Unusual motherboard options you might not know about

The main criteria for choosing a motherboard have been repeatedly reviewed and discussed at many sites. But sometimes it happens that several different models with roughly similar characteristics get to the final. In this case, many vendors equip their motherboards with rather unusual solutions, although they do not affect the future performance of the system, but sometimes they are able to attract their buyer.

Audio motherboards
Built-in sound card has sounded like a dirty word to most PC owners ever since they first appeared. It is not without reason – there were built-in “sound” as a unified solution for office PCs and the element base for them was selected by manufacturers on the basis of the minimum price. Even when quite decent codecs like the ALC 1220 began to appear on motherboards, the opinion of users with at least some ear for music did not change.

The fact is that a sound card is not only an audio chip, but also its binding, and the quality of its components affects the result no less than the codec itself. However, on some modern motherboards, in addition to advanced codecs, a serious binding appears:

separate DACs from 32 bit and 192 kHz sampling rate;
audio capacitors of the sound path Nippon chemicon, Nichicon, WIMA, etc .;
amplifiers supporting headphones with impedance up to 600 ohms;
Amount of gold-plated audio contacts suitable for connecting a surround sound system (5–8).
And for aesthetes, a separate illumination of the audio system zone appears.

eleven one
In stores: in 4 stores
Judging by the trends, motherboard manufacturers are seriously going to take the market away from discrete sound cards of the lower and middle level. So far, adherents of discrete cards do not believe in this, but the situation can be compared with the one that was with cameras some 10 years ago. Then, too, few believed that the vast market for digital “soap boxes” would simply disappear, captured by smartphones with improved cameras.

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Some may argue that professional “DSLRs” and “mirrorless” cameras are still here, and motherboard manufacturers are not going to compete with professional sound cards either. This is confirmed by the fact that support for ASIO, a standard used in studio audio recording, has practically disappeared from the built-in sound cards. Built-in sound cards on top-end motherboards are intended primarily for gamers, and they will definitely find their fans.

SLI / CrossFire support
At inadequate prices for top-end video cards, only the lazy did not ride. In the wake of the shortage of video cards, users again became interested in SLI / Crossfire technologies, which allow combining several video cards into one, thus increasing the performance of the video system.

Manufacturers have noticed this interest – in 2021 motherboards, SLI / Crossfire support is declared in about half of the models. Hooray, it would seem: take a couple of 1080s, put them together and get performance at 3060? Unfortunately no. Placing two cards does not double their stats. The memory will be used not in total, but only in one of the cards (moreover, if the memory capacity is different, the one with the smaller capacity will be used!) The frequency of the MultiGPU system will be determined by the capabilities of the weakest of the cards. Plus the costs of the technology itself, which remains rather crude.

As a result, in the optimal variant with the installation of two identical cards, the performance gain will be no more than 80%. But this is in tests, and in real games this will not happen either, because there is almost no MultiGPU support in modern games. The reason is that the manufacturers of the video cards themselves are not particularly enthusiastic about the development of these technologies. Moreover, both Nvidia and AMD have already abandoned support for SLI and Crossfire, respectively, now game makers have to implement MultiGPU on their own, and this is an additional cost.

Apparently, manufacturers of video cards are satisfied with the current situation. Whether it makes sense in this situation to buy a motherboard with SLI / Crossfire support is hard to say. At the moment – probably not, but what will happen in the future and how the situation will unfold if the shortage of video cards continues, no one can predict.

RAID
The phrase, previously known only to those who wore beards and sweaters (sysadmins), slowly penetrated into household motherboards. Today most motherboards have support for RAID of one level or another.

What is RAID ? This is a technology of using multiple drives as one. Most often, RAID is used to improve the reliability of information storage.

Everyone, probably, came across a situation when at boot the system says “errors were found on the disk”, and then it turns out that some document is missing. There can be many reasons – from application failures to drive failure, but the main thing is that no one is immune from this. If you have nothing on your disk more important than family photos, that’s okay. But if your income depends on the documents stored on disks, inevitably there is a desire to somehow protect them. RAID provides this capability. How the protection will be implemented depends on the RAID level:

0: Parts of the same file are stored on different drives. This level does not improve the reliability of storage (on the contrary, reduces it), but speeds up read / write operations.

