such motherboards down into the black book and ignore them! I just inform you about this shortcoming. You will hardly be able to find a motherboard without shortcomings (using this method) ;). But this does not cancel the good intention to reduce their quantity in your purchases.
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