Date: Tuesday , July 18, 2017
The "best" is subjective by itself, but I think the best motherboards stand out in a particular way. It's really not hard for a company to build a long lasting and stable motherboard. There are plenty of motherboards that last well past their useful operational life span. Some motherboards went above and beyond by being high quality and standing the test of the time or by being relevant for an unusually long period of time. Examples of that might be motherboards based on the excessively long lived 440BX chipset which remained relevant long after successor chipsets were released. Another category that will help a motherboard make this list is innovation. Some motherboards had something special about their design which made them more memorable, interesting, desirable, influential, and ultimately a favorite among enthusiasts. These are the criteria I will use to separate run of the mill excellence from what I consider some of history's best motherboards.
This is one motherboard many of you have probably never heard of. It was a dual socket 8 motherboard designed to work with Intel's mighty Pentium Pro processors. Back in those days dual processor x86 or "WinTel" motherboards as they were often called were rare at the time. Relative to today's money, the Pentium Pro was as expensive as Intel's ludicrous $2,000 CPUs if not more. Yet, there was still a market for the types of performance builds that Alienware and other boutique builders cut their teeth on and made names for themselves.
The PR440FX Providence, was an early ATX motherboard and it was a board many mom and pop builders used as the basis for the ultimate gaming rigs of the day. Paired with a powerful video card, this dual socket monster allowed you to build the fastest possible configuration for games like Doom and Quake. That's precisely what I did. This motherboard was a bit of an odd ball as it required the use of 5.0v EDO DIMMs, but most importantly it allowed for the use of dual Pentium Pro CPU's. I bought a pair of Pentium Pro 180MHz CPUs and overclocked them to 200MHz. This motherboard is 21 years old and mine still works to this day. That's longevity and the reason why this beast is not only still in my personal collection, but #5 on my list. It would rank higher for me if it didn't use the bizarre 5v EDO DIMMs which were a pain in the ass to find and very expensive at the time.
Apparently someone still likes it.
This motherboard had to make the list for two reasons. The first is my affinity for multi-processor socket motherboards. The second is that this motherboard was innovative. It was a gaming board designed to use Xeon CPUs, it was capable of overclocking thanks to it's beefy 8-phase digital PWMs. It also had 12 DIMM slots and supported 4-Way SLI. This monster HPTX motherboard was special because it was a no-holds barred design that took things to the next level. Intel tried to do something similar with it's D5400XS motherboard but didn't quite get it right by hampering it with the FB-DIMM requirement. EVGA made no such mistakes. This motherboard was not only the envy of anyone who couldn't afford it, but it was reliable. People who used these did so for a very long time. They even commanded a high price on the used market, long after other motherboards would be relegated to garage sale pricing. I've never been a huge fan of EVGA motherboards, but this one was truly special.
This motherboard makes the list by being the first serious, enthusiast class motherboard in the mini-ITX form factor. Prior to the P8Z77-I Deluxe's launch, every mITX motherboard I saw compromised on voltage hardware and overclocking capability. This motherboard didn't bother compromising just to stay within the form factor's specs. ASUS truly innovated here with a daughter board that held the very beefy voltage hardware. According to ASUS, the P8Z77-I Deluxe had the strongest overclocking potential in it's product line at the time of release. This motherboard not only proved itself during our review, but it continued to prove itself until last year when I finally retired this from one of my own systems. This motherboard paved the way for several successors and set the bar for what an enthusiast motherboard in the mini-ITX form factor should be for years to come.
This list wouldn't be complete without one of ABIT's finest creations on it. It's also natural to choose a board that used Intel's venerable i440BX chipset which was both ahead of its time and unusually long lived. ABIT's BX6 Rev 2.0 was an improved BX6 which was already an excellent motherboard. While this was not the originator of the jumperless motherboard design we take for granted today, it was an improvement that added dividers which allowed us to keep the PCI bus close to stock and get more from our CPU's. The motherboard had numerous improvements over it's descendants and through the use of Slotket adapters it remained relevant for a very long time. It wasn't the first i440BX motherboard from ABIT, but it was certainly the best in my opinion.
Simply put, this was the best X58 motherboard ever built. Scratch that, it's one of the best motherboards ever built. Nothing else came close to this motherboard in its era. The X58 chipset was long lived and remained relevant for a very long time. It's still relevant today as we've seen, Sandy Bridge still holds its own in gaming today. By 2011, I'd already seen more motherboards than I can possibly remember. It takes a lot to blow me away, and that's just what this one did. I already had reviewed and owned the previous Rampage III Extreme, which was fantastic. I initially expected a recoloring and slight tweak to that design. Boy was I wrong. When I opened the Rampage III Black Edition box, I had felt a sense of awe that you typically only see in children experiencing new things for the first time. It was one of the few motherboards I've seen that practically threw the idea of cost control out the window. At the time it was the most expensive single processor socket motherboard I'd ever seen.