1: Two identical drives are installed, information is written to both. Such a RAID is also called a “mirror”: the contents of one disk are completely copied (mirrored) to another. If one disk fails, the spare is used.

The write speed remains the same as when writing to one drive, the reading speed is increased due to the simultaneous reading of parts of the same file from different drives. The main disadvantage of RAID 1 is that the total disk capacity is halved.

5: Several drives are installed, the file is written in parts to everything except the last one, the last drive in the chain stores the checksum of the file. If any drive from the array fails, the lost information is restored using the checksum.

The read speed on an intact array is higher than from a single drive, the volume loss is less than that of RAID 0 – with three identical drives installed, two-thirds of the total capacity will be available. With more drives, the volume loss will be even lower: one-quarter with four drives, one-fifth with five, and so on.

Disadvantages: significant decrease in write speed and complete loss of data in the event of failure of two drives in the array.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which are present on most laptops by default, have not been recognized as desktop PCs for a long time. To connect a PC to wireless networks, it was necessary to use additional adapters, reducing the number of free slots or USB ports. It was believed that a desktop PC was better connected to the network by wires.

In a way, this unspoken rule still applies today: every motherboard is equipped with a built-in network card of at least 100 Mb / s. But the Wi-Fi adapter is only 50%. Or – as much as 50%, if you remember that 3-5 years ago, built-in Wi-Fi was found on one motherboard out of ten. Most motherboards with built-in Wi-Fi also have Wi-Fi 6 support .

If the selected model does not have a built-in Bluetooth or Wi-Fi adapter, this does not mean that you will have to allocate the USB port for an external adapter. Many modern motherboards are equipped with an M.2 key E port, designed primarily for installing wireless adapters.

Powered by an external adapter
Improvement of the element base allows today to create fairly efficient systems on motherboards of a very small size (mini-ITX and mini-STX form factors). Such a computer can be shoved into a case the size of a small book. More precisely, it would be possible if it were not for the power supply. A standard PSU multiplies the required case volume for mini-STX factor boards. It is not surprising that many miniature motherboards now have a connector for an external power supply unit, similar to those used on laptops.

This solution allows the desktop PC to be reduced to a minimum size.

Illumination of board elements
Gone are the days when those wishing to flaunt the “insides” of their PC had to do everything themselves – from the case to the highlighting of its contents.

On the one hand, today it is much easier for modders: manufacturers offer many cases of varying degrees of transparency, and motherboards with backlit elements have already become commonplace. On the other hand, equipment manufacturers have generated several backlighting standards, which are often incompatible with each other. It may well turn out that having a completely “luminous” set of a motherboard, memory, fans and a power supply unit, you will not be able to turn on the backlighting of many elements, and if you can, then without synchronization.

The backlighting of the motherboard is usually controlled by the manufacturer’s app (RGB Fusion from Gigabyte, Mystic Light from MSI, Aura from ASUS, Polychrome from ASRock, etc.). When purchasing other components, make sure that the lighting is supported by the motherboard application.

With components that are connected on the motherboard to the 4-pin backlight (RGB) connectors, everything is simple – there is one standard for them, but such a backlight has fewer possibilities: all RGB backlight LEDs will glow in the same color.

But the components connected to the three-pin A-RGB connector may have different standards. A-RGB backlighting allows each LED to light up in a different color, allowing for tremendous customization options.

Motherboard ASUS TUF B365M-PLUS GAMING

But components with such backlighting cannot always be connected to the motherboard directly and controlled from one application. For example, Corsair backlit components (cases, memory modules, fans, etc.) are controlled by their own iCue application and require the purchase of a separate Corsair backlight controller – they cannot be connected directly to the motherboard. In addition to MSI motherboards, MSI has a partnership with Corsair, so some of their motherboards are equipped with Corsair backlight connectors.

Trivia for fans
Keychain? Sticker? What does this have to do with the motherboard? The most direct, marketers decided, and now many (mostly gaming) motherboards come with all sorts of nice little things for grateful fans of the company. The minimum set is a sheet of stickers with the manufacturer’s logo or some other associated symbolism.