I reviewed this motherboard back in 2011 and I was blown away by it's quality, feature set and included accessories. This one even came with it's own premium, non-proprietary sound card and Killer NIC which I used long after I replaced the motherboard itself. This motherboard was released near the end of the X58's life cycle so it comes as no surprise that it was the best X58 motherboard ever created. It should be as it was one of the last X58 motherboards to be designed and built. Even back then, many motherboard manufacturers claimed to build motherboards for gaming, but this is the first one I really felt lived up to that claim. It was the best way to overclock Intel's first hex core processor and one of their most successful Extreme Edition CPU's to date. The mighty Core i7 980X processor was special and deserved a worthy platform. At the time, I never found anything better than ASUS' Rampage III Black Edition. It's still capable gaming platform today even though it launched six years ago. This one is still in my collection and it still works to this day. I ran this board for quite some time and it's never given me any problems. I've never experienced a crash, hard lock or any other issue I can recall. It still sees use as a server in my home to this day.
This is here for several reasons. It almost made my list, but I kept it out of the top 5 for two reasons. 1.) It was restricted to using slower FB-DIMMs instead of DDR3. 2.) It was somewhat quirky over the long haul. Things like 3-Way SLI support and some issues I had with ATI's Radeon 4970X2 cards were why I disqualified it. It gets an honorable mention though for being innovative. It brought us 8 cores in a gaming friendly package. It was the first non-NVIDIA chipset based board to support SLI. Though it did use a couple of NF100 bridge chips which provided the "key" to NVIDIA's SLI function. There was no software involved and those chips worked well enough. Personally, this monster served me from December 2007 until sometime in 2011 when I went to an LGA 1366 setup. It was my longest lived motherboard and processor combo to date, and it got me away from using those god awful EVGA 680i SLI motherboards that made the #1 spot in the worst motherboards of all time list.
Let me just start my closing thoughts by stating that this was incredibly difficult to write. There are a lot of awesome motherboards out there that could have made this list. There are a lot of bulletproof motherboards that lived very long lives, particular innovative designs and robust features. There are even a lot of motherboards that I put on this list and took off several times while writing it. Motherboards like the ASUS P4C800 Deluxe, A8N-SLI Deluxe, MSI's Big Bang XPOWER II, Tyan K8WE (S2895), ABIT's IC7 MAX3, BH6, and Intel's D5400XS were all good examples of motherboards that could easily have made the cut. These were all disqualified due to one or two quirks I've experienced with those or those had a design aspect I didn't particularly like. As examples: Intel's D5400XS used FB-DIMMs, the P4C800 Deluxe had a short market life span, and the Big Bang XPOWER II had a couple of BIOS quirks.
I had to nit pick to narrow the list down to just five. With the exception of the EVGA SR-2, the boards chosen were all owned by me personally, and ran for years of hard use without any issues that I can recall. The EVGA SR-2 made the list because I always wanted one and because of their innovative nature. I did work on a couple systems that had these installed and found these a joy to work with, and those enjoyed a great deal of popularity among our forum members and readers that had deep pockets. For these reasons, it made the cut.
Similarly, no AMD processor compatible motherboards made this list because all of those I've used over the years had one or two quirks even if they were only minor. There were many contenders on the AMD side but ultimately, I felt the boards I chose were a bit better. For example, the A7V-133 was awesome, but it wasn't particularly innovative. It just worked. Even ASRock had some considerations here as I enjoyed the X99/ITX-ac and the X99-WS very much. In the end, the heat sink mounting holes on the mini-ITX board and the fact that the X99-WS wouldn't run at stock settings disqualified them.
You may also note that there aren't any newer motherboards on the list. This doesn't mean that newer motherboards shouldn't be on the list, but I've not found any that were truly special in recent years. ASUS' Rampage IV Black Edition came to mind, but the R3BE stands above it for being more innovative at the time and for being older, and thus having lasted longer. There are other good ones like MSI's excellent X99A GODLIKE and GIGABYTE's Z170X Gaming G1 which are nothing short of the best pieces of hardware of their era, but weren't necessarily innovative as much as those were stuffed with expensive features that seemed out of place with their target market. The X99A GODLIKE almost made the cut, but again I was nitpicking and took it off the list.
I'm sure there will be plenty of discussion on this topic, perhaps more than there was about the bad boards which most of us can agree were bad.